Boston, MA: Twice Cooked Preserved Pork at Dumpling Cafe
The soup dumplings (xiao long bao) at Dumpling Cafe are excellent. A steamer basket full of them (plus a plate of the Chinatown restaurant's ultrafresh pea pod stems) makes a perfect meal; in fact, the combination is so satisfying that I rarely order anything else. Until I tried the Twice-Cooked Preserved Pork ($9.95).
The dish is my colleague and fellow Serious Eater, Andrew Janjigian's, find. He shared a container of the leftovers with me one day, and it's messed with my Dumpling Cafe order routine ever since.
I think I assumed it would just be your typical Chinese double-cooked (simmered and then stir-fried) pork belly with some pickle-y "preserved" vegetables like cabbage or mustard greens. But there's more going on in here. For one thing, the meat itself appears to be preserved. It's tighter grained, and has a denser, meatier chew to it—not nearly as much as jerky, but more so than your typical stir-fried belly. The edges of some pieces also have this burnt-end quality to them that's really addictive. There's some speculation on Chowhound that this is a different cut of fatty pork, but it's hard to say. Also, not all of those meaty-tasting slabs are pork; the thinner ones are smoked pressed tofu.
Sharp, grassy leek greens in addition to the ruffly cabbage leaves make a bolder statement than the scallion tops you usually see around here in twice cooked pork dishes, and they're a good match for all that rich, smoky flavor. So is the tangy, glossy bean paste and chile sauce, of which there is plenty for ladling over rice. (If the restaurant has a general flaw, it's that the kitchen is heavy-handed with sauces—order the Taiwan Style Eggplant and you'll see what I mean.)
About the author: Liz Bomze lives in Brookline, MA, and works as the Senior Features Editor for Cook's Illustrated Magazine. In her free time, she freelances regularly for the Boston Globe, Boston Magazine, the Improper Bostonian, and Martha's Vineyard Magazine; practices bread-baking and canning; takes photos; reads; and watches baseball. Top 5 foods: fresh noodles, gravlax, sour cherry pie, burrata, ma po tofu.