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How The Other Portland Tried to Steal Our Dumplings

Don't worry, Mainers. Little Brother Chinese Food is back to making their popular jiaozi.

Photo courtesy of Little Brother Chinese Food
By Will Grunewald
Photo courtesy of Little Brother Chinese Food

Richard Lee and Claire Guyer started selling handmade, frozen jiaozi in February and, by April, couldn’t fold the dumplings as fast as customers could eat them. They decided to put their nascent business, Little Brother Chinese Food, on pause and order a dumpling-making machine from China. It arrived in Portland in June. The wrong Portland, in Oregon, not Maine. Possibly misapprehending U.S. geography, the manufacturer suggested they drive to retrieve the 450-pound apparatus themselves. Eventually, it got rerouted to the correct city.

The buttons were labeled only with Chinese characters. Lee can read a little Chinese — his paternal grandparents fled China’s Great Leap Forward in the 1950s, his father was born in Indonesia, and the family eventually immigrated to the U.S. His aunt helped with the deciphering, as did Google Translate. Still, there wasn’t an instruction manual, in Chinese or English. By late July, after much trial and error, Lee and Guyer were finally churning out dumplings again.

There’s the pork-and-cabbage recipe passed down from Lee’s grandmother and aunt. There’s also spicy beef, vegan mushroom, and a new variety, blueberry and cream cheese. The machine has ultimately done what Lee and Guyer wanted it to do, upping production, even if it isn’t precisely what they expected. “We’d been in touch with another of the manufacturer’s customers, and we thought we’d ordered the same machine as them,” Lee notes. “Ours looks completely different.”