By Wayne Chan
Northwest Asian Weekly
“What are you doing?” I asked of my wife Maya, in a tone mixed between innocence and accusatory.
“I’m pan frying some dumplings for the party,” she answered, matter of factly.
The “party”, she was referring to, was the bi-weekly neighborhood gathering we affectionately refer to as “Yappy Hour,” where a number of families around the block get together at one of the neighbors as a way of practicing neighborhood camaraderie. The host family supplies beer and wine, and all the guests bring an appetizer or snack to share with everyone.
We call it “Yappy Hour” because we all typically bring our dogs to the party, so that the dogs can have some fun and it gives us license to use the cutesy term, “Yappy Hour.” Before bringing the dogs, we used to bring our kids as an excuse to get together, but now, all our kids are either off to college or old enough to know that they wouldn’t be caught dead going to something as cutesy as “Yappy Hour.”
But getting back to the dumplings.
As I peered over her shoulder to confirm that she was indeed putting the finishing touches on a delectable pan-seared batch of dumplings, I nervously started asking some questions.
“What happened? Why aren’t we cooking up some of the mini egg rolls from the store?”
She says, “We were out of those.”
I said, “Well, what about the mini rolled up, then started going through the list of items we usually bring to
What about the frozen chicken wings?
The meatballs from Costco?
The mini tacos we did last time?!?
As I started to blurt out, “What about the deep fried…”, Maya held up her hand, stopping me in mid-sentence, tilted her head, looked me in the eye and said, “What’s wrong with making the dumplings?”
I looked at her with exasperation. Not knowing exactly what to say, my mind raced with ideas of driving out to get a pizza for the party, or better yet, rummaging through our pantry for some months-old box of Girl Scout Cookies or a bag of half- eaten cheese curls.
With my eyes darting the room, considering other options, Maya looks back at me hands on hips, and asks,
Unable to come up with any better alternatives, and not knowing what else to say, I simply blurt out:
These people aren’t dumpling worthy!!!!
For those of you who aren’t familiar with the term, let me provide the following definition:
Dumplingworthiness – adjective; deemed deserving of, or consumption of, astonishingly delectable wrapped morsels of the Gods.
Now, before you start tearing into me, let me explain. Having tried all the dumplings available for purchase here locally, I’ve found them all to be extremely lacking. They’re mushy inside – not enough meat, not enough shrimp. Whatever it is, they just don’t work.
But a few years ago, while I was in Los Angeles for a meeting, I stopped by a shop in Monterey Park that happened to sell dumplings. I went there at the suggestion of my Auntie, who lived in the area. Years before, I had mentioned to her that near our home, there were no good dumpling places. Only pretenders. You could only buy the dried up, mealy tasting dumplings you find at your local supermarket.
But when I walked into this shop, I knew something was different. In the corner, there was a table of older ladies, wrapping dumplings with amazing dexterity, while trading stories of the latest gossip they’d heard. On the other side of the shop were large standing freezers, and peering over them – bags and bags of dumplings.
They sold them by the bag, 50 dumplings per bag. They were inexpensive, and wrapped in a way that should have included a disclaimer on them that said, “These dumplings are the real deal – beware of excessive savoriness.”
Driving home with my bag of frozen dumplings, I began to wonder. Could these dumplings be as good as they look? What if it’s all hype? What if they don’t measure up? What if I don’t experience excessive savoriness?
Coming home, I stealthily made my way to the kitchen, and before I could tell anyone I was home, the dumplings began to bubble on the frying pan.
And now, the moment of truth.
It was like having a marching band celebrating with a parade in your mouth. It was that good.
From then on, every three months or so, I would drive up to Los Angeles, through all the traffic and smog, make my way into the dumpling shop carrying a large cooler, walk over to the counter, pull out a wad of money and simply say, “Fill ‘er up.”
Now let me get to the whole “dumpling worthiness” thing. In the past, before the dumpling shop discovery, we’d have a bag of the factory-processed dumplings on hand, and we’d heat them up and bring them to the Yappy hour.
When we’d get there, dumplings in hand, we’d set the dumplings out for all our friends to try. All of our neighbors, as dear as they all are, know nothing about Chinese food. They may say they do, but they don’t.
How do I know this? One by one, they would pick up a dumpling, and begin dipping it into…sweet and sour sauce. Or ketchup. Or in one instance, heaven forbid – a packet of spicy mustard sauce.
So naturally, seeing Maya cook up a pan of my beloved dumplings for Yappy Hour was just too much to bear.
So after blurting out the whole “dumpling worthiness” thing, I think I followed it up with, “If you think I’m going to let those guys dip my beautiful dumplings in a bowl of Tzatziki sauce, you’re out of your mind!”
In the end, the dumplings were a hit, inappropriate dipping sauces notwithstanding. But I can tell you this – you can bet that I’ll always keep a small supply of frozen egg rolls in our freezer.
You can never be too careful. (end)
Wayne Chan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.