Commonly referred to as "Brooklyn's Chinatown," Sunset Park is gaining attention for its cheap real estate and cheaper international fare. Bereft of deal-whispering peddlers, the neighborhood is still relatively untouched by retail chains (The Wall Street Journal recently reported Sunset Park is the only Chinatown in New York City without a Starbucks). In place of facsimile shops though, Sunset Park has dumpling haunts -- and enough amazing ones that we decided it warranted a full-blown tour de dumplings.
Compared to "upscale" city chains that have capitalized on the Asian dumpling sensation, Sunset Park affords visitors who are willing to spend a few extra minutes on the subway an uncommon experience. Several blocks boast traditional Chinese bakeries, shopfronts and fishmongers, whose entrances teem with blue crabs and razor clams (the wise will do some bargain grocery shopping while in the neighborhood).
Walking into a restaurant where the purveyors speak little to no English can be intimidating, so be assertive and when in doubt order by the numbers. Let your protein preference steer dumpling selection and keep in mind the time of day can impact which dumplings are available. Shanghai Dumpling Shop owner, Kenny, explained: "We get the live crabs and fresh vegetables from the market every morning and make the dumplings that day, so they are not ready until the afternoon." The pork dumplings, however, are made the night before and are available early until they run out.
This weekend, grab a few friends and let Sunset Park be your giant-size dim sum cart. If traveling by train, get off at the 8th Ave N stop and -- equipped with an empty stomach, a hydrated palate and a wad of cash -- walk north toward our first stop: Great Taste Dumpling.
Editor's note: We couldn't hit every dumpling spot in a day (maybe you can!), but when you go, also make time for Pacificana and Yun Nan Flavor Garden. They're included in the map. And did we miss one of your favorite spots? Tell us below and we'll add it to the map.
Great Taste Dumpling
4317 8th Avenue at 44th Street
Mr. Chen lives in his dumpling shop. The sign on the counter says it all: "Pay First and Do Not Lean on the Counter." We asked for a combo of proteins, which didn't seem to be a valid order to him. In any case, when you go, start off with a batch of steamed pork dumplings (8 for $2.00) and fried pork and chive dumplings (4 for $1.00); they emerge as an interconnected pack, with a flaky, perfectly browned layer of crispness. Pacing yourself might seem like a challenge, but you should -- five more stops await.
Kai Feng Fu Dumpling
4801 8th Avenue (entrance on 48th Street)
Local dumpling lore holds Kai Feng in high esteem -- as does fellow Edible writer Niko Krommydas, who touted these as his favorite in Brooklyn based on price alone. When you order dumplings at Kai Feng, the counter person vehemently reminds you there will be a 10-minute wait, and politely asks if you are okay with that. The dumplings arrive with a steady outpouring of steam, so consume before they become soggy. Spoon the bright spicy vinegar on the Chinese cabbage-filled veggie dumplings (8 for $2.50) for added flavor, but leave the chicken and mushroom (8 for $3.00) alone -- their hot and sour soup reminiscent taste needs no frills.
He Yi Yiao Chi Dumpling
5301 8th Avenue (entrance on 53rd Street)
We were hunting for a sign bearing the name XSG Dumpling House and stumbled into He Yi Yiao Chi. There are cards displaying automobiles littered across the window, and for a second we mistook it for a car service company. But the experienced-looking guests who lowered noodle-heavy chopsticks into a broth-like substance before slurping proved me wrong. Veer from the traditional jiaozi and try an order of pork ting buns (6 for $3.00); my sources say these are actually called baozi. The dough was airy and bread-like, filled with rust-colored pork sausage.
Hob Boh Kitchen5110 Seventh Avenue, between 52nd and 51st Streets
Escape from the bustle of 8th Avenue and head on over to the more residential 7th Avenue stretch. Hob Boh's Fujianese cuisine is closer to what many Americans might be used to at Asian food joints. To balance out the day's turf meat consumption, order the fried shrimp dumplings (8 for $5.00), which explode with pink goodness and boast a healthy crunch, sans grease. If you seek salty hydration, go for the mini dumplings in soup ($5.50), and hold the noodles for obvious reasons.
Bon Appetite Bakery, Inc.
5013 7th Avenue, between 50th and 51st Streets
Don't forget that bakeries have dumplings, too. If you have a sweet tooth or appetite for something other than dumplings, there are hot dogs wrapped in pastry dough and ornately decorated baked goods. Toward the back, a buffet-style display looms, with wait -- more dumplings! Instant gratification trumps fresh steaming, as the pork and chive dumplings (5 for $1.25) are not made-to-order. All the same, Bon Appetite's dumplings were lightly browned and soaked up the syrupy chive sauce.
Shanghai Dumpling House in Fei Long Market
6301 8th Avenue, between 62nd and 63rd Streets
There are no Nathan's or Sbarro stands inside Fei Long Market; when you enter, a bucket of boiling peanuts sits next to mysterious cracked eggs simmering in a black substance at the end of a frozen yogurt counter. If you keep walking, Shanghai Dumpling is the first stall on the left. The pride shop owner Kenny takes in his dumplings is evident as he shared his plans to return to Shanghai this year and the art of fluke and beef with garlic dumplings. Shanghai's prices were the steepest (more than $1/dumpling) but offered the most interesting filling choices (they also have you put down a $1 deposit for the bamboo steamer basket). The pork and crab roe soup dumplings (6 for $6.75) are intriguing, and their spouted tips nestled with a crunchy bite of roe are a warm-up to the broth-saturated pork. Be sure to order straight-up crabmeat dumplings made with fresh Maryland blue crabs. Pro-tip: pierce the dumplings with your teeth and suck out the broth to allow for one-bite consumption.
Photo credit: Evan Sklar