First We Feast: 10 Favorite Chinese Dumplings in Los Angeles

All photos by Clarissa Wei, unless noted otherwise 

All photos by Clarissa Wei, unless noted otherwise 

First We Feast:
From pierogis to samosas, dumplings are a universal dish, embraced by cultures around the globe. But no one values the seemingly endless variations of texture, size, and fillings quite like the Chinese.

In fact, the earliest recording of the dish can be traced back to the Eastern Han Dynasty (25 AD-220 AD) in China. The legend states that a man noticed that peoples’ ears were suffering from frost bite. He decided to make a dish in the shape of an ear to cure the cold—hence its current iteration. The first dumplings had lamb, chili, and herbs inside, and their soothing qualities quickly gained currency across the country.

Due to mass immigration waves, Los Angeles has continued to carry the torch for Chinese dumpling tradition. What sets the dumpling culture apart here is sheer variety—you can fine representatives from Shanghai, Beijing, Jiangsu, Tianjin, and beyond. There are even variations that were invented in Los Angeles, like the hui tou potsticker. If you’re going to judge the merits of Los Angeles’ Chinese cuisine, dumplings are a good place to start.

Broken down by region, here are First We Feast‘s 10 essential dumplings to understanding L.A.’s varied repertoire.

1. GIANT SOUP DUMPLING AT WANG XING JI

giantsoupdumpling Our 10 Favorite Chinese Dumplings in Los Angeles

Address and phone: 140 W Valley Blvd, San Gabriel (626-307-1188)
Website: N/A
Region: Jiangsu

Wang Xing Ji (also known as Juicy Dumplings) makes food inspired from Wuxi in the Jiangsu province. Known affectionately throughout the country as the Land of Fish and Rice, the region is know for dumplings that are sweeter and commonly stuffed with fresh, pulverized crab because an abundance of crustaceans during certain months of the year. Wang Xing Ji is a soup dumpling specialist known for its softball-sized dumplings that require a boba straw to extract the liquid.

2. BEIJING PIE AT BEIJING PIE HOUSE

meatpie Our 10 Favorite Chinese Dumplings in Los Angeles

Address and phone: 846 E Garvey Ave, Monterey Park (626-288-3818)
Website: N/A
Region: Beijing

The dumpling in question is called a xian bing—a pan-fried disc stuffed with heavily spiced pork and assorted aromatics. This is a Beijing meat pie and is arguably the most addictive stand-alone dish in greater Los Angeles area. Pies come flying out of the kitchen in plates of four. Pair the dish with their cucumber salad, and if you have a hankering for more carbs, Pie House does wonderful zhajiang noodles—cold noodles with thin cuts of cucumber and a dollop of fermented soy beans.

3. SICHUAN WONTON AT CHENGDU TASTE

wontonchili Our 10 Favorite Chinese Dumplings in Los Angeles

Address and phone: 828 W Valley Blvd, Alhambra (626-588-2284)
Website: N/A
Region: Sichuan

The Sichuan wonton is called hong you chao shou. Hong you means red chili oil, and chao shou means ”folded hands,” a reference to how the dumpling is formed, and how—during the cold months in Sichuan—folks would fold their hands across their chest for warmth. The wonton is usually served as an appetizer and the skin is delicate—bordering on translucent. Chengdu Taste, the Sichuanese king of Los Angeles, undoubtedly serves the best rendition in town. It’s stuffed with ground pork, and served over with a light chili oil infused with the potent Sichuan peppercorn—a notorious spice known for its lip-numbing after-effect.

4. SHENJIANBAO AT EMPEROR NOODLE

shenjiangbao Our 10 Favorite Chinese Dumplings in Los Angeles

Address and phone: 800 W Las Tunas Dr, San Gabriel (626-281-2777)
Website: N/A
Region: Shanghai

While Emperor Noodle is marketed as a noodle joint, their specialty is really the shenjianbao. Invented in the 1920s in Shanghai, the shenjianbao has become an iconic breakfast snack of the region, usually served outdoors on street carts. Stuffed with pork, it has a thicker skin than most dumplings. It is first steamed in a huge bamboo steamer and then pan-fried on the bottom before getting a sprinkling of sesame seeds.

5. WONTON NOODLE SOUP AT SAM WOO

wontonnoodle Our 10 Favorite Chinese Dumplings in Los Angeles

Address and phone: 937 E Las Tunas Dr, San Gabriel (626-286-3118)
Website: N/A
Region: Guangdong and Hong Kong

Fragrance is the key to a good wonton noodle soup, and the fortified broth from Sam Woo—an institution that has been open for over three decades—takes days to make. You can ask them to throw a piece of roast duck on top if you’re extra hungry, but the dish by itself is enough to satisfy. The wonton, stuffed with pork and shrimp, is served with egg noodles imported straight from Hong Kong.

6. CRYSTAL SHRIMP DUMPLING AT LUNASIA DIM SUM HOUSE

lunasia4hagow Our 10 Favorite Chinese Dumplings in Los Angeles

Address and phone: 239 E Colorado Blvd, Pasadena (626-793-8822)
Website: lunasiadimsumhouse.com
Region: Guangdong and Hong Kong

It is said that the xiajiao, or har gow (in Cantonese), makes or breaks a dim-sum chef. Traditionally, a har gow is supposed to have ten or more pleats. The wrapper is made with wheat and tapioca and worked until it becomes translucent. Lunasia’s version is epic—they manage to tuck in at least three large pieces of shrimp without breaking the chewy, delicate wrapper. We recommend dipping this in sweet soy sauce, mustard, or sambal chili.  (Photo:The Minty Musing)

7. THE RETURN DUMPLING AT HUI TOU XIANG

huitou Our 10 Favorite Chinese Dumplings in Los Angeles

Address and phone: 704 W Las Tunas Dr, San Gabriel (626-281-9888)
Website: huitouxiang.com
Region: California

Hui Tou Xiang takes the guo tie, a traditional potsticker, usually oblong in shape, and sealed both sides. They call it the hui tou—which means “to return” in Mandarin—to symbolize their desire for customers to return. The dish is pan-fried on all sides and meticulously fried to a juicy crisp. A single order will get you eight pot stickers. Be sure to pair it with chili sauce. (Photo:Hui Tou Xiang)

8. GLUTEN-FREE DUMPLINGS FROM PEKING TAVERN

glutenfreedumpling Our 10 Favorite Chinese Dumplings in Los Angeles

Address and phone: 806 S Spring St, Los Angeles (213-988-8308)
Website: tooguapo.com
Region: California

Dumplings are extremely difficult to make gluten-free, but the owners of Peking Tavern knew that if they wanted to open a dumpling house in the heart of Downtown, they needed to appeal to Angelenos’ finicky eating habits. Months of recipe testing paid off: You can barely taste the difference (though the gluten-free variations are a little bit gummier). We recommend getting them pan-fried and stuffed with beef. Pairing them with a small shot of the Chinese spirit baijiu. (Photo: Peking Tavern)

9. SWEET GLUTINOUS RICE BALLS AT EMPEROR NOODLE

tangyuan Our 10 Favorite Chinese Dumplings in Los Angeles

Address and phone: 800 W Las Tunas Dr, San Gabriel (626-281-2777)
Website: N/A
Region: All over China

These sweet rice balls (tang yuan in Southern China, yuan xiao in Northern China) are traditionally stuffed with sesame paste or ground peanuts. It’s a common dish on the 15th day of the Lunar New Year. The roundness of the rice ball is indicative of a complete circle of harmony within the family. Emperor Noodle in San Gabriel serves a beautiful version spiked with sweet rice wine and dried osmanthus flowers.

10. TIANJIN BAO AT TASTY NOODLE HOUSE

tianjinbun Our 10 Favorite Chinese Dumplings in Los Angeles

Address and phone: 827 W Las Tunas Dr, San Gabriel (626-284-8898)
Website: N/A
Region: Tianjin

Tianjin is a coastal city in northern China known for an abundance of seafood and dough. The Tianjin bao is a thick doughy bun, made with yeast so that it rises slightly. The remarkable quality about this dumpling is that it’s able to hold quite a bit of juice without turning soggy. Each bun fits perfectly in the palm of the hand. Pair it with a dash of black vinegar for an extra kick.

Asian casinos will try just about anything to attract Chinese gamblers

Vincent Yu  / Associated Press

Mainland Chinese visitors gather at the lobby of the Galaxy casino in Macau

Bloomberg (by Liza Lin):

At the oceanfront Ramada Plaza hotel on South Korea’s Jeju island, about a hundred Chinese gamblers huddle around felt-topped tables, wagering as much as 5 million won ($4,500) at baccarat. Shouts in Mandarin — “Beautiful!”, “Good!” — ring out as bettors with winning hands slam their cards on the green table-tops.

Asian casino operators from South Korea to Australia are pulling in China’s gamblers as the country’s corruption crackdown scares many away from Macau, the world’s biggest gambling hub. They are capitalizing on a downturn in the city’s gaming industry, which last month suffered its worst drop ever.

Operators such as Paradise Co. in South Korea are hiring Mandarin-speaking staff and offering VIP treatment including free flights, limousines and hotel stays to big spenders. Echo Entertainment Group Ltd. of Sydney and NagaCorp Ltd. in Cambodia cater to the junket operators who organize trips for Chinese gamblers with perks such as higher commissions, lower taxes and private jets.

Premium mass players can be recognized as VIP players and treated better than in Macau,” said Lee Hyuk-Byung, vice chairman of Paradise, in an interview in Seoul. “And we have other attractions in Korea such as culture, fashion, food.”

Macau casino revenue fell last year for the first time and may decline another 8 percent this year, according to analysts surveyed by Bloomberg. By contrast, South Korea and the Philippines will grow 16 percent and 33 percent respectively this year, gaining from the spillover of Chinese gamblers, Deutsche Bank analyst Karen Tang wrote in a note.

Plastic Surgeons

President Xi Jinping has urged Macau, the only place in China where casinos are legal, to diversify from gambling. Macau’s government imposed more scrutiny over junket operators, as mass market gambling also weakened amid China’s economic slowdown, and new restrictions on visas and cigarette smoking.

The anti-corruption measures are discouraging some people from traveling to Macau, and as a result we are seeing a slight shift in travel from Macau to other destinations,” said Aaron Fischer, a Hong Kong-based analyst at CLSA Ltd. “Vietnam and Philippines will likely benefit as they are the closest. Korea will pick up people in the northern parts of China.”

Gamblers who bet at least $50,000 at Paradise’s casinos qualify for freebies usually available only to VIP players, Lee said. In Macau, the minimum needed to get similar perks from junket operators is about $500,000, according to CLSA data. The company also draws Chinese gamblers to the celebrity-obsessed country by touting its pop culture and offering recommendations of top Korean plastic surgeons, Lee said.

Operators have more risqué offerings too. A gambler who exchanges 300,000 yuan ($48,000) worth of chips can receive free flights to Jeju, tours with a Mandarin-speaking guide, and the companionship of a “third-tier” Korean actress or model, according to an e-mailed brochure from Shanghai-based tour operator CNS. A CNS travel agent, who would only give her name as “Xiao Qi”, confirmed the services when contacted by phone.

Shanghai and Shenyang

It’s illegal for foreign companies to advertise casino operations in China and Paradise avoids public solicitations, Lee said. Its staff reaches out to high-stakes gamblers recommended by existing customers and makes frequent trips to major Chinese cities including Beijing and Shanghai, he added.

Companies are able to sidestep China’s ban on casino marketing by advertising non-gaming aspects such as a concert or entertainment show held on its venue, said Grant Govertsen, an analyst at Union Gaming Group in Macau.

Junket operators own restaurants, night clubs, they sponsor golf tournaments and other getaways,” Govertsen said in an interview. “There is plenty of stuff a junket could advertise in a mass-market sort of format.”

Still, foreign operators’ efforts to attract China’s gamblers have caught the notice of local authorities, which announced last month a crackdown on representative offices that “attract and recruit Chinese citizens” to casinos.

Peking Duck

Manila’s members-only Signature Club in Melco Crown Entertainment Ltd.’s City of Dreams casino has entrance signs in both English and Chinese, while Mandarin-speaking staff direct guests to cashiers, shops, and restaurants. The neighboring Solaire Resort and Casino owned by Bloomberry Resorts Corp. has suckling pig and Peking duck on the menu, catering to Chinese palates.

There are a lot of excuses to go the Philippines; we always promote the Philippines not on the casino but the whole package,” Cristino Naguiat, chairman at gaming regular Philippine Amusement & Gaming Corp., said in an interview.

Even with the crackdown in China, we still had higher volume in terms of gross gaming revenue and in terms of junket and VIPs,” he said last month in Manila.

Too Many Chinese

South Korea is preparing to welcome more Chinese gamblers after tourist arrivals from the country rose last year to 6.1 million, with new casinos planned including at Incheon Airport.

On Jeju island, junket operators have set up shop to offer gambling chips on loan, a service common in Macau that helps bettors sidestep China’s limits on taking currency out of the country.

Competition between the island’s eight foreigner-only casinos has led to a flourishing of more than 100 unlicensed junket operators and their agents on the island, said Seo Won- Seok, a hotel and tourism management professor at Kyunghee University in Seoul.

As Chinese gamblers become more important, there’s a need to better regulate the growth of the junket operators that bring them, he said.

Our casino industry may be too dependent on the Chinese market and that means there is always risk from China’s government policy,” Seo said. “I think that’s the downside — too many Chinese in Korea.”

 

 

Gold, Panda, Dragon, Jade, Phoenix… Stats on words used in Chinese restaurant names, by the numbers.

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INTRODUCTION

It is not too bold of an assumption to say we have all eaten at a Chinese restaurant named Golden Dragon or Hunan Garden at some point in our lives. The English names of Chinese restaurants are notoriously unimaginative and often totally reductive. They typically contain one of the following: bland sentiment (Nice Time Cafe), callous boasts (#1, Supreme, Top, Super, etc.), or some amalgam of the following elements: precious metal + prestigious animal + widely popular Chinese food item + powerful leadership role (Jade Empress, Noodle King, Phoenix Palace).

But what can trends in Chinese restaurant naming tell us about Chinese America?

The pre-existing research on this topic is slim and possibly nonexistent (this assertion based on a few half-hearted Google searches performed shortly before publication). I found few Chowhound threads, a Yahoo Answers page and this amazing (and only slightly racist) Chinese restaurant name generator.

This “study” seeks to identify some basic trends in Chinese restaurant naming, then use the findings to fuel a discussion of what drives these trends. DISCLAIMER: This is not a real study. Don’t take it seriously.

METHODOLOGY

Our data comes from my occasional lunch partner David Chan, a Los Angeles accountant and attorney who has eaten at more than 6,300 different Chinese restaurants over the past three decades. Entries begin in the 1980s and are current as of June 20. The bulk of the data comes from Southern California, but Chan has also eaten extensively across the United States and the world. There are 6,317 restaurants included in this “analysis.”

Relevant terms for “analysis” were established by scrolling repeatedly through this list in Excel and writing down any commonly occurring terms that I could identify before my eyes began to water. The spreadsheet was also uploaded into Google Refine, a data-cleaning and analysis tool that can cluster like terms and count commonly occurring words. Using the filters, I counted whatever search terms occurred to me over the course of two Saturday afternoons and one Sunday night.

The most commonly occurring terms are gathered for “analysis” below (discussion follows infographic).

RESULTS

chinese-restaurants-in-the-u-7

DISCUSSION

As expected, our results show that Chinese restaurant names are uncommonly repetitive. Some surprising results: the most commonly occurring restaurant name was “China Express.” Dragons are more popular than pandas. The use of the word Oriental seems to have declined as society places higher value on political correctness.

What produces this naming monotony? My first thought is that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and also the most brazen form of competition. Chinese restaurant owners are notoriously cutthroat. A $5.95 lunch special is usually followed by a $5.75 lunch special across the street, and in the same vein, a 101 Noodle Express is one-upped by a 102 Noodles Town, and a Hunan Garden is easily topped by #1 Hunan Garden. Perhaps the repetition in names is just an outgrowth of that competition. Brand-name recognition is often worth the copyright lawsuit, as evinced by the number of restaurants calling themselves Panda Express who are not officially licensed franchises of the national chain.

My next theory is that there is a demographic of Chinese-restaurant owners who really don’t care what their English restaurant names are — those who are comfortably situated in a majority-Chinese community.

Many cities in the San Gabriel Valley require a certain amount of English on the storefront sign. These laws are oftentimes relics from the 1980s and 1990s, when politicians besieged by waves of Asian immigration tried to use municipal code to hold back the tidal wave of demographic change. Perhaps the half-considered English names are a kiss-off to these laws. If you’re catering to a largely Chinese clientele, your English name goes unused. It’s just another box to check off on the business-permit application. Names with prestigious acronyms like NBC, ABC, CBS, in addition to piggybacking on brand-name recognition, have the added benefit of being short — which means fewer letters to purchase.

But perhaps the repetition in naming says more about us than it does about Chinese restaurateurs. Chinese restaurants have to use English words that the average American can associate with Chinese food or culture. That makes for a depressingly small pool of applicable themes and words, likely fueled by pop-culture tropes, stereotypes and maybe a TNT replay of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon if we’re lucky. Perhaps the monotony in Chinese restaurant naming just reflects how impoverished the knowledge of Chinese culture is here.

My mother’s favorite restaurant, for example, is Nice Time Cafe in Monterey Park, a Taiwanese eatery that has a decent gua bao and and $3.95 che ga mi noodle that she loves for obvious reasons. She introduced me to the place, and I’d never been inside because the name was so bland and boring. I’d literally roll my eyes as I walked by. But the Chinese name of Nice Time Cafe, my mom tells me, is hao nian dong, a Taiwanese phrase (literal translation of 好年冬: Good Year Winter) that idiomatically means gratitude for a good year and a good harvest.

Maybe instead of rolling my eyes at “Happy China Cafe” or snorting at “Golden Chopsticks Palace,” I should just learn to read more Chinese.

Study reveals Chinese speakers use more of their brain than English speakers

gaokao-prep.jpg

Shanghaiist:

A study has found that people who speak tonal languages such as Mandarin or Cantonese use both hemispheres of their brain rather than just the left hemisphere, which researchers have long emphasized as being the primary processing center for languages.

Quartz sorts out the report, which was recently published in the in the Proceedings for the National Academy of Science:

After analyzing brain imaging data from Mandarin and English speakers listening their respective languages, researchers from Peking University and other universities found that native Mandarin speakers and native English speakers both showed evidence of activity in the brain’s left hemisphere. But Mandarin speakers also saw activation in the right hemisphere, specifically in a region important for processing music, via pitch and tone, that has long been seen as largely unrelated to language comprehension.

Since at least the 1950s, researchers in the field of neurolinguistics have been questioning how languages influence perception, and physiological behavior. This latest study supports one emerging theory, connectionism, that maintains that some languages require interactions across the entire brain. The findings are important for better protecting language-related regions during brain surgery as well as understanding the “constitution of knowledge of language, as well as how it is acquired,” according to the study.

languages-brain.jpg

It can be reasonably concluded then that all native speakers of tonal languages, including Vietnamese, Cantonese and Thai, use more of their brain than non-tonal language speakers, Gang Peng, a co-author of the study, told Quartz. Bonus: these speakers are more likely to have perfect pitch.

Bollywood star Deepika Padukone speaks out on her struggle with depression 

Deepika-Padukone-1

 Audrey Magazine:

If there weren’t enough reasons to love Deepika Padukone already, her candid piece with the Hindustan Times on her struggles with depression and anxiety solidifies her status as a one of the most outspoken and bravest celebrities in Bollywood.

In the peice, Padukone details how her struggles with depression started negatively affecting her life in 2014. Despite all her perceived success in Bollywood, she admits having trouble even getting up in the morning to shoot one of her most recent films Happy New Year. It was an even bigger struggle to put on a brave front for her parents.

At the advice of an aunt, Padukone started taking medication and continued filming Happy New Year. She concludes that she hopes her example will help inspire others to reach out for help. Additionally, she and her team are working on an initiative to help address mental health issues.

deepika

Padukone’s inspiring actions come at a time when the Indian community is suffering immensely over mental health issues. While the new Indian Prime Minister Modi is attempting to pass a new bill allowing universal mental health services, India still “has the highest number of suicides in the world. According to the World Health Organization, of 804,000 suicides recorded worldwide in 2012, 258,000 were in India. Indian youths between 15 and 29 years old kill themselves at a rate of 35.5 deaths per 100,000 — the highest in the world — and suicide has surpassed maternal mortality as the leading cause of death of young Indian women.”

Since there is still such a stigma against mental health disorders and medication, we find it admirable that a public figure such as Deepika Padukone speaks out. Hopefully, this inspires more people who are struggling with these issues to get the help they need.

If you feel you are struggling with depression, anxiety, and/or other mental health issues, please check out these links here for lists of resources:

APIAHF

NAAPIMHA

NAMI

 

If you or someone you know is contemplating suicide, call:

1-800-273-8255 (TALK), 24hr National Suicide Prevention Hotline, >150 languages available

1-877-990-8585, 24hr Asian LifeNet Hotline, Cantonese, Mandarin, Japanese, Korean, Fujianese available

 

Ai Weiwei’s “F Grass” installation for the Vancouver Biennale

China bans puns in media and ads

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Beyond Chinatown:

 

Last week, China’s State Administration for Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television (国家广播电影电视总局 / 國家廣播電影電視總局) announced a policy that bans the use of wordplay in media and ads ostensibly to “popularize and standardize the use of the national common language, a heritage of Chinese traditional culture”.  Since Chinese languages, like Mandarin, have a rich linguistic tradition of wordplay based on homophonic puns that, unlike puns in English, are much more ubiquitous and always seem clever and never groan or eye-roll inducing, the edict at first glance seems to be more ridiculous than SAPPRFT’s ban on time travel in TV shows and movies.   It might not be entirely ill-conceived.

The Wall Street Journal’s China Real Time explains one example specifically cited by the Chinese version of the FCC as an “indiscriminate use” of language:

[T]he phrase “晋善晋美” was used in ads promoting tourism to Shanxi province, widely seen as the cradle of Chinese culture. The slogan — translated as “Shanxi, a land of splendors”–  was a pun on the Chinese saying, “尽善尽美,” which means perfection. The ads swapped out the character “尽” for a homonym, “晋,” a character often used to represent Shanxi.”

 

Shanxi Promotional Video:

 

The slogan was selected in December 2012 by the Shanxi Tourism Bureau after four months of competition and was heavily promoted on CCTV and other media outlets.  In July 2013, it was reported a fourth grade student mistook the tourism slogan for the idiom meaning “perfection”.

The clever phrase was deemed to “rape” the idiom and sullied Chinese culture.   This pun control can be seen as part of the Central Government’s efforts to promote standard Mandarin.

Many are sympathetic to the government’s concern about the irregular and inaccurate use of characters, especially among children, but find it at odds with linguistic appreciation and development.  Yi Ming (亦鸣 / 亦鳴), a contributor to China Art Newspaper (中国艺术报 / 中國藝術報), praises the slogan as a clever use of traditional culture for a commercial purpose and highlights the charm of Chinese characters.

Li Zhiqi (李志起) chairman of marketing group CBCT, linguistic innovation should be encouraged and new idioms created.  An editorial in Xinhua does not believe in a “one size fits all” prohibition.  The author calls for the SAPPRFT to “seriously listen to the reasonable opinions of language scholars and the public” and believes that people need to keep an open mind about language so that it can develop.

The rule naturally echoes efforts by the government to censor online taboo topics, names, and words which Chinese netizens often circumvent by slyly hiding behind puns.  For example, when the government censored the word “harmonious” (和谐 / 和諧, pronounced héxié) online because netizens began using it as a euphemism for censorship (which the government justifies in order to promote a “Socialist Harmonious Society“), “river crab” (河蟹 / 河蟹, pronounced héxiè) was used as a substitute.

Dissident artist Ai Weiwei later visualized the phrase in an installation and invited supporters to feast on river crabs to protest the government’s demolition of his Shanghai studio.

 

 

David Moser, academic director for CET Chinese studies at Beijing Capital Normal University, tells The Guardian, “It could just be a small group of people, or even one person, who are conservative, humorless, priggish and arbitrarily purist, so that everyone has to fall in line…But I wonder if this is not a preemptive move, an excuse to crack down for supposed ‘linguistic purity reasons’ on the cute language people use to crack jokes about the leadership or policies. It sounds too convenient.”