The charms of Qiu Brothers Dumplings
Welcoming and mouth-watering, Qiu Brothers Dumplings is one of the city’s best new restaurants.
favourite restaurants are the ones that feel personal, the ones that combine not just a point of view, but a point of reference. Think of the needlepoint on a compass: That steady leg rooted into the very core of what defines a person, the hinge stretching out as their radius of experiences expands, building perfect arcs of interest that, no matter how far or close they happen to be to that centre point, always radiate from the heart of it.
Those restaurants are the ones that feel like home. Even if the food is the farthest from the food you ate growing up or even eat at home now, there is an essential hominess to it. You feel invited to the table and cared for, like you are with friends or family. It’s the difference between a kitchen table and a dining room table.
Qiu Brothers is a restaurant that makes me feel, even when I am there alone, like I am at a friend’s kitchen table. It’s a low-key space with bright yellow walls and red accents in the few decorations strewn around. The only decoration by my table is a mason jar with fake hydrangeas tucked into the nearby windowsill.
The restaurant specializes in northern Chinese cuisine, starch-laden wheat-based dishes like steamed and fried dumplings (jiaozi), steamed buns (bao) and noodles. There is also fried rice, and some classic Canadian-Chinese dishes available, though the latter should never be considered the draw here.
Vinegar, oil and garlic figure heavily into the various dishes I order, from the chili and sour shredded potato ($4.99)—a room temperature salad of julienned strips of potatoes and carrot that are quickly stir-fried with thinly sliced garlic and flecks of chili pepper, then seasoned with vinegar and salt—to the sausage spicy pig ears ($6.99).
My server is visibly delighted when I take her recommendation for the pig ears—they are her favourite dish on the menu, but “most people say ‘No, thank you!’” she tells me with a laugh after I order them—and the suggestion pays off. The ears are boiled and then served cool, dressed in a combination of vinegar and chilli oil, topped with some sesame seeds and bright leaves of cilantro. There is chew and crunch in each bite, the wobble of the outer layer giving way to a distinct cartilage pop. Much like the candy-sweet, super-fatty housemade Chinese sausage ($6.99)—you’ll probably love it or hate it. I love it.
The pan-fried dumplings come in a set of 16. They are tiny, but plump, connected by a delicate latticework of starch, essentially a paper-thin pancake that adds a crispy texture to the little doughy nuggets underneath. It’s a simple technique—you finish the fry by steaming the dumplings in a shallow bath of water and starch, then letting the mixture evaporate into the crust, which is often called “wings”— with a pretty payoff on the plate.
The dough on the jiaozi is a little bit thicker than it is on, say, the larger gyoza you find at some Japanese restaurants in town, which I like in this particular dumpling as it adds a bit of heft, making the tiny dumplings more filling than they appear. Each one is filled with a simple pork mixture that pops with the delicate sweetness of corn kernels. Dipped into a tangy-spicy mix of black vinegar and chili oil, it proves difficult to show any restraint. I quickly polish off the plate.
My server seems happy every time I am happy, every time I say how wonderful each dish is, which is admittedly a lot. She feels like a friend at the end of the meal and she sends me off with my leftovers packed, telling me she hopes I enjoy them as my dinner. (I do.) As I leave, I tell her I can’t wait to come back. (I can’t.)
Qiu Brothers Dumplings feels like a friend’s kitchen table.