Three of Jonathan Gold’s favorite soup dumplings in the L.A. area
What? There are soup dumplings outside the Republic of Georgia? I could scarcely believe it myself.
Xiao long bao
Wang Xing Ji is the first American branch of the most popular dumpling house in Wuxi, a lakeside city about 45 minutes outside of Shanghai. The dishes are famous for their sweetness — they date from an era when sugar was a pretty good signifier of prosperity. Its famous soup dumplings, xiao long bao, may not be as precisely machined as the ones at Din Tai Fung, but the thicker wrappers are soulful, engineered to absorb just enough black vinegar, simultaneously chewy and tender. You can get unsweetened XLB, but you probably want to go with the original — as repellent as the idea of sugared meat might seem, the mild sweetness here brings out the slightly wild flavors of the pork and its oniony seasonings. By comparison, the unsweetened ones seem colorless and bland. Afterward, you should probably try one of the gigantic crab and pork buns. They are a little clumsy in comparison, but you get to suck the soup out of the dumpling with an oversized boba straw. 140 W. Valley Blvd., No. 211, San Gabriel, (626) 307-1188.
Sheng jian bao
I’m not sure what your idea of a great Saturday morning might entail, but a surprising percentage of mine seem to involve a trip to Shanghai No. 1 Seafood for an order or two of the pan-fried pork buns, sheng jian bao. SJB dough is lightly raised, becoming a bit more like the walls of a bun than like pliable dumpling skin, and is wrapped around ground pork and a bit of jellied broth. When fried, it becomes crunchy and nicely browned on the bottom, sprinkled with sesame seeds and spurting geysers of hot juice. It is something of a sport, discovering the moment when the buns have cooled enough to lessen the chance of second-degree burns but not so much that the broth has become absorbed into the now-soggy crust. It is a sport of kings and queens. Don’t forget to get an order of the Old Alley Pork too. 250 W. Valley Blvd., San Gabriel, (626) 282-1777.
Tortellini in brodo ‘al contrario’
Tortellini in brodo is perhaps the emblematic dish of Bologna, Italy — tiny dumplings stuffed with a mixture that includes mortadella, Parmigiano-Reggiano and a touch of nutmeg, and served in a rich, concentrated broth usually made from capon. The ring-shaped dumplings are often said to be fashioned after the navel of Venus. Zach Pollock’s version at Alimento is slightly perverse — tortellini filled with hot broth like a Shanghai soup dumpling and sauced with diced mortadella and Parmesan instead of stuffed with it — but the effect is delightful. It’s pasta from Opposite Day. 1710 Silver Lake Blvd., Silver Lake, (323) 928-2888.
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