Chinese dumplings, or jaiozi, are a universe unto themselves. Often filled with pork, seafood, or veggies, these pleated purses take on new identities once they’re boiled, steamed, or panfried.
L.A.’s most iconic example? The juicy xiao long bao at Taiwanese chain Din Tai Fung, which debuted stateside in Arcadia 18 years ago and recently expanded to splashy digs at the Westfield Century City mall.
In December mom-and-pop duo Ker Zhu and Michelle Wu, owners of Monrovia’s Luscious Dumplings, opened Mason’s Dumpling Shop in Highland Park. As with Din Tai Fung, the store’s goal is to promote greater dumpling awareness. We asked Zhu, Mason’s chief dough whisperer, what makes each variety unique.
Think of boiled dumplings, or shui jiao, as the most popular sibling in the family. “Dumplings, traditionally, are most often served boiled,” Zhu says. Shaped like gold ingots, these pinched packages are often filled with a mixture of pork, shrimp, egg, chives, and napa cabbage. The chewy skins are slightly thicker than others because they need to withstand being boiled without falling apart.
Loading up on the liquid seasoning is tempting, but aim for restraint. Dumplings are already flavorful, so a light dip can provide balance. Zhu suggests one part soy sauce to two to three parts black vinegar for the boiled dumplings, and for panfried, adding a spoonful of chili oil. Vinegar and a few ginger threads work well with the steamed ones’ rich brothy filling.
The magic of guotie lies in their crisp texture. The skins of these half-moon pot stickers are thinner and more elastic than those of boiled dumplings. During frying, a cornstarch slurry is often poured into the pan to create a crunchy latticed skirt, but at Mason’s the skins naturally caramelize from the meaty juices oozing out. Try the shop’s offbeat “beef and cheese” dumpling, reminiscent of a White Castle slider.
Thin, semi-translucent skins are the hallmark of steamed dumplings. While they can take various shapes—with fillings like fish, crab, or pork—the flashiest iteration is the round xiao long bao, or soup dumpling, adorned with pleats crimped into a sealed crown. These Shanghainese specialties get their moniker from the piping hot broth cleverly encased within, the result of a gelatinous soup that liquefies when heated. In a vegetarian twist, Mason’s also offers them stuffed with shiitake mushrooms, bean curd, and glass noodles.
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