Monday, August 1, 2011

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How About You Drink China Instead?

One street behind San Diego's pan-Asian supermarket 99 Ranch Market, beyond banners announcing its perpetual grand opening and the all-you-can-eat $18 hot pot, lies Mr. Dumpling, one of my default lunch joints.

I am enamored of Mr. Dumpling's xiao long bao (called on the menu "pork juicy buns" and elsewhere known as Shangahi soup dumplings). The steamed dumplings are little more than tiny pork meatballs and a splash of stock wrapped in a thin caul of dumpling wrapper. The trick to eating them is to bite a small hole at the bottom edge, slurp out the stock, and only then tackle the rest of it. Invariably I dunk mine in a soy/chile/black vinegar concoction I mix at the table. Sure, I'll order other things once I'm there, but those fat little rascals are the reason to go.

Naturally, the staff have come to know me. Small dishes sometimes appear unbidden on our table; pickles, boiled peanuts, little pancakes. One day when eating alone, I was engrossed in Chris Bunting's book Drinking Japan. When the waiter brought dumplings, I set the book aside and he read the title.

"Drinking Japan?" he exclaimed, in (mostly) mock indignation. "How about you drink China instead?"

"Sure, ok." You see, I'm agreeable about these things. "Where can I get Chinese liquor in San Diego?"

"Hmm. Maybe 99 Ranch Market."

"Yeah, I saw their sake and shōchū, but I didn't notice any Chinese spirits."

"They also have umeshu," he offered, naming a Japanese plum liqueur.

"Chinese umeshu?" I pressed.

He smiled, caught. "Yeah, Chinese stuff is pretty hard to find. Maybe it's ok if you drink Japan sometimes."

And so I do.

Mr. Dumpling
7250 Convoy Court (not Convoy Street)
San Diego, CA 92111
(858) 576-6888

[Edit 10.9.12: With a change of staff for both the front and back of the house, the quality of the restaurant has suffered. I can't in good conscious recommend a meal here any longer. Pity. Those were great dumplings]

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