One of the great things about the abundance of Chinese restaurants in the San Gabriel Valley comes in discovering unique menu items. These can range from hard-to-find distinctive regional dishes to the mundane that simply got lost in translation.
When it came to our attention that a restaurant was serving something called Shanghai Confusion Meat, we had to make a visit. Since these items have a tendency to disappear rather quickly from menus, it's always best to try them out as soon as possible. We missed out on the donkey roll at Beijing Pie House (which, for the record, is a dessert and features no donkey meat), and we weren't about to let it happen this time.
Our trek took us to the wilds of Monrovia, where Shanghai Dumpling House sits across from a classic drive-in taco stand, sharing a small shopping center with a laundromat and liquor store. On the appetizer portion of the menu, alongside fried whitebait and peanut and marinated bran dough with peanuts and black fungus, there it is: #26. Shanghai Confusion Meat.
It was somewhat disappointing when our server referred to it as “Chinese ham,” and even more so when it arrived at the table. Served chilled, it was essentially slices of canned ham, gelatin and all. Our server recommended dipping it in black vinegar and topping it with ginger, a la xiao long bao. This certainly was a different approach, but we weren't confused in the least — this was canned ham. Decent canned ham (if that isn't an oxymoron), but canned ham nonetheless. In this case, the ambiguity of the name is far more interesting than the end result. Mark this down as Lost In Translation.
The restaurant itself is split-level, with seating above the counter and take out area. An agua frescas barrel dispenser filled with marinated garlic vinegar sits atop the counter. Shanghai Dumpling House features xiao long bao and other true Chinese items, like tripe. When coupled with its cross-town counterpart, Shanghai Bamboo House, it might not yet make Monrovia a destination, but provides good options for those in the northeastern SGV that simply don't want to drive all the way to Arcadia for true Chinese cuisine.
Follow Jim Thurman on Twitter @JThur01.