One of our favorite lunchtime hobbies at SEHQ is walking into one of our nearby Chinatown dumpling shops with a five-dollar bill and seeing how much we can walk out with. Usually it'll feed an office full of us with some to spare and a pocket of change. This time around we splurged and spent closer to $6 to throw in a sesame pancake, too.
Prosperity Dumpling and Vanessa's Dumpling House are pretty equidistant from our office, each with a big fanclub and extremely big cast-iron pans that fry up impressively large quantities of dumplings and sesame pancakes all day.
Have you ever seen a sesame pancake being made fresh? It comes from a much larger mama pancake that's triangle-sliced up, thicker than a scallion pancake, and filled with veggies, pork, or duck. The flatbread-like pancake is the real reason why you're eating it, and though fried (it's probably a closer relative to the doughnut than we want to admit) shouldn't be greasy.
The pancakes from Prosperity ($1.25) are golden-browner than Vanessa's. At first glance, you'd think they'd be crisper and have more of that savory pan-seared flavor but they're actually a little greasy with doughy, undercooked insides. Vanessa's pancakes ($1.50) may be a snowier, lighter shade but they actually lock in more of the pan-blistered warmth and have a better crumb. The sesame seed topcoat also smelled and tasted more intensely sesame, even if the two appear to have the same seedcount scattered on top.
The veggie guts are also slightly better at Vanessa's. Lightly pickled carrots and scallions with plenty of crisp, julienned cucumber sticks. At Prosperity, you'll peel off the top layer to find pickled carrots too, as well as cilantro, which adds a nice, clean bite (unless you hate cilantro). We wish there were more veggies in each of them to plump up the pockets and avoid those flappy edge bites of pancake on pancake.
Once again, another win for Vanessa's on the meat fillings. The beef we tried at Prosperity was shriveled and dry, almost jerky-like and unappealing after a few bites. But Vanessa's fills their pancakes with your choice of roast pork nubbins or fatty, skin-on Peking duck. The meats aren't stellar when picked out on their own but they plump up that pancake pocket.
And a quick word on the dumplings at each place (because when dumplings are five-a-dollar, you end up ordering at least five). We tried fried pork dumplings at each, and preferred those from Prosperity's. They had a better skin with a juicy, more flavorful pork filling while Vanessa's dumplings had thicker, doughier wrappers. Not as delicate.
For the record, $15 of research money for this side-by-side tasting yielded about eight pancakes and 30 dumplings.
118 Eldridge Street, New York NY 10002 (map)
46 Eldridge Street, New York NY 10002 (map)