Bao Yuan Jiaozi Wu – The not-so-ugly dumplings

30 Jan

As published in the Sydney Morning Herald on January 29, 2011.

Beijing’s Bao Yuan Jiaozi Wu turns the creation of these delectable little pillows into an art form, writes Jessica Mahar.

In China, the humble dumpling brings families together for Chinese New Year, bridging the thousands of kilometres separating them. It’s often the only time they will see each other in 12 months. On the eve of this upcoming Spring Festival, families all over China will spend the night around a table, making dumplings, in the hope that eating them will bring good fortune.

They are eaten for breakfast, lunch, dinner and daytime snacks throughout the year. If you’re after ”jiaozi” (dumplings) in Beijing, you’ll never have to look long to find somewhere dishing up a steaming, freshly cooked plate.

If you tire of the white-skinned variety with pork and chives, Bao Yuan Jiaozi Wu will excite taste buds and provide a feast for the eyes. On a cold winter’s night, red lanterns swing outside as we are welcomed warmly by waitresses wearing matching uniforms but showing their individuality through elaborate hairstyles.

Despite arriving for dinner at a time that’s late by Beijing standards, the restaurant is still full of couples and young people at tables laden with dumplings and other Chinese dishes. It’s noisy and fun, with the clang of plates on glass tabletops, calls to waitresses and a hum of the exhaust fan from the kitchen.

Garlic cloves on the tables are consumed only with dinner, so it’s best to decide on an all-or-nothing scenario with your companions. What catches the eye are the rainbow-coloured dumplings – bright orange, purple and green – their skins dyed with vegetable juices and equally exotic and creative fillings to match their outer layers. The glossy menu shows close-ups of open dumplings with fillings spilling out and the choice is tough, with almost too many combinations.

We opt for shrimp and cucumber; beef, tomato and coriander; and vegetarian five treasures and a cold vegetable dish. Steaming, bulbous purple, green and orange dumplings land on our table a short while later and unlike the arrival of most Chinese food, which is heralded by the smell, it is our eyes that savour them first. Quickly we try to grab on to the slippery morsels with our chopsticks to dunk into our self-made mixture of vinegar, soy and chilli oil. It’s up to one’s own taste – and mouth size and expertise at using chopsticks – whether they are popped into the mouth whole or eaten in small bites.

The Chinese have a saying: ”There is nothing more delicious than jiaozi,” and after eating at Bao Yuan Jiaozi Wu, we have to agree. A wander through the Laitai Flower Market past the ornate and intricate bonsai will work up an appetite before your meal, or you could attend an art or cooking class organised by the nearby China Culture Centre. The Beijing Central Art Gallery in the Kempinski Hotel shows original works of contemporary and traditional art by Chinese artists.

If you don’t feel like too much of a dumpling yourself post-meal, you can head to nearby bar 2 Kolegas to catch some of the excellent live music it has most nights of the week.

FAST FACTS

Getting there

Air China flies non-stop to Beijing from Sydney and Melbourne for about $880, low-season return including tax.

Eating there Bao Yuan Jiaozi Wu.

Location Maizidian Street, Chaoyang district, Beijing.

Food Huge range of dumplings and also Sichuan dishes.

Price 8 yuan ($1.25) for 50 grams of dumplings, other dishes from 10 yuan.

While you’re there Join a cooking class at the China Culture Centre or catch live music at 2 Kolegas.

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