There’s a reason the word dumpling is a term of endearment—we love them. A version of them exists in nearly every culture—from gyoza to pierogi to ravioli.
The act of wrapping dough around a filling and applying heat turns ingredients into a universal thing humans would very much like to eat... except when those dumplings are bad, like at the hotly anticipated new Yong Kang Street in Pioneer Place Mall. I was dreaming of lingering dim sum lunches downtown, but instead I had multiple failed attempts at getting something that didn’t taste of dirty frying oil or just too bland to care about. So skip it (and especially the aggressively bad shrimp dumplings) in favor of these two new places.
Master Kong isn’t only about dumplings, but at least one order of their hand-formed goubuli happen every visit.
Resembling xiao long bao soup dumplings in form, goubuli’s function is heartier, with a thicker skin, a rougher construction, and little juice on the inside. Soup dumplings are ephemeral, demanding you consume them within minutes of their arrival to the table, lest the soup soak into the thin wrapper, goubuli are the workman’s dumpling, ready to go from bamboo steamer to a lunch pail.
Settled into a former house near Southeast 84th and Division, Master Kong is owned by Kang Zhu, who also recently opened the Sichuan hot pot skewer restaurant Pot & Spicy on Southeast 82nd. (We gave it a good review in March.) But Master Kong’s public face is his sister, Amy Zhu, who greets every guest seemingly for the entire 12 hours the restaurant is open, while taking orders.
You’ll order from photo books converted into picture menus. There you’ll find a very good jian bing, the Beijing street specialty of egg and crispy wonton wrapped in a thin crepe, but you’ll definitely want to stop when you see the words “meat clip.” Also presented as a “meat folder” on the ordering board up front, this is a roujiamo. Master Kong’s is my favorite I’ve had in Portland, with stewed pork on a steamed bun with cilantro and chopped onions, almost like a taco.
The wonton soup has fat dumplings, each containing at least one whole small shrimp among the pork filling, although I found the broth to be a bit wan and lacking the deeply garlic undertones that would make it truly great. However, the congee was a luscious porridge with just the right shades of ginger and rich broth surrounding the softly stewed rice. There’s nowhere near the selection like at Kenny’s Noodle House nearby, but there’s lobster, chicken, or clam, and that’s all you need.
Master Kong isn’t dim sum, but it’s worth any wait you may have around midday on a weekend—or even better, just sneak in on a Thursday night before they close and get a dumpling hug before tucking in for the night. 8435 SE Division, daily 9 am-9 pm
Shanghai’s Best Street Food
This new cart in the SW 9th and Alder pod does two things, and does them well.
At Shanghai’s Best, you can get sheng jian bao—a twisty topped pan-fried dumpling—and a steamed dumpling packed with sticky rice and shiitake mushrooms. That’s it, and that’s all. Owner Lin Chen, who is from near Shanghai, works alone, doling out the dumplings in odd numbered increments: one for $2, three for $5, and five for $8.
The sheng jian bao are the real stars, arriving piping hot and bubbling with juices from the porky filling. Find a place to rest your paper serving tray, which won’t withstand the hefty buns without help, and let them rest just a bit before taking your first bite. Your reward will be a thick skin, an oil-crisped bottom, and a savory filling that really oinks when you add some vinegar and soy sauce.
While I could down five of almost any other type of dumplings in just about as many seconds, five sheng jian bao will be enough to satisfy everyone but the hungriest luncher. This pod is set for redevelopment, so grab them while you can. SW 9th between Washington and Alder