If you’re searching for something hot, fresh and edible in Manhattan that’s only one dollar and not pizza, your options just got a little more limited.
There are the rare street vendors that still do dollar hotdogs, fried things from Papaya stands, and the radioactive-looking offerings from 7–11.
Basically nothing that isn’t cheese or mystery meat.
In Manhattan’s Chinatown, until very recently, there were also dollar dumplings. Just off Mott and down on Mosco Street you could get five pork and chive dumplings for one dollar.
It was one of New York’s truly egalitarian meals. On any given day lining up for dumplings you might see bankers, lawyers, the homeless, gamblers, college students, office workers, police officers and even construction workers. Which makes sense when you realize that only a few feet away on the other side of Columbus Park are the jail and courthouse, while inside the park is New York’s largest open air and very illegal casino.
In a city where a dollar gets you about eight seconds of car parking, the tiniest morsel of steak, or one second of a Knick’s game from a court-side seat, five pork and chive dumplings for a dollar was quite the bargain.
I’ve never passed this shop and seen it closed. Christmas Day, New Year’s Day and July Fourth it’s open and raking in the Washingtons, and I used to imagine that the proprietor sleeps out the back on a bed of dollar bills, or makes clothing from them, or after work every night lights them on fire, one at a time, while laughing maniacally.
Except that the price has recently soared twenty-five percent to $1.25, and I was so shocked that I nearly stopped going there.
It’s not the price increase but the loss of convenience that’s upset me most.
Nobody tips $1.25 for a drink, the quote from Robocop isn’t, ‘I’d buy that for $1.25’, and I can’t imagine anyone sleeping on a bed made from dollars and quarters.
There’s a reason the USA has repeatedly rejected the $1 coin, and I’d almost prefer paying $2 for the dumplings in order not to deal with the change. Almost.
The wily proprietor is all over this as well, and unless you specifically state that you only want one serving, you’ll get $2 worth of dumplings and no change.
None of this seems to have affected business, even though there are nearby stores that provide dumplings for $1.25 where the staff aren’t rude or looking to scam you out of a few quarters.
Those dumplings aren’t ready as fast, however, and why change stores if you’re not going to save money?
So we’re hooked. Me and the lawyers, defendants, gamblers, police officers and office workers are all addicted to the convenience. As much or as little we might be riled by the price hike, we’re also creatures of habit. Meaning that finally putting up the prices makes good business sense.
For those searching for the cheapest dumplings in New York, there are dollar dumplings available in the boroughs, but everyone knows the only real reason anyone leaves Manhattan is because they’ve been evicted, had a child, or it’s sinking.
Which all means I still stop for dumplings once a week, and it’d be more often if they weren’t fried and covered in carbs — yet another example of food in New York seeming to cost less the more calories it contains.
The last time I was in the queue, I again wondered why the price increase had irked me so much. For anyone who’d never been into the store before, they’d likely see ‘$1.25’ and be amazed. Then in three years when the price went up to $1.50 be as upset as I am right now.
None of which will stop me from going around the corner and paying $8 for an Americano and a donut. Even with the price increase, $8 would get you thirty dumplings and change.
I suppose, on a small scale, it’s another reminder of human nature. We vehemently object to any change that affects us even the smallest negative amount, despite the benefits to everyone else in the world. Then we’ll do whatever we can to avoid doing anything about it, and adapt quickly to our new reality.
As I finish writing this, I’m already starting to realize that $1.25 is incredibly reasonable, and I’m having trouble believing I used to pay any less.
Xavier Toby is a writer and comedian.
His second comedy memoir ‘Going Out of My Mined’ is available now.