EAT OF THE WEEK: Wonton over the line, sweet Jesus


Szechuan Wontons a la Red Ginger, photo by Stu Helm

Now, That’s Good Dim Sum!

So, yeah… I… uh… What the fuck?!?  Last week I was alarmed to wake up and learn that the so-called “Muslim Ban” had actually been launched. As I sipped my morning coffee, and read more about it, I learned that — among other things — the Syrian refugee program had been suspended indefinitely, that colleges and universities were warning students not to leave the country for fear that they may not be allowed to return [“Is this a Muslim ban? Trump’s executive order explained”], and a little 5 year-old child, a US citizen, had been detained for hours, apparently on his birthday [VIDEO: Mother from Iran, 5-year-old son reunited after he was detained at Dulles Airport”] all because of this horrid, hastily enacted, half-baked turd of a policy.

I am of course, deeply concerned for the welfare of our foreign-born brothers and sisters living here in the USA, not to mention those still abroad who are hoping to move here in the future. I’ve been thinking about all of the people from other countries — some US citizens, some “in residence,” some holding work-cards or student visas, or some just here on vacation — that I had met or known over the years. From good ol’ Bao, who worked in hotel room service with me at one of my first jobs, and then opened his own awesome Vietnamese restaurant, to my own grandmother, who lived in Everett, Massachusetts for her entire adult life, but never gave-up her Canadian citizenship.

People from all over the world come into this great country for various reasons, and any time we’ve “banned” immigration based on religion, ideology, or country of origin, it has been ineffectual posturing at best, or fatal in the most horrible ways imaginable at worst [Six other times the US has banned immigrants]. Each time our lawmakers have enacted policies similar to the Muslim Ban in the past, it has left a dark stain of racism, xenophobia, hatred, and fear on our history as a country. America is a place that welcomes people who need refuge, or seek asylum from strife, oppression, and death. When we keep people out based on prejudice, we shame ourselves. When we are inclusive, the United States is a better, more interesting, and… because this is a column about food after all… a more delicious place to live! So, in light of all that…

I’ve decided to go to more immigrant-owned restaurants here in Asheville, just to show them some love, give them my economic support, and not for nothin’, get off the conveyor-belt of cheeseburgers that I’ve been stuck on lately. Yeah, I’m as guilty as anyone of slipping into a rut, and I will literally eat a cheeseburger every day, sometimes twice a day — not kidding — if left unchecked. So, for a change of pace I stopped into Red Ginger Dim Sum to give this place a third chance to strike a chord with me, or strike out altogether.

That’s right, I had been to Red Ginger twice before and had not loved it, but when I mentioned this to a representative of MEV studios who does social media for Red Ginger, she said, “text me the next time you go and I’ll tell you what to order.” So I did and she did and I ordered it and it ruled. What was it? Szechuan Wontons, Yo. You should have already figured that out from the picture at the top of the page. Here’s another…

That sauce was no joke. photo by Stu Helm.

“My face is on fire.”

These wontons are spicy, as in HOT. And I don’t mean just hot enough that the average shmoe will be like, “oh my goodness, that’s quite spicy,” I mean hot enough that people who truly love hot food will be like, “Okay… now… that’s pretty fuckin’ hot.

There were four good sized wontons, neatly arranged on a clean white plate, sitting in a pool of smooth, oily sauce, topped with sesame seeds, fresh chopped scallions and fresh cilantro, plus a healthy portion of ground Szechuan peppercorns sprinkled about. The sauce was savory, complex, flavorful, and plenty hot, but when that peppercorn hit my tongue, my whole face caught fire. I loved it. There’s a certain streak of masochism that is involved in the psyche of the hot-food-lover. If it doesn’t hurt, it’s not hot enough. This dish was hurting me. And making my brain sweat. Holy fuck. So good. I could have eaten ten more of these guys. Not because there wasn’t enough food, but because they were so insanely good.

I didn’t know, so I looked it up: On Chinese menus, the word “wonton” is somewhat synonymous with the word “dumpling,” and indeed, the description of the Szechuan wontons on the Red Ginger menu contains the word dumpling. In general, however, diners might assume that items specifically listed as wontons will be served on a plate in an oily sauce, and will be filled with ground meat and/or seafood, rather than served in a basket, or in soup, and/or filled with soup, like a typical Chinese dumpling. Of course, a European-style dumpling is a whooooole other animal, that is basically a small, solid ball of boiled dough, usually served in soup. I like those too. But these aren’t those.

The contents of these wontons was ground pork, shrimp, garlic, and more spices. They were insanely delicious and tasted very fresh and satisfying. The cilantro helped to soothe the burn, and enhanced the deep flavors of the wontons with its own bright, clean, refreshing flavor. I was sad after I ate my last wonton, and if not for society, I would have lifted the plate to my lips, tilted it at a 30º angle, and let that fiery, salty, savory goodness slide down my gullet, and set my entire body ablaze from the inside out, a la Aerion Targaryen. I don’t usually show you guys pictures of my plate post-chow down, but this sauce was so beautiful, that even though the wontons were long gone, it was still pretty to me.

Lava lamp of luscious, hot, spicy, yum. Photo by Stu Helm

I’m really glad that I went in to Red Ginger, not only to honor co-owner Mai Medvedev, who immigrated to America from Zhenjiang, China, and has been part of the restaurant business for over 25 years, but because this plate of Szechuan wontons was so good, it is bound to become one of my favorite dishes for lunch, dinner, or a late night snack in downtown Asheville. I’ll be going to other immigrant-owned joints all week, and more often ever after, because immigrants and food from other countries are among the things that makes this country so great! In the meantime, I strongly recommend this particular plate of Szechuan wontons from Red Ginger Dim Sum, it is awesome, and I am dubbing it my…


Red Ginger Dim Sum
“Trendy, contemporary spot featuring modern dim sum & Chinese small plates, plus wine & cocktails.”
82 Patton Ave, Asheville, NC 28801
Phone: (828) 505-8688
Monday 11:30AM–3PM, 5–9:30PM
Tuesday 11:30AM–3PM, 5–9:30PM
Wednesday 11:30AM–3PM, 5–9:30PM
Thursday 11:30AM–3PM, 5–9:30PM
Friday 11:30AM–3PM, 5–10:30PM
Saturday 11:30AM–10:30PM
Sunday 11:30AM–9PM


From left: Chef Jacob Sessoms of Table; Chef William Dissen, The Market Place; Chef Steven Goff, Standard Foods; Chef Katie Button, Curate; Chef Joe Scully, Chestnut and Corner Kitchen; Stu Helm; Chef John Fleer, Rhubarb; Chef Karen Donatelli, Donatelli Bakery; Chef Peter Pollay, Posana Cafe; and Chef Matt Dawes, Bull & Beggar./ Photo by STEWART O’SHIELDS for ASHVEGAS.COM

Stu Helm is an artist, writer, and podcaster living in Asheville, NC, and a frequent diner at local restaurants, cafes, food trucks, and the like. His tastes run from hot dogs and mac ‘n’ cheese, to haute cuisine, and his opinions are based on a lifetime of eating out. He began writing about food strictly to amuse his friends on Facebook.


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Phil February 15, 2017 - 8:35 am

Stu, I too have tried the Red Ginger a couple of times. If your goal is extremely spicy hot food, the wontons are for you. However, I look for flavor through out a variety of dishes. In my opinion, the restaurant needs to up its game.

Dirk February 13, 2017 - 2:49 pm

Stu, I have tried many of the restaurants you have reviewed and the Reg Ginger was spot on. The Szechuan wontons were awesome. Thanks for pointing us to a great restaurant.

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