Ting Liu walks into her restaurant between 8:00am and 9:00am every morning to prepare for the 11:00am opening. Her day ends around midnight after she's cleaned the place and finished preparing for the next day; she goes through the same routine seven days a week. Liu's restaurant is Qing Hua, and what Liu specializes in are dumplings.
Liu is the embodiment of the spirits and ideals held by many of our parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents-she's an immigrant, and the first of her family to grace these shores. Liu hails from the industrial, coastal city of Dalian, in the Liaoning Province of Northeastern China, where her parents still run a dumpling shop. This summer, Qing Hua moved from St-Marc Street to its new location on Lincoln. (Zoning issues forced Liu to move, during which time I called the Ville-Marie City Counselor once a week to pester him about Liu's dilemma, and threatened to sue for personal, mental anguish.) During the relocation, Liu went back to China to hone her skills in her parents' dumpling shop. Everything, from the dough to the filling, is made in house and by hand. The dumplings are made one at a time, so, be patient while waiting for your order, dumplings this good are worth the wait.
Now before thoughts of peanut butter sauce start dancing in your head, let me clarify a few things. Liu's soup dumplings are not wontons, they are jiaozi dumplings, and the soup-or broth-is contained within. The thin dough is filled with everything from pork and cabbage, (Qing Hua's most popular dumpling) to lamb and coriander (definitely one of my favorites) or spotted mackerel (a dumpling with a pleasantly, fishy taste.) The dumplings come three ways: Steamed, boiled, or pan-fried. The steamed dumplings are cooked in traditional bamboo steamers, which impart an intrinsic, subtle, woody taste to the dumpling. The boiled dumplings, which according to Liu are the most popular way to eat jiaozi in Dalian, allow the palate to truly taste and savor the contents within-so before drowning your dumpling in soy sauce, try it on its own and experience the real, inherent flavors in each ingredient. The pan-fried jiaozi-also referred to as pot stickers-are not deep fried, but rather, cooked in a special, double-sided press until the dumplings (along with a light, egg white sauce that hold all the dumplings together) are neatly browned on one side. Whatever the cooking method, the finished dumplings have one common ingredient: the steaming, hot liquid crimped within each one. So be careful with that first bite, putting the whole dumpling in your mouth is not recommended.
I heard about Liu and her fabulous dumplings (as well as her great soups and authentic salads) from a colleague a couple of weeks after Qing Hua opened. As someone whose life revolves around food, I was exited to have found something as fresh and exceptional as Qing Hua; upon that first bite, I knew it was a real find. (And if the Qing Hua thread on Chowhounds is evidence of anything, it's that I'm not the only one whose gastronomic spirit has been awakened.)
It's never just about the food; it's about the people who make the food. Liu, her gang of cooks, along with their hands-and plenty of "savoir faire"-are essential ingredients which transcend the corporeal, thereby entering the food; giving us something beyond simply tasty, but sublime and magical.
Liu embodies many ideals, like the masses of immigrants who came before her, she arrives to her new world with the promise of a new life, filled with the anticipation of bigger and better things, and we're all the better for it.
Qing Hua Dumpling, 1676 Lincoln Ave., 438.288.5366. (Just west of Guy)