First Taste: Pine & Crane Tailors Taiwanese Dishes to Silver Lake

Pine & Crane Storefront in Sunset Triangle Plaza

As a 2nd generation Taiwanese American, I often wondered during childhood how different my life would’ve been if, like many of their classmates in Southern Taiwan, my parents had settled in Arcadia, California instead of New Berlin, Wisconsin. My only access to Taiwanese (adamantly never Chinese) food was through my Mom’s cooking.

As the 4th of 4 kids, though, my parents were financially able to travel by the time I rolled around, and I luckily traveled to California and Taiwan often to keep somewhat in contact with my roots. As my palate matured and diversified over the years, it was also groomed for the innate craving for noodles, broth and spice I continually have today.

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Pingtung Brings Pan-Asian Café Favorites to Melrose

Neighborhood Hot Spot

It’s curious that Pingtung is called an “Eat-in Market,” the “market” designation perhaps being a way of propping up the Asian goods that lie on overhead (to me) shelves along the sides of the deep-drawn cafe. Though I have a few guilty snack pleasures such as Yan Yan, Shrimp Chips, that clear, Japanese soda with the swingy little ball, Calpico and the like, I’d make the trek to 99 Ranch, Mitsuwa or Zion if I wanted to go Asian grocery shopping. (I’m trying to cut down on the snacks, much less MSG-laden ones, anyway.)

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Taiwanese Burgers at Bun Bun Tea House, Arcadia

Black Pepper Rice Bun Burger

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.

Spicy Chicken Rice Bun Burger

It’s no matter that no one else in California even does these burgers – or maybe it is. They’ve got the monopoly on Taiwanese burgers but the 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 (though they are available if for some reason you should want them); instead, you’ll find your burger seasoned with either their house aioli or with its burger-specific glaze.

You can get a regular fresh-baked-daily bun at Bun Bun, but the rice buns are rationale for my trek out to Arcadia. My personal favorite was the combination of the crispy rice bun with black pepper steak. And maybe it should be disclosed, here, that I have a love-hate relationship with black pepper steak: It was the best prepared dish at the lone authentic-ish Chinese restaurant in Milwaukee my parents and I frequented during my childhood (we had to order it every time). Without implying that it’s a difficult thing to prepare, this black pepper steak certainly topped that. The beef was tender and not over-peppered. There was just the right amount of sauce – and since I only had a bite of a dining companion’s, I will certainly order this on my next visit.

Bun Bun Storefront

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 generally low-quality, oily 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?

Also check out this great Q&A of co-owner Calvin Yao by Duke Chao on Taiwan543.net.

Tue – Thu 11:30 AM – 10:30 PM
Fri – Sun 11:30 AM – 11:30 PM

Bun Bun Tea House
651 W Duarte Rd, Ste C
Arcadia, CA 91007
626.446.4168

Class 302: Where Ice Is Turned To Shaved Snow

Green Tea Shaved Snow With Mochi and Red Bean

With Southern California “June Gloom” wearing off now thanks to July, it has me craving cold dessert. Cold as ice – or, cold as snow in this case.

Mango Shaved Snow With Mochi

I had heard about the “upgrade” to traditional Taiwanese shaved ice from Danny, Cathy and a few others, in that the condensed milk is actually folded into the ice for some serious creamy-sweet-cold integration. Whereas the plastic tops sealing cups of milk tea at boba shops were probably the last technology in Taiwanese desserts I was aware of, this one seems to be an actual revolution of dessert itself.

I can get behind that.

Pudding Shaved Snow With Syrup

When I saw that the snow actually came out in sheets, each dish was a massive landscape and sweet firestorm to behold. No more crunchy ice or uneven distribution of condensed milk from bite to bite. Just good ol’, cold, sweet, soft and creamy (yet airy?) goodness. You can get varieties with caramel pudding on the bottom and syrup on top, another with strawberries and mango. My personal favorites, though, were the mango-flavored snow with mangos and mochi (for some potent mango goodness) and the green tea-flavored snow with red bean and mochi topping (expressly for your matcha tooth).

On the weekend, you’ll be waiting quite awhile for a table at Class 302 (which is Taiwanese school code for 3rd grade, 2nd class) as they also serve food, but snow is hands-down the thing to get here. You’ll want some as we head deeper into the summer. Just remember: It’s even hotter in San Gabriel Valley, so bring friends to share flavors.

More Taiwanese discoveries to come at later dates… A girl’s gotta reconnect with her blood-native cuisine, right?

Mon – Sun

11 AM – 12 AM

Class 302
1015 S. Nogales St.
Rowland Heights, CA 91748
626.965.5809

Six Taste Food Tour: Taiwanese Food in Arcadia

Dry Wontons in Spicy Oil and Minced Garlic

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.

Juicy Pork Dumplings - Din Tai Fung

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.

Fried Pork Chop

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.

Taiwanese Sausage with Garlic

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.

Shaved Ice with Mango and Ice Cream

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.

Six Taste Food Tours: Delicious Dumpling Tour

Select Saturdays

$55

J.J. Bakery
1130 S. Baldwin Ave.
Arcadia, CA 91007

Din Tai Fung
1108 S. Baldwin Ave.
Arcadia, CA 91007

SinBala
651 W. Duarte Rd., Ste F
Arcadia, CA 91007

Taipei, Taiwan: Savory Snacks at Su Hung Restaurant

Braised pork belly, onion and cilantro

It was one of my last nights in Taiwan when my mom and I met one of her old childhood friends at Su Hung, a restaurant surprisingly located in a shopping structure adjacent to a subway station. As we ascended the stairs, a hot pot restaurant caught my eye – but I was ever lucky that Su Hung was the one that came recommended.

Loofah greens and shrimp soup dumplings

I had decided to resist the hype of Din Tai Fung, further dissuaded by word of endless waits and an eagerness to avoid being lumped into the “eating tourist” demographic. After all, why settle for the merely better-than-Arcadian version of the restaurant chain, with possibly an even worse wait? I had a bloodline to honor.

Su Hung offers not pork soup dumplings, but rather loofah-greens-and-shrimp soup dumplings. You can eat more of these than the very popular pork version and you’d be hard-pressed to find a more specialized soup dumpling anywhere else in Taipei – much less in America. There is less soup in these, but they’re a nice departure for diners looking for something lighter, a little different and less obvious.

Braised crab egg tofu

There are plenty of other dishes at Su Hung that will quench your appetite for the savory, including the very delicious tofu dish which comes in a stone pot immersed in a broth made with braised crab eggs. Though I enjoyed pretty much everything that came out from the kitchen, this was my favorite preparation of tofu during my entire Taiwan trip (and you can guess that with all the meals shared with relatives, vegetarian and non-, there were a lot). Never the brave one to crack the middle innards of a crab shell open (I’m a leg woman), I really appreciated this delicious sauce and barely fried tofu with a texture that was silken yet could hold its own to the temperature. Boiling stone pots never fail to excite me as they approach the table – and this one far exceeded even my expectations.

Simmered noodles

If you’re looking for a unique yet delicious noodle dish, order the Simmered Noodles – a simple bowl of wheat noodles-in-chicken-broth that attains its complex taste and texture by, you guessed it, simmering for a long time. It’s dressed with tiny dried shrimp and green onion, and was perfectly comforting for that rainy day we happened to eat at Su Hung. Divy up that medium-sized bowl with your dining partners, and your seconds and thirds will show you that you wished the portion was even bigger. Guess you’ll have to order another, or another of their specialties.

And of course, the title picture may evoke memories…of the East Village. Rather than being portioned out individually at Momofuku for $9 a pop, you’ll get enough green onion, wilted cilantro (just like New York) and braised pork belly to fill 6 “bao” tacos for NT $360 (USD $12). You actually are given only 4 shells to begin with, but the waitstaff will graciously bring you more should you have more honey-braised pork belly to stuff them with. Of course, this is an unfair price point and cost-of-living comparison, but it’s just one more reason this dish is a definite must-order when you dine at Su Hung. It’s your favorite Hunan-style hamburger, ever that much closer to the source.

Sesame rice crepe with red bean filling

No meal is complete without dessert, and Su Hung has the perfect version of your typical red bean-filled sesame rice balls you would otherwise see being wheeled around, cold, on carts at San Gabriel Valley dim sum. This version comes hot and flat, like a freshly-made, sweet rice crepe, with the red bean oozing out from all sides at which it is cut.

Su Hung offers unique and well-executed dishes that will surely enrich your Taipei dining experience. It was ironic that the Taipei Times’ review of the place published online on the very day I dined there. It had mostly favorable views, consistent with my pleasant experience.  It seems as though the businessmen that line their tables are really on to something – and those looking for a solid meal, period, would serve themselves well to take their cue.

11:30 AM – 2 PM
5:30 PM – 9 PM

Su Hung Restaurant
2-1, Jinan Rd Sec 1
Taipei City, Taiwan
02.2396.3186

Taipei, Taiwan: 72 Hours of Beef Noodle Soup at 72 NRM

Clear broth beef noodle soup (Ching Zuan)

I have always loved beef noodle soup. It’s easily one of my five reasons to drive to San Gabriel Valley. Before my trip to Taiwan, however, I had associated a proper bowl of noodles as having a deep, dark broth and good amounts of chili paste and oil floated in it (latter of which is added by myself). In the beginning of my trip, spent in the southern cities of Taiwan, I even had homemade Nu Riu Mian. Actually, that’s not entirely accurate. It was homemade in the sense that the broth and beef had come from a frozen packet bought at the Kaohsiung Costco, whereby you add your own, fresh noodles – and greens, if you wish. If those were available at the Culver Costco, I would become probably the only CostCo member to occupy a 1-bedroom apartment shoebox in a heartbeat.

Broth and bones

Alas, I was left to satiate my beef noodle soup cravings – along with other requisite dishes – to the best of my ability during this trip. I saved the restaurant version for Taipei, which is the city to consume a bowl as the dish is a Chinese import. It’s a specialty particularly in the capital city, as evidenced by their yearly Beef Noodle Festival. Thanks to the recommendation of Danny (KungFoodPanda), the small shop specializing in the bowl of noodles was one of my favorite stops, period. The Taiwanese in the States – and Taiwan, apparently – love acronyms, and the name of the shop was no coincidence since for their most popular bowl of soup, the broth takes 72 hours to complete. It’s also named in allegiance to its Anglo phonetics, though it was my mother whom I have to thank for translating so that I could understand the process. It is unlike any other bowl I’ve had – in both taste and color – and the broth’s complexity pretty much blew me away. The housemade noodles were also excellent and springy, tossed with slivers of fresh ginger. The beef tendon atop the clear broth was super tender. The traditional dark broth (with braised chunks of beef as opposed to the tendon) may be the more favored flavor in general, but there was good reason to wait that extra half-hour before the “clear broth” was declared ready by the shop owner, proving that they really take their broth seriously.

Traditional, dark broth beef noodle soup (Hong Zao)

It is the dark broth at 72 NRM that is ready at all times. Nevertheless, I showed restraint and kept my hands off the jar of chile paste on the table so that I might really taste the essence of the broth. It was the most flavorful yet seemingly effortless bowl of beef noodles I’ve ever had. Sometimes, in a less refined broth, I’ll find that there’s a bit of precipitate to the texture – but this broth was basically seamless with its rich flavor completely integrated. The clear broth still had more, but with that being my first bowl ever, I wouldn’t feign any sort of expertise. It stands that it had eye-openingly complex broth and amazingly fresh noodles.

The process of this broth – and the fact that it takes 72 hours to make – was intriguing enough to ask my mom for a translation. Apparently, the ingredients are simmered in cold water the entire first day. Then the temperature is brought to a medium heat during the second day in order to break down the grease. Mild heat is used on the third day in order to bring out the flavor. One and a half pounds of bones are used to make each bowl of broth. The flavors are so rich that you will “still be savoring [them] for 2 hours” after you finish your bowl.

They were right.

72 NRM
Taipei, Taiwan