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The Festival of Dough Balls

By Heather Mangal

Bronx Journal Staff Writer

The Oxford Companion to Food describes the dumpling as a “globular mass of boiled or steamed dough” without “social pretentions.” The dumpling may be humble but a recent festival in lower Manhattan demonstrated that there are a dazzling number of ways to stuff ‘em, cook ‘em and eat ‘em.

The eclectic art of dumpling making was on full display at the 3rd Annual NYC Dumpling Festival, where foodies tasted samples from 11 different New York City restaurants.

For entertainment, there were several dumpling eating challenges. The competitions were for cash, with a $1,000 first prize, $500 second and $300 third. A few hardcore eaters were trying to break the Guinness World Record for dumplings consumed in two minutes. In 2008, Joe Menchetti ate 66 dumplings and held his record for three years until he ate 69 dumplings at this year’s competition. The men and woman competed separately.

Male and female contestants

One contestant said that he prepared for the dumpling-eating contest by drinking all night and now was very hung over. A few of the girls were doing it because their friends made them. One was disqualified for throwing up.

But while people were stuffing their faces with dumplings on stage, the audience was walking around the park with their sampling tickets, which cost $20 for four samples. All of the proceeds went to the Food Bank for NYC. Some of the most unique and eclectic dumplings were being served; they were far from standard Chinese restaurant potstickers.

Most of the dumpling enthusiasts were more intent on eating than talking and gave one-word answers to describe their favorite dumplings: delicious, awesome, great.

“Tasty, that’s all I got,” said Ed Brown, 32, from Fair Lawn, NJ about his favorite dumpling, the lamb and potato from Elsewhere. He had used up his four-sample-ticket, but could not explain why the lamb and potato was his favorite, just that it was tasty.

Amanda Boggiano, 23, from Queens, NY was sampling the chicken pot stickers from Chef One. She described the dumpling simply as delicious.

There was a long line for the fried seafood dumpling from Lavrador, an authentic Iberian restaurant located in Jamaica, New York. The dumplings were fried to a crisp and then soaked in a bright orange sauce.

“I don’t even like the taste of seafood, but these are amazing, said Lori Combe, 55, from upstate New York. “You can’t even taste that fishy taste that I hate. The sauce is the best part; it’s very sweet and tangy.

Another booth, where the line was quite long was the desert booth that featured an apple dumpling with whipped cream from Ivy Bakery and Lounge, which is located on West Houston Street in SOHO. However, when people got their sample there was some complaining because they gave such a tiny portion, a single, tiny apple dumpling with about a teaspoon of whipped cream. All of the other booths offered three dumplings in their samples.

Pierogis are dumplings too! Veselka offered a trio of pierogis, one was stuffed with beef, one was stuffed with goat cheese and one was a traditional potato piergoi; a dollap of sour cream came on the side. A few people complained about the blandness of the potato pierogi, but complimented the one stuffed wth goat cheese and were indifferent to the beef-stuffed pierogi.

Vegetarians and vegans had options too. Tang’s Natural, the main sponsor of the event, served whole-wheat vegetable dumplings which are available in grocery stores. I tried a steamed one and I would have much preferred it fried!

In all it was a glorious day for food lovers in the Lower East Side.  A few blocks from the dumpling festival in Little Italy, the Annual Feast of San Gennaro, was serving up sausages and zeppole.  A weekend of food indeed.

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