Menu Mining: Shanghai Pan-Fried Dumplings at Kang Kang Food Court

Names can be deceiving and although Kang Kang Food Court has the words “food court” in its name, it’s not like the food court you’ll see at your local mall. But in concept, Kang Kang is like a food court in that it has a huge selection of food– it’s a small restaurant in a shopping center in the SGV with a giant “fast food” menu featuring hundreds of cheap and delicious items from all over Taiwan and various regions of China.

If you come here, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by all the choices, but I’ll make it simple for you– it’s the Shanghai pan-fried dumplings/buns that this place is really known for. The Shanghai Sheng Jian Bao (上海生煎包) is Kang Kang’s signature dish; you can see patrons chowing down on them at every other table. And as the banner over the doorway proudly proclaims, it was one of the L.A. Times’ Top 10 Recipes of 2009.

These gems are filled with pork, wrapped in a thin dough, pan-fried to perfection and topped with black sesame seeds and green onion. When cooked, the pork filling creates a hot “soup” that fills the inside of the bun. But be warned! Your first instinct may be to take a giant bite into a piping hot dumpling. If you do this, your bun will explode into a hot mess and the inside of your mouth will be instantly scalded! Trust me, I’ve seen it happen. I’ve also been the victim of squirting bun soup juice, so be kind to your fellow eaters and learn the method to eating them so that you don’t lose the soup (the best part!).

The first thing to do is to be careful not to poke a hole in the dumpling while you’re picking it up with your chopsticks. Once you’ve picked up the dumpling, rest it on the spoon (which you’re holding with your other hand) so you can take a small bite on the top of the bun (just enough to make a hole in the dough). Then slowly (carefully) suck the soup out of the dumpling– or if you like to play with your food like I do, up-end the dumpling soup into our soup spoon. The buns are served with a black rice vinegar so after the soup is gone, you can then dip the bun into vinegar and carefully enjoy the rest of the hot dumpling.

It’s kind of ironic that the Shanghai Sheng Jian Bao are not made before 11am at Kang Kang because they are actually a common breakfast food in Shanghai. They’re also often sold as dian xin (點心) (or snacks) and are rarely found as a dish in a main meal in China. But at Kang Kang, they can be the centerpiece of a meal.

My suggestion is to come in, order a combo from the food line (you’ll see when you get there), order the Shanghai pan-fried dumplings at the cashier when you pay for your food and enjoy the combo items while they pan-fry your dumpling goodness. If you can find a table, eat there instead of ordering them to go– the dumplings are better fresh (though they do travel well), and you get tea with your meal if you eat in. A 3-item combo (which comes with rice and soup) + an order of 8 pan-fried dumplings will run you $11. And you’ll probably have leftovers!

And although Kang Kang also does a decent Xiao Long Bao/XLB (小籠包), if you’re here for the pan-fried dumplings, don’t make the mistake of ordering the steamed dumplings which are also sometimes called “Shanghai Dumplings” at other restaurants. (Well, if you’re hungry, you can order both!)

If you have room after all this, check out their shaved ice bar / drink menu. Perfect for hot days in L.A.

Kang Kang Food Court (Pacific Square)
27 E. Valley Blvd
Alhambra, CA 91801
626-308-3898
CASH ONLY

This is a post in Blogging.LA‘s Menu Mining Series.

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