Dumplings direct: from Beijing to Whitehorse

Lu Sun's fingers flit across the small circle of dough, heaped with pork, shrimp, egg, onion and carrot. He wets the edges and pinches it into a perfectly pleated purse, with the ease of a masterful Chinese dumpling maker.

Lu Sun’s fingers flit across the small circle of dough, heaped with pork, shrimp, egg, onion and carrot.

He wets the edges and pinches it into a perfectly pleated purse, with the ease of a masterful Chinese dumpling maker.

But Sun is new to the job.

The Northern Sun dumpling stand in Horwood’s Mall has only been open a week.

It doesn’t even have a sign out yet, only a whiteboard in the hallway with “Dumplings” written in black marker, and an arrow.

Sun’s originally from Beijing, the heartland of dumplings.

But it’s Ashley Pan who pushed him to make the authentic Chinese fare in Whitehorse.

A year ago, Pan and her husband, Song Lin, left Southern China for the Yukon.

In less than 24 hours, they’d swapped a humid city of 12 million for a chilly city of 20,000.

“When I first came, I found it so small,” she said, standing in front of the dumpling shop on Wednesday afternoon.

But she didn’t mind the tiny population because people were kind.

Pan didn’t mind the cold either.

But food was a problem.

“If only we could find real Chinese food, it would have been OK,” she said.

“But we could not.”

Then Pan met Sun, who’d just moved to the territory from Vancouver.

By trade, Sun’s an electrical engineer, with a physics degree from Beijing university and a masters in electronics from a university in Yugoslavia. He stayed on in the country for six years working for big industry until Yugoslavia was ravaged by civil war.

“I saw no future there,” said Sun, who speaks Serbian, German, English and Mandarin.

So, he emigrated to Canada and ended up working odd jobs in Vancouver for close to a decade.

When his wife got a daycare job in Whitehorse about a year ago, they moved north.

Sun was looking for work, and Pan was looking for a business partner.

After learning he was from Beijing, it was understood that dumplings were part of his upbringing.

“In China, from childhood, we all learn how to make dumplings,” said Sun.

Soon Pan’s food nostalgia prompted a business deal and Northern Sun was on the horizon.

The next struggle was finding a place they could afford.

When a friend with a gift shop in Horwood’s mentioned a hole-in-the-wall that was up for rent, Pan’s dumpling dreams took shape.

The take-out was supposed to open in August, but health inspections required them to install a sink, and the food permitting took a little longer than expected.

The ingredients are all bought and made in the Yukon, said Pan.

“Except for the dough.”

It’s shipped in from Edmonton, already cut and rolled.

“The dough is too much work,” said Lin.

And it’s tough to get it rolled out to the proper thickness, added Pan.

“Some clients say it’s too thick.”

Making the fillings every morning already takes a lot of time, she said.

Still, Pan has plans to expand.

The dumplings she’s selling now – cooked in a covered frying pan, on a hotplate in their tiny kitchen – are called jiaozi (pronounced ‘jowd-za’).

These are what westerners know as Chinese dumplings.

“But we have many types of dumpling,” she said.

The savoury jiaozi are traditionally eaten during Chinese New Year, while the lantern festival features round, sweet dumplings.

Sticky rice wrapped in bamboo leaves is also considered a type of dumpling, and is popular during the dragon boat festival.

In keeping with these holidays, Pan hopes to serve up various dumpling varieties at her Horwood’s food stand.

She’s also considering making a crock pot full of tea eggs – hardboiled and kept warm in salty tea broth.

“They smell good too,” she said.

In its first week, Northern Sun sold out of dumplings by noon Friday.

“And we didn’t even advertise,” said Pan.

Pan and Lin came to Whitehorse because they had family here, but didn’t plan on staying.

It was the community, the landscape and, now, the opportunities that convinced them to call the North home.

“We were very impressed because people were so nice,” said Pan.

“And everything was so accessible.”

Sun and his wife recently bought a trailer and were amazed when the previous owner told them she never locked her door.

“It is very special here,” he said.

In China apartments have bars over their windows and balconies.

“It’s like you’re in jail,” said Pan.

Talking with friends, Pan has heard the Yukon is becoming more and more diverse.

“So it’s time to bring more kinds of food too,” she said.

Pan’s dumpling recipe and ingredients are “just like we make them at home.

“We don’t add MSG to the dumplings when we sell them – they’re just like I make them for myself,” she said.

Northern Sun has pork, beef or veggie dumplings on offer from 10:30 to 5:30 Monday through Friday, 11 to 5:30 on Saturday.

Sun also plans to cook up a new treat every few weeks.

“If (Whitehorse) had more variety of food, and a shopping mall, I think this would be a perfect place,” said Pan with a laugh.

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