D.C.’s farmers’ markets are increasingly selling much more than fruits and vegetables, with an array of prepared foods from wood-fired pizzas to vegetarian tacos. The latest must-try at the market? Chinese dumplings from Pinch.
Pinch was started by attorney and Rockville native Dan Zhu and Bureau of Labor Statistics economist Benjamin Cuttitta, with the help of Zhu’s friend since middle school, Patrick Exon. Zhu says he and Cuttitta, who went to business school together at the University of Maryland, have long wanted to start a business together. Then two years ago, they went on a dumpling-filled trip to China. “He was like, ‘These are amazing. Why can’t we find these in the U.S.?”
Pinch launched last April at the Rockville farmers’ market, but it made its D.C. debut at the farmers’ market by the White House last week. This season, it’s also serving up dumplings at the Capital Harvest farmers’ market next to the Reagan Building plus markets in Bethesda, Rockville, Kensington, and Fairfax. Eventually, Zhu says, their goal is to open several quick-serve restaurants in the D.C. area.
Pinch’s dumpling recipes were sourced from Zhe’s family, who come from Beijing, and many were passed down from his grandmother. Zhe says he learned how to make dumplings when he was five or six years old, but “some of the secrets weren’t passed on to me until recently.”
Working out of a professional kitchen in Friendship Heights, Pinch has more than 20 rotating recipes, including vegetarian and vegan options. Last week at the White House market, the pan-fried and steamed offerings included pork and cabbage, lamb and carrot, and eggplant and cilantro (six for $8.50). Pinch also sources many of its ingredients from local farms, including pork from Ayrshire Farm in Upperville, Va., lamb and chicken from Liberty Delight Farms in Reisterstown, Md., and Springfield Farm in Sparks Glencoe, Md.
“The classic Chinese food is really still in the gutter, I feel,” says Zhu. “You kind of get the Asian fusion in more posh cities, but nothing really true to the roots of what Chinese food can really be. And so that’s kind of where we are. We want to be that stepping stone, showing any foodie, anybody who wants to enjoy it, that Chinese food can really be elevated.”
Photo by Jessica Sidman