Foodie News

Authentic Asian food in the Galleria? Falling for E-Tao and Houston's best soup dumplings

Authentic Asian food in the Galleria? Falling for E-Tao and Houston's best soup dumplings

News_E-Tao
Photo by Sarah Rufca
News_E-Tao
Photo by Sarah Rufca
News_E-Tao
Photo by Sarah Rufca
News_E-Tao
Photo by Sarah Rufca
News_E-Tao
News_E-Tao
News_E-Tao
News_E-Tao

Ever since the beloved Kin’s Cafe in the Rice Village closed, I’ve been astounded by how far you have to travel for authentic Chinese food. Sure, there's Yum Yum Cha in Rice Village with great dim sum, but sometimes I crave entrees rather than tapas-portioned snacks.

So when I heard about E-Tao, a surprisingly fancy sliver of a restaurant inside the Galleria near Nordstrom, I was beyond excited. Not only does E-Tao have authentic Chinese food, it is located inside the Loop! Or, you know, close enough.

Even my loathing of entering the vicinity of the Galleria couldn't keep me from the promise of the best soup dumplings in town.

 There are restaurants in Asia dedicated solely to these juicy morsels, the most famous being Taiwan's Din Tai Fung. E-Tao might not be the Din Tai Fung of Houston, but it comes pretty close. 

For those who are not familiar with soup dumplings, or xiao long bao, they are revered by many and the craft of making them is an art form. What differentiates xiao long bao from other dumplings is a warm layer of broth inside each dumpling created from aspic gelatin, which melts as the dumpling steams.

Perhaps not as refined but just as much of an art form is the manner in which soup dumplings are consumed. Everyone has a different way of eating xiao long bao, but I find the best way is to gently nudge the dumpling on to your soup spoon with your chopsticks (without breaking the skin!), add a couple of slivers of ginger and drops of black vinegar, then make a small hole in the skin and slurp the soup as you eat the dumpling.

Or better yet, stuff the entire thing in your mouth and let the soup explode out. This method shows off more flavors at once, but can be dangerous. If the dumpling is too hot, you risk burning your mouth. And while the traditional xiao long bao in China are delicate bite-sized morsels, the version at E-Tao are much larger and hard to take in one bite. If your mouth is too small, you are liable to spurt soup from your mouth, an effect we dubbed "fountaining."

There are restaurants in Asia dedicated solely to these juicy morsels, the most famous being Taiwan's Din Tai Fung. E-Tao might not be the Din Tai Fung of Houston, but it comes pretty close.

Sure, the buns should be smaller, but the translucent skin (an almost impossible task to accomplish, as evidenced by every other restaurant in Chinatown I tried following Jenny Wang's soup dumpling crawl) and the flavorful pork and soup more than made up for the tricky size.

In addition to the soup dumplings, we ordered chicken wings stuffed with glutinous rice, beef brisket in Chinese five spice sauce, pork hand with peanut in clay pot, scallion pancakes, radish rice cake in XO sauce, and shrimp in lobster sauce. Other than the shrimp in lobster sauce, which was sadly drowned in what seemed to be egg drop soup, each dish was completely devoured.

 The term “pork hand” might be a turnoff, but think of it as the pork version of oxtail or the Asian version of pozole. 

The chicken wings glistened and were stuffed to the brim with sticky rice, while the beef brisket reminded me of the ultimate comfort food my mother used to make when I was younger. It's a simple stew with chunks of meat and green onions, swimming in an herbal five-spice sauce.

Pork hand with peanut in clay pot is difficult to find even in Chinatown. The term “pork hand” might be a turnoff, but think of it as the pork version of oxtail or the Asian version of pozole. Cooked in a sweet/savory sauce, the firm texture of the crumbly peanuts is a nice juxtaposition to the fall-off-the-bone softness of the meat and fat.

Although the XO sauce seemed to have been missing from the radish rice cakes, each bite of the tender, steamed then pan fried radish cakes did not need any sauce. The size of each cake boosts them above your run-of-the-mill radish rice cakes you get at dim sum. They are cut into large cubes instead of sliced thin, which provides more mouth-watering portions of Chinese sweet sausages.

Everything came out quickly and steaming hot, with plenty of smiles and enthusiasm from owner Edmund Mo. Mo, who has run Chinese restaurants in Canada for years, said to expect the two pages of chef's specials to change seasonally and not to be afraid to order off-menu, pointing to a table with a large family who were slurping down soup served from an enormous beautiful ceramic cauldron. He gestured around the restaurant to point out that though it's a Galleria restaurant, it's been embraced by the Chinese community.

As we were leaving, he shouted: “Forget everything you ate today, and order something new every time!” And that is exactly what I am going to do.

ADVERTISEMENT
Learn More