When we set out for a new city we have never explored, the first thing we do is research their top restaurants. Whether it’s for the big as yo’ face cinnamon rolls (San Antonio) or the heavenly sandwiches that were dangled in front of us on Man vs. Food (San Fransisco), we know which restaurants we’re eating at before we pack our bags. This is our favorite part of exploring new parts of the world, so when I stumbled upon Joyce’s Garden at Lama Temple, I blacked out with excitement and began signing us up before I was able to tell Shawn the news. Joyce offers an intimate cooking class where she teaches up to six participants how to make traditional Chinese dumplings and hand pulled noodles from scratch. I want to pause here and tell you that my current food obsession is dumplings. I crave them on a daily basis and have been wanting to learn the process, but have been too nervous to try it on my own. So when I found this opportunity, it felt like the Dumpling Gods were telling me it was meant to be. It almost felt like a secret club we had to be invited to. You have to request to be a part of one of her classes through a form on her website and if you’re lucky, she will have room for you on her tiny roster. I stalked my email for hours waiting for her response, keeping my fingers crossed that we did not cut it too close before the day of the session. Thankfully, she was able to add us in to a Saturday morning class where we would begin preparing our afternoon dumpling feast at 10:30am.
When the morning arrived, we were provided the address to a local coffee shop where we were to meet Joyce and the others partaking in this culinary adventure. Once we were rounded up, we followed her back through winding alleyways, a traditional style of neighborhood in Beijing, Joyce explained, where most of the homes only consisted of one room and kitchen with communal bathrooms. These buildings are inclosed with a courtyard shared with three other homes. This design is meant to maximize sunlight and minimize the contact with the busy city outside. These structures are built to be family oriented and house four generations, one generation for each building within the shared courtyard. Now, these traditions have begun to change and many of the homes have built additional rooms where the customary courtyard would stand. Many of the neighborhoods in the city were built this way before the days of high rises and their growing economy, thus leaving these homes to be flipped into businesses and restaurants. Joyce’s renovated space was so quaint, we felt right at home with her soft music and treats set out on the table waiting for our arrival. Her compact dumpling house was decorated with raw wood furniture, dried flowers and hints and nautical blue and white stripes. Joyce gave us a (very) quick tour of her space, which only required a few steps and us popping our heads around the corner to the kitchen and the extra room that was added on.
Once we settled in, there was no time to waste. Joyce and her assistant began prepping the ingredients to bring out to the table. We started with the dough for the noodles and dumplings, as they need time to rise. Once the dough was complete, Joyce explained each ingredient that was put into the traditional pork and cabbage dumpling (our favorite!) and poured them into a large bowl which we each took turns mixing. By the time we had made the fillings for the the pork/cabbage and the egg/chive/shrimp dumplings (I’m making you hungry, aren’t I?) it was time to cut up the dough and roll it out in to small circles. This part really takes practice. How is it that the experts always make it look so easy? After making our circles, we filled them up with dumpling stuffings – pinch, pinch, pinch of the dough – and sent them off to the kitchen to be boiled or pan fried. Now came Shawn’s favorite part, and he was pretty good at it; the hand pulled noodles! After flattening the dough, you cut off small strips and place one end in each hand and slap the noodle on the cutting board as you between to pull the edges away from each other. Once everyone in the group had a pile of noodles, Joyce dumped them into a boiling pot for them to cook for only a few minutes, before running them through cold water to serve for a summer time appetizer. She laid out different traditional mixings for the noodles and grabbed us all a beer. It was finally time to relax and feast, and feast we did. The dishes we made were out of this world and we had good size food babies by the times we parted ways. If you ever find yourself in Beijing, we hope you make this your first stop – you will not be disappointed.