If you’ve come across Matthew Murtagh-Wu’s handle on Instagram, you’ve encountered one of Vancouver’s rising food personalities. His feed is a smorgasbord of west coast skyline, streetwear snaps, and glimpses of his special, hand-rolled wares (no, not of the cannabis variety). He deals in something else—small batch, frozen dumplings, made from ingredients sourced in Chinatown. With over 100,000 made and counting, he has earned the right to crown himself the “Dumpling King.”
“In Chinese branding, when you say you’re ‘the king’, just like in Western culture it means ‘I’m the best,’” he tells me, as we chat in Main Street’s Dalina café. “And it kind of just stuck. I’m very opinionated and [the name] matches my personality.”
Born to a multicultural household (father from Hong Kong, mother from Vancouver Island), Murtagh-Wu grew up with a deep affinity to Chinatown. On the weekends, he’d wake up early and tag along with his parents as they perused the stores and shopped for fresh produce and seafood to cook that evening. Chinatown is also where his late grandmother’s hair salon once stood, as did the bank where his father worked during the 1970s. Despite his own foray into finance after post-secondary (Murtagh-Wu originally studied Asian Studies at the University of British Columbia), he soon discovered that it wasn’t for him. But what he did enjoy was the interactions and relationships he built with his customers, and that’s what he emphasizes in his own business model.
Although Murtagh-Wu learned how to speak Mandarin after moving to Taiwan for a year, he is a rarity in Chinatown which has become a stronghold of the older Cantonese generation. “When I speak Mandarin, they think it’s kind of funny that I’m a westerner speaking a northern dialect and they are southerners speaking a northern dialect,” he laughs. “So they appreciate it.”
It begins with the ingredients—fresh produce, and pork sourced from a Chinese-owned butchery that’s been in operation for over 40 years—that he brings to Commissary Connect on Industrial Avenue. This is where he started his business and where he continues to churn out his breakthrough creation—Johnnie Walker Black Label pork belly and scallion dumplings. Composed of custom Chinatown pork belly grind, scallions, premium dark soy, Taiwanese mushroom salt, Shaoxing wine, red vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, and cane sugar, the innovative additional twist of Scotch is satisfying and addictive. He also offers Taiwan-style dumplings, best for those seeking a more authentic Taipei taste. After freezing the batches into bags (he leaves his clients clear and witty instructions on how to cook their dumplings), he continues his one-man hustle, with personalized delivery via Instagram DM, and his website.
“Until last year, I was open 24/7,” he notes, “because I wanted to get my name out there and I didn’t value my time that much.” And, if you take into account his growing community of repeat customers, some of whom order every week, and others whose craving was so strong, they squeezed in an order in between stops on the Rocky Mountaineer from Calgary, the sacrifice has been well worth it. Now, though, his hours are more reasonable with production from Saturday through Tuesday, and deliveries restricted to Wednesday through Friday.
Even so, dumpling success isn’t his end goal. In addition to local pop-up events, catering, and freelance writing for VICE, he has ambitions to grow the business into a clothing line and lifestyle brand. “My vision is to leave—this might be very cocky—but I want to leave a cultural legacy,” he confesses. “I want to grow this into a worldwide brand. It’s not about the dumplings. It’s about the customer.”
Satiate your taste-buds in Food and Drink.