Seattle's Essential Dishes: Jiao-zi from Mandarin Chef

Photo courtesy Peter Mumford

Jiao-zi from Mandarin Chef:

Dumplings are a little like magic--a shared magic, common across almost every culinary canon, present, in wildly differing forms, in nearly all cuisines. From Japanese gyoza and Chinese potstickers to Tibetan momo, Russian pelmeni and Polish pierogis, dumplings are one of those food memes that buried themselves deep and close to the heart of all people and flourished across countless generations as one of the world's most perfect comfort foods.

At Mandarin Chef, Sang Lam learned how to make his dumplings from the source. He trained and worked as a cook in Sichuan province, China, for years before coming to the United States and bringing all that heavy dumpling knowledge with him. Now, in the most unprepossessing spot imaginable, he serves them, to crowds of loyal fans, by the giant platter--15 and 26 at a time, dressed only in a bit of soy, a bit of red pepper paste. Once you discover this small, shotgun shack of a place in the University District, have your needs tended to by Lang Lam (Sang's wife) who works the floor, and are offered your first plate of jiao-zi, you'll understand the magic and the pull of these little balls of dough.

Though I'm hesitant to say that these are the best dumplings I've ever had (because, in my time, I have eaten a lot of great dumplings), they are up there on my list of most memorable, and--with their history, their simple excellence and the fact that they've been being served here for more than 13 years already--certainly qualify as one of those essential tastes of the city of Seattle.

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