All photos Laura Hayes
All photos Laura Hayes

First time food entrepreneur Karen Hoefener wants to stock your freezer with rainbow colored dumplings inspired by her travels in China. The Georgetown University graduate lived in the Hunan Province for two years and Beijing for another year and a half. She taught English and later worked in marketing for a coffee company. 

Hoefener is launching her Nomad Dumplings company out of Northeast D.C. food incubator Mess Hall.The frozen, pre-cooked potstickers come in four flavors and will be available at area grocery stores for about $9 a bag.

Much like how Italians dye ravioli and other kinds of pasta, Nomad Dumplings feature vibrantly colored skins pigmented with beets, spinach, turmeric, and purple cabbage. The technique is popular in Beijing, according to Hoefener, who is also working on a cookbook titled, “An Expats Guide to Cooking in China.” 

While Hoefener was living and traveling around China, several people stepped up to teach her how to cook including the chef of HARBIN jiaozi—a dumpling house she visited weekly. She learned to make the restaurant’s leek and egg filled dumplings and the chef gifted her the recipe. “He had one vegetarian dumpling, everything else was pork, which gets old really fast,” Hoefener says. She calls the flavor “HARBIN Omelette.”

The “HUNAN Hottie” flavor is inspired by the cooking classes she took from her Chinese language teacher. That’s how she learned to introduce dried mushrooms for an extra layer of flavor. Hoefener adds chili oil to the bok choy filling because Hunan food is typically spicy. Find the descriptions of all four flavors below.

My whole goal is for people to experience traveling and eating throughout China by buying these because that was my favorite things to do,” Hoefener says. Her other goal is to make cooking them approachable and foolproof. Since they’re pre-cooked, customers don’t have to worry about food safety concerns. She encourages people to experiment with steaming, boiling, and pan-frying as well as incorporating them into soups and stir-fries.

While Nomad Dumplings are a few weeks away from hitting local grocery store shelves, Hoefener will be popping up at DC Brau on May 20 (12-5 p.m.) and at The Public Option on May 27 (hours TBD). 

There will soon be one more way to try Nomad Dumplings. Hoefener partnered with fellow Mess Hall member Prescription Chicken to produce two dumpling soups. A soup utilizing the hangover broth will feature Thai basil chicken dumplings while mushroom yu choy dumplings will float in a coconut-based vegetarian soup. 

HUNAN hottie

“HUNAN, meaning “south of the lake,” is a southern Chinese province known for its 3 “hots”: hot women, hot weather, and hot food. Inspired by Hunan street food, the Hunan hottie incorporates the spicy yet fresh flavors the region is famed for.”

XI’AN warrior

“XI’AN, situated in the northwestern region of China, has long been known as China’s first capital and is home to the famous Terracotta Warriors. As the eastern departure point of the Silk Road, the city boasts a diverse, unique cuisine that combines aged Chinese rice vinegars and smoky Middle Eastern spices and flavors, of which are used in this XI’AN warrior dumpling.”


“SHANGRI-LA is a mystical paradise that rests at the base of the Tibetan plateau. Said to mean “sun and moon of the heart” in Tibetan, SHANGRI-LA is known for its natural beauty and exclusive honey farms. The SHANGRI-LA honey fuses floral notes with tangy Chinese chives to represent the flavors and mystique of the land.”

HARBIN omelette

“HARBIN, the renowned ‘Ice City,’ is China’s northernmost major city and home to an unparalleled annual ice festival. NOMAD was gifted this recipe from the owner of a restaurant named HARBIN jiaozi (Mandarin for dumplings).”