During these stressful times, I am constantly rummaging through the refrigerator for the billionth snack of the day. However, with options for take-out highly limited (given the many restaurant closings) and my quarantine laziness, which makes cooking taxing, I made a very important discovery: Trader Joe’s frozen Chinese/Asian food section.
Here's some of the products that I taste tested and my recommendation (or not!) for what Trader Joes has to offer. It is important to note that all of these items were less than $5 each!
List of Products (Left to Right, Top to Bottom): (1) Char Sui Bao, (2) Pork Shu Mai, (3) Chicken Potstickers, (4) Pork and Ginger Soup Dumplings, (5) Vegetable Gyoza.
1 Char Sui Bao [叉烧包 - Chāshāo bāo] - Yay!
Trader Joe’s Char Sui Bao is probably my favorite product out of the five. Not only are these very easy to prepare, but the taste is very savory and the texture of the bread is really fluffy for something that came out of the freezer. Moreover, I took the “lazy” route and used the microwave method for cooking. This way, all you need to do is place a damp paper towel over the bun and heat it in the microwave for 45 seconds. I also tried the steaming method - which takes about 10-12 minutes - however, I did not find a difference in the texture or taste of the bun, and so I do not think steaming it is worth the time and energy. I would definitely recommend these as they are so easy to make and act as a convenient yet filling snack!
2 Pork Shu Mai [猪肉烧卖 - Zhūròu shāomai] - Yay!
In my hometown, Portland, Maine, my favorite Chinese restaurant - Empire Chinese Kitchen - makes the best Shrimp and Pork Shu Mai I have ever had. Unfortunately, they are closed and so here I am with Trader Joe's Shu Mai! While these are only pork dumplings, they also tasted quite delicious. I do admit that they lack much of the aesthetic that often comes Shu Mai, or at least those I have tried in the past, however, they carry a very rich and savory juice which makes up for their lacking appearance. These dumplings can also be prepared in the microwave very easily, however I opted to use a steamer here which took about 12 minutes.
3 Pork and Ginger Soup Dumplings [小笼包 - Xiǎolóng bǎo] - Nay!
While I always order Shrimp and Pork Shu Mai from Empire, my dad always orders their soup dumplings. As such, he had high hopes for these TJ Pork and Ginger soup dumplings. Unfortunately, these dumplings fell short of our expectations. However, I do understand that soup dumplings are a lot harder to make so preparing these in mass quantities may not be an easy feat. With that being said, I prepared these in the steamer however one of them burst while being cooked. I am unsure of whether that was my fault or Trader Joe’s! Regardless, I think that the best part of soup dumplings are the rich, fatty soup that is encased by the dumpling wrapper. I think the soup in these dumplings, while flavorful, was lacking in the richness that I had grown accustomed to from previous experiences. Overall, I would only recommend these if you REALLY need soup dumplings and are not willing to make them yourself.
4 Chicken and Vegetable Potstickers [鸡肉和蔬菜饺子 - Jīròu hé shūcài jiǎozi] - Yay!
These are pretty basic potstickers. I am accustomed to pork dumplings so these chicken and vegetable dumplings were somewhat of a change for me. While I do think that pork dumplings usually have a richer taste, these were still pretty tasty, albeit a little bland. To fix this, I added some soy sauce which helped the flavor. I prepared them first by adding them to a hot, oiled pan. After developing a crispy bottom, I added about half a cup of water to the pan and covered it with a lid so that the dumplings could steam. After placing the lid on, these only took about four minutes to cook. Overall, very convenient and a good staple to have on hand if you find yourself in the mood for dumplings but do not want to make your own.
5 Vegetable Dumplings [菜饺子 - Shūcài jiǎozi] - Yay if vegetarian!
I will admit that I am very much a carnivore and often times vegetarian equivalents do not “cut it” for me. As an example, I bought a vegetable steamed bun in Shanghai and immediately regretted spending the 30 cents on it. With that being said, I included these vegetable dumplings for any reader that follows a vegetarian diet. Additionally, I will admit that the taste of these dumplings is actually pretty good - not too bland like some others that I have tried. However, I was not a fan of the filling’s texture. Personally, I found the texture to be somewhat “mealy” and a little too “sticky” for me. Interestingly so, my mother preferred the vegetable dumpling over the chicken dumpling for its refreshing and light taste. Overall, I would recommend it for vegetarians! It’s worth a try at least.
Pictured below is a vegetable dumpling and a shu mai for size reference!
Overall, I would say that the quality of these products is good considering the fact that they are frozen. They are also relatively affordable options which makes them really convenient. All in all, I would definitely recommend trying the Char Sui Bao buns and maybe stock a bag of the chicken gyoza just in case you ever need your dumpling fix but do not have the ingredients to make your own!