These 'King-Size' Kimchi Dumplings Are LA's Best-Kept Korean-Food Secret
These little orbs of carby, chewy, juicy, umami-filled joy will change everything you thought you knew about dumplings and spicy, pickled cabbage.
Ever crave Korean food but just don't feel like eating half a barbecued cow in the process? Consider, then, the juicy, pillowy, chewy clouds of spicy, briny umami joy known as kimchi mandu.
We're talking about steamed dumplings that are filled with chopped kimchi (and a little bit of ground pork). They're usually available in a Koreatown near you, and for some of the best ones available in Los Angeles, you should drive straight to Dumpling House. There, owners and married couple Joung Im Yi and Wan Suk Jung will change everything you thought you knew about dumplings and spicy, pickled cabbage as soon as you bite into their little orbs of carby joy.
At Dumpling House, it all starts with the kimchi. Theirs is a brinier, vegetarian version bursting with so much lactic tang that you might as well be sucking on a piece of lemon. The recipe—specifically, the proper ratio of ground pork to chopped kimchi—was perfected by husband, Jung, who is somewhat of a thriving restaurateur. Both are natives of Paju Gyeonggi province in South Korea and immigrated to the US in 1998. They first landed in Texas, where Jung opened an American-style barbecue restaurant and Joung worked as a seamstress. Then, they moved to LA, where the pair opened a Korean-Japanese sushi restaurant, and then Dumpling House two years ago.
Now, Jung mostly operates the front-of-house operations in the tiny, nondescript restaurant, while Joung left her sewing career behind to cook all of the restaurant's dough-based offerings in the back. There are no secrets at Dumpling House since the kitchen is wide open. While kimchi dumplings are the specialty, their "Meat King Size Beef and Pork Dumpling," which is a Korean version of bao, is almost as popular. It goes without saying that their savory vegetable and seafood pancakes are equally enticing.
When asked to describe the main difference between Chinese- and Korean-style dumplings, Joung responds that it's all about the fillings and the condiments. For example, their Meat King Size dumplings are filled with tofu, ground pork, green onion, and the same glass noodles you would find in japchae noodles. And Korean dumplings are served with some of the same fixings that you would associate with Korean barbecue: an assortment of pickled radishes, and a soy sauce seasoned with sesame seeds, vinegar, jalapeño, and green onion.
Despite the restaurant only being a year and a half old, it is quickly gathering a base of regulars. It may not seem like much from the outside, and is the kind of place that you could drive by every day of your life and hardly notice in the concrete labyrinth that is LA's Koreatown.
It may not be the first Korean restaurant to specialize in dumplings, but under the careful care of this husband-and-wife team—the only two employees in the restaurant—it is certainly one of the best.
It's been said once before and we will gladly say it again: Kimchi should be thought of as a verb, and it really is the ultimate blank canvas to create some of the most memorable dishes that you will have your life. Kimchi dumplings, needly to say, are no exception.