'What's for lunch?' Chinese New Year edition

In MPR News’ Minnesota Now series What’s for Lunch? we call up renowned chefs from all over the state to ask what they are cooking and eating today.

To kick off the Chinese New Year, MPR News host Cathy Wurzer talked with Peter Bian and Linda Cao, the couple behind the acclaimed pop-up Saturday Dumpling Co.

They use Instagram to sell thousands of dumplings each week to Twin Cities residents. Their special recipe comes from Bian’s mother, who would make the same dumplings for special occasions back in Northern China before the family moved to Minnesota.

Use the audio player above to listen to the full conversation. 

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Audio transcript

CATHY WURZER: We're going to continue our Minnesota Now series called What's For Lunch?, where we call up renowned chefs from all over the state to ask what they're cooking and eating today. It's lunchtime, after all. To kick off Chinese New Year, we thought we'd chat with Peter Bian and Linda Cao. They're the couple behind the acclaimed pop-up Saturday Dumpling Company.

They use Instagram to sell thousands of dumplings each week to Twin Cities residents using a special recipe from Peter's mom, who would make the same dumplings for special occasions back in northern China before the family moved to Minnesota. Peter and Linda are on the line right now. Thanks for taking the time to join us.

PETER BIAN: Hey there.

LINDA CAO: Thanks for having us.

PETER BIAN: Thanks for having us.

CATHY WURZER: Oh, it's just a real pleasure. Well, I understand the most notable holiday for dumpling eating is Chinese New Year. How busy were you two prior to this weekend making dumplings, Peter?

PETER BIAN: Super, super busy. We were expecting a huge turnout, which happened. The crazy warm weather kind of helped. And we just haven't stopped making dumplings since last week. Luckily we were able to keep up with demand, but it was a crazy Saturday this past Saturday.

CATHY WURZER: Oh my goodness. By the way, happy New Year.

PETER BIAN: Thanks.

CATHY WURZER: How do you make these dumplings? I mean, Linda, my friends who are Chinese say they say it's easy. But I look at this and say, oh, I don't know. It looks like it's a pretty time consuming task.

LINDA CAO: [CHUCKLES] It is very time consuming. It's very labor intensive. When we first started the company in 2021, we were literally hand wrapping each dumpling individually by ourselves just the two of us as a very, very small team. Luckily today, we have an entire crew that's part of our back of house team who are incredible and help us make all the dumplings every single week.

CATHY WURZER: Now help me out. Are Chinese dumplings, potstickers, and wontons the same thing? No. Yes.

PETER BIAN: Well, I feel like every culture has some kind of meat wrapped in dough. In China, we call them from where we are from, like, jiaozi. And you can call it a dumpling. If they're pan-fried, typically you call that a potsticker or a gyoza, if you're from Japan. And then wontons are a whole separate beast. The wrappers are a little bit thinner. They're usually served in soup. But the fillings are pretty much the same.

CATHY WURZER: Got it. OK, thank you. Say, let's talk about the fillings. What was your mom's recipe like, Peter? What was the original recipe like?

PETER BIAN: Well you know, like any immigrant parent, the recipes are all in their head, passed down through generations. And her mom didn't teach her any ingredients or measurements. And likewise, she didn't share any of those with us growing up until 2021, where we had the thought of creating this company where we kind of tricked her into sharing all of her secrets.

CATHY WURZER: [LAUGHTER]

PETER BIAN: We had her made a couple of fillings that we knew that we wanted to put on the site to sell, and then we weighed out everything from the dough, to the salt, to the sugar, to how much pork, what kind of pork. She was super suspicious at first. We're like, no, no, no, no. We're just making them at home.

And then the next week, we started selling them on Instagram. So thanks, Mom. Everything's kind of from her kitchen. I like to tell people she's still the best cook that I know. I grew up eating in her kitchen and learned everything I know about cooking through her.

CATHY WURZER: Good for you. Good for you both. I'm wondering here, Linda, was there any thought to maybe tweaking some of the original recipes? Do you have something, maybe some different flavors you've added since?

LINDA CAO: Yeah, absolutely. So in addition to some of the more traditional recipes that we started out with-- thank you to Peter's mom, again-- we've now started collaborating with a number of chefs and restaurants around town to do collaboration dumpling flavors that are a little bit more on the fun Asian twist fusion end of things.

So our first ever collaboration dumpling was with Gustavo and Kate from Nixta Tortilleria in Northeast Minneapolis and we did a beef birria dumpling flavor with them. And more recently we did, like, a crawfish étouffée dumpling with Mr. Paul's.

So we've kind of like run the gamut where we have our signature flavors that are tried and true. They're definitely a lot more traditional. And again, that's because those recipes really came and originated from Peter's mom. And beyond that, we've now worked with so many restaurants.

And we also like to play around with the seasonality of certain ingredients. And we like to shop local as much as possible from the Minneapolis Farmers Market. So in the springtime when wild ramp season is happening, we try to do a wild ramp dumpling as well.

CATHY WURZER: Wow. Now last week, I believe you announced that you're going to be selling your dumplings at Linden Hills and the Wedge Co-Ops in the Twin Cities, which is huge, right?

PETER BIAN: Yeah. Yeah, we're super excited. And our all of our followers are super excited, too. It's been really fun seeing people go to the Wedge either Linden Hills or the Lyndale location and take their photos of our dumplings in the freezer racks.

CATHY WURZER: Wow.

PETER BIAN: And that just happened on Friday.

CATHY WURZER: Hey, congratulations. And we should say to folks who are not familiar, you started this business during the pandemic. During a pandemic, you started. And just think about where this has gone so far. Do you just kind of pinch yourself, Linda, and say, how did we get here?

LINDA CAO: Yeah, absolutely. We really started it as a way to still be able to connect with our friends with social distancing. We'd make care packages and drop them off to our friends' front porches as a way to still share a meal while being separated and apart from each other.

And our friends were really the fuel-- that they motivated us, and they kept poking at us and saying, these dumplings are really good. You guys really should start thinking about selling them so we can have them all the time versus just once in a great while. And before the pandemic, we really didn't have an opportunity or the time, really, to make these dumplings more than once in a great while.

Traditionally, they're enjoyed during special occasions or holidays because it's such a community activity. They are so labor-intensive that everyone gets involved and takes a role in making the dumplings and with that process. And so we found ourselves with a bunch of extra time on our hands during the pandemic, which is how we were able to actually turn this into a viable business idea.

But yeah, it is really wild, this journey we've been on. We started with just two very simple, traditional flavors. And now we have a rotating menu of around 15 different flavors on any given week. And of course, it's not just Peter and I anymore. We have an entire team behind us. So it's really cool to see how we've been able to build our company and how it's evolved over time.

CATHY WURZER: Now before you go, of course, I mentioned this segment is called What's For Lunch? So I'd be remiss if I didn't ask you what you guys are eating for lunch today. Peter?

PETER BIAN: Well, we just had lunch, so I can talk a little bit about that. One of the traditions that we like to do at my family is eat Peking duck. It's a little untraditional, but the kids love it growing up and Mom obliges. So we had a couple Peking ducks.

And what we do is we take the carcass and we boil it down into a rich Peking duck broth. And then I used that broth this morning, add a little cooked rice, and made a congee for me and Linda before we were headed into the commissary to do this interview.

CATHY WURZER: Oh, it sounds great. Oh my goodness.

PETER BIAN: It's amazing, yeah. It's restorative. It tastes like Peking duck. It's a great way to use leftovers and scraps. And it's just all around a tasty and warm dish.

CATHY WURZER: OK, now if people from out state are listening, is there a place they can get the dumplings?

PETER BIAN: They can order online and come pick up every Saturday at our kitchen, Dots Gray. It's a commissary kitchen in North Minneapolis. It's right off the highway. So if people want dumplings, come order them online and we'll see you on Saturday.

CATHY WURZER: All right. Peter and Linda, all best. Thank you for taking the time to talk with me.

LINDA CAO: Thank you.

PETER BIAN: Thank you. Thank you so much for having us.

CATHY WURZER: You take care. Peter Bian, Linda Cao, owners of Saturday Dumpling Company.

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