by Andrew Morrison with photos by Michelle Sproule | Friday night saw the first annual Dumpling Cook Off go down at the Chinatown Night Market. The nine participating local restaurants knocked the crowds’ socks off with their takes on the classic Chinese staple. The competition had one simple instruction for the chefs: create “something wrapped in something”. The results from Chambar, La Mezcalaria, Wild Rice, Wildebeest, Pidgin, Cibo, Sea Monster Sushi, Harvest, and The Parker were seriously impressive.
Those who forked over $12 got a “dumpling passport”, which is to say nine diversely delicious treats. That’s everything from scallop and prosciutto agnoli from Cibo and veggie “fen guo” from The Parker to Asian lamb dumplings with Tibetan hot sauce from Sea Monstr and caramelized pork confit carnitas pockets from La Mezcaleria. Naturally, it was a very popular event that sold out quickly. There were lots of disappointed, dumpling-less faces drooping through the throng – some of them good friends – and who could blame them for their long faces? The parking lot behind The Keefer was like a hot cauldron of awesome!
I was thrilled to judge the event with dumpling masters Joel and Helen of Bao Bei. Our faves of the night were the gluten-free chanterelle, burdock and turnip dumpling with nasturtium vinegar from Harvest (top marks for innovation); the Turkish lamb dumpling with tahini yogurt, spicy red pepper, cucumber, radish and lemon butter from Chambar (perhaps the most exotic departure from the traditional); the wild boar and fig tortelloni from Wildebeest (amazing flavour combination); and the winning duck confit dumpling from Pidgin. Yup, true to form, Pidgin gentrified the living shit out of their dumplings with truffle, black garlic, and soy. They were flawless little presents of deliciousness, resembling tiny skate egg cases; flecked with promising black, firm on the tooth, plump with smoothly textured duck, and bursting with superb, intense flavour. Their golden dumpling trophy – designed by local artist Diane Espiritu – was well and justly earned.
The ancillary highlights (for me, at least) were the men and women’s dumpling eating competitions. They were so staggeringly savage! I tend to never watch those sorts of things because I always feel like I’ll puke if one of the contestants does (just like the “Lardass” scene in the movie Stand By Me), but this time I couldn’t help but take it in. I have no idea how people can put away food so fast! They must have what the Japanese call a betsubara, an extra stomach for special occasions. It was at once beautiful and disgusting, a mesmerizing Roman spectacle worthy of a serious eyes-wide gawk. Hat’s off to the superhumans who won.
It was great to see such a huge turnout and once again take in the Chinatown Night Market. We’re already looking forward to next year. Long live dumplings!