I was so excited when I got the event notice from Talin Market’s Facebook page. All it said was “Talin Market Pop-Up Dumpling House starts in ABQ September 25 at 11:00 am.” How cruelly tantalizing! How entirely unignorable! I immediately fired up Google to see if there was more to be learned, and indeed there was.
Turns out, the Talin location in Santa Fe has been hosting the dumpling pop-up for a while, on Mondays. I discovered this via a Chowhound discussion entitled “Santa Fe Talin Market’s crazily awesome Monday-only ‘Pop-Up Dumpling Bar.'” What I read there about the fresh deliciousness of the dumplings made me vow to get there at my first opportunity.
Well, my first opportunity came on the afternoon of the dumpling bar’s first day. I’d gone out to lunch with a friend and can’t say I was actually hungry, but what the hell. As far as I know, this is Albuquerque’s first-ever pop-up restaurant, and I was going to be in on it from the start.
I walked into Talin at about 3:00, right in the middle of the pop-up’s hours of 11:00 to 7:00. It was right where I had expected it to be, at the counter where the ramen bar and hot deli used to be. For a while we ate a lot of chashu pork from the deli, and I was sad when it closed. But I had high hopes that the dumpling shop would be even better.
No other diners were in evidence when I arrived, but a smiling server was waiting behind the bar, where three big pots of water simmered. He offered me a seat at the bar or at a table – I chose the bar so I could watch the action – and quickly explained the menu to me. For each order of dumplings, there were three choices: Soup (hot and sour or egg drop), Sauce (traditional, spicy, or Sichuan), and Dumpling (traditional, Coho, vegetarian, lamb, ribeye, and I think one more that I’m forgetting). There was also a short list of other dishes, including Dan-Dan Noodles and steamed-bun sandwiches in duck and pork varieties.
I ordered the hot and sour soup, as advised by my server (“If you like spicy, it’s definitely better”), and traditional pork dumplings with Sichuan sauce. “That’ll be about eight minutes,” I was advised, and then the server went to ladle up some soup, and the cooks went to work. These dumplings are not merely freshly made; they are made to order, stuffed before your eyes as soon as your order is taken. I took a sip of soup while I watched – and grew even more excited, because this soup was fantastic, possibly the best Chinese hot and sour I’ve ever had.
Lightly thickened for a pleasant viscosity, the soup was loaded with Sichuan pepper, making my lips tingle almost immediately while my tongue went just slightly numb. Sichuan pepper has this effect, called “ma” in Chinese. The soup was strongly “ma la,” both numbing and spicy-hot. It was also just sour enough. It was delicious, and I was sorry when it was gone – except that my dumplings came out just a minute after I’d finished the soup.
They were beauties, plumply stuffed and generously sized. The filling was flavorful, nicely seasoned, and moist, displaying small bits of carrot and green onion. The skins were tender but still had good chew, not too thin or too thick. At $8 (a buck or two more for some of the varieties like Coho and lamb) for eight dumplings, they were a steal.
The dumplings shared the plate with a generous bowl of sauce. The Sichuan-style sauce was a little intimidating, a rosy pool of red-orange oil with lots of crushed pepper in the bottom. It wasn’t that hot, but when my server saw me taking gulps of water (because of my swallowing disorder, not the heat – but how could he know?) he brought me a bowl of the traditional sauce, a classic soy-and-vinegar that I confess I preferred. After the soup, my tongue wanted a break from ma la.