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Food

What we’re into: Giant soup dumplings

Pork and crab buns
Steamers with the enormous pork and crab buns at Long Xing Ji in San Gabriel.
(Amy Scattergood / Los Angeles Times)

If you spend much time at San Gabriel Square, the enormous shopping mall at the corner of Valley Boulevard and Del Mar Avenue in San Gabriel, then you’ll know how easy it is to get lost in the labyrinth of restaurants, tea shops and little boutiques. There is the 99 Ranch to negotiate, as well as the parking lot. So you’ll be forgiven if you feel you’ve somehow misplaced Wang Xing Ji, the soup dumpling place on the second floor that opened a few years ago, the first American branch of a popular dumpling house in Wuxi. It hasn’t gone missing; it has simply been renamed. Or rather, the first word has been swapped: Long for Wang, although the name on the sign is in Chinese anyway.

For those of us who get lost in translation easily, especially when wandering around the San Gabriel Valley in a haze of dumpling hunger, nothing has changed but that name. Same owners, same menu. 

Which means that the steamers of xiao long bao are the same, the noodle soups, the plates of beef rolls and scallion pancakes — but more importantly, the giant dumplings are still on the menu. These go by the English “buns,” and they’re filled with a mixture of crab and pork, and come with a big boba straw for you to suck the contents out before devouring them. Good luck with that. 

Giant pork and crab buns at Long Xing Ji, with chile sauce.
Giant pork and crab buns at Long Xing Ji, with chile sauce.
(Amy Scattergood / Los Angeles Times )
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Jonathan Gold, when he reviewed the restaurant four years ago, described these massive dumplings as water balloons, which they very much resemble, and suggested they could be weaponized as grenades. This is as true as ever, especially if you first inject them with chile sauce, using your cornflower blue boba straw. But a better experience would likely be to eat them — get more than one — after you’ve first ordered a steamer of the more sedately sized dumplings.

While you wait for your dinner, you can watch your dumplings being fashioned in the glassed-in production kitchen at the back of the dining room. This is both entertaining and oddly soothing, although it will do nothing to assuage your hunger. And when your bun does arrive, take a minute to appreciate it, because there is something both incommensurate and magical about a soup dumpling of this size, a Tim Burton quality to it, if you will. And yes, they are almost as fun to Instagram as they are to eat. 

140 Valley Blvd., No. 211, San Gabriel, (626) 307-1188.

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