Some of my favorite New York memories are wrapped up in the act of eating dumplings - from the ones in the underground malls of Flushing's Chinatown to Vanessa's Dumplings on the Lower East Side and in between. Boiled, fried, steamed - Chinese dumplings are my heart's desire. People often ask me what food I couldn't live without and I usually reply with tomatoes, since I really do eat them all the time. But if I could no longer eat dumplings, my life would be grayer, drearier, just a little bit sad. Stuffed with pork, or cabbage, or scallions, or shrimp, I could eat them every day.
I like to think it's no coincidence that we ended up living in Charlottenburg, just a hop, skip and a jump from Berlin's "Chinatown" on Kantstrasse. And now that I know about Selig, where dumplings (jiao zi) and handmade pulled noodles, the backbone of Northern Chinese home cooking, are the stars of the menu, I'm not sure we can ever move again.
Handpulled refers to how the Northern Chinese make their noodles, quite differently from, say, the Italians, who roll their pasta dough out into a big sheet, which is then rolled up and cut into noodles. In Flushing, once, I sat for a long time at a Chinese noodle stand watching this big jolly noodle maker sling and smack his noodle dough into submission, then literally pull the dough - sort of like taffy or warm mozzarella - over and over and over and over until he had thin, nubby strands that were cut to the proper length.
Here you see Selig's noodles in all their nubbly, chewy, slippery glory, bathed in a slightly spicy broth (ask for "wirklich scharf" if you need more than a tingle) along with sliced zucchini, cabbage, onions, tiny cubes of fried tofu, bean sprouts, wilted spinach leaves and red pepper. The broth was very good, as were the vegetables (and so plentiful!). But the noodles, savory and springy in that inimitable handmade way, were fantastic. I slurped and slithered my way to the bottom of the bowl at a most unladylike pace.
There were so many other things I wanted to try on the menu, like the jellyfish salad (Taras Grescoe says it's our moral duty to eat jellyfish whenever it's offered!), a noodle dish with ground meat and soy bean paste, and more jiao zi, er, because my beloved Max ordered them at our lunch and while he was kind enough to share one with me and it was chewy and yielding and savory-salty in just the way I'd been craving, one dumpling does not satiate the thing that is a heart's desire, do you know what I mean? Also, Mel highly recommends the noodles with deep-fried duck in the chef's special sauce and, good grief, I need to stop writing these posts at dinner time because the sound of my stomach growling while I type is most distracting.
So I need to go back to Selig.
(Along with Max's dumplings came a little glass noodle salad with slivered tofu skin, carrots and cabbage. It was fine but nowhere as delicious as the dumplings and the black vinegar that I could drink out of a bottle, I love it so.)
Our waitress was a total doll, And since I'm used to eating dumplings and handpulled noodles in, how do I say this politely, total hole-in-the-wall dumps in New York City, where I was always sure a roach was lurking just around the corner, it was even more of a pleasure to have lunch at Selig at an actual wood table with placemats and lacquered chairs and a bathroom that was functional and open to the public at the same time!
I kid, New York. You know I love you. But now that I've found Selig, I've got one less thing to miss about you.
UPDATE on February 21, 2011: After a glaringly lackluster meal here last week, where the dumplings were sloppily made, boiled to glueyness, and a noodle dish was clearly a depository for various kitchen scraps including seriously stale tofu, I have to amend my adulatory review . Let's hope it was just a fluke, but proceed with caution the next time you go.
Tel: (030) 310 172 41