Sunday, July 27, 2014

Manchu-ey "Northern Noodles" At Sungari Dumpling House

"Northern Noodles" turned out to be my old friend Zha Jiang Mian

I don't know if there's such a thing as Manchurian cuisine in San Francisco, but at least we now have a candidate (he he) in Sungari Dumpling House out in the Excelsior district, the latest addition to our stable of Dongbei (Northeast China) restaurants. "Sungari" is the Manchu name for what is now called the Songhua River, a tributary to the Amur River that cuts through Jilin and Heilongjiang provinces on its way. The restaurant is, in fact, called Songhua River Dumpling Garden (松花江水餃園) in Chinese.

For the non-Chinese-literate patron  (like yours truly), dining at Sungari is bound to be an adventure. For one thing, the staff, or at least the (mom and pop?) couple manning the stoves on a Sunday afternoon are all but devoid of English comprehension.  Then there's the menu, a real work in progress, containing English translations which are either inadequate or incomprehensible.  What will I get, for example, when I order "Hongyun Crocodile Pot" under the Clay Pot menu? (For the record, my Waygo translation app reads the Chinese as "alligator" rather than "crocodile" but I'll give them a pass on that.) "House Soup Gross Blood Mong" turns out to be congealed duck blood and sauteed eel in Chili sauce (mao xue yang), one of several Sichuan dishes on the menu.  I'll wait on that one, because I'm dying to try the "Secret Burning Pomfret."

Joking aside, the woman serving me was as friendly and willing to please as she was incapable of enlightening me about anything on the menu.  She brought me tea and complimentary dishes of spiced cabbage and peanuts while I pondered the menu. I was there for noodles, and between English, Chinese and pointing was able to successfully order the "Northern Noodles." The Chinese on the menu was no less vague on what that meant, and I prepared myself to be surprised.  At least it would be something "Northern" (beifang).

When my "Northern Noodles" came, they turned out to be nothing other than my old friend zha jiang mian. At least I don't have to explain zha jiang mian again, just point to my last post. Sungari's ZJM, however, was a different version than Xi An Gourmet's. The sauce, lighter in color and thinner than my previous foray's version, was also blander (but not sweeter) and more copious. It was served atop rough, thick hand-cut noodles that were perfectly chewy. Instead of just julienned cucumber, it came with three vegetal condiments in little dishes -- cucumber, bean sprouts, and chopped fresh cilantro. I added the contents of all three, as well as the remnants of my spiced cabbage to add a little heat.  I could have added some chili paste from the table's condiment tray, but the fresh cilantro added a complexity that extra heat might have masked.

My "Northern Noodles" turned out to be a damned fine hearty lunch for $6.95, and I will be back to Sungari Dumpling House to try more noodles and dumplings, and maybe even a Spicy Mix Fountain salad.

 Where slurped: Sungari Dumpling House, 4543 Mission St., San Francisco

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