If you love dumplings, you gotta head to (the highly uninspiring, three-quarters empty) Robson Public Market and up the stairs at the back to the second level. That’s where you’ll find the giant rainbow-hued sign for Nine Dumplings, sometimes known as Nine Dishes, run by Yue Shen and his wife and 20-something daughter.
Folded by hand, each with a different filling, the dumplings have all-natural skins in various gorgeous colours.
The green ones are made of spinach; black of squid ink; red of beet root; yellow of yellow ginger; purple of purple cabbage; red of beet root. Then there’s the blue dumpling, its dough infused with butterfly pea flower. (When boiled like tea, the flowers emit the brilliant edible dye that changes colour depending on what you mix it with.)
Fillings consist of pork with cabbage, chives, cilantro, kimchi, or green pepper. There are four other varieities: squid, pork, and chives; lamb and zucchini; scallop of fish; and vegetarian with carrots, cabbage, cilantro, sesame, and vermicelli noodles.
You get to pick your cooking style: boiled or steamed in a bamboo basket (Xiaolong), either option with or without a spicy Szechuan sauce with Chinese pepper, red chili, cinnamon, and star anise. Or, get them in a soup (Shanghai-style) with cilantro, seaweed, and green onions.
The pork-based dumplings go for $4.99 for six pieces; the others cost $5.99 for six. Order the sampler platter ($9.99) to get all nine. One snap of those beauties on your iPhone you’re officially eating for the Insta. Every order of dumplings comes with what If calls a gift of a spicy clear-noodle appetizer and a red-bean dessert.
“You can taste the love,” says Shen, who prefers to go simply by the name “If”. Born in Beijing and having moved to Vancouver in 1999, he says it comes from a Confucian saying:
The phrase roughly translates as “I am different. Everything is necessary.”
To If, a former electronics engineer who taught himself how to cook, the expression essentially means it is what it is. “There is no ‘no’; there is no ‘yes’,” he says.
Nine Dumplings itself isn’t new; the eatery has had three other locations to date, in fact: one in Richmond, one in Burnaby, and one on Kingsway near Fraser. If explains that each time, the building his business occupied was torn down to make way for a high-rise. Upon being forced to move on this most recent occasion, he sought out the Robson Street location to reach a broader clientele.
“Before, most customers were Chinese,” If says. “I wanted to be able to reach more of the Vancouver’s multicultural population.”
Other items on the Nine Dumplings menu are lamb skewers, spicy boiled or stir-fried pork kidney, Xian lamb pilaf, Beijing-style green-onion pancake, Beijing-style sweet-sesame pancake, and more.
Nine Dishes is open seven days a week from 12 p.m. It doesn’t have a website but has an Instagram account: @ninedishes.
Best to make the trek to Robson Public Market and hope it’s not coming down for another high-rise anytime soon.