Insights From a Dumpling Expert
Brian Yarvin, author of 'A World of Dumplings,' reveals some of his favorite markets and restaurants, as well as the rarest type of dumplings and just how many he ate while making the book.
Q: What inspired you to search out and learn how to make dumplings from around the world?
A: I became excited when I saw so many people eating so many different--but similar--things. I always want to know how to cook foods I eat.
Q: How did you come to define the word dumpling and what, if anything, unites the varied incarnations?
A: I chose the definition before I chose the "word" and was a bit concerned about the many dumplings that don't fit it. But the original topic was small food items that are wrapped in dough.
Q: What are some of the challenges and misperceptions about making dumplings?
A: Too many people just decide that they can't do it without even trying. It's not so hard!
Q: Could you share some memories of the places and neighborhoods you visited while working on the book? Where did you begin?
A: I began in my own home town of Edison, New Jersey. Here we have a wide variety of places to find dumplings; Chinese, Indian, and Latin American snack shops, a wider variety of grocery stores, some serious restaurants and a total absence of tourists.
Q: Are there certain markets and restaurants that you recommend in particular?
A: Almost every American city has big ethnic markets worth visiting these days and if they have attached snack bars, that's where I'd try first.
One Chinese dumpling restaurant that I love was never mentioned in the book because a kitchen fire closed it during while I was writing. It reopened soon after I sent in the manuscript: King's Village, 1639 State Route 27, Edison, NJ 08817, 732/339-9858.
I am a big fan of these sorts of places because their suburban location keeps the tourists away. Edison isn't very different than Flushing in the food that it offers, but face it; nobody (unless they're immigrants from India or China) comes here for a gastronomic visit.
[BT Note: Yarvin peppers A World of Dumplings with anecdotes and tips on where to enjoy dumplings of all sorts. Among the suggestions are Veselka Coffee Shop, 144 Second Ave., New York, N.Y.; Pierogi Palace, 713 W. Grand Ave., Rahway, N.J.; and Cleveland's West Side Market.]
Q: What would you say are the most popular--and rarest--forms of dumpling?
A: Most popular? Wontons.
Rarest? Khinkali from the Republic of Georgia. Georgian restaurants in the New York area make them only on certain days.
Q: Have you ever met a dumpling you didn't like?
Q: How long did it take for the cookbook to come together and how many dumplings did you consume along the way? Did you ever get tired of eating them?
A: The book took about 15 months to write and photograph. I would estimate that I ate between 300 and 500 during the recipe testing and an equal amount in restaurants and shops.
I'd get tired of them after a long day of testing. I should add that I became a bit pickier about quality after I started cooking them myself too.
Q: What are the basic kitchen tools and ingredients for an aspiring dumpling maker? Any tips on where to find them?
A: If you use premade wrappers, you'll have everything you'll need. Otherwise, a good rolling pin and a pasta machine, and one of those plastic dumpling presses that are sold in kitchen supply stores and Asian supermarkets.