The newest line-inducing food craze in New York comes from the mother-son team behind Drunken Dumpling, a tiny restaurant in the East Village specializing in soup dumplings. The biggest draw: a soup dumpling so big that it can only be sipped through a straw. Yuan Lee and his chef mother Qihui Guan opened the restaurant last week, and almost immediately, lines started forming to eat and, of course, Instagram the monster-sized soup dumpling.
Guan, a former math teacher who also used to work at Joe’s Shanghai, is so far the only person at the restaurant who can make them, meaning that only 25 are available each day. Despite the rain on Monday, people lined up before the doors at 137 First Ave. even opened, Lee says. "Let me tell you sweetheart, if I expected it to be like this, I would have rented 3,000-square-feet," he says. "I would not rent an 800 square feet restaurant with a 300 square feet kitchen. I would have five staff like my mom doing this."
Drunken Dumpling is not the first place to create such a gigantic soup dumpling. Guan first spotted the phenomenon on the internet from restaurants in China. An outpost of a Chinese chain Wang Xing Ji in Los Angeles has even been selling one since 2012. (Critic Jonathan Gold aptly compared it to a water balloon.) Guan tells Eater in Mandarin that she wanted to recreate it herself when her family decided to open a restaurant. It took two tries before she made a version that she liked, with her ideal mix of chicken, pork, and vegetable broth, and a thin dough wrapper. It costs $11.75.
The giant dumpling is created much like any other soup dumpling. Guan boils a broth for six to eight hours until it’s a milky color, eventually adding vegetables, pork, chicken, crab, shrimp, and more. The broth gets portioned out in a small bowl and rests in the fridge, which turns it into a gelatinous solid. Guan then turns the bowl upside down into a dumpling wrapper and steams it for ten minutes.
It grows about 25 percent in size — she puts a piece of cabbage on top of the dumpling so that it doesn’t stick to the cover — and once it’s out, you can jiggle the soup gently from side to side, watching it swish around inside the dough. Though the wrapper is not quite as thin as a smaller dumpling for logistical reasons, Guan still prides herself on its translucency. The straw to drink it must puncture the skin gently, lest soup unleash itself onto the rest of the table.
The mother and son may add a bigger chunk of pork inside the dumpling later so that it mimics its smaller cousins a little bit more, but for now, it’s "literally a big bowl of soup" inside a piece of dough, Lee says. "We wanted to have as much soup as possible," he says. "This is the soup that I drank when I was a baby boy."
The other, smaller soup dumplings — one with pork and one with crab and pork — have also sold out every day. After they’re all gone around 8:30 p.m., Guan starts prepping again. In the last week, she and Lee stay up chopping and prepping until about 1 a.m. They get back to the restaurant at 9 a.m. the next morning to do it all over again.
Guan says she’s looking forward to when they train people to do some of the work. Once that happens, she will have more time focus on her favorite — desserts.