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Hẻm Gems: At D5's Sủi Cảo Đại Nương, a Song of Chives and Fire

One night after my meal at Sui Cao Dai Nuong, I find myself in a mystifying dream about chives.

In the dream, I am slurping on an unknown soup when, from the bottom of the bowl, blobs of dumplings float up, staring me down with their lush, doughy white skin. After a fleeting rush of glee at discovering extra food, I bite into one, only to have an unstoppable stream of chives break out into my bowl. It quickly descends into a chives-pocalypse in which I keep gobbling up these pulpy green leaves, but they won’t stop materializing and eventually take over the entire dining area.

Other than dumplings, Sui Cao Dai Nuong also serves Chinese-style phá lấu.

This eerie episode is not a reflection on the quality of dumplings at Sui Cao Dai Nuong, because they are, on the contrary, absolutely delicious and not at all nightmare-inducing. But they do have an abundance of chive segments, which I personally love, that might drive the allium-averse insane. We first heard of this dumpling heaven through a colleague, who, on his first visit, thought that these fluffy morsels were so good that he bought a takeaway portion for us to sample right at our desk in the office. Even when eaten lukewarm and out of a Styrofoam box, they are the epitome of the intricate balance between soft and chewy.

Sui Cao Dai Nuong’s specialty is in the name: sủi cảo is the Vietnamese word for jiaozi, a special type of Chinese dumpling packed with minced meat and usually eaten steamed or pan-fried. Its location, on the side of Chau Van Liem Avenue, is a testament to the eatery’s endurance and authority on the art of dumpling-making. The busy street has long been been one of the best places in Saigon to immerse oneself in Chinese culture, from old theaters to petite dessert carts to dumpling establishments galore.

Huge balls of sủi cảo are either blanched or deep-fried on order.

Inside, a steamy kitchen sectioned off by plexiglass, a few sets of metallic tables and mahogany chairs, and nondescript white walls — all in all, nothing flashy enough to distract one from the meal at hand. We settle down at a round table right below a high rack brandishing a range of Chinese condiments. I already feel at home in the setting.

Slowly, our orders start arriving on the table: fried sủi cảo (VND50,000 for ten pieces), blanched sủi cảo (VND45,000 for ten), a plate of stir-fried noodles with pork and egg (VND45,000) and a portion of fried rice (VND40,000). Both dumpling dishes are created from the same sủi cảo, golf ball-sized chunks of minced pork and chives wrapped in a thick sheet of dough that’s reminiscent of Taiwanese dumplings. Slowly tearing it in two and dipping into a mix of soy sauce, chili oil and vinegar, I take a first bite into the still-steamy filling.

The condiment is also a make-or-break component of a good sủi cảo. To make your own, balance to taste a concoction of chili oil, vinegar and soy sauce.

The blanched sủi cảo, despite their thick covering, are al dente on the outside and generously chives-laden on the inside. Apart from providing a touch of inviting green, the chives flakes help retain some moisture in the filling. The fried sủi cảo, on the other hand, has golden skin that provides a crunch at touch. Still, I soon grow tired of its greasiness, as they are deep-fried completely instead of pan-fried for a potsticker approach.

The stir-fried noodles and fried rice, surprisingly, are sterling stars on their own that warrant many more repeat orders in the future. We wash everything down with glasses of oolong tea, brewed especially potent and not anywhere near the usual trà đá one might find elsewhere in Saigon. These ladies mean business, be it in tea brewing or jiaozi frying.

For just around VND40,000 the portions at Sui Cao Dai Nuong are huge.

To sum up:

Taste: 5/5

Price: 4.5/5

Atmosphere: 4/5 

Friendliness: 2/5

Location: 3/5

Khoi loves tamarind, is a raging millennial and will write for food.

Homemade dumplings

125 Chau Van Liem, Ward 14, D5

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