the spot: Tsubaki Szechuan 1117 NW 25th St. Oklahoma City, OK 73106
the eats: Xiao Long Bao(soup dumplings), fried beef with cumin, pork wonton in chili oil
the bucks: $8.95, $13.95, $5.95 respectively
the full nelson: dumplings as good as I’ve had in NYC, San Francisco or LA
Growing up in the Midwest and being a 1st generation Bengali American, I know that even the “fly over states” have more diversity than what some might give them credit for. And it being 2019, one should not be too surprised to hear the words “Xiao Long Bao” in a place like Oklahoma City. But even I have to admit I was surprised to find these iconic dumplings and a dim sum staple in the land of the OKC Thunder . . .
Thanks to a hot tip from Chef Kevin Lee of Gogi Go, whom we featured on Cheap Eats Oklahoma City, I made tracks for Tsubaki Szechuan in OKC’s “Asia district”. As far as Chinatowns go, don’t expect the spectacle one sees in Chinatown NYC or SF, but if you’re craving some juicy pork dumplings, well, you’re in the right place.
If you look closely you will notice that I’m holding up these dumplings with a soup spoon. For the uninitiated, soup dumplings, also known as Xiao Long Bao, are in fact a type of steamed bun. What distinguishes them from dumplings is the use of a partially raised flour. Traditionally they are filled with pork and aspic(a gelatinized broth). Sometimes they can be stuffed with seafood, or even better, pork and seafood. More than likely you will find them at a Dim Sum restaurant.
Now you have to eat these buns carefully. When that aspic turns into soup it gets pretty hot. So the safe(and best) way to eat them is by holding them in a soup spoon, piercing the
dumpling bun and releasing the broth, allowing it to cool slightly. And then you just pop it in your mouth. It is a simultaneous flavor experience of soup, dumpling and a meaty filling; without doubt one of the world’s great delicacies.
You would be right to say that finding this in OKC makes Tsubaki Szechuan a true hidden gem but these Xiao Long Bao stand tall amongst the better versions I have had in NYC or San Francisco, a solid representation of a Shanghai/Southern Chinese classic. Now with a name like Szechuan Tsubaki, you might be wondering if they have any of the famous spicy dishes of the Szechuan region. Well, they totally do.
The Fried Beef with Cumin is as intensely flavorful as it sounds, with some serious heat coming through from the dried chilis. Now technically this is a Hunan style dish, which like Szechuan dishes, are notoriously spicy. Tsubaki Szechuan’s version though will leave you with numb lips because of the use of Szechuan peppercorns, giving a Hunan style dish a Szechuan twist. Those peppercorns are like edible Novocaine. A truly unique sensation of spice and numbness all at the same time.
I rounded the meal out with Tsubaki Szechuan’s Pork Wontons in Chili Oil and yes, that chili oil did have some kick. Like the Xiao Long Bao Soup Dumplings, these wontons were tender and stuffed with a succulent pork filling, a fitting contrast to the spicy chili oil. I wasn’t alone in this feast, and suffice to say there was more than enough food for two, but we could have easily gone for another order of the Pork Wontons.
So now I’ve got a legit Chinese food craving in Oklahoma City. I have a feeling my frequent flyer miles are gonna take a hit but OKC is a short flight from Austin. For about $15 a head you can get a taste of legit Chinese eats that would impress a NYer or someone from California. In my book, that level of quality easily qualifies Tsubaki Szechuan for serving up some real Bang for your Authentic Chinese Food Buck.