A Chinese adventure on PCH

The interior at Dumpling Mix stylishly uses modern materials to evoke Chinese classic style. Photo by Richard Foss

Dumpling Mix offers traditions and eccentricity for open-minded diners

Chinese dumplings aren’t a new cuisine in America. They’ve been available in California since the 1920s, when the Hang Ah Tea Room opened in San Francisco. That restaurant is still open and still good, but until a few decades ago the language spoken by diners was mainly Chinese. Few people outside that community were familiar with the dim sum brunch tradition, or aware of the culture’s extraordinary and rich variety of noodle dishes. It’s an ancient art — the Bowers Museum exhibited a plate of desiccated dumplings that had been excavated from a collapsed home after an earthquake in the 12th Century, and they look much like those served today.

Chinese noodle traditions went mainstream in the USA in the early 2000s, after the opening of the first location of Taiwanese chain Din Tai Fung in California. Since then, similar restaurants have spread far and wide. The South Bay got its first specialist when Jiayuan Dumpling House opened in 2021, more have followed. The latest, and in some ways most interesting, is Dumpling Mix, which opened in Redondo in May.

The restaurant is in a high-profile location in the shopping center on PCH just south of Catalina Avenue. And while the exterior is nondescript, the interior has a distinctive design that merges Scandinavian simplicity with Chinese forms. The partitions between tables have the distinctive circular windows of Chinese architecture formed with blond wood rather than the black-lacquered frames typical on the other side of the Pacific. Matching light fixtures complete the effect. The room is bright, airy, and comfortable, and gives the impression that this project has been well thought out.

Unfortunately, that consideration does not extend to the menu, which has terse descriptions of some items that are not seen on most Chinese menus. What is a “magic chili chicken finger,” or the “shepherd’s purse” with the rice cakes, and what is the greenery in that picture of a clamshell bun that is only listed as containing pork and peanuts? This vagueness might be acceptable on a paper menu where space is limited, but ordering here is via an app, so there is plenty of room for descriptions and ingredients. The people who work at Dumpling Mix all tried to help, but some had better language skills than others. On four visits we just muddled through and ordered a mix of favorite items and things we were curious about just to see what they were.

A plate of fried dumplings are served with the traditional condiments of vinegar, chili oil, and, and soy sauce, but they’re also good just as they come from the kitchen.

Since dumplings are in the name, we ordered several different varieties of them, including beef and onion, celery and pork, and surf and turf. The latter includes a mix of chopped pork, chicken, and shrimp, and has a particularly enjoyable variety of flavors and textures. I liked all of them, and while steamed and pan-fried versions are available, I recommend the fried version. These are lightly steamed and then fried pot sticker style, so on one side the dough is tender, on the other side crisp. They’re served fried side up so diners may appreciate the lacy crust that forms in a very hot pan, and they’re quite pretty. They’re also extremely hot inside, some with a lot of liquid, as one of my companions discovered to his dismay. The beef and onion dumpling had spurted boiling sauce onto his chin and shirt, causing some discomfort and a hasty clean-up.

Another specialty is their fresh pastas, which we tried in a bowl of sesame noodles and in the rice cakes with shepherd’s purse, an herb I had never heard of before. If you think of watercress with a little lemon flavor, and maybe an overtone of radish, you’re pretty close. The herb was liberally mixed with garlic oil and shreds of bamboo shoots and tossed with what the menu calls rice cakes — thick coin-shaped pieces of pasta that get a little crust in the frying process but have an agreeable chewiness inside. The sesame noodles were also good but misnamed, as the dominant flavor in the sauce was not sesame, but peanuts. The bowl also contained cucumber slivers, chili paste, and cilantro, and I’d recommend this as a side dish.

Left, the masago rice, a Chinese version of a Japanese dish, and right, a bowl of hot and sour soup.

We tried an old favorite, hot and sour soup, alongside one of the more unusual items on the menu, masago rice. Masago, the roe of the capelin fish, is a Japanese ingredient, and I thought that this item might come from Taiwan, which has some cultural influence due to 55 years of colonial rule. Some research showed that while masago is often harvested and processed in Taiwan, it’s not often used in their cooking. Wherever this item originated, it was very good, the generous bowl of fried rice with shrimp, pork, and vegetables well complemented with the topping of tiny caviar. It was a large portion, but we ate every morsel. The hot and sour soup was a classic well executed, a dash of white vinegar contributing to a refreshing, spicy broth. There are plenty of vegetables and shredded wood ear mushrooms in the bowl and it’s the best version of this soup I know of in the South Bay.

The clamshell bun at Dumpling Mix is a sandwich of braised pork and seasonings inside a steamed bun.

We were whimsical on another visit and ordered a clamshell bun and the magic chili chicken finger, mainly to see what they were. Clamshell buns are a yeast-raised bread made with a little sugar and milk in the dough. A circle of this dough is folded and then steamed before being filled. The combination of ingredients gives them a sweet flavor and very light, somewhat spongy texture when they are eaten fresh from the steamer. That’s the best way to enjoy them, because as they cool, they become increasingly chewy and less enjoyable. This one was very fresh and excellent, stuffed with braised pork, peanuts, green onions, and cilantro. It’s a snack size portion and a very good starter.

The magic chili chicken fingers turned out to be chicken wings that had been coated with a peppery, garlicky seasoning and were then fried with sliced scallions and copious amounts of red chili peppers. When our server delivered the plate, he pointed at the chillies and said, “Very good, eat them like potato chips.” I tried that with one and decided against having another bite. It was predictably hot, and had a papery texture that I did not find appealing. If you enjoy hot wings and are looking for a new taste sensation then this could be your new favorite food, but I’m more likely to keep browsing the menu rather than order this again.

Alcohol is not served here, but they have some Taiwanese soft drinks, including HeySong Sarsaparilla, which has a flavor quite unlike modern American root beer. Along with the herbal flavor there is a salty/sweet/sour balance that makes it taste like a cross between root beer and cola. I think I prefer traditional root beer, but it was interesting to try.

The prices at Dumpling Mix are modest. You can get a full meal for under $25 and leave with leftovers. They’re an exciting addition to the local restaurant scene, and if Chinese dumplings are your thing, this could be your new favorite restaurant.

 

Dumpling Mix is at 705 North PCH in Redondo. Open daily 11:30 a.m. – 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. – 9 p.m.Parking lot, wheelchair access good. No alcohol served, some vegetarian items, but ask before ordering as menu descriptions are incomplete. (310) 504-0893. DumplingMixrb.com. ER

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