Walking along Victoria Park Road, the striking red exterior of My Neighbours The Dumplings’ invites you to take a peek through the long windows and into the small dumpling kitchen.
Stuff, roll, press. Stuff roll, press.
Fresh dumplings are made almost like clockwork with delicate precision as preparations for their Spring special are going full steam ahead. Through the entrance on the other side, a cacophony of neon signs and Chinese lanterns invites you (and your stomach) for a feast of dim-sum-styled small plates and of course, dumplings.
What started as a small pop-up dumpling and sake bar in 2014, has now grown to be a successful business in two locations. Co-founder Bec Wharton’s takes inspiration from her mum’s recipes, her travels in Asia and memories growing up on a farm in the West Country.
“Food has always been in my life,” says Bec. “I grew up on a farm just outside Bristol and we reared sheep. My dad got us into it pretty young and had us follow him to the farmer’s market to sell lamb. We used to grow our produce like pak choi and my mum, who is from Hong Kong, would use them to make us Chinese dishes. It has always been a medley of culture growing up.”
Inspired by her mum’s tried and tested recipe of classic crispy pork belly, where quality pork belly is slow-cooked after marinating in crushed toasted spices. “After taking it out from the oven, we do a hot roast to get the skin nice and crispy. It has my mum’s seal of approval,” says Bec, smiling.
Being a mum to three kids herself, she likes to involve the kids in her culinary journey. Every spring, they’d go foraging for wild garlic in the woodlands. “My kids and I bring suitcases to the woodlands just outside Bath and collect the stems and leaves. Then we bring it to the restaurant and make something out of it,” says Bec, whose spring special this year includes crystal dumplings with wild garlic, white scallop meat, and roe. The subtle garlicky flavours from the wild garlic paired with the sweet, succulent scallop meat and roe works beautifully together.
Like a lot of items on the menu, the juicy and crispy-bottomed potsticker dumplings are a reflection of Bec’s travels when she taught English as a foreign language in China and Borneo. “I remember in one of the dumpling houses near where I lived in Beijing, they had lamb and coriander dumplings on the menu and I liked it,” says Bec. “Lamb isn’t a common ingredient in Chinese cuisine as it can be quite strong for a lot of people, but the combination works.” She believes the lamb and coriander flavours complement each other in that they’re strong enough to hold up to the other one’s flavour.
As a part of the East and Southeast Asia (ESEA) diaspora, Bec tries to ensure her establishments give back to the community. As you enter the Victoria Park restaurant, a little space is carved out to stock a variety of Asian ingredients and products made by independent food makers from the diaspora. From housemade frozen dumplings and spicy sambal to sake and fish sauce, it’s a one-stop shop for getting what you need for a quintessentially Asian meal.
The Clapton flagship store opens up its space for independent cooks to host supper clubs and even, occasional Mahjong sessions to fundraise for the Hackney Chinese Community Centre. “Recently we’ve hosted Rahel Stephanie from Spoons and Swilipino and we open up our space for people who are doing new stuff in the ESEA sphere,” says Bec. “It helps a lot as we have a lot of the stuff already that they can use, like chopsticks, spoons, little plates, tea cups and things,” she says, reminiscing her pop-up days and how she had to lug all her cutlery and crockery around with her.
Since starting as a humble pop-up above a grocery store on Lower Clapton Road in 2014, Bec and her team have been steadfast in their mission to share her heart and love for food through humble, juicy parcels of joy. Now, after two waves of the pandemic, two establishments and three kids, these dumplings are here to stay.
This article is part of our series, Food Without Borders: Taste of East London, check out more stories here. #ELLFoodWithoutBorders