Dumplings — adorably bite-sized pockets of dough packed with various fillings — excel in convenience. At Dumpling Darling on Dubuque Street in Iowa City (their brick and mortar location shared with Pops Old n’ New BBQ), an order of Korean-style dumplings is steamed and ready to eat in about five minutes or less. But the convenience is never synonymous with boring, as proved by the lamb dumplings I tried. Filled with a mixture of locally sourced ground lamb, soy and sesame sauces, Korean spices and a hint of brown sugar, the lamb dumplings boast a delicate balance of savory and sweet. They are served with a sesame peanut sauce, and it was clear from one bite how this particular pairing won the People’s Choice first-place entree at the 2016 Top Chef: Downtown Iowa City. For those who lean toward the herbivorous end of the dietary spectrum, I’d also recommend the veggie dumplings. Loaded with Iowa City-made Old Capitol Food Company organic tofu, the veggie variety of dumplings are seriously substantial. Bean sprouts and sweet potato noodles within add a crunchy and satiny texture to each bite. I chose to dip mine in the soy rice vinegar to capitalize on the tofu’s ability to absorb flavors.
Dumpling Darling began selling dumplings beneath a pop-up tent on East Washington Street three years ago. Founder Lesley Triplett was inspired by the neighborhood dumpling stand she frequented during her year-long stay in South Korea. Today, with help from a team of part-time employees and a small dumpling machine, Lesley and husband Brian Triplett often make thousands of dumplings in a single night to satisfy the demands of their growing business.
Dumpling Darling’s dumplings are also available steamed fresh on location Saturday mornings at the Iowa City Farmers Market and at the NewBo City Market in Cedar Rapids. The team frequents various outdoor festivals and markets throughout Iowa and the Midwest. You can also find Dumpling Darling dumplings stocked to-go at multiple Iowa City grocery stores including New Pioneer Co-op, John’s Grocery and Bread Garden Market. Grip them between two chopsticks or simply use your fingers — either way, each dumpling devoured represents a supportive nod to a locally cultivated, femalefounded, and totally delicious interpretation of Korean cuisine.
This article was originally published in Little Village issue 203.