You can find Chinese on any street in the city, but while some restaurants are excellent, many offer little more than greasy noodles and mystery meat–hardly an authentic culinary experience. That’s why Marian Cheng and her sister, Hannah, decided that New York needed to experience the wholesome, all-natural Taiwanese cuisine they grew up with. It was simply too good not to share. And so, in July of this year, the duo opened Mimi Cheng’s Dumplings in the East Village, which has quickly garnered a devoted following for its singular focus on one thing only: dumplings. While some have criticized the limitations of the menu, this family affair more than delivers on a stellar recipe straight from mom (Mimi), who reluctantly divulged her dumpling recipes when she realized her daughters were up to the task. In their cozy, whitewashed shop, they whip up chicken, pork, and veggie dumplings – plus a monthly special – with a vinegary soy dipping sauce that remains a secret that only Mimi knows.
Marian took on the family craft after her mother moved from New York to Arizona. Now living in Greenwich Village and making Mimi’s her life, we chatted with the 26-year-old about the latest monthly special, where she finds clean eats in the city, and how she runs the restaurant just like she prepares its dishes: organically.
Tell us about your November special, the Thanksgiving Dinner Dumplings (turkey, sage cranberry stuffing, homemade gravy, and cranberry dipping sauce).
It was kind of a no-brainer! Thanksgiving is my sister’s and my favorite holiday. We are obsessed with food, and everything about the day is all good: getting together with family and enjoying each other’s company. The greatest part of it is all the leftovers, of course. Growing up, our mom would make us Thanksgiving leftover sandwiches. We would have turkey, gravy, stuffing, and cranberry sauce. I would always look forward to lunch break in school.
Will your three savory dumpling options always remain on the menu?
Yes, these will be our regular options. Hannah and I grew up on the Mimi Cheng ones (pasture-raised chicken, organic zucchini). The menu is basically everything we love, with our family’s spin on it. It’s taking something traditional and having a modern interpretation of it. You won’t find kale in a Taiwanese dumpling in Taipei.
After tasting dumplings at Taiwanese spots around the city, which are your favorites?
Most of the dumpling spots we liked were in Flushing, Queens, which is pretty far away. With that said, you don’t know the quality of the meat you’re getting. I order vegetarian dumplings just because I’m really conscientious about what I put in my body and I like knowing what I’m eating.
What are your other Manhattan restaurant favorites, Chinese or otherwise?
I really don’t eat that much Chinese food in the city because there’s often MSG and it’s very oily, so that’s why we had to open this place. I love Sweetgreen for a quick healthy bite. I love Charlie Bird a lot. Il Buco Alimentari. Café Mogador for brunch.
Where do you like to hang out in the city in your free time?
Well the funny thing is I don’t have any free time at the moment [laughs]. That’s why I also love talking to customers. We have a lot of repeat customers and regulars from the area, so I feel like I’ve been able to build relationships with them. But in general, I love going on a workout with friends and being active – going to yoga or Barry’s Bootcamp [in NoHo or Chelsea] or SoulCycle.
When your mom is with you in the city, what do you like to do as a family?
When she was here over the summer, every Wednesday we would have family meal. She’s just the best cook ever. She whips up a table full of complex dishes in a few hours.
What was it like having such a frenzied opening this past summer at Mimi Cheng’s Dumplings?
It was insanity, honestly. This is our dream we’ve been talking about for three years now. You’re trying to instill that vision in your staff and the passion and focus behind it. You have an idea of what the opening’s going to be like, but you don’t know until it actually happens. We had massive lines out the door. That first night — we’ll always look back on staying here until 2:30 in the morning, prepping for the next day. We were all on such an adrenaline rush.
How are you enjoying your new life as a restaurateur?
I love it. It’s like having a baby. You spend all your time trying to nurture it. And you just love the baby. We do want to expand in the future, but we’re taking it very organically.