Monday lunchtime at M&L Chinese restaurant on Cathedral Street was busy.
Waitstaff seated and greeted newcomers. Businessmen and families chattered over bowls of hot noodles, rice, and steaming hot dumplings.
Dumplings are a popular dish here, and at The Vintage Teapot, its sister restaurant over the way, says owner Angie Wang.
Customers have regularly asked how to make them. “It gave me an idea,” she said.
For several months, they have been running workshops at the Vintage Teapot, under the tutelage of dim sum chef Li Xiu.
This Sunday will be their eighth workshop, during which pupils spend two hours learning about dumplings, and how to make them from scratch – and get ample time to enjoy the fruits of their labours.
At one of M&L’s tables, a waiter silently set down a basket of pale green dumplings.
“The shape comes from the shape of old Chinese money. On Chinese New Year, you have to eat a dumpling at midnight. It brings money and good luck,” says Wang.
A frill along the seam of the dumpling keeps in the filling. In this case, finely minced vegetables and a little tofu, with minimal seasoning. They’re soft, a little soupy, and vaguely crescent-shaped. They should be eaten hot, she says.
Chef Xiu briefly joins the conversation, with Wang translating. She was a little nervous for the first workshop, she says. But not anymore.
For years, she trained apprentices back in Sichuan Province, where she’s from in China. So she was used to teaching, just not for a big crowd.
“You should see her make them. She’s like a mechanic. Like a machine,” says Wang.
On average, Xiu makes about 400 dumplings a day at M&L: prawn, beef, pork, and vegetarian.
She’s worked as a pastry chef, specialising in dim sum, for nearly 30 years, she says. She spent a year, too, working with a dedicated dim-sum master.
The dumplings served here are her based on her own recipes and those of her husband, who also works as a chef at M&L.
Learning the Craft
In the first hour of the workshop, attendees learn how to make dough and filling from scratch. They shape the dough and fold it, making about ten dumplings.
The shape doesn’t matter too much, says Wang. “Sometimes it looks funny, but you still have to eat it. The shape doesn’t make a difference to the taste.”
The best dumpling-crafter on the night gets a box of fine Chinese tea, she says.
The second hour is all about enjoying yourself, says Wang. The hard work done, people get to eat their creations, topped up with extra dumplings made by Xiu in the mean time.
“Everyone gets dumplings until they can’t take anymore,” says Wang. It’s €25 per person.
In the last year, The Vintage Teapot has also hosted themed evenings around Chinese music, tea ceremonies, and other sides of Chinese culture.
It’s a quieter space than the restaurant over the way. Each table has its own ornamental vintage teapot. The seats are quilted leather. The lighting is soft, and the turquoise wallpaper is brushed with gold.
Their first dumpling workshop had 30 guests, though now Wang tries to keep it to 25.
For Xiu, like Wang, the most important part of the workshop is to bring a bit of the culture of dumpling-making to attendees, she says.
In future, she says there are plans to hold other dim sum workshops – moving beyond dumplings, to dishes such as steamed buns.
For now though, Wang wants to share her love of tea and food with her guests. Not too many people know a lot about dumplings and tea, she says.
“When people talk about Chinese culture, I want them to think about The Vintage Teapot. That’s my purpose,” she says. “It’s full of love, and full of atmosphere.”