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Disappointments in the kitchen (I)


My first cooking disappointment since starting this blog. Three hours in the kitchen! And I cannot pretend I wasn't looking forward to rhapsodizing on how perfectly my chewy pearl dumplings turned out. Yet I consoled myself, biting into the fruits of my efforts and finding myself underwhelmed, with the knowledge that I could detail my failures here, and this catharsis would lead to closure.

Real Vegetarian Thai was a Christmas present from my sister in 2004, and the moment I got it I mentally circled 'Chewy pearl dumplings'. 'Dumpling' has always been a siren call for me, and my eyes brighten whenever I spot the word on a menu. When I got a job in Hong Kong, the first thing I thought was 'dim sum!', and indeed one of the best meals I've ever had was lunch at Maxim's Palace (the 'fried milk' – quivering cubes of custard enrobed in crumbs and flash-fried – were exquisite). While in London on business briefly this January I made a beeline for the Royal China in Baker Street, and a visit to Oriental East has been on my to-do list for a visit home for ages now (wedding planning, then the wedding itself, kept me from it on my last two trips).

But while the German dumpling scene is delightful, I have utterly failed in finding anything resembling decent dim sum in Berlin, so it seemed only logical to have a go at some myself. It all started so well. The alchemy of water and tapioca was remarkable, how a bit of kneading turned the tiny chalky pearls into a satisfyingly solid ball, and then a few minutes later I had neat logs of dough, waiting to be sliced into eights and stuffed with the waiting 'mushroom mince'. The mince itself was impossibly aromatic, fragrant with cilantro, ginger, garlic and shallots. And look at me, carefully stuffing away!


It was soothing work, the perfect activity for a very rainy Sunday afternoon, and I felt full of anticipation as I carefully stacked the little rounds into my oiled bamboo steamer.

But the results were ... chewy. What's in a name indeed - make 'Chewy pearl dumplings' and one should expect nothing else. But I assumed the covering would be the glutinous white substance that I've met before, enveloping crunchy shrimp, for instance. These, though, rivalled Wrigley's, and the dough-to-filling ratio was all off, with hardly enough spice to justify working through the gluey outer layer.

Ach... We did our brave best, but I didn't hestitate long before deciding to put the last eight uncooked balls into the wastebin rather than the steamer. Perhaps I should have tried harder to get the recalcitrant dough thinner? I'm not sure. But the mushroom mince was delicious, and as I made a double batch there's still a container in the freezer, waiting to be redeemed: Stay tuned...


For Dim Sum try a chinese restaurant called Aroma in Kantstraße.
The chinese restaurant opposite the chinese embassy has dim sum on offer as well, albeit a very strange sichuan style variety (dumpling like things with bizarre consistencies)

Thanks for the tip, Andreas - I'll be sure to check out Aroma as soon as I'm back in Berlin! (I know what you mean about the embassy restaurant, by the way. I went there once with a friend and was served half-edible dumplings; when his meal hadn't appeared after fifty minutes, we left.)

We're of the same mind about Chinese hotpot. My wife and most of her firends love them, but to me it's just meh at best soggy and bland or with a powerful broth making all the ingredients taste the same. If the broth's so good, just serve it to me as a soup. If you're giving me a bunch of great fresh ingredients, give me a tabletop charcoal grill (like some Korean or Japanese restaurants) so I can caramelize them to perfection. And if neither the broth nor the ingredients are great, what's the point?Hotpot for me? No, thanks!

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