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A New Pop-Up All About Dumplings Aims to Bring Austin Diners Together

“You’re not meant to make [dumplings] alone, and definitely not meant to eat them alone,” says co-founder Wendy Madera

Chicken dumplings from 82 Dumplings
Chicken dumplings from 82 Dumplings
Arin Madera
Nadia Chaudhury is the editor of Eater Austin covering food and pop culture, as well as a photographer, writer, and frequent panel moderator and podcast guest.

A new dumpling pop-up is landing in Austin this weekend, aiming to bring awareness of the significance of Chinese-American culture and food to the city. 82 Dumplings’s first pop-up is taking place on Saturday, September 5 at the DaijoubuMart within East Austin bar Last Straw on 1914 East Sixth Street. To-go orders for the dumplings can be placed online that day or in person for pickups only.

Co-founders and partners chef Helen Lai and Wendy Madera wanted to create a food pop-up that allowed them to connect with people. “Food and dumplings specifically are meant to be a shared experience,” says Madera. During the novel coronavirus pandemic, Lai had been making dumplings and dropping them off with friends and family. “This is her way of forging connection with others when she can’t be with them in person.”

Lai, who is from Chicago originally, and Madera, who is an Austinite, had worked at downtown cocktail bar the Roosevelt Room, which is where they met and bonded with Caer Maiko and Sharon Yeung of Asian cocktail pop-up Daijoubu. As Maiko and Yeung put together their temporary Asian market pop-up, which launched in August, they reached out to see if they were interested in participating.

Lai and Madera were, and “dumplings were the most obvious and exciting choice,” Madera tells Eater. “You’re not meant to make [dumplings] alone, and definitely not meant to eat them alone.”

82 Dumplings’s first menu will feature two dumplings: chicken and napa cabbage; and the vegan japchae mandu. Of the former, Lai intentionally chose chicken so that it would be approachable for those who don’t eat pork for religious or personal reasons. As for the latter, they wanted to acknowledge China’s neighboring country. “This is her tribute to that other immigrant kid in the lunchroom,” explains Madera, “like ‘Hey, I see you.’” Also on deck are Sichuan peanuts.

82 Dumplings’s japchae mandu
82 Dumplings’s japchae mandu
Arin Madera

The actual name of the pop-up is two-fold, based on their research into Chinese-American food. The dumplings work as a nod to the history of wontons in America (food zine Put an Egg On It claims that the food item is older than hot dogs and hamburgers, at least in America).

As for the number, it stems from the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882, which banned the immigration of Chinese workers into America. “The cultural moment has really never been better for a Chinese-American queer to reclaim the meaning of Chinese exclusion in the name of one of its impacts: Chinese-American cuisine,” explains Madera.

Madera continues: “The anti-Asian racism in the wake of coronavirus is truly the best time to remind Americans that Chinese food is an integral part of American culture. Asian bodies, culture, and cuisine cannot be excluded. The U.S. couldn’t do it in 1882, and they definitely can’t now.”

Lai and Madera want to continue 82 Dumplings after Saturday’s pop-up, whether that’s through forthcoming events — potentially with Daijoubu — or even a farmers market stand. However, nothing is set in stone as of yet.

Other vendors at DaijoubuMart, along with Daijoubu cocktails, are Asahi Imports, 33 Tigers, and Gan Bei Gals. The pop-up market’s last day is on Sunday, September 20.

Last Straw

1914 East 6th Street, , TX 78702 (512) 354-1480