On Ducks and Dumplings

dumpling house

Duck House, 1968 SW 5th Avenue, Portland, OR
Dumpling House, 3141 Kingsway, Vancouver, BC

Duck House

While visiting Portland, Oregon last month, my companion grew hungry after wandering the corridors of Powell’s Books, and I checked my phone for local restaurants. As soon as my eyes spotted the words “Duck House” on Google Maps, and that it was within a reasonable walking distance, the decision was made. The prospect of a tasty roasted duck is one of those things that makes the idea of a commitment to veganism considerably less likely for me. I moved quickly from faintly peckish to could eat a horse. Or rather, a duck.

It was still only late afternoon, so I was surprised to find that Duck House was packed, with a short queue. However, there was a table for two available, so we were seated immediately. The next surprise came as I scanned the menu. It was appealingly extensive, but there was one very curious thing missing: not one dish on it contained duck. I questioned our server about this as she filled our water glasses. “I just started working here yesterday,” she replied, with an insouciance that could have been new-employee anxiety, or possibly, at day two on the job she was already sick of answering that question.

Fortunately, despite the absence of duck, Duck House was very good. The atmosphere was modern and inviting, and the food was fresh and well-presented, and the proteins were ample and of good quality. We had Stir Fried Fish Fillet ($13.95), Chicken Chow Mein ($12.95), and Stir Fried Green Beans ($12.95). Handy to the urban campus of Portland State University, it’s worth a visit should you be in Portland. Though I’d recommend it more enthusiastically if, you know, duck.

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Dumpling House

It was with the Duck House experience still fresh in mind that I recently wandered through the door of Dumpling House restaurant in east Vancouver. Prospective diners need not be concerned about a dearth of dumplings, however: dumplings are (practically) the only thing on the menu here.

Dumpling House is very small, with just eight tables, six of which are two-seaters. The decor is very sparse, but very clean and white, neat and modern, like an Ikea showroom, somewhat bright but with none of that awful daylight fluorescent lighting so common in certain Chinese restaurants in East Van. There’s no music, which was a blessing to my older dining companion, who struggles with hearing in noisy restaurants. If you’re the only customers, though, it can be unnervingly quiet.

It’s also simple. A menu, English on one side, Chinese on the other, with a list of dumplings. There are twenty-five different kinds of dumplings on offer, and you get to choose from three different cooking methods: boiled, steamed, or pan-fried (the latter is my favourite, but any would be good choices). You choose a plate of either twelve ($8-$11) or eighteen ($11-$16) dumplings, which come out steaming hot. I’ve actually been to Dumpling House twice, so I’ve tried quite a few varieties, and didn’t try any I didn’t like. Occasionally an ingredient may not be available, which is not a surprise for such a small shop. Pork is the most-used meat ingredient, but beef, lamb, and seafood are also options. There are four vegetarian dumplings.

Dumplings are dominant here, but there are just a few accompaniments available as well, mostly cold sides. I enjoyed the Shredded Bean Curd Salad , the Woodear Salad, and the Smashed Cucumber Salad (all $4 each).

If you can’t eat out with out booze, you won’t like Dumpling House, as the only beverages available are soft drinks, or hot or cold water. Dishes are ideal for sharing, but individual can work too. If you like the dumplings, you can also buy some frozen ones to take home and cook yourself.

Perhaps most important to know: Dumpling House is less like eating at a conventional restaurant, more like being a guest in someone’s kitchen. This isn’t fast food. One woman does all the work (though she apparently has a helper come in to assist her a few hours a week): she makes the dumplings, prepares the dishes, serves customers, cleans tables, runs the cash. She does this *every* day, 11:30am to 9:30pm. She’s surprisingly quick and efficient (and considerably more cheerful than I’d be in her position), but if you order a second dish, and there are other customers, you might have to wait a bit. She’s a lovely, reserved woman, so don’t expect her to be outgoing like a waiter at The Keg. You might have to let go of your accumulated service expectations, just a little, though that shouldn’t scare you off. On the plus side, she won’t ask you “How are the first few bites tasting?”

I like Dumpling House a lot, both for the food, and the un-restaurant-y intimacy and simplicity of it, and will likely go again. The only complaint I can think of? There are no Duck Dumplings.