Of all my obscure culinary obsessions, (after all, I’m still the kid who tried to convince my mom to buy me a tandoor when I was 9) one of my most challenging to sate is Northern-style Chinese food. It started at now-closed Maison du Nord in Montreal, which I used to frequent for its hand-pulled noodles and rou jia mo. From there, my fixation only got more specific. A trip to China introduced me to Hui cuisine, the food of a Muslim ethnic group that lives in Northwestern China. I had never tasted anything like it: The combination of chile and pickled cabbage proved too much for my Uyghur guide, but I was hooked. Unfortunately, I’ve yet to find a Hui restaurant in the United States.
But I recently found the next best thing. Dumpling Queen in Chantilly is best known for its xiaolongbao (soup dumplings) and hand-pulled-noodle soups. Each time I go there, I seem to find a different favorite. Fish and cilantro dumplings, for one, a combination so light that I can easily eat all 12 by myself. Before last week, I hadn’t made it to the chef’s specials section of the menu, which I noticed was distinctly Northern in character. I ordered the chicken and sour cabbage with rice noodles.
At first bite, my memory rushed back to a similar dish I ate in Urumqi. The only major differences were that the one in China used sweet potato starch noodles and had a smack of heat not present here. The second issue was easily amended by adding chile oil. Not that the dish really needed it. Intensely sour Chinese sauerkraut provides ample character for a dish that’s as much about texture as it is flavor. The slippery noodles, the crunchy cabbage, the toothsome strands of chicken, all conspire to create a dish that disappears as quickly as it arrives.
I still haven’t found a Hui restaurant, but Dumpling Queen will happily satisfy my desires until then.
13942 Metrotech Dr., Chantilly
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