5 Great Yunnan Restaurants in Los Angeles

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Originally published on KCET Food

I’ve traveled to Yunnan once before, where I stayed in the ancient city of Lijiang. Nicknamed Shangri-La (a synonym for paradise), Yunnan is one of the most gorgeous provinces of China, highly praised by poets and landscape artists for its sweeping topography and deep blue lakes. Cool fact: It is also the home to the highest concentration of ethnic minorities in China.

The buildings in Lijiang, under a government mandate, were preserved to reflect its 800 year old history. It’s a place of cobblestone streets, courtyards, curved Chinese roofs, and more importantly — pungently spicy cuisine.

The food is marked by a liberal use of spices, fresh produce, and a mind-boggling array of wild mushrooms that are able to thrive simply because of the nearly pollution-free landscape.

While the American rendition of Yunnan cuisine hardly compares to what you can actually get in Yunnan itself, it’s the closest we’ll ever get to Shangri-La.

The list is below.

Yun Noodle House
Located inside of a food court, Yun Noodle House is Yunnan cuisine done fast and easy. They specialize in crossing over bridge noodles, a dish akin to America chicken noodle soup, but with rice noodles instead of wheat. Yun’s rendition contains all the essential ingredients: chicken slices, bean curd sheets, and bean spouts in a fragrant chicken broth. Ingredients are prepared separately and combined tableside.1220 S Golden W Ave., Ste E, Arcadia, CA 91007; (626) 446-1668.

Yun Chuan Garden
Yun Chuan consistently remains the best place to get Yunnan bites in Los Angeles. This Monterey Park location cooks up an amazing spicy chicken cube platter, spiked generously with dried peppercorns. Another crowd favorite? The cured pork with mushrooms. The pork has a jerky-like texture and is sauteed with a generous amount of leeks, fresh peppers, and mushrooms. Beware, it’s extremely spicy. 301 N Garfield Ave, Monterey Park, CA 91754; (626) 571-8387.

Yunnan Garden
Yunnan Garden used to be affiliated with Yun Chuan Garden, and so a lot of their menu items are the same. If we had to pick one item, though, it would be the sour white pork, pronouncedsuan ni bai rou in Chinese. The pork is sliced so thinly it resembles wax paper. It’s layered on top of bean sprouts and then topped off with a heap of chili oil and vinegar. 545 W Las Tunas Dr., San Gabriel, CA 91776; (626) 308-1896.
Honorable mentions: 168 Garden in San Gabriel is another restaurant dedicated to spicy, Yunnan fare. Spicy City, also in San Gabriel, though dedicated to Chonqing cuisine, has some Yunnan specialty items like crossing over bridge noodles on their menu.


3 Great Shanxi Noodle Eateries in Los Angeles

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Shanxi (not to be confused with Shaanxi) is a northern Chinese province not all that far away from Beijing. The cuisine is famous for handmade noodles — hand-pulled, hand-kneaded, and knife-shaved, among others. In fact, it is said that Shanxi is the home of the Chinese noodle, and it’s the province Marco Polo visited before he, allegedly, took the recipes back to Italy and Europe.

Here are three great places in Los Angeles to get your Shanxi noodle fix.

New Mandarin Noodle Deli
The owner is from Shanxi and the menu boasts six different types of noodles. You can choose a broth and protein, but we highly recommend gravitating toward the lamb selections — the region’s specialty. The chef also has quite a repertoire of self-invented beef rolls, creations he’s proud of because “Americans love it. It’s like a burrito.” 9537 Las Tunas Dr., Temple City, CA 91780; 626-309-4318.

JTYH is actually named Heavy Noodle II, but passersby often confuse the name of the plaza, JTYH, with the name of the actual restaurant. This is a dao xiao mian specialist, dao xiao meaning knife-shaved. Chef Shi Peng (above) made his own knife and has been under the toque for 27 years. No MSG is used. 9425 Valley Blvd., Rosemead; 626-442-8999.

Kam Hong Garden
Kam Hong whips up a mean tomato and egg cold noodle dish, and the texture is one of the best in Los Angeles. The chef is a Shanxi native and has put over 50 permutations of noodle dishes on the menu. Noodles are made three different ways: hand-kneaded, hand-pulled, and knife-shaved. 848 E. Garvey Ave., Monterey Park; 626-280-9318.

Introducing Curated Gnomes: Curated Culinary Experiences + Chinese Food Tours!!


So I’ve been leading Chinese food tours in the San Gabriel Valley for awhile. It’s been pretty casual — consisting of a couple posts on this blog and my social media accounts. I’ve led three on-camera tours, two private group ones, and at least five to six public tours.

It’s been a weird, sporadic journey…but I finally pulled it together and created a company for my tours. It’s called Curated Gnomes. Gnomes = a play on the word nom.

Though we’re sticking to Chinese food tours right now, we’re currently in the works of bringing in other food bloggers & experts to curate their own tours and events. The catch? Everything has to have an educational angle.

Our next tours are Sunday, March 23 + Saturday, April 5.

All the details here.

Recipe: Sichuan Mapo Tofu


Originally posted on KCET. See the full post here.

Mapo tofu is a classic Sichuan dish. It’s soft tofu cubes, swimming in a wonderful sauce of garlic-infused chili and ground pork. The secret ingredient is the Sichuan peppercorn — a spice that will numb your tongue and produce a citrusy aftertaste. Like with any dish, there are an infinite number of permutations to the order and ingredients. My recipe is inspired by Theresa Lin — dubbed “the Julia Child of Taiwan” by Academy Award-winning director Ang Lee.

Lin was the food stylist for the Oscar-nominated movie “Eat, Drink, Man, Woman;” a former television personality back in her Taiwan days; and the author of 16 cookbooks. Today, she resides in Rancho Cucamonga and is the host of a Sunday morning Chinese radio program where she doles out cooking tips to eager listeners. I spent an evening at her home, where she made mapo tofu for me and broke down the process step by step.

The dish took her ten minutes to whip up, but take your time with this. Feel free to adjust the peppercorn amount if you can’t take the heat. Do all the prep beforehand, fire up some white rice, and get a wok ready.

Mapo Tofu
This recipe was inspired by Theresa Lin. Serves 4.

1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 tbsp ground Sichuan peppercorns
1 tsp minced ginger
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 stalks green onion, minced
1/4 ground pork
3 tbsp sambal sauce (I use the Huy Fong brand)
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp vinegar
1 block soft tofu, drained and cut into 1-inch cubes
1 tsp sugar
2 tsp sesame oil
1/4 cup chicken stock
1 tbsp cornstarch
2 tsp peppercorn chili oil

Heat up the wok to high heat and then add oil. Put in the 1 tablespoon of peppercorns, and let it sit for about one minute. Take the peppercorns out, leaving only the oil.

Turn the heat down to medium. Add minced ginger, garlic, and a pinch of the green onions. These are the three basic aromatics of Chinese cooking. Sautee for a couple of seconds, then add ground pork.

Throw in the sambal sauce and soy sauce. Add a teaspoon of vinegar, but to the side of the wok.

Add in the tofu, fold gently and be careful not to break the pieces.

Next, add the sugar and sesame oil, then 1/4 cup chicken stock. Bring to a boil.

Add corn starch and stir for 20 seconds until the mixture is thickened, then add peppercorn chili oil. Turn heat off.

Garnish with the remaining green onions. Serve over white rice.

The Most Troubling Quotes From My Diaries

Recently I’ve been doing a lot of soul-searching. Who am I, who do I want to be, and most importantly — how can I live out my life to its fullest potential?

To my memory, I’ve never been a particularly satisfied person. I’ve always wanted more and more, and when I couldn’t get what I wanted, I became depressed.

Recently I decided to dig out my diaries — entires penned from 10-year-old me onwards. They’re cringe-worthy (to say the least)…but they reveal a lot about who I am, and why I am the way I am.

1556463_10201886019565426_767483295_o2001: (10 years old)
“Sometimes I hate my brother because he gets all the attention. My parents thinks he is so cute but to me he looks like the uglyiest asian in the world! And every single time he does something that makes my parents mad they just hug him. And when I do something bad my parents scold me. Life is soo unfair.”

“I can’t wait until I grow up. Then I could be free! Now I am like a trapped bird in a cage.”

2002: (11 years old)
“I have been begging my mom for eyeshadow. She has bought me glitter, but still, I’m ugly. Period. But when I am not looking in the mirror, I feel like a beautiful person, but outer appearances matter. Never in my life, no one has liked me. Why me?”

2005: (14 years old)
“I hate being the normal. The regular, quite azn gurlie. Fugly and not special. no guy has ever told me they liked me, or no one else did. I wish, I can be unique. Not someone out in the crowd, but center stage.”

“Dreams don’t come true. Happily ever afters are rare. I’m a speck in this faceless world. I have little impact on people. I’m just another face. A hated face. I can’t spend time on what i want. It won’t happen.”

2006: (15 years old)
“I’ve been taught to be so friggin reserved my whole damn life that I can barely write down my feelings. If I’m not allowed to even express myself out loud, can’t I just do it on paper?”

“Dear God. Please just give me that A. I’m so close. It’s like a big obstacle in my life right now and it’s really suffocating me.”

2008: (18 years old)
“I’m somewhat disillusioned with my identity. I’m Asian — thus, I feel, somewhat inferior. Because I’m Asian, I don’t feel in any way attractive. Because I’m Asian, I don’t feel I can voice my voice confidently. I have ultimately suppressed my voice.”

“My worst fear? Becoming like Charlotte in Pride and Prejudice — marrying a guy that will provide her basic happiness. I’m terrified of simply loving a guy. I want to be madly in love, and I want him to erase my anxieties.”

“I hate this conservative mind barrier that I have.”

“For once in my life, someone noticed me and did something about it. He’s cute yeah, but it’s awkward. A part of me wants him to like me but I know nothing will come out of this.”

2009 (19 years old)
“I put so much hope into him. It hurts so much I don’t think I’ve ever cried this much for a boy.”

“He’s an idiot that makes you miserable. he didn’t have an urge to talk to you for a week. Reread your diary.”

“All he does is make me miserable. I want to feel wanted, needed.”

2010 (20 years old)
“I can’t leave him. I’m too engrossed in this relationship.”

“Until now, I didn’t know the human heart was capable of so much pain. I can’t stop crying. What did I do to deserve this? While other boyfriends prioritize their girlfriends and care for them — mine is someone who I have to fight for and continue to fight for.”

2012 (21 years old)
“It’s over.”

“Three to four years from now, when I read this, what will I think. Will I finally be happy?”


The negativity is striking… and I know exactly why I was who I was. A heavy, toxic religious upbringing, strict Chinese conservatism, Asian in America. I was rarely praised, only criticized, my accomplishments were never celebrated, only dismissed. I was never told I was beautiful, only told what I could improve on…the list goes on. I never felt good enough, because no one ever told me I was good enough. And as a 10-year-old child, I needed to hear that. Because I never believed it.

I transferred the negativity to my younger brother. I constantly criticized him. As a result, our relationship became dangerously competitive and spiteful.

The cycle fed itself and I became critical and hurtful towards myself. I never felt satisfied: in my career, with my friends, with my love life. While my perpetual dissatisfaction helped my career reach new heights, it stunted my emotional health.

When I finally did get a boyfriend, I was clearly in a toxic relationship..and knew it a month in. Yet I was terrified of ending it because I thought I didn’t deserve better. That ended up dragging on for 3.5 years…to no one’s benefit.

A lot has changed since. I’ve learned a lot more about myself and no longer pen bottomless rants about what I hate about myself. Regardless, I still go through phases of negativity and self-doubt.

“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” ― Søren Kierkegaard

Better late than never. Time to really turn this ship around.

Recipe: Tang Yuan, Glutinous Sweet Rice Balls


Originally posted on KCET. See the full article here.

Chinese New Year is winding down. In fact, this year, February 14 marks the last day of the 15-day festival. While the Western world celebrates Valentine’s Day, the Chinese are saying goodbye to festivities with the Lantern Festival — also known as yuanxiao jie 元宵节.
These sweet rice balls are the hallmark dessert of the New Year celebration, specifically the last night. They’re the sugary equivalent of a dumpling, often infused with black sesame, red bean, or ground peanuts. It’s an auspicious dessert because the round shape of the delicacy signifies unity within the family.

It’s usually simply served the water it was boiled in, but can also be boiled in a sweetened syrup flavored with ginger, fermented sweet rice, or red bean.

Stuffed Red Bean Glutinous Rice Balls
Here’s a recipe, adapted from Annie Lin from the Taiwanese American Professionals chapter in Los Angeles.

Makes 20

1 cup glutinous rice flour, plus more to dust
1/3 cup lukewarm water
Red bean paste (can be purchased at most Asian grocery stores)
Food coloring (optional)

In a mixing bowl, add 1/3 cup of lukewarm water to the glutinous rice flour, gently stirring with a spoon as you slowly pour in the water.

Gently knead the dough with to form a ball. If a dough ball does not easily form, add a teaspoon of water at a time and continue to knead until a dough ball forms and is the consistency of soft putty.

Bring a small saucepan of water to a boil. Pinch off a 1-inch round piece of dough and flatten into a disk with the palms of your hand and place the dough into the boiling water. Once the dough floats, remove it with a sieve.

Add the boiled dough to the rest of the dough, and knead until it becomes uniform in consistency. You can divide the dough and add a few drops of food coloring if you want colored glutinous rice balls.

Roll into a 1-inch thick log and break into equal pieces of the desired size.

Roll each piece of dough into a sphere with the palm of your hands. Press your thumb into the center of the dough to form a little nest. Place the red bean filling in the middle of the dough, gently draw the edges of the dough up around the ball, seal, and roll into a sphere. Place on a plate lightly dusted with glutinous rice flour, and cover with a clean kitchen towel to prevent them from drying out while you finish making the rest of the stuffed glutinous rice balls.

Place the rice balls in boiling water, gently stir, and wait for them to float to the surface. Lower the heat to a simmer and wait for the rice balls to slightly expand before gently scooping them out with a sieve and placing in the soup/liquid you will be serving them in. Feel free to add rock sugar, ginger, boiled red beans, or fermented sweet rice to the soup.

Announcing my Food Tour Giveaway Winner

As some of you guys know, I had a food tour giveaway set up for the entire month of January. The whole thing was sponsored by the Law Offices of Scott Warmuth, a personal injury and immigration attorney based in San Gabriel.

I’ve drawn the winner and her name is Eileen Tien! Turns out she also has a food blog. I can’t wait to meet her and her friends. As part of the contest, she’ll be treated to a personalized food tour of the San Gabriel Valley led by yours truly.

A huge thank you to everyone who entered. “LIKE” my Facebook page for news on new giveaways, or just sign up for a food tour. $65 for four hours of noshing. Here’s the schedule page. I have two planned in the upcoming month.