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The Perfect Movie Theater Food Is Not Popcorn, Dummy, It’s Dumplings

And they should be sold at every concession counter in every theater in the goddamn world

The world is obscenely unfair. That’s the only explanation for why Donald Trump is president, Adam Levine is a sex symbol, and La La Land will win Best Picture at Sunday’s Academy Awards, despite being the cinematic equivalent of a supermarket sandwich: something that looks enough like the thing it’s imitating but tastes distinctly plastic. Life’s propensity for injustice also means that as you squeeze in a couple of last-minute Oscar-prep screenings this weekend — mine will be for Lion and Hell or High Water — you’ll most likely be denied the simple yet insurmountable delight of enjoying in a movie theater the platonic ideal of movie-theater food: dumplings.

First, let’s get this out of the way: Popcorn’s chief virtue is warmth. I’m sure some doctor out there can provide a scientific name for this phenomenon, but there’s something delectable, even a little decadent, about sitting in a slightly chilly room with slightly warm hands (or lap). It’s a state of affairs unreproducible in nature unless you’re clutching a baby or a small animal. A bag of popcorn is a feather-light hug. But it fails as food, unless you’re a fan of mysteriously exploded cardboard confetti. The delights of popcorn end as soon as a kernel reaches your tongue.

Which is what butter’s for, right? Theoretically, yes. But so many theaters today — especially chains, which own the vast majority of multiplexes — use liquids that smell like they should lubricate your car, not clog up your insides. Also, I don’t want to munch on something for 80 minutes straight, because I’m a person, not a horse. Other than heat, popcorn has probably been a movie-theater staple because it’s a considerate snack: It’s not too loud or sloshy or odorous (in a good way). Sure, tradition is important. But in a crowded room full of strangers, so is politeness.

In this way, the post-popcorn concession standards — pizza, nachos, hot dogs, ice cream, those colossal crates of candy — have failed to measure up. They crinkle and crunch and waft and burn and spill; they are anything but courteous. They’re the food analog of that asshole who checks his cell phone every five minutes. Worse, they sink like a bag of sand once they hit your stomach. I pay $15 for my ticket and $4 for parking and some baffling but inevitable $2.75 surcharge so I can watch a movie, not fall into a carb coma. Plus, I probably want to have dinner afterward, so I can get the awful tang and stench of movie-theater food (and maybe my date’s weirdly sour-broccoli saliva) out of my mouth.

But I have come here to praise dumplings, not bury their feeble competitors. Dumplings belong to the same category of food as every concession-stand staple: cheap, recognizable comfort food that can be cooked in minutes and eaten with one’s hands. Unlike most movie-theater snacks, they’re relatively light and healthy — even when fried — and they’re a good option for the meatless and the meatless-curious. Like pizza, there’s no such thing as a bad dumpling. A great dumpling is a pocket of juicy, savory bliss; a just-OK dumpling is still pretty good. There’s no such thing as regretting eating a dumpling. (Don’t confuse dumplings with egg rolls, also known as stuffed toilet-paper tubes. Shredded cabbage and carrots belong in a jar full of mayonnaise for slaw, not a snack that’s meant to impart actual flavor.) Admittedly, the soy-sauce dip might pose a problem, but perhaps the movie-theater dumpling should be formulated so that we can get rid of it.

It’s harder than ever to focus on a movie, even in theaters. People won’t shut up, cell phones light up the dark in rude constellations, and you can get too easily distracted by the fact that you left the house and spent $20+ per person to impotently glower at some guy texting about a film he’s not even watching. If there was any rightness in the world, a bouquet of dumplings would be at the ready to brighten up your day as soon as you set foot in the theater — the perfectly demure accessory for when you want something you don’t have to think about. Dumplings fill you up so you’re satisfied until dinner, they’re fun and easy to eat, and they’re quiet and unobtrusive to your neighbors. They discreetly yet deliciously guide your attention back to the screen. They’re your sherpa to movie zen.

As the outside world melts away, you’ll finally be able to get sucked into a film like you did when you were a kid. You’ll feel feelings you’d forgotten you could experience. You’ll have a cathartic cry or laugh so much you pee your pants a little. You’ll come out of the auditorium and everything will look slightly different. You’re different. Your back is looser, your hair is longer, you can hear more dimensions of music as you walk out of the theater. You became one with the movie and you evolved, just a tiny bit. All this would be possible in a dimension where dumplings were readily available at every concession stand. Like all good thing in the world, it feels so attainable, yet a fingertip too far away.