At her unassuming spot on Greenwood Avenue, Xiaoting “Ting” Guo shares the deliciousness of authenticity (hold the Mongolian beef).
People come from Richmond, B.C., to eat at Little Ting’s Dumplings.
If you’re a local dumpling lover and you haven’t had the pleasure, you’re probably putting on your shoes and grabbing your wallet right now. Owner Xiaoting “Ting” Guo is aware of the stellar reputation of the Chinese restaurants in the Vancouver suburb — “A lot of them are authentic,” she notes approvingly. Yet Canadian dumpling fans turn up at her North Seattle spot. “They still come here,” she says, practically glowing. “They said our dumplings are better than theirs. I said, ‘Oh my God!’ That surprised me.”
Authenticity means a lot to Guo. “I love to eat,” she says. She’s from Anhui province in China, and her husband, Jason Xu, is from Hebei province. They met at university there; he’s now an architect, and she studied interior design. When they got to Seattle, Guo says, “We couldn’t find [an] authentic Chinese restaurant. For us, it’s American style. Some dishes, we’d never heard of … orange chicken, Mongolian beef.
Little Ting’s Dumplings
14411 Greenwood Ave. N., Seattle, 206-363-3866; littletingsdumplings.com
“In China, we never had that kind of dish,” Guo observes. “So it’s very funny for me: ‘Oh my god, it’s Chinese food!’ Sort of! Maybe!” She laughs.
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Guo says the northeast of China is famous for dumplings. Her husband’s family owned a dumpling shop there 20 years ago, and Guo got the recipes. She’d invite their friends over and make dumplings and buns, to much acclaim. “We couldn’t find a good dumpling house here,” she says. (Without going too far down the rabbit hole of the local-dumpling-quality debate, Guo does allow that Dough Zone is “also good,” but a different style than hers.)
“I like to eat; I love to cook,” Guo says. “I’m thinking, why don’t I open a restaurant?”
She and her husband found a modest little strip-mall spot on Greenwood at 145th. Her husband drew the happy-dumpling logo and the funny aliens-with-dumplings art for the dining room. Her father-in-law came over to help her master dumpling-making. Starting out, she was too slow for restaurant-level output. (“I’m professional now!” she laughs.) Her friends helped her clean the space, get supplies, even wait tables. They were also her first customers in January 2015, bringing along their friends.
Little Ting’s dumplings are plump beauties. The pork is shoulder only, for richness’ sake; if you order the ones with chives, you’ll actually taste them, fresh and peppery. (Guo looks so pleased when she hears this.) The wrappers aren’t the thin sort, but they’re not at all doughy-thick; their elasticity comes from using Korean flour that Guo buys at H-Mart. It’s more expensive, but it’s the closest she can get to the flour in China — unbleached, natural, nice and glutinous. (Flour you get here, she says, makes dumplings that fall apart far too easily.)
Most of the recipes come from her husband’s family, but the magical method of cooking the pan-fried dumplings and buns is that of her hometown. “It’s very simple,” she says — the water that’s first added to the pan to steam them has flour in it, and as it boils away, it leaves a very thin, very crispy, crepe-like, pan-shaped shell around the order of dumplings or buns. Then a little oil is added to fry up their bottoms, “so it’s crispy, it tastes good, but it’s not that fatty, oily,” she says. The fat, round baby-shrimp buns are from her hometown, too, made with tiny, chewy, salty dried shrimp, plus “spices, salt, sugar and chives — that’s all,” she says.
“Handmade noodles in spicy sauce” are on-trend with turmeric and a mouth-tingling heat, made with the same dough as the dumplings; onion pancakes are cushy, if maybe unevenly salted. There’s lots more to choose from, but, needless to say, no orange chicken or Mongolian beef.
Starting out with Little Ting’s, Guo says, she was unafraid. “I didn’t know how hard it is,” she laughs. After her friends, and their friends, got their fill, the restaurant grew terribly quiet. Time stretched out — a month and more. Slowly, curious neighbors, seeing the new sign, came to give the place a try. “Then they love our food, and they’re coming back, bringing friends.” Little Ting’s never advertised. “Never. Our customers are true customers,” Guo says with pride.
Students from Shoreline Community College, North Seattle College and the University of Washington started showing up, including, memorably, four guys who asked for 10 orders of dumplings — that’s 15 dumplings to an order. (With most kinds less than $10 an order, they’re a starving student’s bargain.) They kept up as each order was brought to the table, Guo says, “And nobody talked! And they ate all of them. Nothing left … They come back a lot.” That’s 150 dumplings — 37 and a half per person. (Guo herself can eat around 20, she says. No dumpling-shaming here, but that’s impressive.)
Guo says people who’ve owned local Chinese restaurants for a decade or more have come in to tell her she needs to do things differently, thinking she’s “just a little girl.” She should change her recipes to what’s expected, they say, or she won’t have any business. “But we do have business,” Guo says. “And people love us.”
In the beginning, she says, “I thought our customers would be Chinese people.” You’ll hear lots of Chinese spoken at Little Ting’s, but it’s a diverse, happy crowd. “It turns out,” Guo says, “actually, local people love the authentic Chinese food.” And it’s clear she loves sharing it.