How It All Began

My earliest memory of home cooked food was when I mistook dough residual for powdered sugar after my mom was making dumplings at our kitchen table. Fortunately, learning the hard way that raw dough is in fact no delectable treat did not deter the young me from continuing to try and explore the breadth of Chinese dishes my mom prepared for my family each evening. In addition to becoming an extremely proficient consumer of these authentic home-cooked meals, I also picked up a couple recipes for stir-fried noodles, tangyuan, and dumplings (of course) along the way. 

Throughout high school, my mom and I would take periodic "trips" out to different Chinese street food restaurants (called "小吃," which literally translates to "small food" in English) back in my hometown near D.C., and try the various foods that were such integral components to both our childhoods. We savored over pork wontons, steamed rolls, scallion pancakes, and quite a number of different broths and soups. I could go on forever.

Searching for Home

Fast forward two months. I stand amongst a community of nearly seven thousand people, most of whom are strangers to me. I've met at least three other girls who share my same first name, and quite a couple others who share my last. The carrying capacity of my classes have gone from 20-30 to over 200. The foods that now fill my dinner plate range from grilled salmon and couscous to Italian pastas. Apparently people call this college

Yet, as I slowly adjust myself to a new lifestyle and norm, there still remains a part of me that adamantly clings to my old self. It should then come to no surprise to you that within a week of hearing about a local Shanghai restaurant just 20 minutes away from campus, me and several of my friends found ourselves situated by a wooden table right beside the kitchen of Shanghai Dumpling in Chapel Hill

The First Encounter

Angela Wu

Imagine a cozy, snug room with puffy white ceiling lights floating above your head and the sound of applause and commentators from a rerun of last night's baseball game softly murmuring in the background. Tables are lined up and scattered around the vicinity, but there are customers occupying almost every one of them. Around you and me, lively conversations in English, Mandarin, Thai, Spanish, or some eclectic mix of a few, fill the interiors of the soft yellow walls. If the old photos of Shanghai and the oriental silverware weren't enough to remind me of home, the food absolutely did so. The visual impact of watching potstickers, shumai, and spring rolls be placed on our table flooded me with the memories and comforts of home.

Perhaps the most memorable (both personally and gustatorily) dish I had that evening was the 小笼包, or Shanghai soup dumplings. Each dumpling resembles a small sack of hidden treats, containing lumps of meat that are carefully and aesthetically wrapped in bundles of flour, sometimes with other delights such as sprinkles of chives or shrimp on the outside. Upon your first nibble into the coating, a flood of hazel-colored, thin soup sweeps into your mouth, the flavor and spices tickling your tongue and your senses. Dip your 小笼包 into a little bit of soy sauce or vinegar, and you have yourself the ultimate trifecta.

ravioli, dumpling, dough, gyoza, meat
Weichen Yan

As I nipped into my first dumpling, I couldn't help but jump back a little and giggle childishly as I felt the warm gush of pork bone soup sweep into my mouth (okay, and maybe also a little onto the plate beneath me). Peeking inside to the small pocket I had created, I watched as the steam cleared to reveal a small, neatly packed ball of pork sitting intently inside the depths of the flour batter, tucked safely in its home. Seeing this reminded me of how I used to eat around the pork as a child in hopes of saving this holy grail for last. If it weren't for the group of people sitting with me that evening, I probably would've done the same again.

Angela Wu

Home Away From Home

What makes these foods so special to me, however, isn't the size of the pork balls or the warmth of the soups; rather, it's the memories that they bring. That night, as I sat before a table full of new friends eating the foods of my childhood, I knew that I had safely found a home away from home. Life in college is incredibly fast-paced, so much so that we often don't realize it until we've managed to get out of the loop. This made this spontaneous group adventure to Shanghai Dumpling all the more valuable and enjoyable. So, the next time I find myself about to or feast over some 小笼包 or slurp wonton soup, maybe it won't be the memories of my childhood that I reminisce over, but rather these moments in the making from my new life and friends here in Durham.