Long's Noodle House is a true hole-in-the-wall restaurant in Vancouver's Riley Park neighborhood, which is some distance away from both downtown and the hubbub of Chinese food mecca Richmond. This dingy and delightful spot has less than 10 tables, and it's the kind of place where you look at everyone else's food, get tempted, then order whatever your neighbor is having. The two things you'll see at virtually every table are a steamer basket of xiao long bao (soup dumplings) and a ceramic crock of wine chicken.
In a city with many xiao long bao options, many consider Long's the best (though Shanghai River and The Place give it a run for its money). They're listed as Steamed Mini Pork Buns ($5.95 for 6), and look a little rustic, with a slightly thicker-than-normal wrapper that's remarkable in its ability to hold a generous amount of hot soup inside. When you lift one with your chopsticks, it displays an excellent amount of droopage from the broth inside. The lightly packed pork filling may not be the best quality, but it combines well with the chewy skin and soup for a rich flavor. I use ginger slices to dab each dumpling with vinegar sauce, then eat the whole thing in one juicy bite.
Wine Chicken ($7.95) is something I ordered out of curiosity many years ago. I was unfamiliar with the dish, but intrigued by the green ceramic crocks I saw on everyone else's table. To make it, the chef steams chicken legs, then marinates them overnight in Shaoxing wine, ginger, and other seasonings which Long's keeps a secret. The chicken is then sliced and placed in the crock with that same wine sauce for several hours before being served (this dish is also known as "drunken chicken"). The wine flavor is fairly mellow, though strong enough to stand up to the depth of the dark meat, which is quite tender. The chicken skin is soft and almost gelatinous. This dish is all about subtlety and texture, and Long's twist is that it's served slightly warm, as opposed to the more typical cold versions you'll find elsewhere.
The mother and daughter team run the restaurant with great efficiency, which is important, as there's often a wait. As you're being seated, they'll warn you that it's cash-only, and if you don't order xiao long bao, they'll likely chide you, playfully: "You don't want pork buns?" And with soup dumplings this good, why wouldn't you?
About the author: Jay Friedman is a Seattle-based freelance food writer who happens to travel extensively as a sex educator. An avid fan of noodles (some call him "The Mein Man"), he sees sensuality in all foods, and blogs about it at his Gastrolust website. You can follow him on Twitter @jayfriedman.