Succulent Soup Dumplings at Petite Soochow


It was a casual conversation about two years ago with my Chinese friend (yes, this is relevant). He told me he was going for “Chinese” food. I conjured up an image of the takout place on Main Street and dismissed it as boring. After all, who really gets excited about Chinese food? Okay, I do now if you tell me we’re going to Petite Soochow in Cliffside Park, NJ, which is where my friend was heading.

He continued talking about it, and I wondered why he thought I’d be interested in chicken and broccoli and the like. Well there was no mention of such an Americanized dish, but something caught my ear when he said, “It’s the only place in New Jersey to get soup dumplings..and they’re really good.” My right eyebrow rose up, and my head turned an inch to the left with my eyes peeking out the corner toward him. Did he say ‘only place’ and ‘really good’? But my Chinese-food cynicism clicked in and drew a picture of broth with mass-produced wontons like anchors at the bottom of a pool. I had to ask — “soup dumplings?” He described it as steamed dumplings with a pork meatball and ‘soup’ inside. So I had to try it. (A week later, this showed up in NY Times, and the wait line for a table tripled: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/02/nyregion/02dinenj.html.)

I, not being Asian, was in the minority at this restaurant tucked sideways in a parking lot. This has to be good – Chinese people in a Chinese restaurant! And there at the entrance was the co-owner behind plexiglass, a woman rolling, stuffing and twisting these “steamed buns” (as they’re called on the menu) all night long. It’s almost an assumption that every patron wants an order (8) to start. Ten minutes later the pot is brought to the table and uncovered, revealing the hot gift-wrapped surprises.

Fortunately, my friend forewarned me not to just bite into it. You will probably burn your mouth. So I followed the acceptable procedure of using chopsticks to gently pick one up and place it in my soup spoon. You don’t want it to break and lose the liquid. You can dip it into the vinegar with ginger provided and then bite off the twisted top of the dough while holding it in your spoon with chopsticks. This lets some steam out. Then you can go to town. It was like tasting Fresh ‘n Up gum as a kid for the first time. Hey, that liquid’s not supposed to be in there, but it’s goooood.

They offer a version with crab, but it’s sea legs on top of the dumpling, and you can’t taste the difference. If you want sesame chicken, you should probably just go to Empire Hunan in Teaneck or Fair Lawn. If you want Chinese food that hasn’t been bastardized, come here. If you have a friend that speaks the language – even better. You’ll get to try items not on the menu. For a closer look at some other dishes, the Off the Broiler blog did a nice job: http://offthebroiler.wordpress.com/2010/06/27/nj-dining-petite-soochow/. I’m just all about those warm, neatly sealed packages today. Even though I know what’s inside, it’s like opening a gift every time.

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One response to this post.

  1. Posted by jody on January 22, 2012 at 7:49 pm

    yes…careful not to burn your mouth.

    Reply

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