Weekend Special: Dumping on the Desperate Dumpling Debacle
Saturday, the "D" in Sara D. Roosevelt Park stood for "dumpling," as the first annual NYC Dumpling Festival commenced in the park at noon under changeable skies. The event was sponsored by Chef One, a Brooklyn-based manufacturer of frozen dumplings and other edible Asian products. As usual, the hoopla surrounding the festival produced plenty of publicity: in spite of occasional drizzle, the event was well attended.
Even though the park is in the middle of Manhattan's dumpling zone, with at least a half-dozen wonderful dumpling stalls within a few blocks, none of these were featured at the festival. Guess why? Frozen dumplings must be flogged. These dumplings were entirely OK, but they were shrunken, rubbery things compared to the bulging four-for-one-dollar product you get from the dumpling shops.
Which brings us to the question of price. The NYC Dumpling Festival sold tickets for $5 each. A ticket bought a scrawny plate of dumplings from nearly a dozen different tents, supposedly representing dumplings from around the world. Since this was partly a promotional event on the part of Chef One, why did they feel the need to gouge? Five dollars got you a small paper plate of three potato pierogis, and the shysters who ran the tent couldn't even be bothered to put butter and onions on the boiled pierogis, the way you'd get 'em in a Polish restaurant. Foodies must look to these fiends (I mean both the stall renters and the organizers of the event) like walking dollar signs.
Furthermore, many of the things being vended were not even dumplings. Egg rolls? Gnocchi? Tamales? None are dumplings. A few of the things were actually good--the Malaysian kuih koci, for example, vivid green purses stuffed with toasted coconut and steamed in a cone-shaped banana leaf--but many more were meager, low on flavor, and disappointing. This is so typical of the cattle-call, money-grubbing food festivals these days.
I hate competitive eating events, and a dumpling eating contest was at the center of this festival. To me, these events are tasteless spectacles of overindulgence, telegraphing a false abundance and our carelessness about food and its ramifications to the world. It's never a pretty sight to see someone bolting their food at a restaurant, and we typically turn away, but at one of these contests, ramming food down your throat, spilling it all over your clothes, showering spectators with spit and fragments of food, and even puking on them, is par for the course. That's entertainment!
To innoculate themselves against the tasteless spectacle of wasted food, we have the charity donation. In this case, something is supposedly donated to the Food Bank, a fine charity, I'm sure. But in the absence of any strict accounting and a statement on the part of the organizers of how much was actually donated, my suspicious is that the homeless and hungry were probably given nothing but leftover frozen dumplings. Who knows? It's up to the organizers to tell us exactly what our compulsory charitable donation actually amounted to, at the very least.
Sorry for this screed--but I'm really fed up with this sort of event. And this one was especially maddening.
Now, turn the page for some pictures.