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It's the Above the Fold Gift Guide!
Inside: Dumpling gadgets and gizmos (and books and ingredients) a-plenty, all expertly chosen by the pros.
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A couple of months ago, I got an email from someone who had come across Above the Fold while researching ways to surprise his dumpling-loving girlfriend for her birthday. I sent over a few thoughts…and then found myself wondering how the dumpling pros that I’ve been interviewing over the past six months would have answered his question.
And so I polled the group, asking them to (very graciously!) share their favorite ingredients, kitchen tools, and more—plus ways you can directly support their work via your purchasing power. Use this list now, or just know that it’ll be waiting in the wings anytime you want to send a pick-me-up to a dumpling-loving loved one. Or if you just want to treat yourself for no reason other than “I deserve really good frozen dumplings right about now.” (For those, scroll right on through to the end.)
1. Shamar Sudanese Spice Mix
Gladys Shahtou of Sambuxa NYC created this spice blend to season the Sudanese dishes (including her signature crisp-cornered sambuxas) that she sells at venues like the Queens Night Market. Lucky for you, it’s now all packaged up and ready to flavor your own cooking at home. “It gives an authentic flavor to any dish, and makes it more Sudanese,” she says.
2. Chili Crisp
Mei Li of Food Waste Feast calls the pairing of dumplings and chili crisp “perfection” and recommends the versions from Momofuku or Fly By Jing.
3. Butterfly Pea Flowers
The vivid blue hue of Toronto restaurateur Nuit Regular’s chor ladda dumplings (her riff on the Royal Thai flower-inspired dumpling chor muang) comes from butterfly pea flowers, which are steeped into water before it’s used to color the dough. “What’s super fun about butterfly pea flower is that it will change color when you add acid to it,” Nuit says. “Squeeze a little lemon juice into your butterfly pea flower-steeped water and watch it turn from blue to purple!” And don’t stop at dumplings—she also recommends using the flowers to dye rice and make tea and cocktails.
1. French Rolling Pins
“I absolutely love the French rolling pin I got from my mom,” says Chantal Thomas of Amazing Ackee. “This is the one I started with and still use to this day.”
Mei Li concurs, and favors those made by Whetstone Woodworks. “I’ve bought the short version for friends interested in rolling out their own dough,” she says.
2. Half-Gallon Stasher Bags
Christine Jee of Dumpling Mart uses these for eco-friendly frozen dumpling storage.
3. JIA Inc. Steamer Set
“I received this splurgy ceramic steamer for my birthday and have been loving how gorgeous it is,” Christine says. The three-piece set includes a sturdy cedar steamer basket with a terra cotta base.
4. Kitchen Conversion Mat
For those looking to achieve precisely sized dough rounds, Chantal recommends this silicone mat that’s printed with guides and measurements. “It’s also got some kitchen conversions on there which are always useful,” she says.
5. Helen Chen Spider Strainer
“We recently got one of those spider strainers, and I love it for scooping up dumplings,” Christine adds. They’re also helpful for gently lowering delicate dumplings into boiling water.
6. Mini Offset Spatula
During our interview for Above the Fold, kreplach pro Brandon Blumenfeld told me he swore by his mini offset spatula for filling row upon row of kreplach.
“Sometimes when [the filling] is really sticky, I have to use my offset spatula to cut the filling off from the piping bag,” he said at the time. “Also, sometimes when you are folding the actual dumplings, the filling wants to come out of the side—instead of using my finger to push it back in, I keep my mini offset with me so that I can tuck it back into the dough.”
While classic Russian and Eastern European pelmeni can be individually folded at home, serious pelmeni makers—like Jessica & Trina Quinn of Dacha 46—rely on a pelmenitsa, a honeycomb-shaped metal tool that makes it possible to fill and press out dozens at a time. Online, you can find metal ones on eBay and Etsy (including vintage Soviet-era versions), as well as, yes, on Amazon.
Live in New York? “We suggest heading to Brighton Beach first to support small businesses,” they say. “You can literally pop into any home goods store in Brighton Beach and find one.” (Their favorite store: St. Petersburg). And when purchasing a pelmenitsa, stay away from the color-coated versions: “Only get the metal ones with no finish.” (And also, if you live in New York, you can buy bags of their own frozen khachapuri and ground chicken pelmeni at Poppy’s in Cobble Hill.)
1. Mochi Kids Apparel
As both a dumpling entrepreneur and arts educator with a focus on elementary-aged children, Dumpling Mart’s Christine Jee is uniquely positioned to recommend really cool dumpling-themed gifts for kids (and adults that like very cute nightlights).
“You can't go wrong with Mochi Kids dumpling shirts and onesies or their new dim sum sweatshirts,” she says. Sadly, the sweatshirts (which also came in adult sizes) appear to be sold out for now, but sign up on the waitlist if you’re interested. Dumpling shirts and onesies, however, are still in stock!
2. A Jar of Pickles Gifts
“A Jar of Pickles has a lot of cute dumpling stuff, too,” Christine says. Head on over to find dumpling-themed ornaments, notebooks, gift-wrapping supplies, onesies, and the very cute zongzi stickers pictured above (and linked below).
3. Smoko Lil B Dumpling Ambient Light
“My daughter got this dumpling nightlight for Christmas a few years ago, and she still uses it every night,” Christine says. Find smaller dumpling lights, air diffusers and purifiers, and more right this way.
4. Felt Dumpling Wares from Dumpling Mart!
“My dumpling ornaments have been very successful over the years and are available individually or as a pack,” Christine says. You’ll also find extremely cute felt bao sets (complete with a mini steamer), felt wontons, and more in her Etsy shop (link below). And coming soon: more dduk + mandu soup sets (date TBD).
1. Kiin: Recipes and Stories from Northern Thailand
“You can learn more about Thai cooking with my cookbook, Kiin: Recipes and Stories from Northern Thailand, which just won an IACP Cookbook Award for International Cookbook,” Nuit says. And you can make dumplings while you’re at it, thanks to recipes for a vegetarian version of toong tong, or “golden bag” dumplings, and kanom jeeb (steamed chicken dumplings).
2. Double Awesome Chinese Food
Co-written by Mei Mei co-founders Irene Li, Mei Li, and Andy Li, this cookbook spotlights many Mei Mei signatures (like the insanely good kale salad and pesto-egg-scallion pancake sandwich) and, crucially, dumplings. Find filling recipes, a dough recipe, and step-by-step rolling and folding instrux inside.
BONUS! Level up your gift by pairing the book with a virtual Mei Mei dumpling-making class. Sign up for the next one, this coming Saturday, at the link below.
3. Abundancia: My Life in Recipes
This forthcoming art book is the work of LA-based chef and owner of Woodspoon, Natalia Pereira. It’s filled with her original photography, writing, and yes, her coxinha recipe. Copies are slated to start shipping late this month.
While I outsourced the rest of the gift suggestions to the pro dumpling makers, stuffing my face with pre-made dumplings is an area where I can most certainly call myself an expert. All three of these have paid a visit to my fridge-slash-freezer, and all three will very much be returning.
1. Xiao Chi Jie Frozen Xiao Long Bao
These brothy parcels go from frozen to hot and juicy after a 13 minute steam sesh. Not sure if your gift recipient owns a steamer? You can add a bamboo one on to your order right from the site.
2.Mei Mei Frozen Dumplings
Ok, caveat, I haven’t tried these in frozen form yet. But that’s only because the Brookline Farmer’s Market, where I can buy lemongrass pork and cheddar-potato-scallion dumplings in refrigerated form, is very close to where I live. I do sometimes eat them cold straight from the container, because I’m an animal (they’re pre-cooked, to be clear), but they’re even better after a quick pan fry.
3. Fly By Jing Frozen Dumplings
A couple of weeks ago, it felt like the entire food media world partook in a mass unboxing (un-bagging?) of these buzzy new frozen dumplings from Fly By Jing. Filled with FOMO, I ordered my own variety pack…and holy crap they’re good. So far I’ve only had the pork-shrimp-scallop, and it’s a bouncy, shrimpy, super-duper-allium-y delight. I’m excited to try the rest.