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 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.
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.
Originally posted on KCET. To see the full post, click here.
There’s so much more to Chinese food than just noodles, dumplings, and rice. Los Angeles is fortunate enough to be the host of so many regional Chinese restaurants — enough that I’ve been able to highlight some of them in my articles.
We’ve covered specific provinces and cities (Shaanxi, Beijing, Shenyang, Tianjin, Hunan, and Sichuan) before, but there’s actually an entire classification system to Chinese food we’ve yet to touch on.
A brief lesson: There are eight official regional cuisines in China — lu 魯 (Shandong), hui 徽 (Anhui), su 蘇 (Jiangsu), zhe 浙 (Zhejiang), yue 粵 (Guangdong), min 閩 (Fujian), chuan 川 (Sichuan), and xiang 湘 (Zhejiang). Each of the eight embodies a specific region of China and each has its own distinct cooking style. Hui 徽, for example, is known for its heavy use of herbs and wild game. The region it encompasses is located in central China; chefs utilize the forests and uncultivated fields for their meals. Su 蘇, on the other hand, uses a lot of river fish and shrimp. They’re products of the Yangtze River, which conveniently snakes through the Jiangsu region. The food is soft; meat falls off the bone, the flavors are light, and there’s quite a bit of congee involved.
Of these eight, there are four major schools. These are most influential and prominent cooking styles. They are: chuan 川 (Sichuan), su 蘇 (Jiangsu), lu 魯 (Shandong), and yue 粵 (Guangdong).
Here’s a breakdown of these four schools and where to sample them in Los Angeles:
1. Chuan 川 (Sichuan)
The Sichuan province of China, located in the southwest region of the country, is known for its bold use of chili peppers, garlic, and the elusive Sichuan peppercorn — a spice that will literally numb your tongue. As one of the most intricate and complicated sub-cuisines within China, there are 20 different types of flavor profiles in Sichuan cooking, including dry, spicy, sour, garlicky, and sweet. Chengdu Taste in Alhambra is hands-down the best place for Sichuan in Los Angeles right now. Owner Tony Xu is a Sichuan native and regularly maintains a specials board. The wait can get impossibly long too. A tip: arrive 10 minutes before they open and stake out your spot in line. Chengdu Taste; 828 W Valley Blvd, Alhambra, CA 91803.
2. Su 蘇 (Jiangsu)
The Jiangsu region of China is commonly nicknamed “The Land of Fish and Rice.” The Yangtze River is a prominent feature of the region and so there’s an array of freshwater fish and crustaceans on menu. The Jiangsu region encompasses Nanjing, Suzhou, and Wuxi (all cities in the Jiangsu province). The flavor profiles are sweet and light. Braising is a common cooking method. Head over to San Gabriel to Wang Xing Ji for a taste of Wuxi. They specialize in soup dumplings. It’s much sweeter than the Din Tai Fung or other Shanghainese renditions, and for the novelty factor, try their “juicy crab and pork bun.” It’s so large in size, it requires a straw to suck the soup out. Wang Xing Ji; 140 W Valley Blvd, San Gabriel, CA 91776.
3. Lu 魯 (Shandong)
Shandong is a province in Northern China and the cooking styles extend to Beijing, Hebei, Henan, and Tianjin. In China, lu cuisine is the most influential of the four. It shaped the food of imperial China, and in most of the north. There’s quite a bit of dough and seafood. There’s also a generous use of soy sauce, shallots, and garlic. Give Qingdao Bread Food a whirl. Qingdao is coastal city in Shandong and by virtue of its location, seafood dominates the menu. Qingdao Bread Food makes an amazing fish dumpling stuffed with cilantro. Qingdao Bread Food; 301 N Garfield Ave, Monterey Park, CA 91754.
4. Yue 粵 (Guangdong)
This is the most well-known Chinese cooking style outside of China. It’s Cantonese food, and that means dim sum plus an extensive repertoire of seafood. Yue-style chefs are extremely versatile and there’s also quite a bit of Western influences in the cooking by way of Hong Kong. Our top pick for Cantonese dim sum is Lunasia. They combine quality with massive portion sizes. Other pluses: the decor is beautiful and the servers are bilingual. Lunasia; 500 W Main St, Alhambra, CA 91801.
Originally posted on Discover Los Angeles. To see the full post, addresses and all the photos, click here.
The Chinese New Year began on Jan. 31, 2014. It’s the start of the Lunar Calendar and the onset of the agricultural season. For the Chinese, this date is single-handedly the most important holiday of the year. It’s a 15-day soiree – a time of reunion, a time for family. Each day has a new theme. The first day is for lighting fireworks and bamboo sticks, the fifth day is for dumplings, and so on. The last day of the festival is called the Yuan Xiao Festival, reserved for eating tang yuan – a sweet rice ball stuffed with sesame paste, grounded peanuts or red bean. The common link for each day is food: the half-month is filled with an abundance of dishes. After all, food is the cornerstone of Chinese culture. Traditional dishes are steeped with symbolism – many of which are homophones for lucky phrases.
Here are ten auspicious Chinese dishes and where to get them in the greater Los Angeles area.
Fish — Chengdu Taste
The word fish (yu) in Chinese sounds like the phrase for “may the new year bring prosperity” (nian nian you yu). A whole fish is required, as it symbolizes unity within the family. Preparation methods differ depending on regions. The most common one is steamed fish – garnished with ginger and infused with a light soy sauce. But try Chengdu Taste’s lion fish on for size. The Monterey Park restaurant whips up an expertly fried tilapia, served amazingly intact and glazed with a sweet and spicy sauce. It’s quite a sight and a welcome addition to any Instagram feed.
Rice cakes — Shanghai No. 1 Seafood Village
Rice cakes (nian gao) come in both sweet or savory forms. The savory versions are more common; they’re usually shaped into thin disks and then stir-fried. The sweet ones, baked and stuffed often times with red bean, start appearing in local Chinese supermarkets exclusively around the holiday time. The word nian gao correlates to the phrase “increasing prosperity year after year (nian nian gao sheng).” Most Shanghainese restaurants around town sell the savory renditions. Shanghai No. 1 Seafood Village whips up a very traditional version sautéed with onions and leafy greens.
Dumplings — Luscious Dumplings
The dumpling (jiao zhi) is shaped like an ingot, which personifies wealth. They’re the hallmark of the fifth day of the Chinese New Year. It’s the birthday of the God of Wealth. The associated saying is gen shui jiao zhi, which means “ring out the old year and ring in the new.” Luscious Dumpling on Las Tunas Drive is a solid choice for fantastic homemade jiao zhis. According to popular legend, the more dumplings you eat during the new year, the more money you can accumulate in the upcoming cycle.
Noodles — Silk Road Garden
Noodles are a symbol of longevity, the longer the better. They’re usually served uncut. Head over to Rowland Heights’ Silk Road Garden for some of the lengthiest noodles the county has to offer. Silk Road is a Xinjiang specialist and their laghman noodles are strikingly long. They’re served with lamb, tomatoes, wood ear mushrooms and bell peppers.
Poultry — Sam Woo
A whole poultry is symbolic of unity and a harmonious marriage between families. Chicken or duck is usually served whole with the head and feet attached. Sam Woo sells whole duck by the dozens. The carcass is air-dried for hours until the skin is like paper and then glazed with a maltose sugar coating. This is the Cantonese method of preparation. You can order a whole duck for the family, or if you dine in, get it served cut-up accompanied with a wonderfully tasty sweet and sour sauce on the side.
Mustard Greens — Tofu King
Mustard greens (jie cai) are a standard vegetable dish for the celebration. They’re also known as chang nian cai, which translates to “perennial vegetables.” This vegetable is a symbolic proponent for longevity – the associated phrase is chang chang jiu jiu, which means “long life.” They can be found at any Chinese restaurant around town. Tofu King in Arcadia has a simple version, topped with a bit of minced pork for extra flavor.
Shrimp — Yunnan Garden
Shrimp is pronounced xia in Mandarian and ha in Cantonese. The words sound like laughter, so shrimp is consumed during the Lunar New Year in hopes of annual happiness. Spice lovers should head over to Yunnan Garden in San Gabriel, where whole shrimp is sautéed in a heaping of dry chili peppers. The sight is bound to cause even the most die-hard spice lovers some apprehension but it’s well worth it. Each bite is bursting with flavor.
Sweet rice balls — Emperor Noodle
These sweet rice balls (tang yuan in Southern China, yuan xiao in Northern China) are usually eaten during the last day of the celebration, when the full moon comes out. The glutinous rice balls are traditionally stuffed with sesame paste, grounded peanuts or red bean. The roundness of the rice ball is supposed to be indicative of a complete circle of harmony within the family. Emperor Noodle in San Gabriel serves a beautiful traditional tang yuan soup spiked with sweet rice wine and dried Osamanthus flowers. Order it for dessert, it’s an ideal way to top off dinner.
Turnip Cakes — Four Sea
Turnip cakes are embraced in Taiwan because the Taiwanese pronunciation for turnip cake (cai tao gui) is a homonym for a Taiwanese phrase of good luck, “hao cai tao.” These cakes are made from daikon radishes, steamed and then pan-fried on the sides. They’re typically found at your local dim sum eatery or at Taiwanese breakfast establishments. For a quick bite, head to Four Sea Restaurant, which has one of the largest selections of Taiwanese breakfast items in LA. Their turnip cake is made crispy on all sides and topped with a fried egg.
Spring roll — Lunasia
The Chinese word for spring roll (chun juan) literally mean “spring” and “roll.” The golden color of the fried spring rolls represent gold bars, which of course, symbolizes wealth. Most Cantonese dim sum restaurants carry the rolls on their menu. At Lunasia in Alhambra, the portion sizes are massive and the spring rolls are deep-fried and stuffed with a generous helping of shrimp.
Originally posted on KCET. For the full article and more photos, click here.The Lunar New Year falls on Friday, January 31 and Chinese families around the globe are already prepping for their New Year Eve banquet. It’s single-handedly the most important holiday of the year — a 15-day observation littered with family time, red envelopes stuffed with money, and tons of symbolic food to ring in the start of the agricultural season.
For those with a sweet tooth, here are five appropriate desserts for your Chinese New Year feasts. Most of these delicacies can be either purchased at local Chinese supermarkets or sampled at Chinese dim sum restaurants.
1. Rice Cakes
The Chinese word for rice cake is nian gao, which is a homophone for increased prosperity. Rice cakes are crafted with sweet rice flour and mixed with milk, white sugar, and sometimes sweetened red bean paste. The texture is akin to mochi but it offers much more resistance and is often slightly crispy on the sides — depending on the version.
2. Eight Treasure Rice
Eight is a lucky number in Chinese culture and true to the dessert’s name, it really has eight different types of treasures — like red bean, lotus and other various dried fruit — overlaid on top. It’s a common dessert used to top off a family-style banquet. The glutinous rice is soaked in sugar and butter, then topped with sweetened lotus, dates, and fruits. The word eight in Chinese also sounds similar to the word “prosper.”
3. Candied Lotus Seeds
Candied lotus seeds, pronounced lian zhi, in Chinese sounds like the phrase “connected with children.” It’s supposed to symbolize a long line of offsprings. The crystallized lotus seeds are cooked in a syrup and then dried.
4. Tang Yuan
These sweet rice balls are the hallmark dessert of the Chinese New Year, often consumed during the 15th day of the celebration. Tang yuan is the sugary equivalent of a dumpling, often infused with black sesame, red bean, or grounded peanuts. It’s an auspicious dessert because the roundness of the delicacy signifies unity within the family.
Kumquats are a symbol of prosperity because the Chinese translation of kumquat means “gold orange.” They are often served plain, or preserved with sugar. The entire tree is often displayed in the home or given as gifts.
Originally posted on KCET. See the full piece here.
Community supported agriculture (CSA) is all the rage these days. Here, CSA refers to subscription-based programs wherein customers sign up for a box of fresh produce, delivered or picked up on a regular schedule. The offerings are sourced directly from local farms and what you get is completely contingent on the member farms and what’s currently in season.
There are a ton of them in Southern California and they have become a popular way to ensure fresh, healthier home dining.
Founded in the summer of 2013, Roots CSA is one of many local CSA options. But their target audience is different from the norm: rather than targeting upscale neighborhoods full of disposable income, Roots is dedicated to bringing fresh, Asian vegetables to the Asian communities in Southern California.
I stumbled across Roots while doing research on organic produce in the San Gabriel Valley. A predominately Asian and Latino community in the eastern corridor of Los Angeles County, the San Gabriel Valley rarely sees restaurants committed to serving organic food.
Chinese restaurateurs tend to cite high costs and lack of demand for avoiding organic purveyors. Chinese cuisine is traditionally cheap; through my interactions with these restaurants, I’ve noticed that they all source their produce and meats in bulk and from the same vendors. The same sort of mindset is applicable toward the different Asian communities throughout Los Angeles. Organic is not a priority.
Roots CSA is a game-changer in that regard. They stand out because they’re a) a non-profit; b) serving Asian communities throughout the Southland; and c) sourcing from farmers who specialize in Asian produce.
The group was formed in conjunction with the non-profit, Asian Pacific Islander Obesity Prevention Alliance in Los Angeles. While the employees are paid for their time, all of the profits from the CSA boxes goes to the farms.
You sign up online and will get a box of produce every other week. The price is $60 per season (three months) and pick-ups occur every other week. It’s a grand total of six boxes per $60.
There are no rollovers; produce that isn’t picked up for the week is donated.
They currently serve Historic Filipino Town, the San Gabriel Valley, and the Orange County. According to organizers, they’re looking to expand to Little Tokyo, Thai Town, and within local colleges.
While Roots is intended to cater to the Asian community, anyone can sign up — you just have to come pick up your produce boxes at the designated locations.
Roots is currently in partnership with three farmers. In Historic Filipino Town, they partner with Cha Her, a Hmong farmer who owns Her Farms in Fresno, California. For the San Gabriel Valley, the produce comes from Greenshower Organic Farm, a two-acre plot in Rowland Heights. In Orange County, the vegetables are sourced from Beyond Bok Choy Farm in Fresno. While the farms aren’t certified organic, they abide by organic practices and some of them are in the process of obtaining their certification.
While the boxes occasionally come with more commonly-seen produce, the focus is really on Asian vegetables. Selections include baby bok choy, gai lan, yu choy, Chinese eggplant, napa cabbage, yams, Thai basil, Chinese green beans, and daikon. The website has a running archive of recipes and subscribers are notified on what exactly is in their box for the week. If ever you were interested in cooking with new vegetables…
Would you rather a) travel to multiple places, but only get to stay at each place for a day or b) be able to go to a few places, but really get to know the cities?
I would always pick the latter. I consider myself fortunate whenever I get to experience a city through the eyes of the locals. It’s one thing to explore a city a la tour books, but it’s another to be able to eat at someone’s favorite place and eat all of their tried and true dishes.
Great China Restaurant in Berkeley was one of the local gems I got to explore during my time up there. Marvelous decor and tasty selections.
“Our Chinese restaurants up here aren’t as good as Los Angeles’,” someone actually told me, almost apologetically.
I disagree. The Chinese food scene may not be as prolific as Los Angeles, but the Chinese food (that I’ve tried so far) in and of itself was quite delicious.
While Great China markets itself as a bougie eatery, it’s really just your run-of-the-mill family-style eatery. I noticed Beijing, Shandong and Cantonese influences in their menu. My favorites were the duck and the lapi — a mung bean noodle dish made with egg, carrots, garlic and cucumber. It’s drenched in a vinegar sauce and paired with Chinese hot mustard.