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[Eat It]: Lin Long Fang

Dumpling deja vu! This xiaolong bao shop on Jianguo Lu is famed Jia Jia Tangbao's lesser-known sister restaurant and every bit as good.
2011-02-17 15:34:41

There is something strange about this place - a Twilight Zone eeriness. Outside, a shoddy storefront with a line snaking out the door. Inside, just to the left of the door is a counter. Behind it, a menu in the form of small wooden planks hanging from hooks.

Above it, a succinct slogan that is oddly familiar: "现点,现包, 现蒸,现吃". Loosely translated: "You order them, we stuff them, we steam them, you eat them". So you order them and are given a ticket. You walk past a team of prep cooks, huddled head to head over a pile of ground pork and a massive lump of dough.

It’s an efficient operation that looks as natural and involuntary as breathing. One cook cuts the dough into identical portions and rolls it into balls. The next flattens them with a rolling pin. The remaining two wrap the pork in the dough and seal it with ten pinches. Repeat, repeat, repeat for up to twelve hours.

Then there is the dining room: two small tables, a partition, and six table tables for six. It scarcely seats 25 people and, again, it all looks oddly familiar, like you’ve been here before. But something’s a bit off. The color scheme is different - brown and white and a touch more tasteful. The wooden stools around the tables have no backrests, giving it a faint hint of old world charm. You take your seat and within 15 minutes your crab and pork soup dumplings arrive. That’s when it really gets weird.

Shortly thereafter, the pure crab dumplings arrive, full of rich buttery bits of crab roe.

Deja vu. Have you tasted these before? It’s almost as if you’ve entered a parallel dimension, where a bizzaro Jia Jia Tangbao resides. But, usually when you hear the sound of hooves hitting the earth you should think horses, not zebras. So, a shanzhai knock-off perhaps? It’s not uncommon in this city. No. Actually, there is an even simpler explanation. This is Jia Jia Tangbao’s lesser-known sister store. Aside from being a slightly different brand of shabby, it’s identical in every way, from the dumpling selection to the two utterly forgettable soups, to the Coke and 7UP served in deposit bottles.

Situated on Jianguo Dong Lu, a road slightly less-travelled, this dumpling house tends to fly under many a laowais radar. Locals, however are well aware of it and the place fills up just as much as the flagship brand’s Huanghe Lu location.

Admittedly, it’s a strange business model. It’s not uncommon for restaurant chains to establish different brands for different demographics and price points. But you seldom see an identical concept under a different name. So why would the Jia family divert attention from such a well-known brand by opening up a restaurant named after a mythical Chinese creature (lin “麟”is loosely translated as unicorn)? I asked the clerk. She simply answered, “The name sounds nicer”. That's as good an answer as any, I suppose.

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