We finally made our annual trip to Oakland Chinatown over the weekend. We decided to try out the Shan Dong restaurant for it's "famous" shui jiao (water dumplings).
ShuiJiao is a Northern Chinese food, and a specialty of Shandong (literally meaning Mountain-East) province. Other food that are often attributed to Shandong origin are ManTou (a doughy bread), BaoZi (a bread with pork/vegi filling), and various hand-pulled noodle dishes (such as ZaJiang Mien and TsaoMa Mien; known also in Korean-Chinese restaurants as Jjajangmeun and Jjamppong). On the other hand, knife-cut/sliced noodle is more of a specialty of Shanshi (Mountain-West) province.
Being a Shandong-ren myself, I orderd only the specialties. We started with green-onion pancake, some soy milk and added a vegetarian BaoZi and a Pork BaoZi, and finished with the pork-leek(chives) ShuiJiao.
The pancake was good, and seem close to what I had as a kid. But there was not enough layers to it.
The soy milk was not loaded with sugar even though we ordered the sweet version. This was good since we're able to adjust the level of sweetness, unlike those really sweet versions you'd get at Chinese supermarkets.
The BaoZi was a winner. The skin dough was obviously homemade and had good texture. The filling was juicy without being fatty, and had just enough "juice", not soup. It was also quite big size, measuring about the size of a person's closed fist. Two of these would make most people full - and at .75 each, it's a great value.
This is the best BaoZi I've tasted here in the US. Just to mention that BaoZi also come in a smaller variety - this is called Xiao Long Bao in Shandong. It is similar to the BaoZi in all respects, except the size is about 1/2 to 1/3 smaller... Now it is still larger than the Xiao Long Tang(soup) Bao (the Shanghai specialty), which we've talked about often in the Chowhound boards as XLB. It is also different in the skin. XLTB has a "wet" skin, but XLB and BaoZi has a "dry" skin. The XLTB also has more soup in its filling than the XLB and BaoZi. But anyways, that is a different thread...
I also noticed that they had these huge ManTou with red dates that my grandma used to make during Chinese new years. Since I'm not a huge ManTou fan, I did not try it. Just to tell how huge - it is about 3 to 4 times larger than the big BaoZi itself.
On to the most important part of the tasting - the ShuiJiao. Unfortuntely, this was a disappointment. The ShuiJiao here suffered from being previously frozen. So the skin is chewy due to the thinkness, but mushy on the most outer layer, and generally lackluster. The size is also bigger than the ShuiJiao that I'm used to. This itself is not a problem - IF the filling is done correctly. But in this case it was not. The filling was too dry and the pork grounded too coarse. It was too dry and not juicy enough. Combined with the lame skin, this was the disappointment of the meal.
From the menu, I've noticed that they also have Shandong Chicken (Shaoji) and TsaoMa Mien and ZaJiang Mien. Although I've yet to try these dishes, their presence on the menu tells me that there's no question to their authenticity. It's just that the ShuiJiao is not up to the standard of the real deal. However I'm still looking forward to visiting again to try out the ShaoJi and other noodle dishes. Now that we've moved from deep in the south bay to Fremont, we'll make our annual Oakland trip more frequent.