Guest post by Poppet’s Window
We’re in Coburg, standing outside a small warehouse. The door opens suddenly and a smiling Chinese man – who I later find out is called Liang – opens the door and gestures emphatically for us to follow him inside. Huge sacks of flour and shelves full of shiny bottles of soy and rice vinegar line the walls.
Liang hands us hair nets and leads us through a plastic sheet covering the door. We follow him into a large open space. About ten people stand on each side of a stainless steel bench, hand-making dumplings for Oriental Teahouse and laughing at private jokes. Nearby, two men are chopping up orange Peking duck, while another staff member slowly stirs strips of wagyu beef in a giant wok full of broth. But it’s the dumpling table that is the most fascinating.
There are a number of dumpling masters, qualified senior chefs who have been crafting dumplings for eight years or more. Their hands move at lightening speed: rolling, pulling, stuffing, folding. Unless you’ve made dumplings for nearly a decade, you can’t be called a dumpling master. One gentleman has been making dumplings for over 40 years, and between just four dumpling masters, there is over a century’s worth of dumpling making experience. They won’t even let other staff members steam the dumplings, should they do it incorrectly.
From start to finish, including cooking time, a single handmade dumpling takes one and a half hours to prepare. It’s for this reason that Oriental Teahouse freezes their dumplings as soon as they’re made. It’s necessary to freeze the dumplings fresh, so that when they’re steamed and served at Oriental Teahouse, you can taste the love and effort that has gone into each one.
It may sound simple enough, but it didn’t tale me long to figure out that there are lots of steps in ensuring that the dumplings are perfectly prepared. Firstly, they have to be made by dumpling experts with the best ingredients possible. Next, the dumplings have to be put in the freezer room so their freshness is preserved. Following that, the staff have to remember to rotate the stock, to make sure that the dumplings served retain their taste and texture, and so that there is no wastage. The dumplings then have to be transported with care. Once they are cooked, they have to be served as soon as possible so they don’t cool too much or appear tired on the table.
About fourteen members of the Oriental Teahouse family work in the Coburg dumpling studio. Each one has the precision of an artist. They spread their passion by bringing their Chinese culture to hungry mouths, one dumpling at a time. In other words, without their hard work and practiced hands, Oriental Teahouse would not exist.