Illustration by Serge Block
The dumpling is generosity in miniature form, Chinese food’s retort to De Beers. Rather than lasting forever, it achieves perfection for a minute. At dumpling houses like the great Din Tai Fung in Arcadia, the menus are often no more than a handbill, a system devised to accelerate matters. There’s no need for a preamble when decisions revolve around the choice of filling and the three cooking methods: steamed, boiled, and fried. Once the order is placed, the dumplings arrive suddenly in a weathered steamer or on a plate whose heft speaks of a restaurant supply store. With their pale, translucent, parchment-thin casings, dumplings can often look identical. Only at the moment of eating do you become aware of their nuance, of their compressed abundance. Sole and parsley dumplings at Qingdao Bread Food in Monterey Park have a gossamer texture.
At Dumpling 10053 in El Monte, steamed pumpkin with shrimp are autumnal, the pan-fried pork carry themselves like mini taquitos, and the filling in the rock cod seems suspended in air. Linger long enough in the afterglow of a dumpling meal and you might spot fresh batches being prepared on a flour-dusted counter or on a Formica table, each precise gesture of the cook revealing that the first thing that goes into a dumpling is the learned music of hands. » Din Tai Fung: 1108 S. Baldwin Ave., Arcadia, 626-574-7068. Qingdao Bread Food: 301 N. Garfield Ave., Ste. G, Monterey Park, 626-312-6978. Dumpling 10053: 10053 Valley Blvd., Ste. 2, El Monte, 626-350-0188.