The Endless Road Trip — Philadelphia’s Top 10 Eats 2. Soup Dumpling Surprise
When I picture Philadelphia, a smattering of obvious things come to mind: cheesesteaks, the Liberty Bell, Rocky Balboa, Ben Franklin…pretty standard. What I never imagined was that Philly would have amazing Chinese food. I do not say this lightly, as I come from a city teeming with authentic Asian cuisine. In Seattle, you can throw a rock and hit a Thai place, a Chinese place, or a Japanese place (realistically, probably all three). So when I heard that Philly’s Chinatown was supposed to house some of the city’s best hidden dining gems, I was eager to check it out.
Enter Dim Sum Garden, a hole-in-the-wall restaurant on the edge of Chinatown, near the bus tunnel. Not very appealing from the outside, but as I have said time and time and time again, some of the best restaurants have the shabbiest exteriors. The interior doesn’t exactly scream “gourmet experience” either — the ambiance is music-less and fluorescent-lit. Not a problem, because we weren’t visiting for fancy atmosphere. No, we were at Dim Sum Garden for one main reason: soup dumplings!
Now just to be clear, a soup dumpling is not some confused way of saying dumpling soup. No, this is exactly what it sounds like: a dumpling, with soup inside. It’s basically like eating dumpling soup, but inverted; outside it’s just an innocent dumpling, but inside is piping hot liquid! Eating these special dumplings requires a special process. It’s not enough to simply pop the whole thing in your mouth, you must employ a multi-step system to fully appreciate the components of the soup dumpling.
Luckily for all, we knew what had to be done: an instructional video! No soup dumpling left behind:
As you can see, we had some disagreements on the best eating method. Some opted for the clean-eating method — slurping all the soup out first through the tiny opening at the top of the dumpling, while others just went for it and bit straight into the whole thing.
Whichever way you go, these are just plain FUN to eat. We sampled both pork dumplings and crab & pork dumplings. To my surprise, I preferred the straight up pork over the pork and crab combo, but both were absolutely delicious. The fresh, chewy exterior of the dumpling is the perfect complement to the silky, rich soup broth on the inside. Combined with a bit of the salty dumpling sauce spritzed on top, these dumplings are a perfect harmony of taste and texture.
On your next visit to Philadelphia, look beyond the cheesesteaks and treat yourself to an afternoon in Chinatown. Head to Dim Sum Garden, get an order of pork soup dumplings and some crispy-on-the-outside, chewy-on-the-inside scallion pancakes on the side. You won’t regret it.
Dim Sum Garden is located in Chinatown in Center City, at 59 N. 11th St.