The other weekend, Ryan and I took the trip to Astoria to visit our friends Tanya and Billy. The agenda? Dumplings.
I’ve known Tanya (@tanyenorth) since we were freshmen in college. She’s currently the Deputy Social Editor at Buzzfeed and is and when she’s not on the hunt for the latest breaking news sourced via the internet, she’s usually rock climbing or debating current events with our friends over far too many bottles of red wine (Cotes du Rhone, SVP).
For a self proclaimed “non-cook”, Tanya makes some pretty damn good dumplings. Here, we try to make them like her mom did growing up. That proved to be no small feat, as asian moms never seem to use exact, if any measurements (“just a little bit of that, a pinch of that, you’ll know when it’s right”).
More after the break on our day making dumplings together, and why the ritual of making them is so special to Tanya.
Astoria, Queens NY
HM: So, Tanya – thanks for doing this today! Can you tell us a little bit more about yourself and what you’re about?
TC: I’m the deputy social news editor on the breaking news team at BuzzFeed News and my “beat” is something we call “social news” aka stories that originate and get reported on, through and from the internet. I am a hermit with my boyfriend (the worst hermit) Billy. We don’t cook that often, even though we should . And when we do it’s usually him who’s cooking, so it’s kind of ironic that you have me on this blog. BUT, but we all have to start somewhere
BH: Well you have the home recipes
TC: Yea, I have the familial…we both have familial recipes
HM: Do you always feel like you go back to those recipes?
TC: Yea, well we both have foods that have ties to our upbringing, and just (convey) a sense of home. Dumplings are definitely that for me.
HM: Can you tell us a little bit more about where you grew up, and the different places you’ve lived? And how that’s affected your outlook on life?
TC: (Laughs) Woah, my outlook on life? Okay no pressure. Well I moved around a bunch. I was born in China. My parents are extremely Chinese, which means that they’ve held onto their values and that culture very closely, even though they’ve lived in America [for a long time]. They’ve assimilated to some American aspects of life, but they’re still very very Chinese. And by the transitive property [so am I]. Obviously less so because I grew up mostly in North America.
HM: what was growing up in China like as a little kid?
TC: Well I was only there until I was five, so if we’re talking about freudian years those were very foundational and formative years. But i don’t remember a lot of it, right? The memories that I do remember was that I spent all my time with my grandparents, who were really great but enabled me to really being a monster (laughs)
HM: What? Like they really spoiled you?
TC: Well they were old! They couldn’t really contain me so I was this little kid running rampant around this tiny town. They lost me – I got lost one night while my uncle was supposed to be watching me.
HM: Like, you just walked off into the town?
TC: Yea! They thought I was going to be sold into prostitution. They were like, this is the end! That was super formative cause I remember being lost, and just how pissed my parents were at my uncle who lost me (laughs)
HM: And you parents were in America at the time?
TC: They were in america, so they would call China like once a month. My dad was getting his PHD at Miami University in Ohio at the time.
HM: Do you have any memories of cooking with your grandparents?
TC: I was too young to cook with them, but I was definitely an observer. And an indulger of their food. They always really cooked very spicy food, and fed it to me since I was a toddler. I feel like I can attribute this to why my tolerance [for heat] is very very high. I can have very spicy food, and a lot of it. So I always attribute it to them.
HM: Why did you choose dumplings for your special family recipe? What do dumplings mean to you?
TC: More than the actual taste, – the savory component of dumpling, which is very delicious and I always crave them, it’s the ritual tied to dumplings and dumpling making that make it very personal, to especially to a Chinese person and their family.
For a lot of Chinese families its not about the end product but…the journey (laughs). It’s the process of making dumplings that makes it more special than any other food. I mean if you look at the food components, it’s really simple. There’s nothing special about making a dumpling… it’s so routine. It’s not this expensive, grandiose meal that you pull out once a year for thanksgiving or Christmas. Dumpling making is something you do when… the family wants to get together. It’s a thing to do. It’s like when families go to movies together. That’s what Chinese families do, they make dumplings.
It also involves multiple people from a family, and multiple families, and that’s why you can get a lot of people together. Everyone has an active role making it. It kind of forces people to bond, which is great, be cause everyone’s goal is to have food and eat dumplings. Especially pesky teenagers who don’t want to hang with their parents, who are like “Well, fuck. Gotta eat!”
HM: what was your role in the dumpling making process growing up?
TC: Well I was really bad when I started. I disappointed my mom. Often.
HM: Did you have to graduate through ranks? (laughs)
TC: Well have you ever seen Jiro Dreams of Sushi? (laughs) When she saw how bad it was when I was younger she wouldn’t let me touch anything, she would force me to watch. Soon I graduated to being in charge of the dough, and rolling it out. If she really trusted you, she’d let you start trying to make the dumplings.
HM: and you said your mom never has specific measurements…ever?
TC: No, i feel like it’s a Chinese mom stereotype, they never write anything down or have any exact measurements. It’s not a science to them, it’s all about the feeling. My mom always says “oh you’ll know when you know. If you look at it and it looks right, then it’s right”. Which is great, but it doesn’t help you when you’re just starting out. But I guess you start to eventually get more of a sense of it the more you try it. I can only speak for my mom, she doesn’t care about having the perfect recipe ever it’s not about getting the perfect components together. It’s more about doing it, and having that experience.
BH: Mmm. It’s real. I’m burping it and still tasting it. That’s when you know it’s a real dumpling.
HM: Hah these were REAL Chinese dumplings today. And Tanya, you’ve graduated from lowly sidelines watcher, to dough maker, to running your own operation today.
TC: Watch out Vanessa’s*!
Pork and Chinese Chive Dumplings
for the filling
1 lb ground pork
3/4 bunch of chinese chives (we liked it extra chive-y, you can use more or less)
1 inch nub of ginger
4 cloves garlic
3 tbs shaoxing cooking wine
1 tbs soy sauce
3 dashes white pepper powder
Chop Chinese chives finely and mix with ground pork in large bowl with ginger and garlic. Add cooking wine, soy sauce and white pepper powder and continue. Mix until the fat of the pork has slightly melted and the filling starts coming together like a paste. We used our hands here to incorporate everything together instead of a mixing spoon, it worked great and you can really feel when the texture of the dumpling is good to go.
for the wrappers
2 cups all purpose white flour, plus more for dusting
2/3 cup water
dash of salt
Mix water into flour and salt with a spoon until mixture starts to clump, then knead by hand until soft. Wrap in plastic wrap and set on the counter to sit for a half an hour.
Roll dough into a long log (about 2 inches thick) and slice 2 inch long pieces. Dust surface with flour and roll out dough pieces into circular wrappers.
To wrap dumplings – hold wrapper in left hand and fill with about 2 tbs of filling per wrapper. Dip your finger in water and dab along the edge of the wrapper to seal. Fold wrapper in half with filling inside and start pleating from one side. If these instructions are confusing (which they probably are) I highly suggest watching a demo on youtube before you start.
*Vanessa’s Dumpling House – an NYC dumpling institution. They have multiple locations but go to the OG one in the Lower East Side if anything. 118 Eldridge Street, Manhattan NY.