Like all popular foods rich with history there never seems to be just one set origin. This is no different for the dumpling, though the theory we enjoy most is that these stuffed doughy bites were created over 1,800 years ago by a man named Zhang Zhongjing of the Eastern Han Dynasty. Legend says Zhongjing acknowledged that several people suffered from frost bite on their ears during the deep cold months of winter. To remedy this epidemic he created dumplings in the shape of ears filled with warming herbs used to promote circulation and help his people get through winter.
Although the actual risk that you’ll be facing frostbitten ears this season is rather unlikely, we’ve compiled a list of to die for dumplings in the Mile High that will warm you up from inside out and possibly promote season long blood circulation.
Zoe Ma Ma
Where: 1625 Wynkoop St., Denver
After opening its second location a little less than a year ago, Zoe Ma Ma next to Union Station has proven to be a staple dumpling and dim sum landmark. The dumplings are delicately stuffed with perfectly seasoned bites of protein and vegetables. The vegan dumplings ($1.35 each) are gluten-free and vegetarian-friendly bites overflowing with tofu, shiitake mushrooms, garlic chives and several other steamed vegetables. Each bite is surprisingly packed with flavor and could stand alone without a dip into dumpling sauce. The crystal shrimp dumplings ($4.50 for three) are sticky crystal wrappers loaded with shrimp, ginger, bamboo shoots and water chestnuts.
Where: 827 Colorado Blvd., Denver & 460 Broadway St., Denver
This Korean BBQ joint with three locations in the Denver metro is known to serve up some delicious authentic barbecue. Dae Gee is also one to fry up some perfectly crisp and juicy doughy bites. The goon mahn du ($6 for six) are lightly fried, golden brown dumplings packed with juicy bites of chicken. Each bite is crisp on the outside with rich tender meat on the inside.
Lao Wang Noodle House
Where: 945 S Federal Blvd., Denver
This mom-and-pop-run noodle house has the reputation of being an authentic hole in the wall that makes its own rules. Lao Wang meets about 50 percent of what rumors say, yes there is a system to ordering, no they don’t do to-go orders, yes you should order at least one dish per a person, no they don’t do special orders and yes they will ask you to leave if you disobey the unwritten rules. The one thing that seems to stand out most is that it knocks out some pretty damn good food and it’s worth practicing proper etiquette to be served some of Denver’s best. The xiao long bao ($10 for ten) are steamed, paper thin doughy skins bursting with hot broth and pork meatballs. Each dumpling should be taken in one bite, whether you tear a small hole in the skin to release some heat or wait that extra few minutes to dip into white vinegar then pop into your mouth.
Where: 2917 W Mississippi Ave, Denver
While Star Kitchen is just one of the many gems that stud Denver’s multicultural Federal Boulevard, it should be high on your list when it comes to eating your way down the main drag. Make sure to stop by on the weekends when they serve their famous dim sum starting at 10 a.m.. Dumplings are plentiful during these hours, so much that if you don’t guard your table, you’re likely to find yourself with more bamboo steamers than you can handle. That’s because it’s pretty common for the cart-wielding servers to plop down whatever they’re peddling unless you’re very clear about what you do and do not want. So best to come prepared and make sure to get at least one order of the quintessential Shrimp Dumplings ($3.35) which comes with a meaty portion of juicy shrimp wrapped in delicate rice papers or the Shanghai Dumplings ($3.35) which are tiny beef soup dumplings that come packed with a ton of flavor.
Where: 1555 Blake St. #101, Denver
For six years ChoLon has been serving up innovative and inspired southeast Asian cuisine on the corners of 16th and Blake Street with much success. Among the list of must try menu items are the soup dumplings ($10 happy hour; $12 regular menu) which are a creative take on a more classic soup dumplings. You won’t find the standard broth seeping from those pillows but instead, each soft bite is filled with sweet onions and melty gruyere cheese reminiscent of a classic French onion soup. If you’re dining with another be sure to order more than one round, these little delicious pillows go quick and we’d hate to see an argument start over the last bite.
Where: 42 S. Broadway, Denver
Cho77 might be the punky kid brother to the well-establish ChoLon, but that doesn’t make it any lesser. Rather Cho77’s ambitious approach to panAsian street food means you’re always going to leave the restaurant feeling like you’ve discovered something new. The menu rotates frequently and often features dishes not known to the American palate (sidebar: make sure to try the new tofu balls ($7), which are made in homage to rare fluorescent green rice flake found only in a certain region of Vietnam). But despite these common changes, one classic dish (much like ChoLon soup dumplings) aren’t likely to go anywhere. The red chili pork dumplings ($8) are, in many ways, your typical pork dumpling. But Chef Ryan Gorby takes these perfect pouches to another dimension with a tangy red chili oil and Chinese vinegar sauce he discovered while eating with friends on the far eastern stretches of downtown Singapore. The slight pucker of the sauce paired with the comforting pillowy goodness of the dumpling and the delicate crispness of the fried shallot makes for the absolute perfect bite. Order comes with four, but after just one, you’ll be wishing it was four million.