China Bistro/Mama's Dumplings

Asian, Chinese, Vegetarian/Vegan
$$$$ ($14 and under)
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Editorial Review

In Rockville, Dumplings Made to Order

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

There are 102 items on the menu at China Bistro, a three-month-old carryout and four-table cafe in Rockville. Typically, there are egg rolls and crab Rangoon as well as kung pao shrimp and General Tsao's chicken. But most of the people who drop by on weekdays or line up on weekends are interested only in items 38 to 45.

"Chinese people come here just for the dumplings," says server Katie Zhang. Her mother Rita Lee and stepfather Jian Tan make each dumpling, in eight varieties, by hand, to order.

It's the unique fillings that set these dough bundles, known to regular customers as Mama's Dumplings, apart. For example, Mama's Special Dumplings (12 for $7.50), the best seller, are stuffed with a delicious combination of pork, shrimp, napa cabbage and chives. They may be ordered boiled or pan-fried. "But they are better boiled, very healthy," says Tan.

Don't overlook the excellent pork and dill dumplings (12 for $5.95), which have lots of bits of fresh ginger. For the same price, there are vegetarian dumplings with bean curd, rice noodles, egg, black mushroom and black fungus. The beef and celery dumplings (12 for $6.50) are flavored with cilantro. Zhang says lots of customers order dumplings uncooked so they can take them home and pop them in the freezer.

What drink goes with these special dumplings? That would be bubble tea ($3.15 for 16 ounces) in flavors such as taro, black plum and kumquat-lemon.

--Walter Nicholls