Upon graduating from the University of Iowa, Lesley packed her bags and set off to teach English in South Korea for a year. Prior to leaving Iowa, she met a guy named Brian and they went on a few dates before they said goodbye for what they thought would be over a year. Just a few weeks after she began her new life in Seoul, (and on their fourth date) Brian booked a one way ticket to Korea and moved in with her into her tiny basement apartment. It didn’t take long for them to discover the neighborhood mandu (dumpling) stand and soon enough, a dumpling obsession was born.
They spent the next year of their life immersing themselves in Korean culture, teaching English to kindergarteners, and eating their way throughout Asia sampling as many dumplings as they could get their hands on along the way. They discovered that dumplings came in all shapes and sizes – some jumbo, some miniature, some fried, some steamed, some filled with meat, some filled with vegetables, and some that still remain a mystery. Dumplings were suitable for all occasions—for sharing with coworkers at lunch, for long bus rides across the country, for enjoying with a group of friends in the wee hours of the evening, and for grabbing a quick snack anytime of the day.
During her last few weeks in Korea, Lesley asked the woman who operated her neighborhood dumpling stand to teach her a few dumpling making tricks so that she could bring a little bit of Korea back home with her. When she returned stateside, she began making dumplings for friends and family. A few years and a wedding later, Brian encouraged Lesley to combine her love for farmers markets with her love for dumplings and open up Dumpling Darling at the Iowa City Farmers Market as nothing more than a hobby. The community responded positively and Lesley began signing up for other markets and events and taking catering requests. Within a few months, she quit her teaching job and was pursuing dumplings full time. In April 2015, she opened up shop at NewBo City Market.
The future is unknown, but it’s certain that the Dumpling Darling will continue to work hard at coming up with new creations and ways to offer her dumplings in more locations. Look for them at a store, market or event near you (and if you don’t see us, let us know so we can try to be there next time!)