Dump Pho-King Truck Dumpling Tutorial
I had the incredible opportunity to sit down to a night of dumpling making and Q & A with two of the loveliest ladies I’ve had the pleasure of meeting. As the new kids on the rodeo block, they have quickly become dumpling and pho superstars here in Raleigh, NC. Here’s the story:
We started out in Sunny’s kitchen. Its a cute house she rents from her parents with an amazing kitchen, ample counter space and a great dining area for prep work. That’s where we begin! They were prepping ingredients for three different styles of dumpling: bun style, traditional boiled and pot sticker style. They had a surprise “cheat” for how they made the bun style, though:
Sophia: My grandmother actually figured it out with the biscuit dough (she holds up a tube of Pillsbury quick biscuits) when she came to the US to take care of me after I was born. My mom taught me, and I watched her make them. You can either steam them in a steamer, which my parents do and it becomes a whole family ordeal. My mom and I will be making them and my dad would be in the kitchen steaming them.
Piper: Would they use the traditional bamboo steamer basket?
Sophia: We do, there is either the bamboo ones or metal ones now, too. If you use the metal you have to put a piece of paper down with a little oil on top so they don’t stick. If you go to a restaurant, and you have to peel the paper off the bottom, that’s what that is.
Piper: Oh, I’ve seen that. Ok. Is there a difference in cooking them between bamboo and metal?
Sophia: I think there is, in terms of timing, but I’m not exactly sure what that is. We are going to steam these in a pan, potsticker style. So, you’ll put them in a pan with a little oil and fry them up, then you dump in a mixture of water and flour and put a lid on top and it will steam it by itself and leave you with a crispy bottom.
Sunny: Sophia also made some traditional pork soup, so we can have like a full meal.
It was a spare-rib broth, then just carrots.
Piper: Great! (pointing to buns) So what are these called? Are they still called dumplings?
Sophia: I call them Jaiozi (pronounced like jouts) and these are called baozi (pronounced like baou).
Sunny: Baozi is more of a bun.
Piper: Like steamed buns?
Piper: So, what do you think about the fusion trend right now with buns? For example, when you go to Grand Asia Market and get steamed buns, they are more the shape you are making these (round with the pinched top) and have the stuff inside, where as places like Zinda, they have what looks like a taco with the puffy dough, doesn’t seem as traditional as the round ones…to me.
Sophia: Oh, that’s something different too. It’s also traditional, but in Taiwan we call that qipao, which is like a taiwanese burger traditionally served with beef, pickled cabbage and other stuff on it.
Sunny: I’ve seen it more traditionally with duck, or beef. It is still traditional, but the concept is more fusion. They are using this for more things than I’ve seen before.
Piper: I was introduced to steamed buns at an Asian market in Columbus, Ohio where I would get the red bean ones and I loved them. So I googled when I got here and came up with nothing for a long time, then came across Zinda. I was a little disappointed when they were served. They were good, but not what I wanted.
Piper: How long have you both lived in Raleigh, NC?
Sophia: I’ve lived here my whole life, born and raised here.
Sunny: I was born in Tennessee. Moved back to Taiwan, then moved back to Tennessee for 2nd grade, then to LA, then to Mississippi, Granite falls NC, High Point NC, Durham NC…my dad was in manufacturing.
Piper: So, how did you two meet?
Sunny: We met in high school. Not dramatic at all, we weren’t that close in high school but didn’t really become close until after college (after Sophia finished her master’s degree). And then I learned about food trucks from working at Big Boss, and seeing all the food trucks out there.
Sophia: We kind of kept up in college, but then my roommate dated her brother…then after school I came back and we began talking about food trucks.
Sunny: Busy season of accounting got the better of Sophia.
Sophia: Yeah, I was an accountant for a big firm, I was an auditor, so yeah, no one likes seeing the auditors come around. It was an incredible experience, I learned a lot but the hours were crazy and the seasonality of it was nuts. And, yeah…I was thinking it wasn’t something I wanted to do long term.
Sunny: I was just prancing around bar tending…had like three or four jobs at the same time, two bar tending jobs and I was a part time engineer. I was saving up money to go abroad, but Sophia and I would have these coffee dates, talking about doing something together, and she came to me with the idea of the food trucks. I was fired from the only job I’ve ever been fired from and…here we are! I called her up and was like “let’s do this!”
Sophia: Yeah, I got this random call where she was like…let’s do this! And I had been looking for a partner in crime thinking the moment I find someone whose crazy enough to do it, I’m going to do it.
Piper: did you quit your job right away?
Sophia: The accounting firm was awesome enough to let me go on Sabbatical, and then work part time during busy season. The Sabbatical started in March of 2014, so that’s when we started full time, as our full time jobs.
Sunny: I haven’t had a real job (aside from this) in years.
Piper: How many days a week are you guys out there, selling your stuff?
Sunny: Average is 3 to 4 days out of the week. Right now, the two of us running the truck without employees is doable. This is our first year.
Sophia: When we say 3 to 4 days, sometimes we do a lunch and dinner, lunch and dinner, then a big event Saturday and Sunday.
Piper: Why aren’t you guys at the Durham food truck rodeo?
Sophia: They haven’t let us in yet. It’s an issue of space, there just isn’t enough room. Pie Pushers runs it, and they are just already full. But we have to talk to them, and try to get in.
Sunny: But we’ve had bad luck going to Durham, our truck just starts doing something. First it was the coolant, the whole entire engine, then something wasn’t installed right, then something was wrong with the fuel.
Sophia: It’s in the shop now, actually. But we made it to the Rodeo this past weekend. We were ready to have it towed there if we needed to.
Piper: I’m glad, because that would have been a crushing blow, to show up and have you not be there. Almost like on Saturday during SparkCon when you ran out of veggie dumplings. That was so sad. Does that happen often?
Sunny: No, just our first weekend. We had CAM, then the grand opening of Brewprint, then the rodeo…So at the CAM we ran out of everything.
Sophia: We had two big events back to back, then the rodeo…and we ran out, so now we make more. And we also have a new vegan curry noodle!
Piper: Oh, I’ll have to try that. I haven’t had your Pho yet either. It’s pronounced “fa” right? (both say yes). That brings up the question of your truck name….was that on purpose?
Sunny: Yes. We were actually worried if people would be offended by it.
Sophia: Then we realized that the people that would be offended probably aren’t food truck goers.
Piper: No one is offended here! I love it! I love to tell people the name of your truck. Especially because for a while, I didn’t get it. And then I was watching a show where someone was being corrected on the pronunciation of “Pho.” The next rodeo, I thought…ok, I’m going to try to remember to pronounce it correctly. Then I walked by your truck and said “Dump Pho-king Tru…..ah ha!” It’s genius.
Sophia: Yeah, we love that moment when people realize it. You can see the look on their faces when they walk by…they kind of pronounce it, then it clicks and they start laughing and taking pictures. So, we decided that we would keep the truck more elegant otherwise, to kind of balance it out. There was one time we were supposed to do a church event, and we figured out the woman probably didn’t get it. We decided to throw her a bone and tell her. Yeah, they were very sorry to tell us that we were kicked out.
Piper: Do you make the dough from scratch for the truck?
Sophia: No. You can make the dumplings from scratch, but for the purpose of the truck, we use the Shanghai wrappers – you can buy them at the Asian market and freeze them if you aren’t going to use them right away. I’d say keep them in the fridge no more than a week. They hold up well for pan frying or boiling and it isn’t quite as time consuming as making them from scratch. And these are also vegan, so our vegetarian ones are also vegan.
Piper: Have you made a gluten free dough for your dumplings?
Sophia: We haven’t found a way to do it yet.
Piper: I’ve never seen those wrappers at the market, but I see a lot of wonton wrappers. They look thinner, is that the big difference?
Sophia: Yes, these hold up better than the wonton wrappers. Traditionally dumplings have more than just meat in them, they have veggies in it, where as wontons are just meat, so they don’t have to hold up as much.
Piper: It seems like you could make so much out of the wrappers!
Sunny: Yeah, Bam Pow Chow is a new food tuck out there, and they make little tacos out of spring roll wrappers. (http://www.bampowchow.com)
Piper: Like taquitos?
Sophia: They are open face like tacos, so they use the wrappers to make a shell. They don’t stay crispy too long, but it’s such a cool concept.
Sunny: We used to have a dessert thing, using wanton wrappers and make like a cup cake thing. But it was such a hard sell, because people don’t really come to our truck for dessert.
Piper: That’s true, I go to the Parlour’s truck for dessert…even though I really want to try some of the cakes and cupcakes, I already know…that’s where I’m going.
Piper: So, what’s in this bag?
Sunny: We make it from scratch, its chives, pork (not the leanest cut, to give it the juicy taste), soy paste, hoisin, 5 spice…there are some secret ingredients that I won’t tell you.
Piper: Which one of you is the recipe creator?
Sophia: SHE is the pho-queen and I’m kind of the dumpling queen.
Sunny: I’ll also claim the sweet spicy sauce, and she will claim the vinegar sauce. We both contribute really randomly…like the bulgogi, Sophia does that and the curry noodles.
Sophia: We came up with the recipes together, but its more of a separation of duties when we are in the kitchen.
Sunny: Ok, so let’s start making them. This is the filling and these are the skins.
Sophia: You can see there’s flour on these already, so to get them to stick together, you have to get it wet. My mom will just put her fingers in some water and just wet the rim then put the filling in the middle and wrap it up. But when you are making thousands of dumplings at a time, it’s easier to just dunk it in the water.
Piper: Oh, we’re using chopsticks…this is going to be a little embarrassing for me. (offered me a fork) Oh no, I’m going to do it…it’s just going to be messy.
Sunny: When Sophia makes dumplings…she makes bigger dumplings, but the smaller ones are easier to make. We usually just cut a hole in the bag and just squeeze the filling down onto the wrapper.
Sophia: Yep, we do it pastry chef style. For your first dumpling, go with a little less filling and put it generally in the middle.
Sophia: If you are right handed, hold it in your left hand. And it’s funny because we fold them differently so the next time you get dumplings, you may be able to tell if I folded it, or if Sunny did. So, I’ll show you first, then Sunny can show you. Start by folding it in half, then pinch and the top and hold at the top.
Sophia: You can put it down on a clean surface if you want. Then you want to pull one side in, making an S curve, then fold it down, make another one, fold down, then press tightly. Do the same thing on the other side.
Sophia: You can make as many little folds as you want, but we generally do two. If the meat comes out, just stuff it back in. As long as you push tight…
Piper: Ah! Yay!
Sophia: There you go, there’s your completed dumpling!
Sunny: I do the same thing, pinch the top, but I pull the sides in that are facing you. I take from the middle and fold towards the inside. Do the same thing, to the midpoint, and then finish the other side.
Piper: hmmmm…yeah, I’m not…this is going to be more like my fusion one. He’s not quite…right.
She showed me a few times, but I could never quite get her amazing inside out technique. She’s folding towards herself, so she can see the work she’s doing.
Sophia: For this one, I did three folds…
Sunny: Oh, we also have a dumpling maker, like a mold. We don’t use it. And I’m not very good at it, I got it to show Sophia.
Sophia: Oh, it looks like a little empanada.
Sophia: It’s funny how every culture has one of these – like dough stuffed with meat and cheese and veggies and stuff. Like Germans have pierogies, Italians have ravioli…
Piper: What do us American’s have?
Sunny: Stromboli are Italian too…
Ian (Photographer): The thing about American food is that nothing is really just American. We kind of ripped everyone else off for our food.
Sunny: What about the corn dog?
Piper: Corn dogs…yeah, but sausages…those are Germans. I think the only really American food is corn on the cob, and that was from Native American culture…so
Ian: Just blueberries…really…
Sophia: Sunny tries sometimes to do two – one with each hand, but she hasn’t quite mastered it yet (Sunny yells YES!! from the kitchen, comes back with mold).
Sunny: I only do it with the veggie ones, because we only do one fold on the veggie ones to distinguish them from the others.
Piper: How far in advance do you make them?
Sophia: Depends on how quick we’ve gone through our inventory. Sometimes its the day of, sometimes we make them a week in advance and freeze them.
Sunny: You can freeze them and keep them up to a year in advance.
Sophia: You can put a layer of flour down (on a baking tray) then put the dumplings on top, more flour, then more dumplings and just put them in the freezer.
Sunny: After they get hard, you can bag them then take them out and fry them or steam them.
Sophia: We have bags on the truck ready to go, then we just cook them.
Sunny: Our turn around time is so quick, we usually run out…by the end…or get pretty close.
Piper: Do you make them here in the kitchen? Like will you serve the ones I’m making now?
Sophia: No, we make the ones we serve on our truck at the commissary, but we can certainly say that you helped us.
Piper: I feel like I’m getting better at this.
Sunny: Those are much better! Just make sure they touch in the middle.
Piper: And why do you have a paper towel on the plate for the water?
Sophia: It helps to keep the wrapper from dunking down into the water. If they get too wet, they will be too hard to handle.
Piper: Oh, no…this guy is really sad. What happened here?
Sunny: Well, there is definitely a learning curve.
Piper: Yeah, it’s like I just gave up. I have to redeem myself.
Sunny: There you go!
Sophia: That one is perfect.
Piper: How long does it take you to make what you serve in a day?
Sunny: Not long, we make about 500 at a time. It usually takes about 2 hours to make. We used to have people help us, but it was much easier to just do it by ourselves.
Sunny: Ok, so the cool thing with the folds is that they give the dumpling a different texture. There is this place in Taiwan that serves juicy buns and they have to do something like 26 folds. See it’s thicker here…It’s very difficult to do. They are well known for their juicy buns.
Sophia: The fun thing about the shape, too, is that way back in the day…gold nuggets were shaped like that. It’s a sign of good fortune and it’s a necessity on Chinese New Year for everyone to eat them. You have to have them, no matter what. So, its a full family event where the entire family is gathering around making and eating them.
Sunny: I remember as a child, when we were making them if I wasn’t making them fast enough, they’d kick me out of the kitchen.
Sophia: Or if the shape wasn’t right…they’d tell you. They were not nice.
Piper: I’m very glad you didn’t end up going back to Taiwan, because…I love your dumplings. They are my favorite in Raleigh.
Sunny: Aw, thank you. You know, places like Chirba chirba paved the way, they kind of made dumplings trendy here in Raleigh and we have to commend them for that.
Sophia: So, we are very grateful for them, and they’ve been great, telling us what events to join, which aren’t worth the sign in fee, which you won’t get the most business from…so they’ve been very helpful to us.
Piper: I like Chirba Chirba, but there is something about the service there, may be…there are too many people.
Sunny: We try to make it a fun experience for people when they come to our truck. Like, the last event we did we had people order with their Rapper names.
Piper: Oh, I have a rapper name! My rapper name is Tuppins, it’s a two pence, like I’m white nerdy 50Cent. I would have been so happy…
Sophia: Some people had their names ready to go! And others…were just like … Oh, I don’t know may be this, or that. But some were…
Sunny: This older lady was like I’m eminimenem…
Sophia: And one girl said “Candy Wrapper”…and I was like Oh, I like your food pun. But Sunny, you know, she’s the one that gets to write them down, and I had to call them out. And some of them were not…appropriate. There were kids around…and…you know…
I asked her what the worst one was, she couldn’t remember, but it ended in “Make her squirt.” She wasn’t thrilled to mention it.
Piper: THIS from girl one of two, or two of two, of two girls one truck…I mean…
Sunny: I’m one of two…it’s not really a thing, but we didn’t really want titles. No CEO.
Piper: I like Pho-queen, and dumpling queen, but don’t shorten that to Dump-queen…cause…that’s no good at all. Don’t do that.
Sophia: Tell her your idea….your other idea.
Sunny: I want to start a bar called Raw Men, it will be a gay bar that serves ramen. I’ll have hot gay men wearing bow ties serving ramen. Gourmet ramen…
Piper: I think that’s just what Raleigh is missing.
We ended up boiling some and making some pot sticker style, where we browned the bottoms in the pan then added a flour/water combo before covering the pot.
The fired ones seemed to make the flavors of the pork the super star of the dish. They were a lot heartier.
While the boiled ones were sweeter and seemed to focus your taste buds on the chives. The skin had such a great texture, too. They were both delicious! And I left feeling full and excited to try my hand at these in my own environment. Hopefully this will be something I can replicate over and over again.
We discussed some ideas for making shrimp dumplings, so that will be my first goal…I’ll post an update with the specifications on what I did.
Thank you so much, Dump Pho-King Truck Ladies! It was such an honor to learn from you.
And a very special thanks to Ian Wilson for his beautiful photography!
You can find him on:
Please check him out! You won’t be sorry.