This is entry number 24 of my newsletter, A small list of knowable things. (Sorry that I haven't posted in a few weeks -- I was writing an episode of this new show that I'm part of!) As a reminder, if you are reading this entry but haven’t subscribed to the newsletter yet, you can subscribe here — you'll get a new drawing and essay in your inbox every week. Thank you for reading, as always!
One of the most important parts of how my family eats dumplings is how we end the meal. After we are full from the dumplings (always boiled; never pan-fried, unless it’s a real treat), we finish the meal by drinking a bowl of the hot water the dumplings were boiled in. Dumpling water tastes like the memory of a meal. Or an echo of it. Which is to say that it doesn’t actually taste like anything, but it makes you think deeply of the meal you just had nonetheless. It is starchy and warm and flavorless and intensely comforting. Supposedly, you’re supposed to drink it after the meal to help to comfort the stomach and help with digestion. It is one of my favorite things about eating dumplings. It is the perfect coda.
Perhaps I love it, and the ritual of having it at the end of the meal, so intensely because it is a tradition that’s so familiar and meaningful to me that I know will never, ever become widely popular or cool or trendy. It’s bland and boring and doesn’t make any sense to anyone who didn’t grow up with it, and to me, that makes it something even more perfect to hold onto. I do it unapologetically, as if to challenge anyone who would question it.
In Goodbye, again, I wrote about my parents’ love of eating at restaurants where they know they will feel a sense of belonging. I haven’t seen my parents in person for over two years now, much less shared a meal with them. But I remember that one of the ways they would know which dumpling places were "the good ones" would be to ask the owner (off-menu, of course) for bowls of the dumpling water to drink after our meal, and wait and see if they’d frown and ask why, or if they’d nod knowingly — a shared unspoken memory of comfort and soothing suddenly connecting all of us — disappear into the kitchen, and, moments later, produce a number of small bowls filled with starchy, warm water and set them on our table.