The first time was the best. Well, let me take that back. The first time it was an entirely new experience for me. The rich soy air, the narrow dark wooden steps, the thin baskets in which our food was steamed. Myself, the boyfriend, and another American-gone-Aussie had reunited and were celebrating – dumpling style!
I am not even sure what day it was, but recent experience has taught me that dinner reservations are almost always a must at this particular Chinese Dumpling Bar no matter what time of what day. In fact, this “first time” was almost a “not this time”, and we were allowed to sit and be dumplinged only if we could finish and be gone in 45 minutes.
Upstairs, laughing and happy, and surrounded by Chinese people, we let our friend do the ordering. He expertly ordered two rounds of Shao-Long Bao, 2 orders of Steamed Pork Dumplings, 2 orders of Steamed Shrimp Dumplings, 3 orders of Garlic Chive Dumplings, an order of Wontons with Hot Chili, and another order of Shao-long Bao just for good measure. For any experienced dumpling fans, this comes close to about about 60 or 70 dumplings. Smacking our lips, we poured the wine and dug in with our chopsticks.
I believe the Chinese enjoy the traditional dumpling as a delicate snack to be gingerly lifted from its steamy bed and gently set into a simple saucer of soy.
We savages knew no better.
We scooped and stabbed our dumplings and stuffed them one by one into our greedy fat faces. Steaming basket after steaming basket of dim sum arrived at our table. Little rice bags of hot drippy happiness that we could dunk into dainty saucers of soy and ginger and chili and then dunk into our open mouths.
Over and over we did this, laughing, drinking, and eating while taking group photos of ourselves with happy Chinese people eating happy dumplings in the background. Hurray for dumplings!
We ate until we were full, and then ate a few more, and then, as another steamed basket arrived, ate even more. We ate until we could do nothing but lean back in our chairs, bellies out, arms hanging limply at our sides while the Chinese servers silently removed our empty plates from the table.
By then, our 45 minutes had expired and we were expected to vacate the premises as we promised. The best we could do was slump onto the floor. We tried to appear both apologetic and grateful to the staff as, using their feet, they nudged our swollen belly bodies away from the table. As we were rolled across the floor with glazed eyes and satiated smiles, I thought just how awesome my dumpling initiation had been.
A month later, the boyfriend and I decided to visit the Dumpling Bar once more. For all our travel accomplishments, we are relatively poor planners. It was 7pm-ish on a Friday night and we optimistically hoped for an open table.
When the boyfriend called, the line was answered by a hurried, stern, and no-customer service Chinese man. The conversation went something like this:
The Boyfriend (talking all slow and friendly-like): G’Day, Sir! I was calling to see about making a reservation for to- – – –
Stern Chinese (fast talker, all chopping knife-like): You-Ha-Reser-va-shone??
The Boyfriend: Well, no, but I—-
Stern Chinese: We-Full.
The Boyfriend: Well. . . . . . . how about tomorrow, or – –
Stern Chinese: We-FULL!
The Boyfriend: Um –
Stern Chinese: We-FULL-WEEKEND!
The Boyfriend: (intakes breathe – – – )
Stern Chinese: Call-Three-Weeks! Click
My memory of the Chinese at the Chinese Dumpling Bar was that they were much happier people. This definitely put a slant on the whole experience. Meal Two was not to be.
The Real Meal Two
Not ones to give up, a week later we again made our way towards the Dumpling Bar. This time it was a Wednesday lunch hour. We had no reservations, but we were determined. And we were real people asking, rather than voices on a phone that the Stern Chinese Chopping-Knife Man could disconnect from so easily.
The Chinese servers were there. They seemed to not recognize us from our beastly gorging a few weeks back. Militant, but not unfriendly, they pointed to a table for two in the corner. Sweet success!!
The boyfriend and I kept the dumpling count down this time. We drank no wine and tried to stab the dumplings with our chopsticks with more class. When we finished, we were able to walk our own selves out the door. Happy Chinese. Happy Us. Happy Dumplings.