A Berkeley Pop-Up Writes Its Own Rulebook on Dumplings

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Overhead view of a plate of potstickers, half green and half white, with dipping sauce on the side.
Lion's Head meatball-inspired potstickers and green vegan potstickers filled with Impossible meat.  (Parcels Project)

Alex Chin and Will Thanapisitikul insist they didn’t set out to make a better version of any traditional dumpling. That would have been a little bit hubristic—an insult, perhaps, to generations of Asian grandmas who spent decades honing their craft. Instead, the Berkeley-based chefs imagined their new pop-up, Parcels Project, as a platform for Asian-American dumplings that were a little bit more modern and out of the box. 

The results are very, very delicious. They make a soup dumpling that bursts with broth reminiscent of Taiwanese beef noodle soup. Another delicately braided steamed dumpling is infused with the flavors of Hainan chicken rice.

“There are plenty of places that do really, really great dumplings,” Chin says. “We wanted to find something that navigated our story, our timeline of where we grew up and what we know very well.” 

Will Thanapisitikul (left) and Alex Chin in the kitchen
Will Thanapisitikul (left) and Alex Chin started Parcels Project as a pandemic side hustle. (Parcels Project)

So far it’s been a success: A little over a month after launching Parcels Project, with only a modest social media presence and without any real marketing, Chin and Thanapisitikul have already sold more than 3,000 frozen dumplings, often selling out entirely a day or two after their weekly online ordering queue opens up on Sundays. 

Like so many other food businesses launched in the past year, Parcels Project is something of a pandemic pivot, though both chefs were fortunate enough to land full-time gigs during lockdown: Chin at the ghost kitchen startup Virtual Kitchen and Thanapisitikul at Town Kitchen, an Oakland-based catering company with a focus on employing and training low-income youth. Both are stressful day jobs, and so the two chefs were looking for a passion project—“something of our own,” as Thanapisitikul puts it—that they could pour their creative energies into.


Thanapisitikul moved from Thailand to the Bay Area for college; Chin’s parents were immigrants from Taiwan and Hong Kong, respectively. When the two started talking about a business together, dumplings wound up being the common denominator and the ideal vehicle for the chefs to get creative with the flavors from their childhood. 

Close-up of an uncooked five-spice soup dumpling, which is shaped like a wonton.
The five-spice beef dumpling looks like a wonton and tastes like Taiwanese beef noodle soup. (Parcels Project)

Take the five-spice beef soup “parcel”: The dumpling looks like a wonton, but is made using techniques typically associated with xiao long bao, or Shanghainese soup dumplings. The chefs incorporate a spice-infused aspic, or meat jelly, into the filling that melts into a soupy broth—similar to what you'd find in a bowl of Taiwanese beef noodle soup—when the dumplings are steamed. The first bite, when the hot soup bursts into your mouth, is pure nostalgic comfort for anyone who grew up with those flavors. 

Another of their steamed dumplings takes its flavor cues from Hainan chicken rice (or khao mun gai, as the Thai version of the poached chicken street food dish is called). For her dumpling-ified version, Thanapisitikul recreates the traditional flavors by sautéing ginger and scallions in chicken fat, then whipping that fat into the ground chicken filling. Yet another dumpling—maybe the most delicious of all—takes the savory flavors and crunchy water chestnuts you'd find in a classic Lion’s Head meatball and repackages them as an incredibly juicy potsticker.  

In many ways, the business is tailor-made for these pandemic times. With so many people cooped up at home—and, vaccinated or not, perhaps not quite ready to set foot in a physical restaurant dining room—Instagram-based pop-ups like Parcels Project have been a boon to food enthusiasts looking to liven up their usual takeout rotation. As the name suggests, the dumplings come bundled into tidy, paper-wrapped parcels, like a little care package—and would, in fact, make for a delightful pick-me-up kind of gift. At $10 for a pack of 15 dumplings, they also make for a relatively affordable treat. 

Looking ahead, Chin and Thanapisitikul say opening a full-fledged, standalone dumpling restaurant isn’t out of the question. But for now the chefs are just trying to ramp up production so that they can add a few other pickup locations around the Bay Area. Meanwhile, they’re working on a line of custom dipping sauces to complement each dumpling flavor—maybe a ginger-and-scallion soy sauce for the Hainan chicken, or something with chile crisps to add some kick to the beef soup dumplings. 

The chefs haven’t stopped tinkering with new flavors, either. They’re working on a mala fish dumpling spiked with Sichuan peppercorns that they might add to the menu, and a hoisin sauce–based one that's inspired by Peking duck. Once you’ve opened your mind to the possibilities, it seems, there aren’t many dishes that can’t be reimagined as a dumpling. 

Parcels Project currently delivers to San Francisco, San Jose, and the East Bay on Saturdays; scheduled pickups are available in Berkeley, Wednesday through Friday, 5–9 p.m. Online ordering for each week opens at noon on Sundays.