While I may be wrong, it seems like I’ve found out what the Chinese equivalent to a “family diner” is. In a given medium/large city, there are at least three mandatory dives that are always busy, crank out cheap and tasty american style meals and have the title “family diner”. You could argue that those vague “wok take-out” are “asian” dive counterparts, but those are more akin to hotdog stands than actual restaurants. And honestly, those places are empty and freaking terrifying. Dumpling restaurants fill the role of a neighbourhood diner much better: humble yet friendly locations with busy staff and food that keeps drawing in lots and lots happy customers.
The reason for my little, more than slightly pompous rant was because, surprise surprise, this isn’t the only Toronto wonton restaurant called Dumpling House. There’s another one at Spadina, which is very popular and one of my family’s favourite eateries. Thus ensued an obligatory comparison between the two throughout this post. I wondered if the names of both places were different in Chinese, perhaps a way to differentiate the two names, so I examined pictures from both to see if I could notice any similarities or differences.
This is the Gerrard Street Dumpling House. Note the same J-like character and how the left hand letter looks like a different version of the Spadina one.
Well, to my admittedly foreign and clue-less eyes, the words from both restaurants look similar, so my guess is that the Spadina title is in Traditional Chinese and the Gerrard one is in Simplified (because the characters are less intricate) or possibly one is in Cantonese. If anyone reading this knows more about Chinese than I do (which isn’t a lot), please feel free to correct my abysmal language skills in the comments.
So Dumpling House Gerrard Edition is a diner-like restaurant that serves wontons, has a generic name and smells delicious when you walk inside. Mom thought it’d be interesting to compare this restaurant to the other place, which I will now call the Mirror Dumpling in reference to people’s reflections in mirrors (what else?). I could call it “the Spadina place”, but Mirror Dumpling sounds cooler.
Right off the bat Dumpling House offers a different menu: one with more selection for non-wonton items, and conversely less varieties of dumpling fillings. However, they have three different types of wonton as opposed to the Mirror Dumpling’s two: with the addition of boiled to the list of steamed and fried (although the boiled option was closer to Mirror’s actual steamed option).
First we had boiled pork and chive dumplings, a normal choice for us. Frankly it was a tie with the Mirror Dumpling, the meat was a delicious mix between umami and salty, with flecks of green onion to add some depth.
I did notice these dumplings to be juicier, my plate was covered in warm meat grease coming from the tender pork ball wrapped inside soft, thin wonton.
Our next option was more unusual and had no Mirror counterpart that we’re familiar with: steamed egg and herb dumplings. Interestingly, they came in a basket, and were more delicately put together. The wonton itself had more flavour, tasting more like rice dough than greasy wrapping; I believe this was due to it having less moisture. Without as much juice, I found the pastry to be a little bit too tough, although others may prefer a wonton that doesn’t fall apart so easily.
I do think it worked well with the filling, a wonderful blend of green herbs and mild, finely chopped egg. The softer flavours worked well with a steamed wonton, although the first dumpling tasted better than the last one of the batch. Make of that what you will, I liked it more than mom did.
Third up were the pan fried beef, which came in a disappointingly smaller batch and made up for it with their individually larger size. Again, I liked those more than mom, who preferred the Mirror Dumpling for its crispy dough on top and less juicy meat. These dumplings squirted when you bit into them, while it proved how moist they were, it was actually kind of annoying on the first bite. I quite liked the beef, although it was pretty much flavoured by grease and a touch of garlic and basic seasoning. Oddly this was quite attractive in its own way and reminded me somewhat of beef in wonton soup, but swimming in its own juice instead of broth.
For dessert, we had red bean pancakes, something new that I wanted to try out. They were quite simple and mild, tasting familiar to me in a way I couldn’t put my finger on. The dough was thin and flat, cut into little triangles and wrapped around sweetened bean paste. I’d say it’s best for people who like desserts that aren’t sickeningly sweet or rich, although anyone who’s already full from their meal would like them.
Pros: has a diverse menu, lots of non-dumpling options, and even the wonton choices have variety: the steamed egg and fried beef dumplings were polar opposites. Also has a cozy decorative interior and very low prices. Less busy and crowded with customers than the Spadina place.
Cons: I can’t think of any true cons, other than what may only apply to some people (see below)
Pro/Cons: some people may like Gerrard’s dumplings better, or Spadina’s, I can’t really accommodate for personal taste. Also in comparison with Spadina, some people may be closer to one than the other; I live on Gerrard and this place is inbetween my house and Spadina.
Verdict: Dumpling House is quite recommendable for anyone who wants large plates of tasty dumplings for a good price in a local wonton place. As I’ve said, preferences may vary and this isn’t exactly a high-end or fancy restaurant, but it is great for a good meal.
Dumpling House 619 Gerrard Street East