Places that Matter

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Vanessa's Dumplings

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Vanessa's Dumplings, photo by Elena Martinez
Vanessa's Dumplings, photo by Elena Martinez
Vanessa's Dumplings, photo by Elena Martinez
Sandwich at Vanessa's Dumplings, photo by Elena Martinez
Popular Beijing-style restaurant
Place Details »

Place Matters Profile

Vanessa Weng came to New York City in 1985 from Beijing.  Her family lived in Brooklyn so she settled there.  In 1999 along with a business partner she decided to open a restaurant in Chinatown.  Vanessa had never owned a business before but they noticed that Chinatown only had Cantonese-style dumplings and so they thought a Beijing-style restaurant could fill a void; and besides, she loved dumplings—which are a staple in the wheat-based cuisine of northwest China.  New York City also had many restaurants offering Cantonese, Shanghai, Hunan, and Sichuan cuisine but not much in the way of Mandarin cuisine.

When they decided to open the restaurant there was nothing on this block on Eldridge Street except factories—no restaurants, delis, 99 cents shops—nothing.   People wondered why they opened it on Eldridge Street since this was not the traditional heart of Chinatown like Canal Street.  Business was at first slow, so much so, that after three months Vanessa’s business partner wanted to sell the place.  But Vanessa wanted to keep it and so she has run it on her own since then.  Vanessa’ Dumplings has become an anchor for the block because now there are many other businesses and restaurants—even some that seem directed at tourists—like the crepe place across the street from Vanessa’s.

Her Beijing style dumplings have since become more popular in Chinatown so some of her former employees have started their own dumpling places on nearby blocks.  But Vanessa remains a popular place.  Every morning fresh food is delivered there to be prepared on the premises.  The restaurant is small and very simply decorated but all the tables are always filled.  Vanessa has done so well that she has opened a second place on 14th Street and in a few months will open a third place in Williamsburg.  The place attracts many locals but also tourists from Canada, Germany, France, and elsewhere from around the world.

Her dishes are based on the family recipes she grew up with.  Though dumplings used to be only for special occasions like Chinese New Year’s for poor, rural people, now they are everyday food.  They differ in style from the Cantonese dumplings in that the fillings have different ingredients and the dough is thinner.  Though the restaurant’s namesake dumplings are the most popular item, Vanessa has other items on the menu as well.  The flat bread (called sesame pancakes) served at the restaurant is traditional in Beijing but it doesn’t have sesame on it there.  And in China it not used for sandwiches—which Vanessa added as a Western twist—she creates sandwiches with her flatbreads that include items like tuna fish and roast beef which are not staples in Beijing.  The buns she makes would normally only have pork in them but she has created ones that use more vegetables and less meat to cater to the public.

So here tucked away on Eldridge Street once can get traditional-style Beijing food, as well as some newer innovations, all at a very low cost.