DIY Dumplings with Henry Hsu
A child of Taiwanese immigrants who settled in Texas, Henry’s culinary training ground was his grandfather’s vegetable garden and his mother and grandmother’s kitchen in Houston. “When we first moved to Texas, we did not have access to a lot of the foods we had in Taiwan, so we had to grow and make a lot of things,” says Henry in an interview with Tapestry Suppers.
“My paternal grandparents lived with us in Houston, and my grandfather built out our backyard with raised garden beds, growing everything he could from the motherland: loofah, string beans, water spinach,” he says. “My mother and grandmother spent a lot of time in the kitchen making everything else: soymilk, noodles, tofu, zongzi [sticky rice dumplings], radish cake.”
Henry, who studied anthropology, Latin America, and public health, learned to cook the dishes of his childhood when he went to college in Iowa, where familiar comfort foods were in short supply. He‘s had an eclectic path: He’s done stints in restaurant kitchens and on organic farms. He’s worked in architecture and furniture design. Wherever in the world he’s lived and worked, Henry has always spent time behind a stove.
Back in 2007, when Henry lived In Ecuador, he started his own dumpling catering service. His dumplings, which used local ingredients (such as potatoes and lupine seeds) and North American flavor accents (think Southern and Tex-Mex), proved a hit. The appeal of plump, chewy, stuffed pockets is pretty universal: Almost every culture has a variation on these wrap-filled morsels, from potstickers to perogies, which can serve as an appetizer, side dish, or meal stand-in. “Who doesn't love dumplings?” asks Henry. “ Maybe in part, being a designer, I like the aesthetic and formal challenges in making them, but ultimately, as a food person, I fell in love with the idea of this simple, contained parcel packed full of flavor.”
When Henry returned to the United States, he knew he wanted to pursue work in the food world. Henry has long served as the community manager for local tofu maker Hodo Soy in Oakland; he’s currently on a sabbatical from his day job. When not leading tours, he also volunteers at Green Gulch Farm in Muir Beach.
Did we mention dumplings? Henry will share his enthusiasm for these savory treats at an event hosted by our friends at Tapestry Suppers, whose mission is to “eat well, do good, and build a movement.”
This immigrant-focused supperclub, the brainchild of food photographer Danielle Tsi, began as a counter to the political climate after you-know-who was elected and announced a Muslim ban, a border wall, and other anti-immigrant actions. Danielle, originally from Singapore, wanted to create a safe and welcoming gathering space for immigrants and refugees to share the cuisines and cultures of their homelands. For two years now, she has hosted monthly meals championing the foodways of people who hail from diverse corners of the globe, including Burma, Canada, India, Iran, Italy, Tanzania, Thailand, and Vietnam. Proceeds from each event, which bring both friends and strangers to the table, have supported immigration-related charities.
“When I cook Taiwanese dishes for my family or Taiwanese elders, my fear is that my modifications will be misunderstood,” Henry says. “So I have to at least make sure they taste good, even if a dish is not ‘authentic’ in their minds.” Have no fear Henry: We can confirm that your dumplings are delicious.
And now you can find out for yourself. Henry returns to Tapestry Suppers this summer with a dumpling demo and cooking class. Join Henry and the Tapestry Suppers team for an afternoon of dumpling making and Taiwanese snacks in Palo Alto on Saturday, June 2. Ticket details here. “We'll be making three types of dumplings at the class—the doughs, as well as some of the fillings,” says Henry, who recently spent a month eating and cooking his away around Taipei. Guests will take home Henry’s dumpling recipe and fresh dumpling dough to practice making their own dumplings at home. Trust us, it’s going to be a tasty time.
Henry has two other Taiwanese-focused food events in the works. On June 16—Father's Day—find him at The Civic Kitchen, a recreational cooking school in San Francisco’s Mission District, where he’ll serve a five-course dinner featuring Taiwan's national dish, the deeply savory and deliciously brothy Beef Noodle Soup. Details here. On June 26, he’ll host a community dinner at 18 Reasons, a community cooking school also in the Mission DIstrict. There, he’ll focus on the Taiwanese railroad bento box tradition.
For Henry, tour guiding and teaching cooking are complementary pursuits that feed off of each other. “As a guide for Edible Excursions I’ve been fortunate to have the opportunity to connect with so many passionate food makers and restaurant chefs,” he says. “It’s a pleasure to share their knowledge and craft with our guests, who are looking for insights into how food, people, and culture combine to tell a story about place.”
“I've learned a lot about food and the industry—and I’ve also learned a lot about myself and my own relationship to cuisine and culture and place. I share all of that with my guests on tour and enjoy hearing about the role eating plays in their own stories.”