Archive for the ‘Food’ Category
One of the best things about being back in Southern California is all the tasty food. When I was on the other side of the country, I would jealously read SoCal foodie blogs and take notes for my brief annual trips home. Of course, now that I’m an overworked resident with scant free time and a meager salary, it’s difficult to indulge as much as I would like. So the dream is still not quite fully realized, but a little delayed gratification only makes the pay-off all the more sweeter, right?
Luckily, after starting off with an arduous schedule and the most difficult rotations in my residency, I finally have a light month and can breathe a little. This weekend I went to the 626 Night Market with much anticipation. Modeled after the famous night markets in Taiwan and other Asian countries, the appropriately named 626 Night Market is held in San Gabriel Valley, which boasts the largest Taiwanese-American population in the USA.
Some of my fondest travel memories involve Taiwan night markets: late nights wandering crowded streets lined with loud neon signs, delicious aromas wafting through the air, snacking on comfort food while shopping for cheap cute gifts to bring home. 626 Night Market seeks to replicate that experience stateside. They fall short because clearly the atmosphere here is quite different and more akin to a county fair. But while there are definitely improvements that can be made, particularly with organization and service, I’m glad this event exists and hope it can become a regular fixture for our community.
The area of Los Angeles that I’m from is called the San Gabriel Valley. One of its claims to fame is that we have the largest Chinese community in the U.S. That equals the best Chinese food in the country, not just in terms of quality but also sheer breadth of variety. The Atlantic Monthly had a great article on this phenomenon — even though it was written a decade ago, everything in the report still holds true. Perhaps our unique situation is even more exaggerated these days, since the community has only grown larger over the past decade.
My point in bringing this up is that despite the amazing Chinese food, our Japanese restaurants in the area are comparatively lacking. We have our fair share of good places, but most would agree that the standouts are located in the Gardena / Torrance area or near Little Tokyo in downtown L.A., both quite substantial drives from the SGV. The Shin-Sen-Gumi restaurant empire, known for its authentic Japanese cuisine, operates mostly in Gardena. I only recently learned that they had opened a hakata ramen shop in Rosemead, CA (quite a bit closer to home) so I jumped at the chance to try out their ramen.
Ever since Las Vegas firmly established itself as a powerhouse city in the restaurant world, every new casino opening has proudly boasted a line-up of marquee chefs. Julian Serrano is the eponymous tapas restaurant by the chef who created Bellagio’s Picasso, one of the groundbreaking restaurants in Vegas dining. Although I do not have much experience with Spanish food, I was eager to visit Serrano, hyped by accounts that this was the highlight of the whole Aria casino. I found the food adequate but not especially impressive. Unfortunately, the experience was marred by new restaurant opening woes that left us displeased.
In the fiercely competitive Chinese restaurant industry of San Gabriel Valley, Los Angeles, new restaurants need a hook to entice diners. Bamboodles has among the most unique, featuring a rare traditional method of preparing noodles called jook sing mein. Rather than kneading dough by hand, the chef repeatedly bounces on a bamboo stick to evenly compress the dough. This produces noodles with a very firm and chewy consistency.
Celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain’s “No Reservations” TV show highlighted this special noodle in his Hong Kong episode. He portrayed the technique as a very rare and dying artform in a surprisingly poignant segment (starts 1:20 in this clip). My curiosity was sufficiently piqued to give this place a visit.
Among the numerous Taiwanese delicacies, beef noodle soup (niu rou mien aka NRM) is one of the classics and my standard order whenever trying a new Chinese restaurant. Residents of the San Gabriel Valley area of Los Angeles are blessed with no lack of restaurants that serve this delicious noodle dish.
Throughout my life, I’ve always had a couple go-to favorites for NRM that updated as old haunts closed and my tastes changed with time. Mandarin Noodle Deli in Temple City, CA has been a consistent top-runner for the past couple years, but a new champion has emerged. Boldly put, the beef noodle soup at Liang’s Kitchen is the best I’ve had in Southern California and would be a top contender in Taiwan.
For Labor Day holiday, the medical school granted Med 3s a week long break and I took advantage, escaping home to Los Angeles. L.A. is one of the great food cities but I always hit the same cluster of favorite restaurants whenever I get the scarce opportunity to fly home.
This time, however, I made a focused effort to try new places and brought along a camera to document the visits. Rather than posting half a dozen consecutive restaurant reviews, my plan is to space them out for variety. Some of these probably won’t be published until December or beyond, but this isn’t time-sensitive information anyway so no biggie.
First up is Foo-Foo Tei, a Hacienda Heights ramen shop hidden in a desolate, quiet neighborhood. Their claim to fame is a menu featuring a whopping 31 ramen varieties — hence their slogan “1 Noodle A Day”. One ambitious blogger took it literally and spent an entire month eating a different ramen every day. On my visit, I tried their most popular ramen (Nanchatte Tonkotsu). Fairly tasty, but for all of the ramen hype, the Tonkatsu Curry was my highlight.
As any busy student knows, leisurely time allocated for eating is often a luxury. Eating cheap, healthy, and fast is the elusive trinity. Many students have their own favorite go-to meals, and for me, noodles usually is part of the answer.
I formerly wasn’t very fond of Japanese cold soba noodles because I prefer my meals to be hot, but in the last few years I’ve become much more adventurous in my eating habits. This is a very simple dish to make that tastes great and is easy to modify for variety.