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Shenyang, City of Dumplings and Dreams 沈阳:一座饺子和梦想的城市

They say you should avoid coming to Shenyang at all, if possible, because it’s a massively polluted industrialized dump in the middle of the far north east of China, with little to recommend it other than the departures gate at the airport where at least you know you have a chance of leaving (either a greater or lesser chance, depending on which Chinese airline you’ve had the misfortune to choose).  
But if visiting Shenyang is unavoidable – as it was for us while the campervan spent two days and a night being fine-tuned at the mechanic’s workshop, before being exposed to the road perils of Inner Mongolia – then you shouldn’t miss Laobian Dumplings, those dumplings of long history and deserved fame.
Perhaps because my expectations of Shenyang were so low, the city totally and utterly surprised me. It had buzz, it had bravado, and it had a lot going for it. I liked it, although I realize I am alone in the world in saying this, even among people who live there.
The Shenyang I found was an exciting city outgrowing itself so fast the outer ring road had just become the inner ring road and the inner ring road had just been converted into a high-speed flyover zooming between luxury shopping centres. Banks were so plentifully crowded cheek by jowl on every city block it was clear everyone must be filthy rich and in need of a place to store their lucre, and indeed when the locals went out shopping it wasn’t for milk or bread, but for large electrical appliances and whole apartment blocks. The place was booming.
Luckily for us, the boom times seemed not to have affected the local food culture too much, because according to everyone I spoke to the most popular restaurant in Shenyang is hands down a cheap-as-chips dumpling den, Laobian Dumpling.
Laobian makes it into Lonely Planet China, usually a sure sign that this is somewhere you don’t want to eat. Suspicious, I also searched Dianping, the everyman’s guide to what’s good to eat (all in Chinese, I’m improving on that front) who confirmed that this was indeed a very good and very popular spot. (The other thing I love about Dianping is that it lists the most frequently recommended dishes of any restaurant so you have some idea of what to look out for when you’re presented with one of those biblical Chinese menus.)

Ooooooo!-long tea. Why? Read on. 
Laobian (“Old Bian”) dumplings have been around since 1829, started by Bian Fu who by all accounts was a true dumpling master, and continued by Bian Degui (1856 – 1942) who, according to the company’s own history ‘was good at absorbing others’ merits to make up his own shortcomings’. No love lost there then. Despite this Laobian Dumpling went from strength to strength and now offers ‘more than one hundred kinds of dumpling.’ You can see why I had to visit.
The restaurant is a bustling but plain three storys, each one packed to the brim with hungry diners. The only nod to fanciness is the Bian dragon logo on the teapots and cups, and the cheery red outfits of the waiters and waitresses.
You can choose individual dumplings form the main dumpling menu, including mandarin duck dumplings, exotic perilla leaf dumplings, wild vegetable dumplings, or even sharkfin dumplings if you’re feeling politically incorrect, or just avoid all the confusion and treat yourself to a set course dumpling feast.

Then began our own dumpling feast with the famed ‘Ice Dumplings’ (28 yuan), steamed jiaozi filled with scallions, tiny shrimp, pine nuts and rich tofu, then placed in a shallow pan and fried in a thin layer of batter and turned out upside-down onto the plate so the crunchy lacey fried batter forms a visually stunning effect. These were amazingly good – crispy at first bite with a soft, finely diced filling.

The regular jiaozi were simple boiled dumplings with a pork and vegetable filling, made much more interesting paired with  the roasted smoked chili flakes and minced garlic provided on the table.

For a little novelty I also ordered a single crab ‘dumpling’ (15 yuan) but the waiter wouldn’t have it, telling me each one was no bigger than his thumbnail. So I ordered two. They were so gorgeous with their little black sesame seed eyes on stalks and tiny, tiny claws, but they did taste of nothing more than dumpling dough.

Our final basket of dumplings were mandarin duck (20 yuan for ten), a rich combination of dark, finely chopped duck meat and herbs, stir-fried together first before being added to the dumplings making them rich and satisfying.
The only low point in this dumpling extravaganza came with the bill when I discovered our pot of oolong tea had cost 158 yuan, in contrast with the dumplings, all fifty-two of them combined costing only 70 yuan. 
Tea prices, like wine in other parts of the world, can be staggeringly steep in Chinese restaurants, and like the novice who tells the waiter ‘Bring me a bottle of red!’ without asking the price, I had done the same thing with tea. The waiter had simply chosen the best and most expensive sachet of tea on my behalf. It was great tea, but I would have liked to know how great it was so I could savour it a bit more.
沈阳:一座饺子和梦想的城市
有人说你应该尽可能离沈阳远点,因为那是一座位于东北地区中部的污染严重的工业城市,完全不值得去。
但是当沈阳避无可避时——因为在我们的房车要在进内蒙古前进修理厂待两天,那么你就不能错过老边饺子馆。

虽然我也搜索了点评网确认过,但我见过的每个人都说老边是沈阳最受欢迎最有名的饭店。(作为一个不能读懂很多汉字的外国人,我最喜欢点评网的地方在于,它列出每个饭店点菜率最高的菜肴,这样你面对一份菜品众多的菜单时才不至于手足无措。)

老边始建于1829年,创始人是边福,一位纯粹的饺子大师。老边饺子馆现在供应超过一百种饺子。你能明白为何我必须得去见识一下。

饺子馆生意很好,挤满了饥饿的食客。你可以按照个人口味根据饺子菜单进行选择,其中包括鸳鸯饺子,奇特的紫苏叶饺子,野菜饺子,甚至还有鱼翅饺子。

有名的“冰花饺子”(28元)拉开了我们的饺子盛宴。把包着大葱,小虾仁,松仁和香浓豆腐的蒸饺排放在一个平底锅里,在一层面糊上煎炸,然后翻过来倒在盘子里。这些饺子看起来很漂亮,一口咬下去香脆得不可思议,切得很细致的蔬菜馅儿却分外松软。

常规的饺子就是包着猪肉和蔬菜的水饺,配上烤红辣椒末和大蒜末更让人垂涎欲滴。

出于一丝猎奇心理,我又点了一道纯蟹肉饺子(每个15元),但是服务员告诉我每个饺子都没有他的拇指指甲大。所以我点了两个,有黑芝麻眼睛和超小爪子的蟹肉饺子是那么的精致可爱。

 我们点的最后一份饺子是鸳鸯饺子(2010个),将精细切好的鸭肉丁和草本植物油炸后包进饺子,口感浓郁,让人欲罢不能。

 饺子宴唯一美中不足的是,账单上的一壶乌龙茶价值158元,与饺子形成鲜明对比的是,五十二只饺子仅花费了70元。

在中国的饭店里,茶的价格差距很大,就好像世界其他地方的葡萄酒的价格一样。犹如一个新手对服务员说“给我一瓶红酒”且不问价格,我在点茶时也做了同样的事情。服务员为我选了最好最贵的茶袋。茶确实是好茶,但我更希望知道它有多好,这样我才能更好地品味一下。吃一堑长一智。

可能由于我对沈阳的期望值很低,所以这座城市给了我十足的惊喜,她有活力,有冒险精神,不断进取。我喜欢沈阳!
Laobian Dumpling 老边饺子馆

Laobian Jiaozi Guan
208 Zhong Jie, Shen He District

老边饺子馆
沈河区中街208号

Open seven days from early until late 
+86 24 24865369

The China Road Trip so far (in case you missed any):
My Year of Maximum China – in which the PLAN is hatched
The China Road Trip – A Progress Report in which obstacle start to present themselves…
Finding the Great Chinese Campervan – the vehicle is found! but the price will be negotiated endlessly for two more months
See How Easily You Can Camp in China! – the test drive weekend and surviving marital discord on the road
The China Road Trip Begins! – Where We’ll be Going, and When
Lian Island and the Art of the Perfect Beach Wedding Photograph – beach hideaway in northern Jiangsu Province
The Campground That Almost Was…..because you can’t win ’em all
Clinging to a Cliff Under the Great Wall – Northern Tianjin Province