Year in Review: So Many Dumplings, So Little Time
A look back at the amazing dumpling pros we met in 2021.
Welcome to Above the Fold, a free newsletter all about dumplings and the people who make them. Like what you see? Subscribe and it’ll come straight to your inbox twice a month (and sometimes more!).
I had grand plans for the intro to this newsletter, which is, quite simply, a summation of all of the interviews that have taken place on Above the Fold this year. But the truth is, I'm moving to a new city in two weeks and I'm tired and very frazzled! I’ll be off for the rest of the month, and back in action sometime in January.
For now, I'll just say this: This project has been a dream of mine for many years, and I'm just so glad to have it live out in the world at last. I'm grateful to have met the amazing people that I've interviewed this year, and I have many ideas for where to expand this project and take it into the future (while hopefully finding a way to make juuust enough money to be sustainable, but more on that another time).
Since launching in May, I've published a few different types of newsletters this year, from recipe recommendations to themed deep-dives and even a gift guide, but the heart of Above the Fold is the people, and that's who I'm focusing on in the below recap.
And while I have you: Are there dumpling-makers you love that I should know about? Things that you want that you just might be willing to pay for (zines, recipes, classes?). Shoot me a note or let me know in the comments.
To the interviews!
SANDY HO, SANDITA’S
Specialty: Dumplings with fillings including pork and kimchi and spicy shrimp, with signature tie-dye swirled wrappers.
Excerpt: “Finding inspiration from everywhere and then being able to concisely formulate it into this one beautiful dumpling for me is art. It is a true reflection of who I am and what I do even though it’s a tiny little pocket of shrimp, or mushroom, or pork.”
GLADYS SHATOU, SAMBUXA NYC
Specialty: Sambuxas, a Sudanese variation of samosa, with thin pastry wrappers and a spiced (usually meat) filling
Excerpt: "I call myself the Sudanese food ambassador. I also studied politics, so for me it’s a form of soft power."
JESSICA AND TRINA QUINN, DACHA 46
Specialty: Pelmeni, with fillings including ground chicken and onion and the very cheesy khachapuri
Excerpt: “It’s an amazing thing to see how many people come to us and say, ‘This tastes like the one I remember.’ We always say that there is nothing more challenging when working in kitchens as when you are competing with a memory. Because you can make the best food of your life, but it is almost never able to reach that boundary where the memory starts.”
NUIT REGULAR, KIIN
Specialty: Royal Thai dumplings like chor ladda, a dumpling hand-shaped with tweezers to resemble a flower
Excerpt: “Growing up as a young kid in a rural area, you heard about Royal Thai cuisine and the very beautiful carvings and very beautiful dumplings. Back then, you couldn’t find any of these dishes on the street. So I read lots of Royal Thai books and kept looking at pictures, and later went back to take some classes at a Royal Thai cuisine school in Thailand…And I fell in love with the cuisine.”
BRANDON BLUMENFELD, LITTLE TAILOR
Specialty: Beef and vegetarian kreplach, inspired by his great-grandfather’s recipe
Excerpt: “I was like, ‘If I’m going to figure out how to do this, I really need to figure this out for myself,’ because essentially, the lifeline doesn’t exist anymore—the person whose recipe I’m using isn’t here….Through talking to my mom and some other family members, I was able to piece together the way that he did it.”
CHANTAL THOMAS, AMAZING ACKEE
Specialty: Vegan Jamaican patties with veggie-packed fillings
Excerpt: “I had noticed that when you Google ackee, there were a lot of click-baity type titles or things that were misleading, like ‘oh, this Jamaican breakfast could kill you!’ The way it was villainized, I was taking that personally. So I was very intentional—as cheesy as it sounds, ‘Amazing Ackee’ was so there would always be a positive connotation with the word ‘ackee’.”
IRENE LI, MEI MEI
Specialty: Chinese American dumplings in flavors like lemongrass pork, scallion-potato-cheddar, and pork and cranberry
Excerpt: “We felt like, ‘Okay. We don't want to lose what Mei Mei is, and we don't want to lose the platform we've built, and the community we have fostered.’ It became pretty obvious to us that people’s consumption habits are really changing, but they still want to eat dumplings, and we need to figure out how to take that to the bank.”
CHRISTINE JEE, DUMPLING MART
Specialty: Kid-friendly play dumplings made from felt
Excerpt: “I started sewing my felt dumplings about eight years ago. I have a nine-year-old now, and she was about a year old at the time. She had gotten a toy kitchen for her birthday, or something like that, and I was disappointed by the play food options that were available. There's so many cute things that you can get, like little pots and pans, but I saw a lack of representation of our Korean-American culture. I felt that I had to take matters into my own hands and expose her to more than just pizzas and hamburgers in her imaginative play and in her real-life palate.”
MEI LI, FOOD WASTE FEAST
Specialty: Mei—co-founder of Mei Mei as well as the writer behind the blog Food Waste Feast—wasn’t an interview subject technically speaking, but I would be remiss to not include her excellent guest essay all about using veggie scraps to make rainbow dumplings!
Excerpt: “I find these beautifully intricate wrappers and folds to be aspirational (I want to try making—and eating—what’s in that gorgeous photo!) but also sometimes disheartening. A great deal of the food content on Instagram is focused on perfection and performance, which sometimes runs contrary to the idea of cooking creatively and using things up. While I enjoy watching the stop-motion creation of extravagant cheese and charcuterie boards, for example, a voice in the back of my head always says ‘I hope someone is eating all that salami!’”
NATALIA PEREIRA, WOODSPOON
Specialty: Coxinhas, a very chicken-y teardrop-shaped Brazilian croquette
Excerpt: “Every time you eat it, it's very crunchy, the dough is chewy, and the chicken is full of flavor. We serve it with a house aioli. You pick it up from the tip, dip it into the aioli, and then you take a bite. You probably get like two or three bites out of one coxinha, but it’s two or three very remarkable bites.”
MELISSA STEFANINI, BUENAS
Specialty: Empanadas in flavors ranging from Uruguayan spinach and cheese to chicken club, crab rangoon, and so very much more
Excerpt: “I grew up in this weird limbo where I was very firmly in the middle of two very different cultures and never felt like I had the right to really claim parts of either one. The empanadas and running this business specifically has helped me see that not only am I very much allowed to claim that part of my heritage, it’s an opportunity to tell that story through a different lens, pulling those traditions and blending them with the fact that I grew up in the U.S. and we eat Big Macs.”
KYIKYI, HIMALAYAN DUMPLINGS BY KYIKYI
Specialty: Tibetan-style momos and the flaky hand pies known as shabhalep
Excerpt: “I realized that I could just go on every year, doing my pop-ups and selling out, but my scope of impact would always be limited physically to the geographic location that I'm in. So when I asked myself how I could bring about maximum cultural awareness and tell our story in the biggest way possible, it was something that could fit on shelves across the country.”
🥂🥟 Here’s to many, many more in 2022! 🥟🥂
Interviews are condensed and edited. Interview subjects are paid an honorarium for taking the time to share their knowledge and experience.