Edmonton Event Review: Gourmai Dumpling Pop-Up

Donair Dumplings

Placing in the top four of MasterChef Canada competitors (her season aired in the spring of 2017), chef Mai Nguyen returned to Edmonton with talent to spare. I’m going to call her the Dumpling Queen since she has parlayed her knowledge of cooking into making these delectable pocketed treats.

I’ve kept my eye on her social media, and I have drooled at photos of all the food that she has posted. I also lamented missing out on previous pop-ups that she has run. Every time one occurred, I happened to have previous plans that prevented me from attending. But, a week and a half ago, she hosted another one at Prairie Noodle Shop. You best believe that I booked a reservation as soon as I found out.

The full menu for the Gourmai Dumpling Pop-Up on Oct 28.

Kirk and I arrived at the restaurant at noon (the earlier the better as the dumplings only last until sold out), and proceeded to order almost the entire wallet-friendly menu: Donair ($9 for 6 pieces), Bacon Cheeseburger ($11 for 6 pieces), Peaches & Shrimp ($11 for 5 pieces), Satay Chicken ($10 for 6 pieces), Oyster Soup Dumpling ($4 for a single), Roasted Kabocha Squash ($7 for 4 pieces), and Marinated Quail Eggs ($4 for 4 eggs). We also received a House Salad ($5) at no charge due to a delay with one of our items. Each dish was presented as they were prepared, so everything was served fresh and hot.

Peaches & Shrimp Dumplings

The first to come out was the Peaches & Shrimp. Kirk would have preferred that the shrimp was minced and mixed with other filling. But, I was okay with the shrimp being whole. The outside of the dumpling showcased a beautiful braided edge. The wrap was slightly crisp and a little bit sweet from the mayo. It’s a classic combo of flavours, taking influence from the famous Chinese favourite.

Next up was the Donair, which seemed to be filled with minced lamb. The meat was slightly drier, probably from the leaner cut. Still, these were very tasty when combined with the donair sauce, pickled onions and tomatoes. Having additional donair sauce for dipping would have taken these just a step further.

Marinated Quail Eggs

As we dined, I snacked on the Marinated Quail Eggs. These were delicate and delicious. Extremely well-flavoured with a smooth texture and not too hard. They were paired with pickled radishes that added crunch.

Bacon Cheeseburger Dumplings

Returning to the dumplings, we continued on our lunchtime journey with the Bacon Cheeseburger. These were fabulous. I kind of questioned them at first, mostly for the regular pickles listed in the ingredients. Thankfully, the pickles were just used as a topping to the dish and could be removed easily. The meat was incredibly juicy, and the fats that oozed out with every initial bite reminded me of eating a xiao long bao (soup dumpling). These ended up being my top choice of the day!

Oyster Soup Dumpling

Because Kirk isn’t keen on eating bivalve molluscs like oysters or mussels, I couldn’t convince him to give the Oyster Soup Dumpling a try. These were perfectly folded with black wraps coloured using squid ink. Admittedly, the high salinity content of the oyster can be hard for many to swallow. But, overall, I think that these showed a lot of craft, and if tweaked slightly, they could be winners.

House Salad

Part way through our meal, we realized it was likely that our last plate of dumplings was forgotten, so we quickly mentioned it to one of the servers. While we waited, they provided a complimentary House Salad. A rainbow mix of sliced raw radishes, carrot slivers and greens were tossed in a fragrant ginger soy sesame dressing. The acidity was such a nice cleanser on the palate before lunch ended.

Satay Chicken Dumplings

It wasn’t long before we received our Satay Chicken dumplings. These were massive! The minced chicken had been combined with ginger for a simple touch of spice. The seared dumplings were served with pickled veggies (chili peppers and cucumber) and a thick peanut satay sauce. Compared to the rest of the options at the pop-up, Kirk and I both thought that these were a tad bland on their own. However, when eaten with the dip and veggies, they were superb.

Roasted Kabocha Squash

The Gourmai Pop-Up was completed with a helping of the Roasted Kabocha Squash, Mai’s take on dessert dumplings. These were decadent while retaining a lightness in the whipped mascarpone cheese and squash filling. Sitting in a generous pool of spiced crème anglaise (I drank all of it) and decorated with graham cracker crumb and pumpkin seed, it was the perfect fall-inspired finish to our outing.

Mai definitely outdid herself by making each and every dumpling by hand for the event. I can’t even fathom the amount of time it took for her to prepare all of them. The love certainly showed though, and I look forward to her next endeavour(s). If you want the chance to attend her next Gourmai Dumpling Pop-Up, follow her on Instagram (@maicaroon). You’ll want to be there!

Edmonton Bakery Review: Moonshine Doughnuts

Up close and personal with the doughnuts from Moonshine.

This past weekend, I published a review of Doughnut Party, one of Edmonton’s newest bakeries. Today, I thought I’d shift the focus to my experience of their sister enterprise, Moonshine Doughnuts.

Unlike Doughnut Party, Moonshine, the older of the two, functions as a marketplace vendor or by special order only. Although their goods are regularly available at the Old Strathcona Farmers’ Market and the downtown City Market, their schedule is prone to change. To seek them out, I recommend checking the “Find Us” page on their website for a detailed calendar of where they will be and when.

My co-worker and I had talked about picking up some of their doughnuts at one of the university pop-ups taking place either at the end of February or beginning of March. Between Grant MacEwan and the University of Alberta, the latter location turned out to be the best option as the train from Central Station was the quickest mode of transportation during our lunch break.

The February U of A pop-up must have been cancelled because it was taken off the calendar prior to the date, so we decided to go the first week of March instead. Everything timed out perfectly during our excursion; less than ten minutes from leaving work, we were already on campus.

Moonshine’s table was set up in the Student Union Building (SUB) along with several others stalls. Surprisingly, the place was buzzing with people, but the market was fairly quiet. There was no one ahead of us when we walked up to pick up our boxes of doughnuts.

As we were standing there making our transactions ($10 cash for four), I noticed that a board was set out with a list of that day’s flavours: earl grey, pear & chocolate chip, horchata and raspberry rose. Similar to Doughnut Party, Moonshine tends to keep posts on social media to a minimum and they rarely seem to inform their followers of what’s going to be available ahead of time.

Boxes of four doughnuts each were already packaged and sealed.

As my co-worker and I assume, this adds a sense of mystery and it also encourages people to stop by despite the lack of information. If Moonshine posts the selection early, it’s entirely possible that customers may be deterred if a flavour they’re not entirely fond of is included in the pack. As a business, they’re taking a chance, but I think it works to their advantage. Once patrons make the trek all the way there, they’re likely to buy regardless of what’s inside the box since they’ve already put in the time.

Honestly, I was slightly skeptical about what was included in the pack. After the strawberry rose from Doughnut Party, I wasn’t sure I could go floral again here; however, I was pretty ecstatic to see horchata on the list.

Contrary to the Party’s yeast based doughnuts, Moonshine, alternatively, goes with a vanilla cake foundation that comes out of the oven as a nice ivory colour. The vegan recipe is non-greasy, soft, yet perfectly dense. The dough bakes thoroughly without becoming firm on the outside and it’s moist enough that the cake stays together with every bite. No crumbs! I’ve heard that Moonshine even offers a gluten free version for those who have intolerances. I haven’t had the opportunity to try those though.

Now comes the best part. Eating them!

Since the strawberry rose was my least preferred out of the ones I managed to get my hands on at Doughnut Party, I decided to make the raspberry rose my first taster out of this box. I found the glaze to be a bit thick and slightly grainy from the sugar, but, in this instance, the raspberry flavour fared much better against the hint of rose. Whereas the strawberry rose tasted overwhelmingly floral, the raspberry rose had a great balance.

Later that afternoon, I cut the pear & chocolate chip doughnut in half to sample it. Personally, I found this to be subtly sweet and it definitely had the natural flavour of a juicy pear (I’m guessing that they may use real juice in the glaze). The semi-sweet chocolate chips added texture and more depth to offset any cloying sugariness. Visually, the chocolate also made the doughnut look more appealing as it, otherwise, seemed rather plain.

Before I left the office, I had also tried a portion of the earl grey. I was somewhat disappointed with the flavour of this one. In fact, I thought that the vanilla in the cake almost overpowered the taste of the earl grey tea mixed into the glaze and that’s saying a lot. I could see specks of the tea leaves throughout the glaze, but the flavour just wasn’t intense enough to warrant much satisfaction from eating it. There was only one bite where I sensed that slight bitter aftertaste that comes with drinking tea.

I saved the horchata for my after-dinner dessert and it was the right thing to do. This was by far my favourite of the grouping. The first time I’d learned of horchata, I was told by a staff member at Tres Carnales that it’s like Christmas in a glass. As made in Mexico, horchata is a milky rice-based drink with vanilla and plenty of cinnamon. Cinnamon is one of my go-to spices and it came through strongly here. It packed a punch and I was hooked.

Having a photo shoot at work before I devoured the doughnuts.

My boyfriend didn’t end up finishing all of the remaining halves that I had left for him, so I kept them covered and found myself eating the rest the following morning. My co-worker and I suspected that there was a chance the cake base wouldn’t stay fresh for long, and, in a way, we were right. The edges where I had cut the doughnuts were kind of dried out by morning and the glaze had grown harder; however, past those bites, they were still okay. My recommendation is that they should be eaten on the same day as purchased.

Generally, I’m not a cake doughnut person, so I can usually take or leave them. Yet, I really did enjoy these ones from Moonshine. I may even like them more than the ones from Doughnut Party.

While I probably won’t make a specific trip to grab a box on the regular, I’d certainly be keen to give Moonshine’s doughnuts another go if I happen by them at the market one day. No doubt about it, these are some tasty and indulgent treats.