Of all the culinary discoveries for which I am indebted to Jamie Drummond, I put Mother’s Dumplings at the top of the pile. It was Jamie’s recommendation that delivered me the terrace of brown tile steps, leading to a basement storefront on Huron Street just north of Dundas more than three years ago and the revelatory thrill that came from trying a kind of Chinese cuisine I had only had glimpses of before. The restaurant has since moved a few blocks north and one over to the east side of Spadina on the block that’s just south of College. Its newer incarnation is much roomier, which accommodates the crowds who come for weekend lunches, but the decor, in proper Chinatown style, remains as simple as can be. In the middle of the long room is the kitchen, where a dozen or so cooks prepare wrappings and fillings to be boiled, steamed and/or fried into 19 varieties of dumplings.
Alan Davidson’s Oxford Companion to Food (1st Ed., 1999) notes, in its extensive entry on dumplings, that “[Asian dumplings] are different from European ones… what English-speakers in the Orient call dumplings are more like what would be called filled pasta in Europe.” Before being exposed to Mother’s Dumplings’ Manchurian-style of filled dumplings, my experience with the sort of food would have been limited to whatever might turn up on Cantonese dim sum cart, or the fried, Japanese version, gyoza (whose sushi parlour ubiquity engendered a short-lived fine dining trend for, what Americans coined, ‘pot-stickers’ about a decade ago).
These dumplings, especially the boiled and steamed are a much different beast. Their fillings are redolent of powerful flavours like dill or chives or pickled cabbage. As ingredients are seasonal so are dishes, and the sensation of biting into a hot wet boiled dumpling is as about a solid antidote to winter chill as can be summoned. Indeed, imagine Manchurians, hounded by Siberian winds coming off of the Mongolian steppes seeking refuge in these hot steaming packages of goodness. November to March is Mother’s Dumpling season. Just don’t devour the boiled dumplings on ceramic plates, or steamed ones in bamboo baskets, to soon after they come to the table. They are really hot.
A plate of a dozen dumplings at Mother’s will set you back something around six dollars and change and eight dollrs and change (see their menu here), so a solo dinner could well luncheon for under $10. But that, alas, wouldn’t be much fun. For the sake of critical mass, four or more is the better number for a visit: three dumpling dishes and a plate of their delicious gai lan (aka ‘Chinese broccoli’) sauteed in garlic will keep the bill under $10 each, with tea.
Malcolm Jolley is the Executive Director of Good Food Media, the not-for-profit created to promote awareness of artisan foods in Canada and publisher of Good Food Revolution. Follow him at on Twitter at@malcolmjolley.