IS THIS HEAVEN? NO IT'S K-TOWN
NAME: BIG ASS DUMPLINGS
PLACE: Myung in dumplings
DATE: November 24th, 2016
WHAT: Handmade Korean dumplings
ADDRESS: 3109 W Olympic Blvd B, Los Angeles, CA 90006
WHAT TO EAT: Steamed king dumplings
By far the most exciting part of my job is tracking trends before they develop and researching them in the early stages when adventurous restaurant chefs are just starting to play with them. Right now, Asian flavors are in; they are vast and to my surprise continue to unravel. As I explore Asian cuisine, a few countries begin to show promise more than others. For example, Korean cuisine is flavorful, approachable, and starting to get some media attention. I believe that Korean cuisine has potential to become the next culinary darling. This is the point I start exploring, at first glance, I can easily find articles on Korean BBQ, Bibimbap and Kimchi (the basics). But, when I dig below the surface I also see a culture in love with fresh noodles and dumplings. Historically, Korea is a proud country with little financial means, so it is not surprising that their cuisine showcases economical ways to use small portions of meats, where no part goes to waste. Dumplings are born from conditions such as these, they are beautiful ways to turn one pound of meat into as much as 50 pockets of culinary joy. After hours of research on the computer, I decided it’s time to put feet on the ground and start trying Korean food first hand.
After a five-hour flight, and an hour in a car, I step into the bustling city. I have no clue what I’m looking at, all the store signs are in some form of Asian writing. I would have felt totally lost if I didn’t know where I was: Koreantown, a small three-mile rectangle in Los Angeles that is home to the largest population of Korean Immigrants in America. I know this is part of LA, yet at moments I feel like I’m in a foreign country. Koreantown is not a glitzy borough or a vacation destination, in fact it is a rundown section of a big city, but those reasons are exactly why it works so well for my research. Koreantown is a place where Korean immigrants live, which means it is a place where people can get true, authentic cuisine.
My research had me zig zag all over town, and I find myself standing in a parking lot of a strip mall with a dry cleaner, jeweler, hair salon, and a small restaurant. I’m looking for Korean dumplings, not the kind of dumplings most Americans think of: floating chunks of pasty flour and egg mixtures in a chicken broth served at the counter of a Jewish deli. Nope, I’m looking for little pockets of dough wrapped around flavorful fillings of meat, vegetables, and other mystery ingredients. The shop that all my research led me to is called Myung in Dumplings. It’s an unassuming store front, where they hand-make hundreds, if not thousands of Korean style dumplings daily.
Once inside, this place has a cafeteria-vibe working. Nothing fancy in sight, black vinyl seats, formica tables, and a large picture order by number menu behind the counter; expensive decorations are unnecessary for a simple dumpling shop. This is Korean fast foods, not meals with toys, but simple food from their homeland.
A lady is behind the counter rolling little pockets at a crazy speed. I’m mesmerized by her hands; roll, roll, roll, scoop, pinch, twist, pinch, twist and bam a beautiful dumpling. I try a little small talk, types of questions only a person like me would care about. Dumpling girl (that is her name now) is not fluent in English, all my questions land limply on the hard linoleum ground between us. We have no ability to communicate beyond a few hand gestures and a smile. She is in the middle of making the day’s product, and I somehow let her know I’m interested in what she is making. Her hands are a flurry of motion, and never stop working as we awkwardly play a game of charades. Dumpling making is a tedious process, but she makes it look seamless with the quick seasoned hands of a professional. I hold up my phone and making a clicking sound, I’m asking in our new language to take a few pictures of her working, she obliges with a flick of the wrist motioning me behind the counter. I move around, and get a quick lesson. Dumpling girl is a machine; cranking out 25 or 30 bite size dough balls in just a couple of minutes. Before I can get my hands dirty rolling a couple myself, the big boss comes in the shop, a few sharply thrown Korean words, a cross look, and I am quickly shooed out of the prep area. The lesson is over. I’m not sure what boss lady said, but I if I had to venture a guess it was something along the line of “Why is this boy in my area?”. I try to ask a few questions of her, but she wants nothing of it.
Boss lady gestures me to my rightful place in front of the counter and proceeds to stand in front of the cash register, I find myself in a new game of charades and she is letting me know it is time to order. Still unsure what to get, I ask a few questions garnished with a lot of hand gestures. Boss lady just looks at me, the glare says “I have more important things to do, you need to order”. I see something on the picture menu that looks exciting and I order the Spicy pork and shrimp steam roll, the king pork dumplings, and boiled pork kimchi dumplings. I grab a Hite beer from the self-serve cooler, a king sized 40oz no less, and the evening is looking up again.
I stroll to a formica booth and start enjoying my Korean “40”, all I need now is a paper bag for it. In just a few minutes little platters start showing up, each filled with a variety of ingredients, dried fish, kimchi, pickled vegetables, mashed potato salad and other concoctions. These dishes are called banchans and are considered part of every Korean meal and are what I would consider condiments. They are the little extras that are eaten alone, added to the meal, or just nibbled on over conversation.
Fifteen minutes pass and the King steamed dumplings land in front of me on a simple plastic plate. Describing them as large is an understatement, they are pale enormous softballs. Thoughts are popping in my head, so many questions, and I feel lost yet again today. I have no clue how to eat this monstrosity. I pick one up, it is so light that I’m astounded, holding this giant white puff of air, I wonder if they forgot the filling. I begin to break it apart, and immediately know they didn’t forget, it’s loaded. The dough is light, the filling is so robust it almost spills out, and my jaw hits the plastic red table in awe. The mixture of ground pork, cabbage, sautéed vegetables, and spices all minced together is aromatically enticing. I drizzle on soy sauce, and pile on some fermented cabbage as I shove the virgin bite in my mouth. The flavors are nothing short of amazing, vibrant pork, fragrant onion, garlic, and cabbage all mesh with the kimchi and explode in my mouth. Before long I realize my hands are empty and I have eaten the whole thing, where did it go? Only a minute ago I wondered how anyone could eat all four, now I am wondering why anyone would share.
The other dumplings arrive and are amazing in their own right, but my mind keeps turning back to the lonely three king puffs sitting on that plastic plate. These are types of dumplings that I have never seen before, and I want to see more. I have eaten eight meals already today on my whirl wind exploration of Korean food, yet I finish one more king before I throw in the white paper napkin.
Myung in Dumplings is an exciting and authentic Korean experience, one well worth repeating. If you need a reason to venture into Koreatown look no further than the King steamed pork and vegetable dumplings. Oh how I wish I lived closer, a lot closer, because if I did I would be making frequent pilgrimages for late night dumplings.
The Pig is formally trained in the culinary arts, a graduate of the C.I.A., worked in the food industry for over 40 years and currently travels the country as a research chef searching food trucks, street vendors, little restaurants and hole in the walls seeking out the best this country has to offer. For more great articles, culinary travel guides, and tips on travel and cooking follow us to our website.