Beer Hall Eating in Köln

28 11 2011

A couple of weekends ago, Nick and I found ourselves in Cologne, Germany (Köln to the natives) for a concert.  Thanks to the Thalys high-speed train network, the trip from Paris was a short three hours, allowing us to spend the better part of two days eating and drinking our way through the city’s many beer halls.  We arrived in time for lunch, and after finding our hotel, headed straight for the Päffgen Hausbrauerei.

Paffgen brewery

The beers (Kölsch, and Kölsch alone) are brought around on deep trays with slots to hold the narrow glasses. The waiter keeps a tally of how many you’ve ordered on your coaster.

sauerbraten & potato dumplings

I had sauerbraten, a dish of braised beef in a sweet-and-sour sauce traditionally thickened with ground gingersnaps.  It came with potato dumplings and applesauce.  Classic.

bratwurst

Nick ordered the bratwurst, sold in lengths of three-quarters of a meter.  It was served with a tiny tureen of spicy mustard.

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Yank Sing, San Francisco

29 09 2010

Over a year later, the quest to find soup dumplings in Paris continues with no luck.  As such, it’s one of a short list of foods that Nick and I actively seek out when we’re in the States.  We took a very short trip to San Francisco (sorry we missed each other, Hungry Dog!) and on the agenda was dim sum.

my favorite Chinese food as a child.

Our all-too-willing friend Dave courteously escorted us to Yank Sing, home of some of San Francisco’s best dim sum, or so I’m told.  We sat down to lunch in the crowded dining room and immediately the carts started rolling by.  We picked up fried shrimp, shrimp and asparagus wrapped in bacon,

bacon wrapped?  Yes, please!

and steamed pork buns.

hom bao

Then we remembered why we had come.

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A Silk Purse from a Sow’s Ear

7 09 2009

Back in the States, Nick and I have some friends from New York who turned us on to the slurpy, mouth-burning delicacy that is xiao long bao.  For the uninitiated, xiao long bao, or soup dumplings, are a specialty of Shanghai.  Intricately folded dumpling wrappers enclose a bit of seasoned meat and a gush of rich soup.  They’re supposed to be an appetizer, but the four of us would usually get two or three orders apiece and call it dinner.  Every other blog post I’ve read about soup dumplings claims that they’re something you just have to try at least once in your life.  I’m not going to tell you that, because if a steamed dumpling filled with a mouthful of meaty broth, served with vinegar, ginger, and chili oil doesn’t sound good to you, who am I to try and change your mind?  Just leaves more for me.

So thick, you can stand a spoon in it!

We visited said friends in June in their new hometown, San Francisco.  They had done some research and had a list of soup dumpling places to try, a quest in which Nick and I were more than willing to participate.  The ones we got at a restaurant were only okay, but the ones we bought freshly made to cook at home were outstanding.  More importantly, the whole adventure reminded Nick and I how much we love soup dumplings, and we vowed to redouble our efforts to find a good source in Paris once we returned home.

Pork dumpling filling

Browsing the aisles at my favorite Asian supermarket, Paris Store, I glanced into the frozen dumpling case and what did I see?  Xiao long bao, or “raviolis de Shanghai” (ravioli being the term the French have adopted to describe anything wrapped in dough).  The frosty dumplings in the bag looked like about the right shape, so I bought them, and a bamboo steamer that miraculously fit perfectly over my saucepan.  Sadly, the dumplings were not what we were looking for.  The filling is mostly meat, with just a hint of juiciness as a nod to the soup that’s supposed to be there.  Good, but not the soup dumplings we crave.

The right soup-to-meat ratio

Walking down the rue de Belleville one night, Nick and I spotted a little hole-in-the-wall with a sign that said “Restaurant Raviolis.”  Needless to say, we went there for dinner at the first opportunity.  The menu consists of about a dozen types of soup and a dozen types of dumpling.  We ordered three kinds of dumplings (shrimp, chicken, and pork), and two bowls of soup (duck for me, pork rib for Nick).  The food was delivered quickly, and smelled great.  But none of the dumplings looked like they contained any soup.  We asked the waitress if they made xiao long bao, explaining that we were looking for a dumpling with soup inside, and she said she had never heard of such a thing.  Disappointed, we turned to our soups, which brightened our spirits considerably.  The broth was extremely flavorful, and the rustic-looking noodles had a great texture.  It was then that an older woman came out of the back and began rolling dough on a long table.  We watched, slurping our soup greedily, as she hand rolled and cut a new batch of noodles.  Despite the place’s distinct lack of décor or atmosphere, we will definitely be going back for more of those handmade noodles.

But the soup dumpling jones was getting stronger.

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