Steam: Authentic Northeastern Chinese Food in the back of a Newsagents
Lisa Cope - 29th August 2018
What’s the story?
A couple of months ago, Chinese-American journalist Mei Chin (currently living in Dublin), wrote an article for the Dublin Inquirer about a discovery she had made while walking down Westmoreland Street. Her family comes from the Dongbei province in Northeast China, and at the back of an unassuming newsagents called Temple Express, wedged between a casino and a bookies, she found the food that her family cooks – Chinese burgers, jianbing (crepes), braised eggs, brine noodles. Colour us interested.
Chinese food that gets the thumbs up from Chinese people is a rarity in Dublin, so this sounded like it was worth making a beeline for. For weeks we were having conversations about ‘the Chinese in the back of the newsagents’ but on our second visit we found out that it’s called ‘Steam’, and there’s another one in Moore Street Mall.
Where should we go for a drink first?
This is food that comes fast and it’s not really a place to linger (tables sit above the newsagents and beside a travel company desk), so a drink afterwards might be a better shout. Or this would be a great pre-cinema spot when you need to be in and out with minimal fuss. You’re practically in Temple Bar so if you’re in the mood for telling tales to tourists you could head for any of the overpriced pubs. For good pints in a cosy space it's hard to beat The Palace. For cocktails the Vintage Cocktail Club is few minutes walk away, and for wine you’re less than a ten minute walk to La Cave off Grafton Street or Piglet on Cow’s Lane.
Where should we sit?
After you order you can go upstairs to find a seat and they'll bring your food up to you. There are a few small tables and two counters – one facing the wall, the other facing out onto Westmoreland Street – they’re the seats we’d be trying to wangle. Too far away from the window and you may be subjected to the sounds of tourists booking sightseeing trips, which no one wants as an accompaniment to their noodles. They do take away too.
What's good to eat?
We followed Mei’s recommendations and everything was very good. The standouts for us were the Chinese pork burger – a crispy bun filled with shredded pork (lu rou) that’s been stewing for days, pickles and chilli sauce – and the Brine Noodles, the base of which is the ‘lu’ gravy made from stewing meat, along with braised pork, noodles, peanuts and green beans. The soup had a depth and breath of flavour unlike any other noodle soup we've had here, but eat it on a warm day and be prepared for a case of the soup sweats.
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We wanted to order ‘liang pi’, cold noodles made from mung-bean starch fettucine tossed in vinegar, but they had run out (apparently they’re struggling to source enough of these particular noodles in Dublin), so instead offered us cold noodles with chicken, which we enjoyed, but they paled in comparison to some of the other dishes.
Jiang Bian, a kind of Chinese crepe filled with scrambled eggs, scallions, lettuce, hoisin sauce and bits of pastry cracking, was delicious, apart from the completely random hot dogs pieces in our classic version (ethnically accurate quirk we’re presuming), but those few unwelcome additions aside, this is something we would like to eat on a regular basis.
Rice with stewed pork (meltingly tender and fatty like spare rib meat) with a side of pickled green beans and cucumber was simple, perfect comfort food. Mei also mentions the braised pork rib with rice in her piece which we’re eyeing up for our next visit.
What about the drinks?
Newsagent softs only, and it’s not the type of place you’d rock up to with a bottle of wine or a few cans of beer asking about the BYO policy. It’s not somewhere to loiter either, as there'll be plenty of people waiting to take your seats.
And the service?
Lovely, smiley and very helpful when it came to navigating the menu.
We’re increasingly hearing people talk about Dublin’s dining scene getting “boring”, “samey” and taken over by soulless restaurant groups or international chains, but paying a visit to a find like this will do a lot to convince the disillusioned of how much great food is right under our noses waiting to be discovered. Steam is quick, cheap and no frills, but it’s the real deal, and that always tastes good.
Temple Express, 4 Westmoreland Street, Dublin 2
Ph: 01 6708200
Open: Mon - Sun 07:00 - 22:00.