Austin in a Pocket: Steamies Dumplings
Cindy Chee and Leslie Chau deliver authentic Chinese food with locally sourced ingredients
by Regine Malibiran
Photographs by Mackenzie Smith Kelley
Cindy Chee and Leslie Chau started Steamies Dumplings a year ago with a simple mission: to serve their family recipes with Austin ingredients. Both Chee’s and Chau’s families are from Hong Kong and had immigrated to Montreal, which is where they met and married. When Chau received a job offer in Austin, the couple moved their young family to Texas. Chau currently works full time for a tech company to support the family and their business, while Chee prepares over 3000 dumplings a week and manages customer and vendor relationships for Steamies.
Steamies is the only dumpling maker in town that prepares its food from scratch and also prioritizes using locally sourced ingredients. Its permanent menu currently includes three varieties of frozen dumplings: chicken shiitake, pork and cabbage, and vegan. During the weekends, Steamies serves pan-fried dumplings at the Lakeline and Mueller farmers markets, where they also offer specials like beef bulgogi with Sriracha mayo.
According to Chee and Chau, their commitment to local, high-quality ingredients sets them apart from other dumpling makers in Austin. It also allows them to develop personal relationships with the people they purchase their ingredients from.
“It’s really impressive to know the work that they put in,” Chee says, of their meat supplier Smith & Smith Farms. “They’re a family and work seven days a week.” In order to make it in time for the farmers markets’ openings, Chee shares that the Smith family packs up their vehicle at 4 in the morning.
Because Chee’s and Chau’s families both have restaurants and food businesses in Montreal, it’s particularly rewarding for them to work with other families. As immigrants, their shared culture heavily informs not only their food but also their long-term goals.
Hong Kong is in the southern region of China, where dumplings are marinated in soy sauce, Shaoxing rice wine and sesame oil. In contrast, dumplings in northern China are made with more spices and served with chili oil to help combat the cold climate.
“This is the kind of food we grew up with,” Chau reminisces. “[When I was younger] every Saturday and Sunday, the default was to hang out with your extended family in a dim sum restaurant all morning. We told jokes, we played games, we ate food. There is comfort in that.”
Growing up, they witnessed their parents dedicate their lives to their family businesses. Though they appreciate and have inherited that work ethic, there are some things that the couple wants to do differently from the previous generation.
“There were expectations set on us that the only way for you to build a career for yourself is to work 80 hours a day,” Chau jokingly exaggerates. “We don’t want a restaurant for our family. We want to build a business that is sustainable [with multiple] revenue streams that’s not just a function of how many hours she puts in [but] a function of how smart we are and how we do business.”
Like many Asian immigrants, the couple intentionally takes the best of both Chinese and American culture and puts it into practice. Sometimes that means challenging what’s been done in the past and tailoring it for the present. Modifying traditional family recipes by using locally sourced ingredients is one example, and their approach to work-life balance is another.
“In terms of having work and family separation, whenever we are in the house and everybody’s awake, it’s family time,” Chau shares. They place a clear priority on family, closing on days when their kids have piano and ballet recitals.
On weekends, both of their young daughters, Avery and Kaitlyn, work at the farmers markets with them. Chee takes the orders, Chau prepares the dumplings, and the girls ring up the customers.
“They’ve learned a lot,” Chee proudly reflects. “Both of them were introverts to start off with. They’ve become a lot more confident in themselves.”
As Steamies grows, the couple looks forward to expanding to a permanent storefront. In the meantime, you can enjoy their dumplings at the Texas Farmers Market. They’re at Lakeline on Saturdays and the Mueller on Sundays.
The World in a Pocket is dedicated to exploring the world through the lens of a dumpling. From mandu to empanadas, spanakopita to gyoza, pierogi to Pop-Tarts, this is our love letter to pockets worldwide and the stories they tell. These beloved staples all share a similar food-inside-of-food structure, while providing a delicious way to understand our world. We are excited to launch Austin in a Pocket here at TRIBEZA, where Regine Malibiran has teamed up with TWIP co-founder and photographer Mackenzie Smith Kelley to shine a light on local pocket makers.