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This Rice Porridge Is Just Right

Congee bowls over the dumplings at Edmonds' Wonton Noodle House.

Last weekend I finally made a pilgrimage to renowned soup dumpling specialist Din Tai Fung in Bellevue. nearly a year ago, Din Tai Fung delighted me much as it did my Bellevue counterpart. My dining partners and I could hardly get enough of the plump, perfectly pinched purses filled with a sublime mixture of seasoned minced pork and a burst of broth.

The weekend’s dabbling in dumplings left me satiated for the moment, but keen on acquiring some more fare involving soup and its pillowy add-ins. My quest led me to the door of Wonton Noodle House, a well-kept Edmonds eatery housed in one of Highway 99’s plentiful strip malls. I entered the restaurant to find modestly adorned pale yellow walls and rows of green faux-marble table tops bearing soup spoons and chopsticks waiting for their calls to action.

I scanned the menu and placed my order with the casually dressed fellow manning the front of the house. With early darkness having set in and more than just a light mist falling from the sky, I was soon relishing my piping hot bowl of Homemade Dumpling Noodle Soup ($5.75/6.75). The dining room was quiet to match its understated décor, the radio playing at subdued volume. Aching strains of Lady Antebellum’s “Need You Now” and Air Supply’s “Making Love Out of Nothing At All” reinforced the need for warm, comforting fare. I wondered if Bonnie Tyler might appear from the steamy kitchen to wail “Total Eclipse of the Heart.”

Not overly salty, my soup broth bathed a tangle of golden noodle threads, al dente status softened marginally by soaking. Atop the noodle nest and beneath a sprinkling of chopped onion rested five dumplings, generous in girth. These weren’t the pretty packages of Din Tai Fung. They looked more like swathed baby meatloafs opposed to artfully crafted satchels of dough. Fat with a mélange of ground pork, chunks of shrimp, and dark bits of mushroom, the passable dumplings lacked delicacy or dazzle.

I also ordered Lo-Mein with Wonton ($6.75), essentially a dry remix of the dumpling soup with a couple stalks of baby bok choy thrown in. Dressed only with a drizzle of oyster sauce, the lo-mein noodles were more enjoyable when slurped with broth. As the wonton seemed nearly identical to the dumplings albeit slightly more spherical, I was left wondering about the bundles’ true identities. A consult of the menu confirmed that both bites were filled with pork and shrimp, with mushrooms and bamboo shoots added to the dumplings. When it came right down to it, my dumplings and wonton seemed interchangeable.

The most pleasing dish of the evening was one of my longtime Chinese cuisine favorites, Preserved Egg & Shredded Pork Congee ($5.50). On the very first occasion that I had the rice porridge known as congee or juk, at the direction of a trusted Chinese friend the bowl included bits of pork but more interestingly, chopped “century eggs.” These inky jewels, sometimes referred to as “thousand year eggs” are made by preserving poultry eggs in clay and lime for an extended time (weeks or months, not centuries or millennia) with the result being blue-black alkaline orbs. Though some might consider eating preserved eggs to be fodder for reality TV “dare” shows, the exotic color and slightly sulfuric taste arguably make the unique ingredient rather bewitching. If preserved egg is an option for my congee, I always ask for it.

Wonton Noodle House’s take on my beloved rice soup was a fine one, the rice base smooth and creamy. Both strips of pork and chunks of preserved egg were plentiful, a handful of chopped green onion shoots mingling in the mixture. I alternated spoonfuls of soup with bites of Chinese donut ($1.85), akin to an oily churro without cinnamon and sugar. For those preferring a slightly less greasy soup partner, deep-fried buns (5/$4.25) do the trick.

Though Wonton Noodle House didn’t have the polish and perfection of Din Tai Fung, its dumplings (or were they wonton?) were filling and the soup broth was a comfort. Neither held a candle however, to the congee, which stole the show from wonton, noodles, and dumplings alike.

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