While the Lunar New Year is today, Westfield Santa Anita went all out and brought in the Year of the Ram with traditional dances, calligraphy, food, games and Hello Kitty last Sunday. And in true Southern California style, it was bright, sunny and in the 70s while they did it.
Memories of hot pot have always involved family and friends around one or two boiling pots of broth on hot plates, set upon the dining room table and enjoyed over conversation, often during the holidays such as Lunar New Year. Sometimes, it was simply the way my mom handled a meal when there were going to be a lot of people coming over for dinner. Raw cut meats, vegetables, bean thread noodles, and tofu were laid out on the table, waiting their turn to get dunked, cooked, then retrieved before being dipped into a personal bowl of XO sauce beat with a raw egg, and eaten.
Perhaps the Taiwanese burger is so-named more because of Bun Bun Tea House’s location in Arcadia than as a result of its origin. Modeled after MOS Burger, which is popular in Taiwan but originated in Japan (and is now the second-largest fast-food franchise in Japan after McDonald’s), the burgers at this Arcadian tea house are a delight.
It’s no matter that no one else in California even does these burgers – or maybe it is. They’ve got the monopoly onÂ Taiwanese burgers but theÂ ones I’ve tried at Bun Bun are solid. I really enjoyed the crispy textures of the rice bun and the “patties” were chock full of flavor. There is no ketchup and mustard in this burger (thoughÂ they are available if for some reason youÂ shouldÂ want them); instead, you’ll find your burger seasoned with either their house aioli or with its burger-specific glaze.
You can get a regularÂ fresh-baked-dailyÂ bun at Bun Bun, but the rice buns are rationale forÂ my trek out to Arcadia. My personal favorite was the combination of the crispyÂ rice bun with black pepper steak. And maybe it should be disclosed, here, thatÂ I haveÂ a love-hate relationship with black pepper steak: It was the best preparedÂ dish at the lone authentic-ish Chinese restaurant in Milwaukee my parentsÂ and I frequented during my childhood (we had to order it every time). Without implying that it’sÂ a difficult thing to prepare,Â this black pepper steak certainly topped that. The beef was tender and not over-peppered.Â There was just the right amount of sauceÂ – and since I only had a bite of a dining companion’s, I will certainly order this on my next visit.
I did enjoy my spicy chicken “patty,” or filling, as well – but there’s just something about the combination of the black pepper beef with rice that sings. Do beware of the American cheese, however, as a topping on the other burgers. I’m not sure what it is about a prevalent fascination with generallyÂ low-quality, oilyÂ cheese in Asian cuisine, but Bun Bun Burger is not exempt. I’m Asian – but I’m also from Wisconsin.
The fries are of no detail. They’re skinny and they’re delicious. They’ll have you reaching from the table to your mouth with faster frequency than even your $4.50 almond milk tea. Yes, the fries are really that good and yes, your tea (with or without boba) will cost you half as much as your burger-fry combo ($8.50). But that’s okay in Taiwanese burger land, because how would they otherwise make their profit margin what is a sit-down tea house experience without tea?
There is a short list of reasons I will get up before 9 AM on a Saturday morning. A very short list. Of course, I wouldn’t be a food blogger without a few of those having to do with food (e.g. beating the dim sum crowd), and I’ve just added “Taiwanese food tour” to that list.
So if you choose the “Delicious Dumpling” Six Taste food tour, be prepared that Arcadia is where you’ll have to drive on a weekend morning – but you can rest assured that the trip is well worth it. You won’t have to get in your car again until the conclusion and when you do leave, you’ll be properly sated as you depart (unfortunately, this does not apply to vegetarians).
Arcadia is the 3rd largest Taiwanese population outside of the native island, with San Marino to the north being the 2nd (meanwhile, my own Taiwanese parents decided on Wisconsin). As always, it’s best to go to the source, or at least where a majority of ex-pats migrated to from the source.
Krista (Brand X), Marian (Marian the Foodie), Cathy (Gastronomy Blog) and I started out at J.J. Bakery, guided by Arcadia native Michael, our tour guide for the morning. We learned about common characteristics of Taiwanese pastries. Then, we moved on to the notorious Din Tai Fung, the definite focus of the tour. The Taiwanese dumpling chain known for their delicate skinned pouches filled with soup and pork rarely disappoints. Michael showed us tea etiquette and how to properly eat our shiao long bao, by poking or biting a hole into the dumpling and pouring out the soup onto our spoon. No soy sauce – just black vinegar and ginger – should accompany the bite-size dumpling.
Afterwards, we walked to the neighboring plaza to try out SinBala, so-named after the chantings of a Taiwanese dice game. Here, we tried Taiwanese sausages with various dressings, like traditional garlic slices, shredded basil and mango. We also tried chili wontons, an oyster pancake (a common Taiwan night market treat) and fried pork chop. Most were not too keen on the oyster pancake (in fact, I like the egg runnier than it was prepared) but the sausages and the wontons went over well.
Our last stop was a goods shop that shared a space with a Lollicup bubble tea store. Beef jerky and dried foods were stored in bins and we were free to taste anything that so pleased us. It reminded me of my last trip to Taiwan, when we visited a Hakka village with tons of dried goods. Preserved and pickled goods were made very popular when food was scarce since they were made to last longer.
To close out the tour, we of course had some Taiwanese shaved ice with condensed milk, mangos and ice cream. It was definitely a treat – though it raised questions about the fluffier shaved snow. That will have to wait until our self-guided Taiwanese tour that a few bloggers and I will inevitably do another Saturday.
Though I’m Taiwanese in blood and have visited the Motherland enough times to count on both hands, I still learned a lot on the tour about Taiwanese food and community in Southern California (not being fluent or literate will stunt things in that area). Six Taste also conducts tours in so many other areas of Metro LA, with the Taiwanese tour being the east-most based tour. For the uninitiated, with visitors and residents alike, it’s a great way to get shown the ropes on the neighborhood you’re most curious about.