Fu Man Dumpling House
14314 Greenwood Ave N.
Seattle WA 98133
Dumpling Fans Prefer You Not Know About Fu Man
By: Grant Y
It's a small restaurant with a yellow and red sign most would call tacky. "Fu Man Dumpling House" it says in bold letters, by the intersection of 143rd St and Greenwood Ave in Seattle. There are perhaps three parking spots in the front and a porch, where you might just see a line of people waiting outside -which given how popular this joint is, right where you might end up yourself.
Having once lived in Shoreline, I heard about a hole-in-the-wall Chinese restaurant that lingered somewhere close to the water near Greenwood. The story went that locals would line up in droves for the cheap food during lunch and on the weekend. A short Google search narrowed the list of possible suspects until it was finally determined that Fu Man Dumpling House had to be our target. So it was time to find out what the fuss was all about.
We arrived at Fu Man Dumpling House at 1:00pm on a Sunday, with the hopes of avoiding the lunch rush. Looking around, we saw a mere six tables in the dining room; small enough to pass for a living room anywhere else. Not surprisingly, the host informed us there were no tables available and that the wait would be 20-30 minutes.
With no waiting area, we decided to wait outside and browse the menu posted on the outside wall. The menu was surprisingly small, focusing on specialty dishes, such as: dumplings, steamed buns, green onion pancakes, various soups, pork jelly, fried rice and noodles. Foodies will be glad to hear that you won't find sweet and sour chicken, egg rolls, or Mongolian beef on the menu. Fu Man Dumpling house serves only authentic, Chinese style street vendor dishes - a big local favorite in China and Taiwan.
After a 15 minute wait, the owner summoned us back inside where we took our seats. We took to ordering immediately, asking for boiled dumplings ($5.75), potstickers ($6.25), Chinese pork burgers ($4.75) a green onion pancake ($4.25), leek pancakes ($4.25), Chinese pork jelly ($5.75) and the special fried rice ($7.95). The owner raised an eyebrow at our large order and smiled as he asked if we were very hungry. We laughed and smiled back saying that we were indeed hungry. Of course, we were really wanting to test the cooks on as many Chinese delicacies as possible.
The restaurant was clean and well-maintained on the inside, although understandably cramped. A window to the kitchen showed at least three to four chefs in the back rolling dough and prepping other ingredients. The feeling of Fu Man Dumpling House was definitely that of a family operation, which is not surprising considering the location and size of the restaurant.
The first item to come out was the potstickers, which were nicely browned, crisp and most importantly, juicy in the middle. The meat flavorful was a combination of pork and vegetables, with hints of other ingredients such as ginger and shallots.
Coming on its heels were steamed dumplings, which had a nice thick skin that was the proper texture-not too soft or watery, but not stiff or flaky. A good dumpling has a thick, chewy skin that is almost translucent.
A favorite with native Chinese, green onion pancakes are often hard to find due to the time involved in making them. Fu Man delivered, with a thick and golden pancake, with green onions showing through the crispy skin. The pancake was made in layers, as per the traditional style, with a chewy center. It's probably the best green onion pancake you'll experience in Seattle, next to Rocking Wok in Wallingford.
A truly rare dish was next - the Chinese pork jelly. Pork jelly is a specialty dish served in small eateries throughout China. This is a cold dish, that involves boiling pork and refrigerating the stock and meat until it becomes literally like a jelly. Trish couldn't get over the texture of a meat jelly, while a guest we brought along almost single-handily finished off the whole dish. It would seem like pork jelly may be a love or hate ordeal. I personally loved the silken texture of the melting jelly over warm rice, but it was a little salty.
The Chinese pork hamburgers is best described as a meat patty inside a potsticker. The hamburger came out crisp, with a fabulously moist meat, which soaked into the dough during the cooking process and emerged as a mouth-watering dish.
The special fried rice was a combination of shrimp, beef, chicken, egg and veggies. This was the only dish that didn't stand out as noteworthy. Using freshly steamed rice, it had the effect of making the fried rice somewhat bland. Freshly rice is notoriously difficult to make fried rice with, as the saturated rice tends to not absorb flavor, while attempts to shuffle it around on a hot wok results in clumpy, soggy rice.
Last up on our epicurean tour were the leek pancakes, which resembled mini-calzones. These were stuffed with minced leeks, glass noodles and scrambled eggs. The pancakes had a fun texture between the crisp dough and stuffing, while the ingredients made for a refreshing and light taste. The leek pancakes works great as a complementary dish to dumplings or salty foods like the pork jelly.
Our assumption had been that being a hole-in-the-wall Chinese restaurant, the food was the only item for which we could have high expectations. However, during our meal, we were pleasantly surprised to be treated with attentive service from the host, who regularly came by to fill water, check in to ask about the food, and even to make jokes about why we couldn't finish all of our dishes.
However, we noticed that there were some service issues outside of our party. I observed one female customer that was treated briskly when asking for a to-go order. Another male customer had some trouble getting a seat, trying to get on a waiting list, only to be informed that the restaurant didn't use waiting lists. They did use a "first come, first serve" system however; to which neither we (nor the male customer) seemed to be able to grasp well.
If you decide to go to Fu Man Dumpling House, our suggestion is that you either arrive early, late, phone ahead with a take out order, or be prepared to wait. If you choose the latter, be sure to let the host know your name (even if they don't take names or make a waiting list) just so he remembers you when a table opens up. Of course, a smile when you mention your name always works wonders.
Tip: Parking is limited up front, but don't park in the neighboring parking spots, as they belong to the other store and you may get towed. There is plenty of more parking in the back.
If you like Fu Man Dumpling House, you may also like: