For culinary creator and blogger Samantha Mui, food has always been “the center of everything.” It’s one of the reasons the second-generation Cantonese American launched Thirsty Dumpling, an at-home dumpling-making kit that marries tradition with modern ease.
“There are two kinds of people,” Mui says. “People who plan their food around their activities and people who plan their activities around food.”
You could guess which category she falls into.
For Mui, Thirsty Dumpling is a culmination of personal and career milestones to this point; an opportunity for the act of preparation to serve as a focal point for communing in the age of Postmates and Uber Eats. She’s no stranger to the food space, having worked in several different food spaces including blogging at Sammy Eats and creating cooking videos on YouTube. She’s even appeared on the Bay Area version of Check, Please! and competed on Food Network’s Supermarket Stakeout (the episode aired in early January 2021, in which she made it to the final round).
Mui aims to empower millennials and zoomers by reigniting a spark for home cooking and party hosting. It’s something she admits she didn’t have as often as she would’ve liked growing up, and was part of why she loved hosting friends as she got older. After the height of the pandemic, she felt an element of quality, thoughtful at-home gatherings was lost as everyone was eager to be back outside.
After moving to the Midwest from the Bay Area in 2022, Mui began posting on Kittch, a live-streaming platform for culinary creators where she shared trendy hacks and what have become millennial party staples — charcuterie and butter boards. But she soon realized that wasn’t where her heart was.
Then, she thought of dumplings.
Looking back on her childhood, primarily living with her brother and maternal grandmother during the week while their parents worked, then spending the weekends with mom and dad, dumplings were the one dish she always enjoyed among what she considered “bland, healthier” foods her mother and grandmother made more regularly.
While living abroad in Shanghai as part of a graduate studies program in 2017, she frequented a local dumpling shop whose flavors brought back those childhood memories; she confesses she dined there for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Pretty soon, she took to her apartment’s purple kitchen to try her hand at making them herself, experimenting with proteins such as pork and shrimp, seeking the kind of comfort that only a family recipe could deliver.
Like many grandmothers’ recipes handed down through generations, there were no measurements or written instructions. “I realized how much of [the process] was memory-based because I’d watch my mom just throw it all together. I remember her just chopping things up and throwing a bunch of random ingredients into a big, yellow Tupperware bowl, then we’d fold them together. There was no recipe. This was 20 years later and I was able to recreate what she did.” Returning to the United States, dumplings became a staple in her own home — she even included a recipe for Jiaozi-style dumplings in her 2020 self-published cookbook, Melting Pot.
Six years later, she finally — albeit impulsively (coming up with the concept in April of 2023 and launching in November) — decided to go all-in on Thirsty Dumpling.
Developing a recipe that would easily translate to home cooks of all skill levels was crucial. With Asian cooking in particular, she’d heard from many home cooks that there were additional “intimidating” factors to recreating dishes on their own.
“We’ve tried to remove all the pain points of making dumplings without sacrificing any of the complete experience, so this is really bridging the culture,” she says.
Thirsty Dumpling’s package includes everything but the meat (or selected substitute, such as Impossible beef or pork) and preferred cooking oil to make an affordable, “cake mix-style” product.
“If you’re scared of crimping, we have the little dumpling folder,” she says. “If you’re nervous about reading instructions and not really trusting yourself, we have the videos to use as a benchmark.”
With enough ingredients for 36 dumplings, including a soy-and-sesame-based dipping sauce and a combination of air and freeze-dried ingredients that reflect a traditional Cantonese stuffing — from various cabbages and green onion to ginger, mushroom, and white pepper — Mui has created an arguably foolproof recipe, “so good,” its tagline states, “you’ll catch fillings.”
Much intention and attention to common kitchen mishaps went into compiling the final product. Considering different learning styles was important to her, sharing that she hesitated in her own continuing education (culinary and otherwise) due to inflexibilities in lessons or instructions before realizing she was just a more of a hands-on learner.
“People who don’t cook, when you ask them ‘what happened?’ — it’s those small steps that weren’t mentioned but should have been,” she says. “If you cook, you learn that over time, some things in recipes are implied. That’s why we have the videos. They’re not there to follow step-by-step, but it’s the closest thing to me being right next to you, your bestie in the kitchen, letting you know that you’re good.”
Her mission in fostering togetherness and active participation in the kitchen is further underscored by her “dumpling parties” and classes showcasing what she considers “the world’s most shareable food.” Taking place in coworking spaces like Guild Row in Avondale and the conference rooms of Merrill-Lynch’s downtown offices, they’re her ideal vehicle for building harmonious unions on and off the plate.
Mui’s infectious, extroverted personality also mixed well with Chicago’s Midwestern hospitality, making it comfortable for her to connect with the local food community. She’s attended mixers hosted by Vermillion’s Rohini Dey and her Let’s Talk Womxn initiative, and connected with other rising leaders in the city like Francis Almeda of Side Practice Coffee, alongside companies such as Here Here Market and Good Food Accelerator that support independent entrepreneurs in their business goals.
“Chicago is such a hub for emerging food brands,” she says excitedly. “There were so many accelerator programs here — and they were free. The city’s so collaborative. I was so shocked at how many communities exist here to support folks like us. People want to see you succeed.”
She credits her friend, founder of Vietnamese coffee brand (and upcoming Uptown coffee shop) Fat Miilk, Lan Ho with providing her first real introduction to Chicago’s expansive food culture and entrepreneurial spirit. Initially meeting during their pageant days, competing in Miss Asian Global, Mui reached out ahead of her impending move and the two reconnected more deeply.
“I witnessed a lot of her growth, when she was prepping for Gordon Ramsay’s Food Stars and watching her grow and figure out Fat Miilk and all the craziness of being an entrepreneur, always be able to turn a corner and come out on top — it was helpful to see someone else on their journey. She’s that person I call for advice.”
Since Thirsty Dumpling’s launch, Mui’s continued adjusting to life as a small business owner, but the feedback so far has been more than enough to sustain her.
“I sent a lot of tester kits to different kinds of people — folks with kids, people having a date night, girls’ nights, whatever. I was so nervous that if someone got my kit and the instructions weren’t good, they would say it was so hard to do — that their experience was bad,” she says. “But just the fact that people say ‘I can’t believe I made that’ — it’s all about that confidence that comes after. That lets me know I’ve made it.”