YUM YUM DUMPLINGS
2432 Middle Country Rd., Centereach
AMBIENCE: Modest, but clean and bright
ESSENTIALS: Open every day from 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Parking lot. Wheelchair accessible.
As this year of unparalleled discord draws to a close, people of good will search for something to unite us all.
My proposal: the dumpling.
This little bundle has the power to delight folks of every political stripe and philosophical bent. Dumplings are ubiquitous at Chinese restaurants, but because their production requires considerable time and skill, many — I daresay most — are frozen.
So let’s rejoice that Yum Yum Dumplings is making more than a dozen varieties of fresh, from-scratch dumplings, plus soups, noodles and other rib-sticking Chinese dishes as well as an array of bubble teas.
Chef-owner Feona Hu was working at another Chinese restaurant when she noted the inexhaustible appetite for dumplings. “It didn’t matter if they were American or Chinese, or whatever else was on the table,” she said. “The dumplings were always gone first.”
Hu’s grandparents owned a successful dumpling shop in Beijing, and she decided that this well-traveled stretch of Centereach could support an American version. It’s a modest eatery, but attractive. The 16-seat dining room is decorated by a mural depicting what’s going on in the kitchen: the rolling, filling, folding and cooking of dumplings. Order at the counter and your food is delivered as it is ready.
You can’t go wrong with any of the 10 traditional dumplings. They fall into four categories — pork, beef, seafood and vegetables — and are heightened with such classic flavorings as chives, scallions and cabbage. Irregularly shaped and stubby, they hew to the culinary tradition of Northern China, where most dumplings are boiled rather than steamed. If they lack the fragility of their Cantonese counterparts, they are no less delicious, and, to me, more satisfying.
All dumplings come either boiled or pan fried, which gives them a good, crackling-brown sear. The more delicate dumplings, such as seafood (filled with shrimp, pork and chive) or the vegetarian bok choy with Chinese mushrooms, are better boiled, whereas the heartier pork and beef dumplings stand up better to frying.
Are these the most exquisite dumplings I’ve ever had? Probably not. Is there a better $5 lunch on Long Island than eight of them? Definitely not.
Yum Yum also offers five “house special” dumplings (Buffalo chicken, chicken-bacon-ranch, teriyaki chicken, teriyaki beef-broccoli and barbecue beef) which are marginally more expensive and highly skippable.
Then there are the wontons. Folded rather than pinched around their fillings, and made with thinner wrappers, they are just as good — and more delicate — than Yum Yum’s dumplings, though I wish they had a higher pork-to-wrapper ratio. If you like spice get the hot chili wontons, which are doused with smoky chili oil and showered with cilantro. Tenderer palates will enjoy the wonton soup, spare and soothing.
Even more comforting was the tomato and egg drop soup, a gorgeous bowlful of cloud-light shreds of egg mingling with softly cooked tomatoes in broth. Tofu and cabbage soup straddled the line between mild and dull, and the otherwise pleasant tomato beef noodle soup was undermined by tough cubes of beef.
We think of rice culture as dominating China, but wheat is central to the cooking of the north and forms the basis of many griddled breads (bing) such as the filled meat pies called xian bing. Yum Yum makes one filled with pork and cabbage and two meatless versions: cabbage and carrot, egg and chive. All are deeply savory, and, a bonus, sturdy enough to eat in the car.
Jianbing is a griddled wrapper reminiscent of a flour tortilla that is folded around a fried egg and various fillings, but by employing iceberg lettuce and prosaic chicken breasts, Yum Yum sabotaged its potential. Leftover “tortillas,” however, are cut into strips and used profitably in the “chou bing,” a homey stir-fried hash of cabbage and shredded chicken. Served over rice, it easily feeds two for $8.85 at dinner. At lunch, it’s only $6.95, which includes a can of soda.
The noodles we ordered ranged from slightly to very overcooked. Dan dan noodles also suffered from a watery sauce, but the soy sauce noodles were a hit, veiled with a light dressing and pepped up with fresh minced ginger and scallions.
Service here is minimal. You can gather your own plates and napkins from the counter but you may have to pester the staff for drinks. The lack of a vestibule means that the cold winter air is always threatening to blast in. But I’d happily brave a cold wind for a plate of Yum Yum’s soulful dumplings, a little slice of heaven in Centereach.