Before I could even enter Alhambra's Korean dumpling factory, Green Chopsticks, a Jetson’s-style hygienic chamber washed my hands, automatically misting hand sanitizer. Then I was forced to embrace my inner-lunch lady desires and put on a chic black hairnet. And last, but not least, the coolest part of all came when I stepped into the airtight “Air-Shower” chamber for a quick sanitizing, powerful breeze. It was hot that day so the strong blasts of air to clean off any debris and outdoor bacteria from my clothing hit the spot!
For the past two years, Green Chopsticks has been producing 161,280 Korean dumplings a day, as well as frozen dumplings, roasted seaweed, fresh kimchi and other prepared Korean foods in heart of industrial Alhambra. The factory is on Palm Street, right across the street from Alhambra foodie favorite La Cafeina Taqueria and on the way to Costco. (You know, in one of those huge buildings where you never know what takes place behinds its thick concrete walls?)
A few months ago, I received an email asking if I was interested in taking a dumpling factory tour. I’ve been writing about restaurants in the Alhambra area for the last five years on my personal food blog and often receive invites to restaurants and bars, but this is the first time I’d heard directly from a factory. Apparently, the company’s 35-year-old vice president, Christian Park, is doing things a little bit differently than your average frozen and prepared food factory. Along with sales assistant John Hang, 28, he is embracing the power of social media and local foodbloggers to share the authentic Korean dumpling gospel.
“I try to run the factory like you would a food truck, constantly updating people with what we are up to,” Hang said. They’re also mobile, hitting four Costco’s around the country a week giving out samples. Like a modern gourmet food truck, they use Twitter and Facebook daily to inform consumers which one they will be at next.
The assembly line process being applied to these delicious tiny wrapped entrees blew me away. An employee fed the rolled out, freshly kneaded dough into the machine which then sliced it into rectangular squares, stuffed it scantly with the pork fillings. The company uses a Korean family recipe, thus, these are “Mandu” dumplings. The wrapper is on the thinner side than most Chinese dumplings and the filling is heavy on the green onion.
The machine then folded it into the most perfect, uniform dumpling. A conveyor belt passed them every so slowly under a steamer then finally into a flash-blast freezer. Another difference is that Chinese dumplings are usually sold raw, these are pre-cooked. And chill! They contain no MSG. Throughout the whole process, a few employees kept surveillance on the dumplings and pick out any imperfect ones. The whole process makes me proud of the odd forms that human ingenuity takes and the wonders of the industrial revolution.
Green Chopsticks products are at Costco's around the country (you can't actually buy them at the factory or online yet but they are working on it).
And FYI, their dumplings are actually more popular in areas where Asians are more of a minority, in particular, cities like Culver City, Canoga Park, Los Feliz, San Luis Obispo, Santa Monica etc.
If enough readers are interested, they have agreed to offer industrial dumpling tours to the public. Shoot John Hang an email for more details jHang@cyrusa.com.