Photos by Clarissa Villondo
Words by Arielle Witter
Chinese New Year’s Eve is on Friday and what better way to ring in the New Year than with some traditional Chinese cuisine with a modern twist? Think traditional ingredients in unexpected combinations – that’s what you’ll find when you bite into one of the delicious dumplings from Laoban Dumplings.
“What we’re doing is classic Chinese dumplings, kind of reimagined in a modern way,” said the mastermind behind it all, Patrick Coyne. “We’re coming up with fun new combinations, trying to keep things fresh, keep them fun, but still trying to maintain that authenticity.”
The catalyst behind the delicious dumplings came after Coyne returned from teaching English in China eight years ago. One of his favorite pastimes there was to swing by the neighborhood dumpling shop, which served as a local gathering spot for people in the area to hang out, whether you wanted to stay for two minutes or two hours. Coyne wanted to recreate and recapture that quick, casual, and fun atmosphere, so Laoban Dumplings was born. The name itself even pays homage to the local “boss,” the “laoban,” of the neighborhood dumpling spots. You’re literally eating “boss dumplings.”
And guess what? Some boss dumplings are exactly what you’ll find on the menu. Fresh combinations wrapped in naturally colored dough cover the menu. As of right now, Laoban Dumplings are being freshly made out of Union Kitchen, and on a recent visit over, we got a preview of the new menu.
As expected, the dumplings didn’t disappoint. Delicious combinations like pork and cilantro, or a grilled blend of spicy bok choy, shiitake mushrooms, scallions, and chili crisps wrapped in green dough (thanks to some spinach) and steamed to perfection cause an actual explosion of flavors in your mouth. The fresh and zesty combinations create unexpected taste when you bite into a dumpling. Take the pork and cilantro combination, for example. The tenderness of the pork combined with the freshness of the cilantro (all paired with a special spicy sauce that can be found on the menu) attack your taste buds in the best possible way, leaving you salivating for the next bite.
Their flavor is a product of the care they’re made with. I got to test my hand at dumpling making alongside Coyne, where I quickly realized that the process is a lot more meticulous than imagined. After slicing up some purple dough into four pieces, Coyne handed me a piece and I got to work. I kneaded the dough with the palm of my hand and then used a rolling pin to roll flatten it, which as a terrible chef myself, sounds a lot simpler than it was. Rule no. 1 in dumpling making: make sure the edges of the flattened dough are thinner than the center to ensure prime pinching technique (we’ll get to the pinching soon).
The next step in the art of dumpling making is to add the filling to the center of the flattened dough. I then had to make a “dumpling taco,” if you will, in order to pick up the dough and pinch those edges together to make sure all that filling doesn’t fall out. The final step is to simply steam the dumplings for about eight minutes, and then boom, you have a quick and delicious meal. I wouldn’t say that I’m the most spectacular dumpling maker in the world after triumphantly making only one, but working alongside Coyne was a window into just how much thoughtfulness goes into making a Laoban Dumpling.
For now, you’ll only be able to find the delicacies at different pop-ups around D.C. Laoban’s first event will be at The Passenger’s karaoke night this Friday to welcome the Chinese New Year, where off the menu you can order dumplings like the Porkhemian Rhapsody, Livin’ on the Vedge, and Purple Rain (a vegetarian dumpling wrapped in purple dough). If singing your night away while munching on delicious dumplings doesn’t sound like a party, I don’t know what does.