Steamed Dumplings & Pat Bing Soo in Koreatown, Los Angeles
In Korean-American food and drink culture the idea is to keep on eating until you feel full and then keep on going. I read somewhere once that if you’re still either hungry or sober at the end of an evening in Koreatown you’re doing it wrong. Well, while day drinking by yourself in 28 degree heat is rarely a good idea, with a day to kill while I was staying in Koreatown until I met a friend for drinks at a Venice wine bar, I decided that the eating part of this food philosophy sounded perfectly good to me; it was time to discover some of the other food in Los Angeles’ Koreatown outside of my favourite Korean barbecue joints.
Pao Jao Dumpling House in the Koreatown Plaza Asian shopping mall on Western Avenue came as a recommendation in the local magazine put together for guests at The Line Hotel. I’d spent my Sunday afternoon lazing by the hotel pool reading it, using it to decide exactly what I was going to eat the next day. I decided very early on to start with these dumplings. Visiting the mall, and especially sitting in their food court you got the distinct impression that while you knew that you were still in America because you’d not got on an aeroplane, you felt like you were stepping into a completely different country and cultural experience, which I really enjoyed. I was sure that I was probably the only person there who had English as my first language.
Pao Jao Dumpling House make all of their dumplings fresh on site. Really, I wanted one of everything on the menu, but as they were pretty large and pillowy, and there was just me I had to settle for what are supposed to be their gold start dumplings, their King Dumplings. Inside some of the best steamed bun I’ve ever eaten is a middle of pork, Asian greens and I think ground shrimp, ready to be dipped in the Korean, slightly tart, slightly sweet and slightly spicy dipping sauce and with bites of pickled daikon on the side. I managed about two and a half of them before I had to call it quits. Oh, and this plate only cost me $6.99. Their kimchee dumplings are also supposed to be pretty epic, so one for next time with more people with me?
While we’re on the subject of kimchee, after lunch I wandered over to the Korean supermarket at the other end of Koreatown Plaza after I’d had my fill of dumplings. From great piles of Korean melons, hundreds of different varieties of imported Japanese mochi, to more kimchee than any human can possibly eat in a lifetime, it was unlike any supermarket I’ve ever been in, including Asian supermarkets here in the UK.
If you’re particularly interested in the current trend for the Korean skincare regimen, the beauty aisle is a great place to stock up. I literally have no idea what any of this stuff does and I did not get any to try (I’m a much bigger fan of French skincare and get really excited in the French Pharmacy), but I’m curious if any of you use any Korean products every day without doing the whole regimen?
Mochi (shapes made from a paste of glutinous rice) is a particular favourite of mine, and while I was unsure at first, eating at Tamago in Canterbury has really made me fall in love with Asian, not too sweet desserts made with red beans. As a result, I treated myself to a celebration mochi with a decadent smooth red bean filling.
After spending a bit more time back at the hotel going through my photos from the morning, I decided that it was finally time for dessert. Now, there was a place for Taiwanese shaved ice meets Pat Bing Soo (the Korean version of the same dessert that I’ll explain in a minute) near the hotel listed in the same magazine I found the dumplings in, but a quick Google told me that it had since closed down. I was still keen to try the dessert that had become so popular in the area, so a bit of a web search found me Snow L.A., a fun looking joint a few blocks from the hotel that seemed to have good ratings.
Taiwanese shaved ice is a not dessert made by shaving ice into impossibly light shavings and then drizzling with fruit syrups to give it flavour. Impossibly refreshing and such an interesting texture, the classic serving is given an All-American twist by the addition of a toppings bar the same as you’d find in pretty much every frozen yogurt joint in the state. She’s creating some green shavings for me, because my favourite flavour for any frozen dessert is matcha so the green tea powder was already mixed into the ice block before shaving.
You can pretty much go for any topping or flavour you like, but they do have a couple of set combinations available, and there was one that just screamed ‘Asian dessert’ that had my name on. My matcha shaved ice was served with a side of red beans and a side of mochi pieces, with a drizzle of matcha infused condensed milk drizzled over the top for added sweetness. Absolute heaven if you like desserts like this.
If you’re planning a trip to Los Angeles, set aside a day to head to Koreatown. Explore another culture and how it has managed to settle in its own neighbourhood in America. A bit unconventional for breakfast, but start your day with some shaved ice at Snow L.A., and head to Pao Jao Dumpling House for lunch. Pick up a mochi for a mid-afternoon pick me up, then splurge out on an epic Korean Barbecue supper with friends at Soot Bull Jeep. You can thank me later.