Hong Yu and Lisa Li at Hong's Dumpling Cart
Hong Yu, who cooked and served dumplings on the Church Street Marketplace for 17 years, made her final appearance there Tuesday. She was at her food cart, Hong's Chinese Dumplings, to say hello and goodbye to the countless people who have eaten her dumplings over the years.
Yu is planning to open a year-round dumpling shop at 77 Pearl Street, site of the former Radio Deli. The family is trying to raise money to open the business in about five weeks, her daughter Lisa Li said. They need $20,000 to $30,000 for a hood system and permitting, she said.
"It sounds really expensive, between the different requirements," Li said. "But we're doing our best."
Tuesday was the first day of the 2017 food-cart season for Yu, and she fried her usual fare behind the red awning of her cart: dumplings stuffed with pork and chicken, veggies, crab and cream cheese, or chicken and cheese. It was also her final day on the street. She came to say goodbye and thank her customers for their support over the years.
"I feel very emotional," Yu said. "But life always keeps going."
Lisa Li and Hong Yu cook dumplings on Church Street
Her dumplings were always piping hot, piled high, inexpensive, and sometimes came with an extra dumpling or two. If you took time to slather on the sauce she kept in squeeze bottles on her cart, the meal came with chit-chat with the cook.
"I brought my love here," Yu said. "I cook with love."
When Yu arrived on Church Street on Tuesday, a truck was parked in her usual spot by the northwest corner of Cherry and Church streets. So she set up her cart across the way. Word spread on social media that Hong's was serving one last round of dumplings on the street, and scores of customers arrived.
"Today is really busy, " Yu said, rolling dough as a wok full of dumplings sizzled. "The line was very long."
Jake Shumsky, 25, of Burlington, was among the people who waited in line.
"I tend to like the crab and cream cheese," he said. "And the pork and chicken. But the veggies are also really good." Shumsky said he appreciates the buzz that builds on social media when people check to see if Hong's is open.
Yu grew up in northeast China and learned to make dumplings from her mother and grandmother when she was a little girl.
"I just said, 'Oh, my God, dumplings are yum-yum,' " she recalled. "I asked my mom, 'How can I learn?' '' Her mother told her: Whatever you make, you eat.
"I still eat them every day," Yu said. "I enjoy making. I enjoy eating."