From global to local: Dumpling Darling brings cultural cuisine to UI community

"Global inspiration. Local creation."

By Amanda Bartlett

Since July of 2014, international students have been able to get a taste of home with the help of Dumpling Darling – a Korean-style dumpling stand that started as a booth at the Iowa City Farmers Market, but eventually expanded to university-wide locations and most recently, the NewBo City Market.


Lesley transfers her freshly wrapped dumplings into the steamer. Most of her preparation takes place in this kitchen, which is located above John's Grocery. 

Owner Lesley Triplett said the unique business venture was inspired by her love of travel, which began with a study abroad experience during her time at the University of Iowa. She went on the Semester at Sea Program, where she traveled from the Bahamas, to Spain, Africa, India, Thailand, Vietnam, China, Japan and more, all by boat.

“It was an unforgettable experience, and I really loved Asia,” Triplett said.

“I had very little travel experience before, and I realized that people live so differently. I just had this desire to try everything and have new experiences – including food.”

After graduating with a degree in communication studies with a certificate in entrepreneurial management, Triplett found herself abroad once more – this time, teaching English for a year in South Korea.

“On my first day there, I was wandering the streets by myself trying to find something to eat and I saw that there was a little dumpling stand… I noticed that they had these on every corner in every neighborhood. And so I tried them – I loved them.”

The food became a regular staple for Triplett and her friends, whether enjoyed as a quick lunchtime meal at school or savored as a late night snack while they sat and talked on the heated floors of their apartment.

Upon returning to Iowa City, Triplett’s husband, Brian, encouraged her to pursue her love of dumplings as a hobby. Before she knew it, she was making thousands of dumplings a week and quit her day job as a preschool teacher.

“I became a full-time ‘dumpling darling,’ I guess.”


After graduating from the University of Iowa, Lesley taught English in South Korea for a year, as well as traveling around Asia and the South Pacific.

This particular title does have its fair share of challenges. Triplett advises to those who wish to pursue similar careers that they need to be in it for the long haul and be prepared for the time commitment.

"You have to really want to do it," Triplett said.

"You have this idea, you're passionate about a certain type of food and you think that's all it is. But there's so much red tape, there's so much bureaucracy... also, starting a new business, you can't afford to just hire a staff right away. Up until now, I've been doing everything by myself – sometimes that involves staying up all night making dumplings and I have to get up really early the next morning and just find the energy to get through the day."

But all of the hard work is worth it. Triplett said the best part about making dumplings and being in the business is going to the farmers market on a beautiful day, meeting new people and having them try her food, especially international students.

“When (they) try my food and get really excited about it, it kind of validates me in a way. I remember when a Chinese student came up to my stand, stopped in his tracks, and was like, ‘Oh my gosh! You… are making dumplings? I should be on that side, and you should be on this side. I should be making you dumplings!’” Triplett said.

“And then he tried it, and was just yelling, ‘These are delicious!’ and he had his whole box of them and was giving them out for strangers to try. He was the best advertising I could ever ask for.”


“It opens the doors and starts the conversations about understanding people from different cultures – food is something that everyone can relate to.”

Triplett is happy to be contributing to the vast cultural cuisine in the University of Iowa community.

“It opens the doors and starts the conversations about understanding people from different cultures – food is something that everyone can relate to.”

Though she began with the traditional Korean dumplings that she knew, Triplett has expanded to a variety of Asian fusion and flavor concoctions, from a Korean BBQ dumpling with smoked brisket, kimchi, and a spicy barbecue sauce, to a bacon cheeseburger variety, complete with a sriracha ketchup dipping sauce. In the future, she hopes to test out a sriracha chicken flavor, as well as some other vegetarian options.

But regardless of ingredients used, the key to a truly great dumpling is the perfect combination of well-seasoned fillings, the right dough consistency and a good sauce.


In order to prepare the filling for a vegetarian dumpling, Lesley chops up cabbage and mixes it with Korean red pepper, ginger, sweet potato noodles and tofu, among other ingredients.  

Triplett’s dumplings can be found at the Iowa City and North Liberty Farmers Markets, as well as the NewBo Market in Cedar Rapids, where she has a permanent stall that recently opened on April 30.

"Our first weekend at NewBo exceeded our expectations. We are so grateful for all of the people who came out and gave us a try," Triplett said.

"Our biggest problem was that we couldn't keep up with demand and kept running out of dumplings."

When it was all said and done, Triplett said a few thousand dumplings were sold.

They can also be purchased at a variety of retail locations, including John’s Grocery, Bread Garden Market, all three New Pioneer co-op stores, at the UI Main Library and the Clinton Street Marketplace in Burge. She will also be participating in summer events like the arts festivals and the Johnson County fair.

“I would have never been where I am today if it wasn’t for taking those first steps to study abroad, put myself out there, and try something new.”

Triplett's NewBo City Market location is open Thursdays from 10 a.m. - 8 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays from 10 a.m. - 6 p.m. and Sundays from 10 a.m. - 4 p.m. For bulk orders and catering options, as well as additional information, contact Lesley at (847) 707-9999.

Interested in getting involved? Dumpling Darling is hiring part-time dumpling "darlings" and "dudes" at NewBo City Market. Applicants must be available 15-20 hours a week on Thursdays-Sundays. Duties include ringing up customers and making dumplings, and pay is $10/hour plus tips, with a free staff meal each shift. Resumes can be emailed to to icdumplingdarling@gmail.com

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