• This gluten-free dumpling range is inspired by a Chinese Australia family's quest to eat together. (Supplied)Source: Supplied
Erika Chan's daughter is unable to eat many foods. These allergy-compatible dumplings help her feel included at the dinner table.
By
Lee Tran Lam

15 Oct 2021 - 10:44 AM  UPDATED 18 Oct 2021 - 11:48 AM

Erika Chan's allergy-friendly dumpling business, House of Goodness, is inspired by her daughter Jordyn's adverse reactions to food. 

"If there's melted cheese and Jordyn can smell it, she can get really sick," Erika says. "She'll develop swollen lips and can't breathe. And she'll develop a rash. When there's a party going on and people are ordering pizzas, I'll have to take her out of the space.”

Jordyn's food allergies aren't just triggered by eating – airborne food particles can also make her physically ill. At home, her family can't cook egg, fish or any ingredients that she reacts to, and they've had to remove typical Chinese pantry essentials –  hoisin and soy sauces, for example – from their residence. 

Jordyn is now 13, but she's had wide-ranging food allergies for most of her life. 

"When she started having baby food, I could only give her pear, cabbage, with flour and soy flour," says Erika. "Slowly, she was able to eat more vegetables and then meat."

There's still a lot of food that Jordyn can't consume, which led to Erika and her husband Rob launching their House of Goodness gluten-free range of dumplings in 2014. "It's also nut-free, sesame-free, dairy-free, egg-free, because that's all the food that Jordyn is allergic to," says Erika.

"Back then, there were no gluten-free dumplings. My friends and family would laugh and say, 'Why would you want to make this product?'" she adds.

It was personal: as a busy mum, Erika noticed there was a lack of allergy-friendly, ready-made meals that resembled the Asian food they'd usually eat. Dumplings also suited their style of family gatherings, where everyone feasted together – they wanted Jordyn to feel like she could join in, and wasn't excluded by her dietary restrictions. 

For Erika, this yum cha staple has had a lifelong presence in her life. When she was growing up in Hong Kong, her mother would take her to eat Teochew dumplings from a stall, three times a week, before heading to school. She remembers the transparent parcels, tautly stuffed with pork, vegetables, chives and chopped nuts. "The skin itself is almost like the har gow dumpling, so the skin is very clear," she says. "That was my earliest childhood dumpling experience."

Before House of Goodness, Erika had run a Chinese restaurant called Mahjong Room in Sydney, so she was familiar with making traditional dumpling pastry. It only required a few ingredients – flour, water and "a bit of oil if you want to, but you don’t even have to do that", she says.

A gluten-free version, however, meant experimenting with 15 or so ingredients over six months, before she and her husband got it right.

"Now, I don't see it as anything different."

Their wheat-free substitute is produced with a blend of flours: tapioca flour adds a stretchy consistency, while millet creates a firmer texture. Glutinous rice flour is important, too – but too much of it and the dumpling clumps and sticks to your teeth. "When there's a combination of these different flours, it can uphold the dumpling's texture a lot better," says Erika. 

The family started selling House of Goodness dumplings at markets across Sydney, wheeling portable freezers from Bondi in the east to Warriewood in the north, so the portions stayed fresh.

"I remember the first time at Bondi Beach, we were probably selling about 20 packets," Erika says. 

"Now we're in about 500 stores around Australia," she adds. "Each day, we'll make about 15,000-20,000 [dumplings]. We supply to our distributors by the pallet now."

The dumplings are available in multiple flavours, including FODMAP-friendly chicken and shiitake mushroom dumplings, and vegan tofu and shiitake mushroom versions. They're embraced by yum cha fans who've spent decades missing out on dumplings. "Some of them haven't had them for 20 years, 30 years," Erika says. Some customers are grateful that the allergy-friendly ingredient list means they're able to try dumplings for the first time.

The entirely gluten-free range is also endorsed by charity Coeliac Australia, which supports people with coeliac disease, an autoimmune disease where eating gluten results in the immune system damaging the gut.

 

In the Chan household, everyone went gluten-free once Jordyn was instructed to avoid wheat, and for Erika, accommodating her daughter's allergies isn't a case of missing out. "I try to look at the upside or the half-full glass," she says. It's an opportunity to try new ingredients or combinations. Instead of soy sauce, she can mix a gluten-free version with honey or miso for a punchy alternative. There are sunflower or pumpkin seeds that can be deployed instead of nuts. 

"Jordyn's 13 now, so we've had a lot of years [to adjust]. Now, I don't see it as anything different," she says. Indeed, many people can try them, regardless of their dietary restrictions. 

"Even hotel pubs, they're serving our dumplings," she says.

 

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