Honey, they shrunk the dumplings.
A mom-and-son dumpling shop in the East Village known for its Instagram-famous giant soup dumplings — so big they come with a straw to suck up all the savory broth — is now serving miniature pot stickers.
A foil to Drunken Dumpling’s bowl-sized “XL XLB” (or extra-large xiao long bao), the quarter-sized “XS” dumpling poppers come in servings of 10 to 12 in an American-style Chinese-takeout container. The delicate morsels are filled with an oyster sauce- and honey-infused blend of pork and scallions, fried in a pan and sprinkled with black sesame seeds, says Yuan Lee, who runs the tiny, 2-year-old restaurant with his mother, Qihui Guan, a former mathematics professor who proved her dumpling-making chops at Joe’s Shanghai.
“Normally you have to take multiple bites to get to the filling, but with this small dumpling, it’s just one bite of everything,” says Lee, 34, who cooks the pork while his mom rolls out and shapes the dumpling skins. “The flavor explodes in your mouth: You got the crunchy texture, you got the tenderness from the filing and the wrapper, and it’s a little bit semisweet.”
Lee says the inspiration for the bite-sized dish came from the photographer and videographer behind the Instagram account BrunchBoys. During a photo shoot at Drunken Dumpling, Jeremy Jacobowitz suggested the restaurant try to make the opposite of its jumbo dumpling, Lee recalls.
“I really like popcorn, so I thought maybe I can make something small,” says Lee, who immigrated to the United States from China with his mother at age 18.
He was so pleased with the result of his experiments that he jokingly told a friend he would order his mini dumplings instead of popcorn if they were sold at movie theaters.
“It’s like Chinese popcorn,” he said of the pot stickers that sell for $8.75 a container. “It’s a great summer food to pair with a beer.”
As is the case with its enormous xiao long baos, Drunken Dumpling is restricting the number of orders of XS to about 35 a day, to keep the pressure off Guan, now 67.
“You have to have patience to make the small ones, because it’s not machine-pressed,” Lee says of her work. The dough must be rolled especially thin before tiny portions of filing are wrapped inside. The process takes a “lot more manpower” than traditional jiaozi, or pot stickers, and it can tire his mom out, he adds.
“Maintaining the quality instead of quantity is more important to us at this moment,” says Lee, who keeps MSG out of his kitchen and sources his pork from the same upstate livestock farm as Gramercy Tavern and Il Buco.
But Drunken Dumpling will have to increase production and hire more than the two staffers it currently employs if the restaurant opens a new location in Manhattan within the next few months, as Lee is currently planning to do.
“We want to be closer to our customers and to the people who have been supporting us for the past year and a half, almost two years now,” says Lee, who notes his 24-seat shop’s most loyal customers are traveling from the West Village and the Upper East Side.
Drunken Dumpling still welcomes plenty of tourists in search of the massive soup dumpling they have seen on their Instagram feeds, but it’s parents with an appreciation for the eatery’s farm-to-table aesthetic who frequently return with their kids. Working side-by-side with his mom on a daily basis, Lee can certainly relate to those customers.
Since 2016, he has developed a newfound respect for Guan, who transformed a holiday tradition of preparing jiaozi into a profession after arriving in the United States: “Making dumplings is a lot of work, because you’re repeatedly do the same thing over and over and over for 12 hours,” he says. “Also, being a parent in a different country other than the place you came from — it’s a lot of work.”
Drunken Dumpling is at 137 First Ave. Hours are noon to 10 p.m., Sunday through Thursday, and noon to midnight, Friday and Saturday.