Sunday, July 15, 2007

Master of its Domain: Dumpling Master

One of the best things, culinarily speaking, about living in the Los Angeles area is the great diversity of Chinese cuisine. Historically, Chinese food in the United States has been dominated by the food of the southeastern provinces, Guangdon (Canton), Hunan, Fujian and Jiangxi. These provinces are closest to the mouth of the Pearl River Delta, in Guangdon, where most emigration from China occurred in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The great Chinatowns of the US were founded and grown by Southeastern Chinese settlers, and the cuisine of this region, or a Westernized version of it, came to be known generically as "Chinese food" to Westerners.

Starting in the 1970s, the center of the Chinese community in Los Angeles moved from downtown's Chinatown, to the vast San Gabriel Valley in east Los Angeles County. Cities like San Gabriel, Monterey Park and Alhambra became centers of more recent Chinese immigrants. Cantonese, for sure, but also people from Sichuan, Jiangzhe/Shanghai and the vast plains of northern China, including the Islamic community with its own style of Chinese cuisine. With them, came a more diverse Chinese cuisine which more accurately represented the great diversity of China. (For the best available compliation of San Gabriel Valley restaurant recommendations, get a copy of Carl Chu's Los Angeles/San Gabriel Valley Chinese Food Finder).

Dumpling Master, a northern Chinese dumpling house in Monterey Park, resides, like most great LA restaurants, in a strip mall. Dumpling master makes wondrous, juicy dumplings (boiled, steamed and pan fried), succulent scallion pancakes and deliciously chewy hand pulled noodles (I prefer their noodles to those of well-regarded competitor Heavy Noodling). They cook pork, chicken and beef, but the highlight of dumpling master is the lamb.

Lamb is a staple of northern Chinese cuisine and is especially popular in Islamic cuisine in which pork is not an option. There is something great about Chinese food with lamb; its pungent gaminess provides the perfect foil to some of the more familiar Chinese seasonings.

At Dumpling Master, I get a combination of dishes that I have lovingly named, lamb three ways: lamb chow mein, lamb noodle soup with cabbage and boiled lamb dumplings.

Lamb chow mein with hand pulled noodles is a delightful stir fry of noodles cabbage and strips of marinated lamb. This is lamb put into a traditional Chinese favorite familiar to Westerners and it works so well you wonder why it hasn't popped up at Panda Express.

Lamb noodle soup with cabbage, a popular northern dish, is a sour cabbage soup with lamb and noodles. The sourness melds well with the pungency of the lamb. If you take the leftovers home and put them in the fridge, the noodles will absorb almost half the broth and their chewiness will give way to a deep sour lamb flavor...I always make sure to have some to take home. (For some reason, this item seems to have dropped off the menu, but if you order it, they will make it).

When you bite into boiled lamb dumplings, the third dish of my trio, the dumplings explode with juice which sends a strong lamb flavor to the core of your soul. The filling exudes lamb, juice and spices in a way that make me always come back for more.

This lamb trio, an order of the thin, scallion pancakes called scallion pie and a bonus of pan-fried pork dumplings is one of the more satisfying meals in all of Los Angeles County.

Dumpling Master
423 N. Atlantic #106
Monterey Park, CA
(626) 458-8689

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