At its best, food is a celebration of story. From grandmother’s pie to dad’s famous pasta, family recipes passed on from generation to generation often carry heritage and tradition – helping shape new memories while reminding us of old ones. In many ways, these simple shared meals are the legacy of our elders made visible into nostalgic bites we can enjoy, cherish, and find comfort in during challenging times.
As lifelong culinary enthusiasts, it brings us much happiness to learn new recipes and share our own with others. Which is why when the opportunity arose to learn how to make dumplings from the chef behind Han Oak, we knew we couldn't pass up the offer.
Set in Northeast Portland, Han Oak started as both a restaurant and family home for Sun, Peter and their two kids Elliott and Frankie. Known for innovative dishes rooted in traditional techniques, Han Oak marries local ingredients with classic Korean flavors to create delicious dishes that inspire joy and nostalgia.
Tasty menu aside, step inside their light-filled space, and it’s plain to see that Peter and Sun have created a warm and welcoming environment where community is celebrated. Finding ourselves inspired and uplifted by their story and success, we spent an afternoon with their family of four to learn about their early beginnings and how to make dumplings at home in an hour or less.
Could you tell us a little bit about your background? How did Han Oak come to be?
Peter: I had been cooking in New York for a little over a decade and moved back home to be closer to my parents. Soon after, we started our own family and the financial responsibilities that came with it. Han Oak was essentially born out of our desperate needs as new parents to be present and support each other as much as we possibly could.
How did you land on the name Han Oak?
Peter: My mom came up with our name. Han Oak translates to " a traditional Korean home." She said the name suited us because the restaurant is, in fact, a Korean home. We liked the play on the word as we were as un-traditional as a Korean home gets.
What's one thing you've come to learn this year either as a family or as individuals?
Sun: Last week, my dad showed me a photo of my great-grandmother for the very first time in my life. It was moving and breathtaking – especially in this specific moment. What I saw in this photo was the balm I needed; I saw survival, courage, and grace under immense duress. Marginalized and exploited, generations of my family were ripped apart, kidnapped, and murdered. And they survived, then immigrated, started over, and thrived again. If I had met my great-grandmother, our lives would be unrecognizable to each other.
A photo of Sun's great-grandmother
Both Peter and I have let our cultural roots slip through our fingers. But when we speak our broken Korean to our boys, when we meet our struggles with strength and attempt at grace, that’s when I feel connected to something larger than myself. I’m a living and breathing part of my ancestors and my future descendants.
"When we meet our struggles with strength and attempt at grace, that’s when I feel connected to something larger than myself."
Peter is dedicated to our family business. He’s earned every dollar and every recognition. He has his mom’s work ethic, and she is something special - truly the embodiment of goodness. Like our parents before us, we have also been marginalized and exploited. We’ve closed our businesses, made mistakes, re-opened, re-hired, expanded, hired again, and most importantly, we’ve kept the kids alive. I earnestly hope these photos of our family and our story will give our children and their children the strength and inspiration to carry our family legacy forward. I hope they look at them with the pure pride we know our family and people deserve.
What's something you have come to appreciate through the challenges?
Peter & Sun: For us, living like sardines (in 600 sq. ft) was worth the time with family many chefs aren’t afforded. We were always so mentally scattered we had no idea how much we actually missed the mark. Covid forced us to slow down and reassess. We had to face our deepest challenges as individuals, as a couple, and as parents. It took months of turmoil, but we’ve come to a steadier place of appreciation and respect. We feel more purpose-driven and aligned. Covid reminded us once again of the importance of quality time, kindness, and genuine presence of mind. Our address doesn’t really matter because home is a state of mind.
Finally, any projects or menu items on the horizon you'd like to share?
Peter: Han Oak has been on hiatus as we’ve been getting our downtown fast-casual location, Toki, up and running. We’re hoping to re-open Han Oak in the next couple of months. It’ll be small and intimate, and just like the early days, it feels like we’re starting all over again. It’s kind of exciting. On the opening menu: Hot Pot (editor's note: Han Oak is open and the hot pot is delicious).
Han Oak Pork & Chive Dumplings
Serves many: 30-36 dumplings
Total time: 1 hour
2 pounds fatty ground pork, preferably from the shoulder
1/4 pound firm tofu, drained and pressed of liquid and crumbled
1/2 cup chopped garlic chives or chives or scallions
2 garlic cloves, finely minced
3 tablespoons Kosher salt
2 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon mirin
1 tablespoon light brown sugar
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
28 gyoza wrappers (3-1/2 inch round)
Napa cabbage leaves, for steaming
FOR FRIED GYOZA (OPTIONAL):
3 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1 tablespoons sugar
1/4 cup water
Pinch of coarse chili flakes (gochugaru)
1 stalk of scallion, thinly sliced
If you plan on freezing dumplings, insert a little less filling.
The recipe below works for making both fried dumplings (gyoza) or steamed dumplings.
Rosebud shaped dumplings work best for steaming or boiling while pleated dumplings work well fried.
Designate one finger for dipping water to avoid mess.
Uncooked dumplings can be frozen on a parchment paper–lined baking sheet, then transferred to a resealable plastic bag and frozen for up to 3 months.
1. Make the filling first. Mix all the ingredients in a bowl until fully incorporated. Cook a small piece in a pan for seasoning and add salt to taste.
2. Prepare a plate or large baking sheet with parchment paper. Spoon about 1 tablespoon or about an ounce of the filling into the center of 1 gyoza wrapper and, using your finger, moisten half of the outer edge with water (in a semi-circle).
3. For steamed dumplings, fold the dough up and over the filling to form a half-moon and pinch to seal the dumpling completely. Moisten the top of one end with water, bring the other end over and pinch to bring together and create a rosebud shape.
For gyoza, fold the dough up and over the filling to form a half-moon. Starting at one of the corners, pinch and pleat the dumpling wrapper so it forms a seal. Continue pleating until you've reached the other corner. Place the dumpling on the parchment-lined baking sheet and keep covered with a clean kitchen towel while you assemble the rest. Repeat the process with the remaining filling and wrappers.
4. Line 2 large steamer baskets with cabbage leaves and set the dumplings on the cabbage. Set the basket in a pot of boiling water and steam until the wrappers turn transparent and the filling is firm, 8-10 minutes.
5. For fried gyoza, mix cornstarch, rice flour, and potato starch in a small bowl. Mix in a little water to make a slurry. Heat 1 tablespoon neutral oil in the pan over medium heat. When hot, add a single layer of gyoza flat-side down, and cook until browned on the bottoms, 2-3 minutes. Add 1-2 tablespoons of your slurry, cover, and cook for another 3-5 minutes until cooked thoroughly and the gyoza bottom forms a crispy crust. Serve immediately with dipping sauce and garnish.
6. While the dumplings are cooking, make the dipping sauce In a small bowl and serve on the side or drizzled over the top. Enjoy!
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Photography by Alex Creswell