You're probably familiar with dumplings and potstickers: Dumplings are likely the first Chinese food item that comes to mind for non-Chinese, while potstickers turn up in the frozen-food sections of markets and menus of Chinese restaurants even on the Westside. But have you heard of a Chinese calzone? Neither had we until a poster at Chowhound referred to an item by that term.
A Chinese calzone is a filled bread, steamed and then pan-fried instead of baked in a wood-fired brick oven. What type of filling do you think would be in a Chinese version of a calzone? Meat? Yes, and, of course, that means pork. There is no cheese, as dairy is rather uncommon in Chinese cuisine. But for all the dissimilarities, the name fits, as these "dumplings" are filled baos.
You can find these Chinese calzones at the awkwardly yet aptly named Qing Dao Bread Food in Monterey Park. You won't find much in the way of Qingdao specialties on a small, 34-item menu dominated by dumplings, potstickers and baos. This is, after all, a dumpling house. The best-known Shandong item around these parts, the beef roll/beef pancake, is absent, as is the liberal use of seafood for which Qingdao cuisine known.
Seating just 24 patrons, at least half of the space here is taken up by the food preparation area. Photos of dishes on the wall and a checklist-style menu ease the language barrier. On both, you'll find Fried Stuffed Dumpling. There are three pork variants: with leeks and shrimp, with leeks or with cabbage. This is what you're looking for, called lu bao in Chinese.
A large plateful of "dumplings" arrives, served upside down and resembling a giant pinwheel held together by a lacy crust. Half an order of potstickers could fit inside one of these. Pan-fried until crispy on the bottom, with a slurry of flour creating the webbed crust, an almost potato chip-like crunchiness gives way to a chewy, white bread flavor and doughy texture.
Instead of the standard black vinegar, a garlic dipping sauce is provided. While it complements the pork nicely, a little goes a long way and the cumulative effect kind of sneaks up on you.
We were tipped to other places where we could find them, but those didn't really pan out. If you know of any other restaurants that have them, please let us know. For the time being, if you'd like to try Chinese calzones, you'll have to visit Qingdao Bread Food. It's open six nights a week, closing at 3 p.m. on Tuesdays.
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