Wontons at White Bear
Just a short one-hour subway ride away from me is downtown Flushing. Home of an insane amount of restaurants, many Chinese but also its neighboring regions and provinces. And by insane I mean too many to count. Too many to try. Too many to ever hope of eating at more than once. Recently, on a cold and blustery November day, I rode out on the 7-train with my good friend Tara. The plan was no plan. No plans other than to eat. And all I cared about was that our first stop would be to a place I had seen photos of on Flickr: White Bear.
Many call them dumplings but Tara informed me right away that they are correctly called wontons. The restaurant is so small that, despite the four tables available for eat-in orders, it's as if you're eating in their kitchen. Separated by just a small half-wall, the kitchen is manned by one man. We placed our order, perched at our well-worn laminate table, and I tracked the chefs every move.
The wontons came out five minutes later, a dozen of them on a sturdy paper plate. Swimming in a pool of fiery oil dotted with pickled onions and topped with dark brown roasted bits and fresh green onions. I knew it would be wise to wait. "They're too hot," I said to Tara. Neither of us patient enough to wait.
Slowly I broke apart my cheap-wooden chopsticks and pinched up my first wonton. Oil dripped down on the table and I gently bit in, taking half a bite and quickly moving the other half back to the plate. The filling tasted basic, ground pork, onions, perhaps some salt and pepper. Where the magic lie was in the different layers of sauce. This was where the wontons stepped out ahead of the others. "What's the dark brown on top," I asked Tara. She shrugged her shoulders. We took guesses: roasted chilis, dried then roasted chilis, the remnants from the bottom of a pan of meat mixed with chilis. The taste was smoky and sweet, not too spicy, with an incredible flavor that bounced off the boiled wonton wrapper and mellow meat turning each bite into a wonderful blend of umami.
The next ten-minutes passed in a blur. We chatted about life as we slid the paper plate back and forth. I ate one. Tara ate one. I ate one. Tara ate one. Until they were all gone and I was sad. I gave my mouth one last wipe with my tiny napkin and pushed away from the table. "So good," I said rubbing my belly, "Where to now?"