They’re so simple.
Every cuisine seems to have them. A little dough, a bit of filling. That’s it!
These stuffed little nuggets of dough that go by different handles — potstickers, pierogi, ravioli, gyoza, manti, kreplach, samosas, khinkali, pelmeni — are not just simple, but simply delicious.
Call them the ultimate comfort food. Easy to eat — all it takes are a few bites, and sometimes, no utensils at all. And easy to enjoy. Oh, the utter delight of discovering what’s hidden inside those enchanting envelopes of dough, of all shapes — circular, half-moon, pursed, cylindrical, conical, triangular, square — and sizes, and all manner of cooking, from boiled, steamed and baked to pan-fried and deep-fried.
Eager to experience dumplings from nearly every corner of the world? A plane ticket or boat ride is not required. What is? A good appetite, an adventurous palate and a willingness to try the freshest, juiciest, puffiest, most delicious dumplings made in the shops and restaurants in our region.
China: Jiaozi and Soup Dumplings
Dumpling Den, Fort Lee
China invented the dumpling. So is it any wonder that the country seemingly has countless varieties of them? There are jiaozi, soup, wonton, shumai, potstickers and more.
After all, it was a Chinese medicine man who is believed to have invented the dumpling. Some 2,000 years ago during a particularly brutal winter, health practitioner Zhang Zhongjing wanted to help the men and women in his village combat frostbite. He wrapped scraps of dough around a mixture of mutton, herbs and chilis and steamed his concoction before handing them out. No one knows whether they helped alleviate frostbite, but Zhongjing’s fellow countrymen loved his creation so much that they went on to make it themselves, long after the weather turned warm.
Perhaps the most miraculous Chinese dumpling is the soup dumpling: Soup encased in dough, really? It is certainly the most daring dumpling to eat. It can not only squirt you (there goes your nice top), but “burn you,” warns Albert Chin, owner of Dumpling Den, a 3-year-old Chinese restaurant in Fort Lee that serves 11 varieties of dumplings — three soup filled with a choice of pork, crab or shrimp, or vegetables. (The secret: gelatinous soup that melts when the dumplings are steamed).
The dumplings at Dumpling Den are made by Chinese dumpling chef Ying Li. She also makes what Chin calls “classic” dumpling, jiazo, which is perhaps the most popular. The filling choices include chicken, shrimp, pork and chive, kimchi pork, vegetables and, for good measure, a house dumpling that features three proteins: pork, shrimp and chicken. Just pick up your chop sticks and dig in.
Go: 249 Main St., Fort Lee; (201) 482-0905, dumplingden.net.
Soup Dumpling Plus, Fort Lee. When the restaurant names itself after what you’re after, you’ve got no choice but to order it. Casual, fast-paced BYOB. 1550 Lemoine Ave. #109, Fort Lee; 201-944-0901, soupdumplingplus.com.
Truly Sichuan, Ridgewood. Pork soup dumplings, pan-fried chicken dumplings, steamed pork dumplings, and more. Try, too, the smoked tea duck, which takes up to a week to make. 31 Chestnut St., Ridgewood; (201) 857- 3830, trulysichuan.com.
Chengdu 23, Wayne. This family-friendly Sichuan restaurant’s soup dumplings are a must. Bring beer or wine with you and feast on darn good Chinese food. 6 Willowbrook Blvd, Wayne; 973-812-2800, chengdu23.com/
Bamboo House, Ridgewood. She is know as the “Dumpling Lady,” and she wears the title proudly. Sherry Wu, a.k.a the “Dumpling Lady,” a 61-year-old grandma and Ridgewood resident, has been folding, stuffing and frying (or steaming) dumplings for more than half of a century. Try it. 28 S. Broad St., Ridgewood; 201-447-3111, no web.
Hunan Taste, Denville. Come for the ornate decor; stay for the food. Six steamed soup dumplings are served as an appetizer. 67 Bloomfield Ave., Denville; 973-625 2782, hunantaste.com/
Shoti Bread House, Fair Lawn
Go ahead. Pick up those oversized Georgian dumplings known as khinkali with your fingers. After all, these luxuriously pleated dumplings come with a knob on top, your handy handle. Turn one upside down, take a bite, and suck the juice that spills out first. That, my friend, is juice from succulent meat; at Shoti Bread House, Bergen County’s only Georgian restaurant, it’s either beef and lamb or beef and pork. (At Georgian restaurants elsewhere, you may find other fillings as well, including vegetable.)
The meat in a khinkali is mixed with onions, cilantro, garlic and parsley, and is never cooked beforehand, ergo the moisture the protein releases under heat stays inside the doughy pouch.
Enjoy the tender, flavorful meat and the fresh-made dough. As for the knob on top? Georgians don’t eat it but leave it on their plate to count how many they’ve devoured.
They’d find none on my plate: I say, why waste handmade dough?
Go: 14-29 River Road, Fair Lawn; (201) 272-1900, shoti-bread-house.business.site/
Minka, Cliffside Park
Alexander Lee, chef and owner of Minka, a new contemporary Japanese restaurant in Cliffside Park, credits the Chinese for gyoza, the Japanese pan-seared dumpling. Indeed, gyoza is the Japanese pronunciation of jiaozi, the Chinese word for dumpling. “Even the Japanese alphabet is derived from China,” he says.
It turns out Japanese soldiers stationed in Manchuria during WWII brought the dumpling to their homeland. But the Japanese did tweak it somewhat, notes Lee, who worked at Morimoto, among other top-notch Japanese restaurants in New York. Gyoza tends to be thinner, smaller and more delicate than Chinese jiazoi.
“Japanese food is generally more delicate,” says Lee, who is of Chinese descent.
Lee uses ground chicken for the filling instead of the usual pork to accommodate the large Muslim population in Cliffside Park. He wraps ground chicken in a wonton wrapper, then pan sears it in a bit of oil, adds potato starch and water to the frying pan to let it steam, then waits for the water to fully evaporate, using the traditional fry-steam-fry method.
“The potato starch crisps up like a Parmesan crisp, making the dumpling more crunchy on the bottom,” says Lee. It is served with a scallion ginger and chili sesame sauce.
“Kids love it,” he says. “Some families tell me their kids won’t eat anything, but they like gyoza so much they get a second order.”
Go: 364 Lawton Ave., Cliffside Park; 201-574-9231, minkajapanese.com.
Menya Sandaime, Fort Lee. This Japanese ramen spot with two locations in Fort Lee serves handmade pork gyoza as a side. 1638 Parker Ave.; 201-482-4141 and 1406 Bergen Blvd., Fort Lee, 201-366-4204; menyausa.com.
Osteria Crescendo, Westwood
There’s no other way to make ravioli than by hand, says Robbie Felice, chef and owner of Osteria Crescendo, a revered Italian restaurant in Westwood, and a James Beard Award nominee. Felice employs two dedicated pasta makers: one at OC, and another at his Italian spot, Viaggio, in Wayne. Ravioli, he says, is a testament to the ingenuity of Italian cooks.
“Why do Italians have charcuterie?” Felice asks rhetorically. “You kill an animal and preserve the meat. It’s the same thing for ravioli. You put whatever you have in the house inside dough. You don’t waste.”
Ravioli dough is made with flour and eggs. Felice insists on a “super high egg ratio” for his bestselling Paradiso Ravioli. “You get a vibrant yellow and a great snap when you bite into it,” he says. “You never want to have it mushy.”
The traditional ravioli filling is cheese, typically ricotta and Parmesan. Felice fills his with five: stracchino, fontina, caciocavallo, mozzarella and, of course, Parmesan. He serves it with a lemon butter sauce flecked with Sicilian oregano and drizzled with Calabrian chili oil. It’s been on the menu since OC opened more than two years ago. “People are forever talking about it,” he says.
Go: 36 Jefferson Ave., Westwood; 201-722-1900; osteriacrescendo.com.
Vitamia & Sons Ravioli Co. in Lodi. A family-owned homemade pasta shop since 1967. Many swear by its ravioli. 206 Harrison Ave., Lodi; 973-546-1140, facebook.com/Vitamia & Sons Ravioli Co.
Angelo’s, Lyndhurst. Old-school Italian restaurant. Customers tout the homemade manicotti, but don’t overlook the ricotta ravioli. 263 Ridge Road, Lyndhurst; 201-939-1922, facebook.com/Angelos Ristorante.
Barcelona Restaurant & Bar, Garfield. More-than-eight-decade-old family-owned restaurant. Has an entire ravioli section on its menu. Your choices of sauces include veal cutlet parmigiana, mussel, meatball and shrimp marinara. 38 Harrison Ave., Garfield; 201-778-4930, barcelonasnj.com.
Luka’s Italian Cuisine, Bogota. BYOB bistro run by a father-and-son team offering traditional ravioli in a tomato sauce. 10 River Road, Bogota; 201-440-2996, lukasitaliancuisine.co/menu.
Eccola, Parsippany. Yearning for ravioli stuffed with seafood in a cream sauce? What about ravioli stuffed in an Alfredo sauce? Or perhaps ravioli stuffed with cheese in a tomato sauce. You can have it here — with cocktails and wine. 1082 Route 46 W., Parsippany 973-334-8211 .eccolarestaurantnj.com/
Cinar Turkish Restaurant, Cliffside Park
The dumpling probably got to Turkey from — where else? — China, via the Silk Road. Historians say that Turkic and Mongol horsemen on their journey carried frozen or dried manti, which could quickly be boiled over a camp fire.
Tunc Ozlu brought the recipe for the manti he serves at his restaurant, Cinar Turkish Restaurant, from Istanbul, where he grew up. The dough is made fresh every two weeks and then frozen — until needed. When it is, it is thawed, then filled with spicy beef and sautéed onions, boiled and served with a garlicky yogurt topped with a butter sauce. It can serve as an appetizer or, as in Turkey, a main course. “People in the Mediterranean love carbs,” says Ozlu.
Go: 677 Palisade Ave., Cliffside Park; 201-941-5650, cinarnj.com.
Zeugma Grill, Montclair. Get the manti — a generous helping that you may need to share. And consider too a mezze platter. Bring wine with you. 44 S. Park St., Montclair 973-744-0074, zeugmagrill.com/
Mado, River Edge. Casual BYOB serving both lunch and dinner, and, of course, manti. 570 Kinderkamack Road, River Edge; 201-265-3629, madorestaurantnj.com.
Fig & Lily, Morristown. Reserve a heated igloo and dine in this lovely Turkish spot on manti, avocado ganoush, octopus and polenta, and grilled jumbo shrimp. Bring along a bottle of wine. Fig & Lili is BYOB. 2 Cattano Ave., Morristown, figandlilygarden.com/
Bosphorous, Lake Hiawatha.. 2 N. Beverwyck Road, Lake Hiawatha, 973-335-9690, bosphorus-nj.com/ This 27-year-old Turkish restaurant makes most everything from scratch, including its manti served with yogurt and tomato sauce.
Grillera Mediterranean Cuisine, Madison. The tablecloths are crisp. The room drenched in sunlight. And the manti — Stuffed and served with yogurt and tomato sauce. 91 Park Avenue, Madison; 973-301-2080 grillera.com/
Poland: Pirogi (or pierogi)
Homemade Pirogi, Clifton
Pirogi is “peasant food,” says Michael Duch, owner and chef of Homemade Pirogi, a deli in Clifton that makes the beloved Polish dumplings, 16 varieties, fresh every day. According to Duch, pirogis aren’t “sacred in Poland,” as he believes they are here. “They don’t eat them there as we do here,” he says. “It’s just food.” Food that happens to be the national dish of Poland.
Duch’s most popular pirogi is the potato and cheese. “They make up 50 percent of my sales,” he says. Should you be in the market for a dessert pirogi however, try the prune, apricot and cheese or perhaps the most popular, apple.
Go: 1295 Main Ave., Clifton; 973-340-0340, homemadepirogi.com.
Pierogi Cafe, Waldwick. A darling spot specializing in handmade pierogis, including Buffalo chicken and potato, bacon and cheddar. 18 E. Prospect St., Waldwick; 201-290-4166, pierogicafenj.com.
Chefski’s Polish Homemade Cooking, Wallington. Your choices are plenty: potato and cheese, potato and mushroom, pork, sauerkraut, strawberry and prune. The pierogis are made fresh every day. “The best in America,” proclaims one staffer. 360 Main Ave., Wallington; 973-471-4193, chefskis.com/
Vietnam: Bahn xep hap
Simply Vietnamese, Tenafly and Ma Mì Eatery, Closter
Joe Diovisalvo of Cliffside Park and his mom, KT Tran of Cresskill, who was born in Vietnam, are the respective owners of Ma Mì Eatery in Closter and Simply Vietnamese in Tenafly. Each offers Vietnamese dumplings at their locations.
“Dumplings are such a comfort food,” says Diovisalvo. “They’re also fun. It’s the first thing kids help their families make. I used to help my grandma who’d make the batter and I’d fill the dumpling.”
It is grandma’s shrimp and pork dumpling recipe that he uses at Ma Mì Eatery. “It is the first dumpling she ever sold when she had a restaurant,” he says. His grandmother died last year at age 94.
The filling is stuffed into a square wonton skin and then folded into triangles. They are fried to order, and served with what many dub the Vietnamese vinaigrette: nuoc mam, a tangy and slightly sweet fish sauce used for dipping.
Diovisalvo also makes a funky “pad Thai” dumpling, deep frying a wonton wrapper filled with rice noodles, eggs and bean sprouts. It’s a vegetarian dish that Diovisalvo says he was “forced to put on the menu” after offering it as a special.
At Simply Vietnamese, his mom offers steamed or fried butternut, shrimp, pork or vegetable (ground broccoli scallions, carrots and onion) dumplings.
Best Dumplings, Englewood
Kyoung Kim, 70, a South Korean native, does not speak English. But she sure knows how to make dumplings. She’s been doing it for more than 30 years.
Kim was the first person in New Jersey to open a Korean restaurant, says her nephew, Jin Hong. That Fort Lee restaurant is closed. But at another restaurant of hers, Korea Gardens, she noticed that nearly everyone ordered dumplings. So she decided to open a dumpling restaurant in 1993 and called it Best Dumplings.
While Kim doesn’t handroll the dumplings nowadays herself, she oversees the kitchen staff that does. “It’s her recipe,” Hong says.
The dumpling’s skin is thin. They are available in nine different flavors including beef, kimchi, leek, and spinach and kale. They are steamed or fried. And they can be enjoyed at the restaurant or taken home in a bag, frozen.
Go: 16 Humphrey St., Englewood; (201) 568-9337, bestdumplings.net.
Gayeon, Fort Lee. A sleek modern Korean restaurant. Sure, get the bibimbap, but also try the short rib dumpling. 2020 Hudson St., Fort Lee; (201) 944-2056, gayeonrestaurant.com.
Myung Dong Noodle House, Fort Lee. Handmade noodles and dumplings. 2013 Lemoine Ave., Fort Lee; (201) 592-6900, mdnoodle.com.
Keo Ku, Parsippany. This restaurant is nearly 30 years old. So you can assume it knows what it’s doing. Many come for Korean barbecue. You can too. But start your meal with some Korean dumplings. 245 Route 46, Parsippany, 973-244-0032, koreanbbqnewjersey.com
Downtown Dhaba, Westwood
If you lived in India, you’d most likely eat a samosa instead of a cookie, a bag of chips or a bowl of popcorn when you return home from work or school to help see you through to dinner.
“It’s a popular evening snack,” says Santana Raman, the manager of Downtown Dhaba, an unfussy north Indian restaurant in Westwood.
A samosa is a crisp, golden-brown, deep-fried snack most often stuffed with a heady mixture of cooked (diced or mashed) potatoes and bright green peas sprinkled with cumin, chili, turmeric and coriander. Vegetarian? Indeed, although some restaurants stuff theirs with meat or chicken. But it’s not dairy (there’s milk in the dough, Raman says) or gluten-free (there’s wheat, too). Don’t like all that oil? Your samosa can be baked.
Either way, the conical-shaped treat will arrive with fresh green chutney — mint and tamarind. All you’ve got to do is dip and enjoy.
Go: 266 Center Ave., Westwood; (201) 664-0123, dhabadowntown.com.
Bombay Hut, Waldwick. Your choices: the traditional potato and peas or lamb with peas. Both served with cilantro and tamarind chutney. 8A W Prospect St., Waldwick; 201-857-3266; bombayhut.com.
Benares, Wyckoff. This modern Indian restaurant serves a vegetarian samosa with a hint of mango powder. 327 Franklin Ave., Wyckoff; 201-904-2222, benaresnj.com.
Veda, Tenafly. Contemporary Indian restaurant serving traditional samosas. 10 Jay St., Tenafly; 201-399-7788; vedatasteofindia.com/tenaflynj.
Sonny’s Indian Kitchen, Chatham. This beloved Indian spot does not provide variable heat choices, it makes clear on its website. No worries: the vegetable samosas won’t put your mouth on fire. (While you’re there, consider the butter chicken said to be among the best in NJ.) 225 Main St., Chatham; 973-507-9462, sonnysindiankitchen.com/
Want your dumpling at a fine-dine restaurant? Try these variations on a classic.
Filet Mignon Ravioli at Café Panache, Ramsey
Chef Michael Matonti vows he will never take the filet mignon ravioli off Café Panache’s menu. It is the late founding owner and chef Kevin Kohler’s signature dish, as popular as ever. Kohler unexpectedly died early this year. His filet mignon is ingenious, using for the filling a side muscle of the luxury meat many chefs discard.
“Kevin decided not to waste it,” Matonti says. He stewed the meat in red wine and shallots until super tender, added Parmesan cheese, some emulsified butter, and voila! A bestselling, life-changing dish. “It’s really a very simple dish,” says Matonti. “Kohler just let the ingredients shine.”
Go: 130 E. Main St., Ramsey; 201-934-0030, cafepanachenj.com.
Lobster Dumpling at Ventana’s at the Modern, Fort Lee
Leave it to celebrity chef David Burke to include a teeny handle made of lobster claw at the top of his super-moist, super-delicious, super-adorable lobster dumpling. Burke uses puréed shrimp and butter, to which he adds diced lobster meat and a bit of spice (“A good amount of lobster,” he insists) to make his filling. He fills a wonton wrapper with the mixture, closes it into a beggar’s purse shape (“It’s more elegant that way”) and serves it in a miso sauce with fried basil. “They’re bite-size,” he says. “You take one bite and you want more.”
Go: 200 Park Ave., Fort Lee; 201-583-4777, ventanasatthemodern.com.
Cacio e Pepe Gyoza Friti at Pasta Ramen (undisclosed location)
We can talk about the “secret location” and “secret chef” at this by-invitation-only restaurant, though the secret is out: Robbie Felice is the chef. But let’s instead talk about the ridiculously sublime deep-fried cacio e pepe dumpling that Pasta Ramen’s multi-course prix-fixe dinner features. No doubt you’ve had cacio e pepe, that classic Roman dish typically made with tonnarelli slathered with a luxuriously creamy pepper sauce made with Pecorino Romano, black pepper and butter. Now imagine that sauce with even more cheese stuffed into a wonton wrapper and fried crisp with a nice sprinkling of Parmesan cheese and cracked black pepper. “It’s everyone’s favorite,” says Felice, who is now in Florida with Pasta Ramen but plans to return to New Jersey soon.
How to eat soup dumplings
Step 1: Using chopsticks, get the dumpling onto a soup spoon and use a spoon to drizzle with ginger-vinegar.
Step 2: Take a nibble to let some steam escape.
Step 3: Wait a bit to ensure that the soup is not still scalding hot.
Step 4: Suck the soup out of the skin.
Step 5: Pop the rest right into your mouth.
Step 6: Enjoy!
Esther Davidowitz is the food editor for NorthJersey.com. For more on where to dine and drink, please subscribe today and sign up for our North Jersey Eats newsletter.
Email: [email protected]