Neither its sister location or a new occupant can replace what it had become—an institution
Many of the habits I picked up in college have, thankfully, not carried over to my post-grad life. As a present 31-year-old, I’m happy to say that dressing in head-to-toe black, mixing Mr. Boston with Vitamin Water and pretending to like David Foster Wallace have not factored in my life for well over a decade.
But there is an exception: the institution that is Gourmet Dumpling House, which has been a constant in my experience of Boston from the first weeks of freshman year until the time of this writing. I’d like to say it will continue to be so in the future, if not for the news that the 15-year-old Chinatown favorite will be closing forever on June 30.
I’d thought that living through COVID would have steeled me to the news of another favorite restaurant shuttering, but for me, Gourmet Dumpling House was more than a restaurant—it was a constant. Unlike some of the other institutions I’d mourned losing—Eastern Standard, The Hawthorne, Green Street—Gourmet Dumpling House was a destination I’d known well before my 21st birthday. Given its proximity to Emerson College, it was where the friends I’d made in the first weeks of school would venture at midnight to watch our meager college spending power somehow transform into feasts of scallion pancakes, pork-and-leek dumplings, and spicy Szechuan seafood soup.
Unique among the restaurants I patronized as an undergrad, it kept feeding me well after I’d graduated and found a job. It was the backdrop to countless meals with friends and family visiting from out of town or old college buddies who’d returned for the weekend—I recall one friend from LA visiting it every day while he was in Boston for a wedding.
It was where I took my wife for our first date in 2016, as my hopelessly confused brain was somehow unsure if it was a date or not, and felt that a casual, inexpensive Chinese restaurant would be a safe bet on the chance that it wasn’t. Years later, when we were married and sheltering in our own apartment during a pandemic, I would order our shared favorites for takeout—scallion pancakes, spicy eggplant, soup dumplings with pork—and bring them home for a taste of normalcy (for once, I avoided burning my mouth on the soup dumplings, which had mercifully cooled on the way home).
Sure, it’s possible that the space, which I understand Gourmet Dumpling House is vacating over rising rents, may become the home of another beloved mom-and-pop or an exciting new independent restaurant (please, for the love of God, do not become a boba tea chain). And a second, more recently opened location of Gourmet Dumpling House exists in Cambridge.
But neither its sister location or a potential new occupant can replace what Gourmet Dumpling House had become. It was an institution, complete with all the quirks and eccentricities that make any long-serving establishment beloved and special.
There was the omnipresent line out the door, even in the depths of Boston winter; the comically crowded conditions that forced you to dine with strangers at family-style tables, which more than once resulted in mutual sharing between complete unknowns; the total disparity between how dishes were worded on the menu and ordered verbally; and the “brisk” service that often concluded with a plastic bill holder thrown at your head.
And that bill, through 13 years of increasing prices, never failed to be astoundingly low given the quality and portions.
Is it even possible to say goodbye to a restaurant? Given that it’s a business and not a sentient, living thing, logic says no. But on a particularly bad day this past June, I sought solace at Gourmet Dumpling House and the dishes that had comforted me since before I could even order a Tsingtao there. Each bite of that meal brought me back to countless others I’d shared in the crowded dining room, with friends and loved ones passed-on and present. I’d never imagined that it would be my last meal there, or that in a few short weeks I’d give anything to once again burn my mouth on a soup dumpling.
So, in lieu of that moment, I’ll say goodbye here.