As the latest food series on Netflix, “Ugly Delicious,” goes to great lengths to spell out, the concept of dumplings is one ubiquitous across global cuisine. Slavic countries have pierogis, Italians have ravioli, tortellini, and all matter of stuffed pasta, Indian cuisine made samosas popular around the world, and everyone has had an empanada or two.
These are just a few examples. The concept, a type of dough stuffed with something else, is simple, yet offers endless and limitless opportunity for customization. It also offers a revealing glimpse into the history of the kitchens that first produced them, as well as the people that traditionally eat them.
Shanghai Bistro, located at 2045 Wyandotte Street West, fits right in. Located on the same block as Sun Hong, a Chinese barbecue restaurant, and Majestic Bakery, a curiosity-shop-turned-bakery, it’s another gem in an ethnically diverse and dense neighbourhood of delicious restaurants. It’s also home to all manner of dumplings, specifically, though, the xiaolongbao, which is a type of dumpling most popular in, of course, Shanghai.
Walking into the restaurant, the first thing you see is an elderly woman rolling all the dumplings you’ll have to choose from, by hand, on a large counter behind a pane of glass. It’s mesmerizing, but I would urge you to move along and grab one of the scattered tables – if there’s room, that is, because every time I’ve been it’s been unbelievably busy.
The xiaolongbao is a steamed, soup-filled dumpling, traditionally stuffed with pork, and sometimes with a mix of crab and pork. Both versions are option 1 and 2 on a menu that offers over 160 items, about 20 of which are different version of dumplings. The xiaolongbao is served in a bamboo steaming basket, looking like a large, squatting Hershey’s Kiss. Developing the technique to eat it inevitably involves making a mess, spraying scorching hot soup all over yourself and your neighbour, and burning your mouth. Like so many other dumplings, it is simple, delicious, and at least for me, deceivingly filling. I considered getting a Peking duck next door after my first time at Shanghai Bistro, not realizing until a few hours later that I wasn’t going to be right for two to three days.
The traditional steamed soup dumplings are complimented by any other style out there. Pan-fried pork dumplings take the shape and texture that my Polish mother would liken to a refried pierogi, boiled pork and vegetable dumplings, a little smaller than the xiaolongbao, are indeed boiling as they go down, and a few other curious items like the beef and onion roll, or their take on a burger break up the flow nicely.
Any time you go, you should go with at least two other people, and order lots, in order to try as much as you possibly can. As mentioned above, the options are truly endless. The menu has countless noodle or rice based dishes that can appeal more to someone looking for a conventional plate and meal.
But you won’t get the full experience if you do. Shanghai Bistro is truly an incredible place, and the only way to do it and get the most out of it is, as I suggested, to go with a group, and get sloppy. The tabletop will probably have some combination of water, red rice vinegar, soup, and soy sauce covering it, but there is nothing like it in Windsor. It’s been open for about six months now, and my only regret is not having known sooner.
I’ve mentioned it before but it deserves reiterating: this two or three block stretch of Wyandotte West is possibly the best stretch of food in Windsor. Other than the places I mentioned above, there’s The Garden, a pan-Asian vegan dream, Sweet Chilli, the best Indian food in Windsor, Eros, which is basically two restaurants in one, Sam’s, for a more traditional beer-pouring pizza palate, and many others. Shanghai Bistro is just the latest place to make me feel like I really blew it in the seven years I spent eating at Subway while a university student.