Yesterday morning I ran in the Fitness Mind, Body, and Spirt race in Central Park. The race went well (I got a personal PR) and after crossing the finish line I skipped the free bags of pretzels and apples they were handing out and instead took my grumbling stomach down to the Lower East Side to meet Mary Kate and some friends at the annual Tang's Natural NYC Dumpling Festival. It was a good choice!
We actually went to the festival two years ago and I knew it was the perfect place stuff my face with good food post-race. Tickets to the festival are $20 which allows you to try dumplings from four different booths of your choosing. This may seem a little pricey until you realize the entire ticket price goes to the charity Food Bank for New York City. What makes the festival so cool is that it makes you rethink the definition of a dumpling. There are not just traditional Chinese dumplings and pot stickers, but there are also Ukrainian Pierogi, Portuguese dumplings with seafood, steamed baozi, and apple dessert dumplings among others.
We all made the rounds at the booths and then tasted each others'. My favorite were Miss Korea's BBQ dumplings. The wheat dumplings were filled with marinated beef and spicy (I mean SPICY) kimchi which tasted similar to little pockets of Korean bulgogi. To make them even better, they were served with more beef and more kimchi on the side.
Another one I liked were the Tang's Natural dumplings served with a splash of chili sauce. They had wheat skins and a filling made with Chinese chives (jiu cai, 韭菜) which I normally don't like but it didn't overpower the filling here. The apartment I just moved into is across the street from a Whole Foods (where you can buy these frozen) and I see many nights eating of these in my near future.
Another goodie was the Ukrainian pierogi from the restaurant Veselka. (If you haven't eaten at this restaurant before, you must try it out. It's an East Village institution and they serve all kinds of amazing Ukrainian soul food you've probably vaguely heard before but haven never tried like cheese blintzes and borscht.) Their booth at the festival was serving pierogi dumplings with a few different types of fillings. I tried the potato and sour cream (basic but still good) and the goat cheese and arugula (zing! fantastic!) which were all also coved in bits of caramelized onions.
An honorable mention were the Portuguese dumplings from O' Lavrador's booth which were filled with seafood and came with an excellent savory sauce.
My friend Brian got a spiced apple dumpling (really more like a mini-turnover pastry) with whipped cream and cinnamon. Like I always say, you can never go wrong with fried dough, cinnamon, and apple filling.
My roommate has been talking about how amazing Fresh Ginger Ginger Ale is. They were selling it at the festival so I grabbed a bottle of it... and it was awesome. Right off the bat you know this isn't ginger ale you grew up with. There are all these tiny pieces of real ginger that have settled on the bottom the the bottle (the label tells you to shake gently before drinking). The flavor is really different than your basic Canada Dry ginger ale--closer to the flavor of crystalized ginger candy with the same spiciness. They also sell one that is made with Jasmine flowers and another with Pomegranite. I wholly recommend it. My roommate mixes it with whisky which is also recommend.
Finally, after all our eating it was time to watch other people eat. The annual dumpling eating contest included 5 rounds of eaters (3 men rounds and 2 women women). Floria Lee won the women's contest with 37. Here's our video of "Gentleman Joe" Menchetti winning the men's contest eating 69 dumplings in 2 minutes. This was his 7th time to win.
Afterwards Mary Kate and I met Jaden Hair, the event announcer. We've been longtime fans of Jaden, the cook behind Steamy Kitchen. She was really nice and it was super cool that we got to meet her. If you go to her website, she has a great cooking supplies store and awesome recipes. She's like the Martha Stewart of Asian cooking.