In Chinese, they are called 鍋貼, pronounced guotie and wor tip in Mandarin and Cantonese respectively. In English, they are known by various names such as: pot-stickers, grilled dumplings, or pan-fried dumplings, often with the prefix Peking or Beijing to denote their northern roots. And the Japanese, having
Irrespective of their name, these dumplings are the calling card of Brixton Village's Mama Lan. If you're looking for the gossamer thin skins of Cantonese dim sum then this isn't the place to come. These Beijing-style dumplings have thicker skins, largely because the northern Chinese have fat fingers and generally lack the dexterity and grace of their southern compatriots. I am, of course, joking; the skins are thicker because the base of the dumplings is pan-fried.
In its short life, Mama Lan has had mixed reviews from critics and bloggers alike. And truth be told, I was prepared to be disappointed. However, I am pleased to report that the dumplings were pretty decent. I particularly enjoyed the pork & Chinese leaf dumplings (£4), which were juicy, flavoursome and nicely charred on the base.
I was less taken with the beef & carrot dumplings (£4) although I understand it's a Beijing favourite. In my opinion, the carrot should be ditched, and a new partner be found for the beef. If it was up to me, I'd consider leek, maybe ginger & spring onion, or my personal favourite of dried citrus peel (guo pi 果皮).
Positives? The dumplings benefit from being freshly made and cooked to order. And it's good to see that the meat is sourced from The Ginger Pig.
Negatives? I'd like to see the dipping bowls come with slivers of ginger to add some heat and depth to the vinegar dip. The individual dumplings could also be a bit bigger, although at £4 for a portion of five, they are good value.
Whilst I wouldn't go so far as to describe Mama Lan as a destination in itself, I'm pleased that there's a Chinese presence in Brixton Village. And even if you don't pop in for a full meal, I think it's well worth a visit as part of a Brixton Village crawl. For instance, I can easily picture a trail that encompasses dumplings from Mama Lan; a pizza slice from The Agile Rabbit; samosa chaat from Elephant; gelato from Lab G and a flat white from Federation Coffee!
Update 8 Nov 2011 - I've been back to Mama Lan for some beef noodle soup, please click here for review.
Mama Lan, Brixton Village Market, Coldharbour Lane, London SW9 8PR
Nearest station: Brixton
Beijing pan-fried dumplings are found everywhere from the local takeaway to high-end Chinese restaurants. The best that I've come across in London are the fried watercress meat dumplings (西洋菜煎餃子) found on the dim sum menu at Pearl Liang.
Otherwise, Jen Café in London's Chinatown is famous for its hand-made dumplings, which are available boiled as well as pan-fried. Uncooked dumplings can also be bought as take-away.
For those of you lucky enough to visit Beijing, a trip to the legendary Shun Yi Fu is a must. Its selection of dumplings is second-to-none, and the menu is in English as well as Chinese.