Meet Erik Sun: Chef, Hunter, Spearfisher, Entrepreneur

Photo by Erik Sun

Photo by Erik Sun

I don’t write profiles very often. After all, it’s been really hard to top ‘Meet David R. Chan: The Man Who Has Eaten At 6000 Chinese Restaurants.’ But Erik Sun is too interesting of a person to leave unwritten. Check out the full piece here on LA Weekly. You can check out his blog here.

Like many Angelenos, Erik Sun is serious about his food and big on eating organically – though not necessarily in the same way as most people are. His meats aren’t sourced from grocery stores or even local farms. His experience with food is much more visceral. He hunts his meats, spears his fish and skins, butchers and cooks everything himself. And yes, he does all of this in California.

“Once I was hunting a white sea bass in the San Clemente Islands. They’re tough to get because they swim in the kelp. I was ten feet under the surface and was stuck,” he says, when asked about his most frightening experience under the sea. “And I couldn’t see what was holding me down.” It turned out a fishing line was stuck on his snorkel. He eventually untangled himself and after grabbing some air, went back down to retrieve his bass.

Sea urchin diving. Photo by Erik Sun.

Sea urchin diving. Photo by Erik Sun.

It’s hard to describe what exactly Sun does, because he’s involved in so many things. On paper, he’s a serial entrepeneur, chef and hunter. He is a partner and occasional chef at Bestia, the owner of Sumora, a spearfishing equipment company and the executive chef of Bos Creek, a grass-fed and pasture-raised meat line from Montana. He does marketing for Republique and is also an avid blogger – chronicling his experience with food on his site, The Pursuit of Food.

Yet the 29-year-old somehow manages to find time to indulge in his favorite pastimes: hunting and fishing. “I grew up watching Robin Hood and always really wanted to try hunting,” Sun says.

When Sun talks about his literal pursuit of food, you can hear the excitement in his voice and how enthralled he is by the chase. “My weapon of choice is the bow,” he admits. “It forces you to get up close to the animal and it’s a much more intimate experience.”

“We talk a talk a lot about wanting to be more connected to our food and striving to eat organic,” Sun says. “These ingredients are 100% free range, true organic and the freshest and tastiest. Handpicked from the source.”

Lately, he’s a fan of the wild boar. “They come down from the mountains to eat almonds, pistachios and figs. The farmers want to get rid of them,” he says. The boars are nocturnal and so the entire hunting expedition is lighted by the moon. Sun’s schedule is gruesome: He leaves Los Angeles at 4 p.m., drives up to Bakersfield where he hunts, and comes back at 3 a.m. in the morning. (Note: a permit is needed for this type of game.)

“The pigs have a really strong sense of smell so we bring a scent block to cover human scent. I also bring a shot gun, rifle and bow,” Sun says. He once shot and brought down a 700-pound boar. “We had to use a crane to hoist it.”

Sun’s pursuit of boar didn’t come overnight; it took him two years to shoot his first pig. “But that night, I got five, which is the most I’ve ever gotten in a single trip.”

Raised in Laguna, Sun began his relationship with food in 6th grade. “I was a fan of David Rosengarten and got really into baking,” he says. In high school, he took up spearfishing after witnessing a couple of divers surfacing with skewered fish. Sun pursued a diver’s certification and by the age of 19, became the owner of Sumora – a spearfishing company which manufactures underwater guns and spears in South Africa. It was also then that he took up cooking and experimented with different flavors and ingredients.

His tip? “Spend money on really good food and dissect it,” he says. “Your palate needs to be better than your customers.”

Sun attended UCLA as an English major and after graduation, worked at HSBC in the wealth division department for a couple years until he decided to commit full-time to Sumora, where he worked on expanding the business and promoting the brand.

It wasn’t until 2008 that he got into the professional food world. During a meal out at Angelini Osteria he met Ori Menashe, then head chef at Angelini, and the restaurant’s much-lauded owner, Gino Angelini. “I was just a diner but I told Angelini, ‘I love your food and I’m going to bring you some seafood.’” That evening, Sun stayed up until 3 a.m. foraging for lobster, octopus and scallops. The three men became friends.

“I finally got Ori to go hunting with me. The first time, we got wild ducks and quail,” he said. He added, sheepishly: “We even tried eating a crow.”

In 2011, Sun and Menashe teamed up with Bill Chait to open Bestia, where Sun is a partner and occasional chef. But these days, Sun is focused on Bos Creek, a pasture-raised meat line from Montana. He’s also committed to launching another restaurant, this time in San Francisco, where the focus will be on meats. “We’re set to launch in early 2015,” he said.

And if you weren’t already impressed, there’s more. Sun is big on charity too and is heavily involved with St. Vincent Meals on Wheels, where he donates his leftover game. “Two boars last year fed 2000 people at their midnight mission,” he said. “We’re fortunate to eat good food but not everyone is fortunate to even have food.”

As for his guiding philosophy? Sun quotes the Bible: “Give a man a fish, and feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.” Maybe Sun should amend the parable to include boars.

10 Best Chinese Dumplings in Los Angeles

Manti

Originally posted on KCET Food. Check out the full piece and all the photos here.

Dumplings are an ubiquitous dish and can be found in many cultures around the world. The Polish have pierogies, the Koreans have mandu, the Japanese have gyoza, and the list goes on. But without a doubt, the Chinese are the champions of dumplings.

We’ve rounded up ten different renditions of Chinese dumplings and the best places to get them in Los Angeles:

Shuijiao @ Luscious Dumplings
Shuijiao is the Chinese word for boiled dumplings, and Luscious is the city specialist. It’s so popular that a line forms outside its doors an hour after they open and stays there until they close at 8 p.m. These are also easy to make at home too. The dough ratio is simple: use one cup water to one cup flour. 704 W Las Tunas Dr #4, San Gabriel, CA 91776.

Manti @ Silk Road Garden
Manti is a dumpling that hails from the Xinjiang, an autonomous region located in Western China. They’re stuffed with mutton and are spiced with cumin seeds, coriander, carrots, and onions. Silk Road Garden, a Xinjiang-specialist, has these in abundance; it’s one of their most popular dishes. It’s known as lamb dumpling on their menu. 18920 Gale Ave, Rowland Heights, CA 91748.

Hargow @ Lunasia
This is the dish dim sum chefs are judged on; traditionally, a har gow is supposed to have ten or more pleats. A har gow has a translucent wrapper made with wheat and tapioca and is stuffed with shrimp. Lunasia’s version is massive and manages to tuck in at least three pieces of shrimp. On menus, the English name for this is crystal shrimp dumpling. Hargow is the Cantonese pronunciation and in Mandarin, it’s pronounced xiajiao. 500 W Main St, Alhambra, CA 91801.

Xiaolongbao @ Din Tai Fung
These tiny pockets of soup are Los Angeles’ most treasured dumplings. Din Tai Fung, with a location in Arcadia and Glendale, is a worldwide chain from Taiwan that has developed quite a cult following. Xiaolong means small steaming basket and bao means bun. Prepare to wait to get a hold of these soup dumplings. We recommend the pork and crab version; it’s the most traditional of the bunch. 1088 S Baldwin Ave, Arcadia, CA 91007.

Cantonese Wonton @ Sam Woo
Wontons, known as huntun in Mandarin, have many different variations depending on the region. The wonton wrapper is a little different from shuijiao wrappers in that it includes eggs and is folded differently. The skin is thinner than regular potstickers or boiled dumplings. Sam Woo has one of the best wonton noodle soups in Los Angeles. The wonton is stuffed with pork and shrimp, and it’s served with egg noodles from Hong Kong and an intricate broth that takes days to make. 514 W Valley Blvd, Alhambra, CA 91803.

Chili Wonton @ Chengdu Taste
Chengdu Taste is undoubtedly Los Angeles’ best Chinese restaurant right now. Chef Tony Xu is dedicated to bringing to life traditional Chinese recipes, and insists that his chefs read up on the history of Sichuan cuisine.The wontons are remarkably delicate, stuffed with ground pork, and are served over a bed of light chili oil and topped with a generous heaping of scallions. Yes, it’s really spicy. 828 W Valley Blvd, Alhambra, CA 91803.

Tangyuan @ Emperor Noodle
Tangyuan are dessert dumplings wrapped in a glutinous rice skin and traditionally stuffed with red bean, black sesame, or grounded peanuts. Emperor Noodle injects their tangyuan with black sesame and serves it in a sweet rice broth topped with dried osmanthus flour and goji berries. 800 W Las Tunas Dr., San Gabriel, CA 91775.

Shumai @ Elite
Shumai, or shaomai in Mandarin, is a dim sum staple. It’s a cylindrical dumpling stuffed with pork, mushroom, and shrimp enveloped in a thin wrapping. Elite’s version is generously topped with a gigantic scallop. 700 S Atlantic Blvd, Monterey Park, CA 91754.

Guotie @ Peking Tavern
Peking Tavern in downtown Los Angeles serves up quite a repertoire of different dumplings. For the meat-averse, vegetarian dumplings are readily available and gluten-free ones too, if you’re avoiding wheat. The beef potstickers, or guotie, are the highlight of the tavern’s dumpling repertoire and the best option if you need to something to pair with the beer. They’re lightly pan-fried to a nice crisp. 806 S Spring St, Los Angeles, CA 90014

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6 Regional Hot Pots in Los Angeles

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Los Angeles has its fair share of hot pot eateries. The San Gabriel Valley is home to the bulk of them, but there are quite a few in the city of Los Angeles.

Hot pot is akin to fondue: ingredients are placed in a boiling pot served tableside. The pots are commonly brought out for special occasions and served family-style, but a lot of restaurants have modified them so each person gets their own individual pot.

Hot pot originated in Mongolia and made its appearance in China in the early Qing Dynasty. It’s a beloved dish throughout Asia and beyond. In fact, Henry Kissinger, in his memoirs, wrote about his experience of eating hot pot with former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping.

Here’s a guide on the different types of hot pot in Los Angeles:

Mongolian: Little Sheep Hot Pot
Mongolian hot pot distinguishes itself with a heavy use of lamb and spices. Little Sheep, with hundreds of locations across the world, is the most famous of Mongolian hot pot joints. They have nine locations in California and have one of the most diverse selections of ingredients in the area. You choose your hot pot base, your cut of meat, and then pick your add-ons. We recommend the lamb shoulder, which is imported from New Zealand and sliced paper thin. 2575 Pacific Coast Hwy., Torrance, CA 90505.

Taiwanese: Boiling Point
Boiling Point is a Taiwanese hot pot specialist. Each customer gets their own mini-pot, with the ingredients already cooked inside. Opened in 2004, it has become so popular that it now has 12 locations around North America including storefronts in Seattle and Canada. The hot pot base, which the company obtained a patent for in 2013, is custom-designed so that the flame isn’t easily exposed. Boiling Point’s success lies in the simplicity of its choices. They have ten different flavors. Beef, Korean kimchi, curry fishball, and tomato veggie are among some of the more conservative options. If you’re into stinky tofu, their “House Special” has plenty of that plus pork intestines, pork blood cubes, quail egg, fish balls, and Napa cabbage. 250 W Valley Blvd., Ste J, San Gabriel, CA 91776.

Chinese (Sichuan): Fat Bull Cafe
Fat Bull Cafe’s main draw is the All-You-Can-Eat option that’s priced at $19.99 per person. The pots here are family-style, so it’s in your best interest to bring a couple of friends. The management hails from Sichuan, the land of tongue-numbing, spicy cuisine. If you can handle the heat, pick the spicy mala pot as your soup base. Mala directly translates to “tongue-numbing” in Chinese. If you’re indecisive, they have a yin-yang option that will allow you to have two soup bases in one pot. 120 N San Gabriel Blvd., San Gabriel, CA 91775.

Japanese: Paper Pot Shabu
Japanese hot pot places are abundant throughout Los Angeles, but Paper Pot’s rendition will have you thinking the owners are putting on some sort of magic trick. The soup is cooked in a pot made entirely out of paper. Called “washi” in Japanese, the paper has been chemically coated to become durable against heat and water. Prime cuts of meat are available and assortments of vegetables and noodles are complimentary with each order. Each patron gets their own individual pot. 20657 Golden Springs Dr., Ste 206, Diamond Bar, CA 91789.

Vietnamese: Ha Tien Quan
While Ha Tien Quan has four different variations of hot pot on their menu, the main draw here is the Vietnamese anchovy-flavored broth. It has a strong, fermented odor and comes with a heaping of raw seafood and eggplant piled on the rim of the pot. Plenty of vegetables are available and the price ranges from $25 to $40, depending on the size of your party. 529 East Valley Boulevard, Suite 178B., San Gabriel, CA 91776.

Korean: Gamja Gol
Gamja Gol serves up the Korean version of hot pot, which has a thicker stew consistency than the versions above. It’s called gamja jungol and is defined by its pork bone base and a large potato on the bottom. Jungol is the Korean word for hot pot. Vegetables are put in once the dish arrives and the broth sports a dark, red hue that comes from its chili-based sauce. 3003 W Olympic Blvd #107, Los Angeles, CA 90006.

Shandong Dishes in Los Angeles

Shandong Chicken

Shandong cuisine is one of the four great traditions of Chinese cooking. Located near the coast, in northern China, the province is rich in dough-based dishes and seafood.

We’ve covered this region before. Beijing and Tianjin cuisines are branches Shandong’s cuisine. The food is defined by a heavy use of salt, soy sauce, fermented bean paste, and vinegar. (In fact, Shandong is one of the leading provinces for soy and vinegar production in east Asia.) And it’s one of the only areas in China that uses a variety of grains like millet, wheat, oat, and barley.

It’s one of the most influential styles of Chinese cooking and widely beloved among Angelenos. All of the Shandong-inspired restaurants in the Los Angeles serve noodles, scallion pancakes, and dumplings — all selections you can hardly go wrong with.

Earthen Restaurant
Earthen, located in Hacienda Heights, has been open for years but still manages to attract a steady stream of customers that are willing to wait for a seat on busy evenings. What to order: pork dumplings, beef noodle soup, green onion pancake, and their signature dish: the Shandong chicken. The chicken, served room temperature, is boiled, deep-fried, and then served in a dressing of black vinegar, chili, soy sauce, and coriander. Earthern adds diced cucumbers underneath for a refreshing crunch, and tops it all off with cilantro and scallions. Cash only. 1639 S Azusa Ave., Hacienda Heights, CA 91745.

101 Noodle Express
101 Noodle Express has five locations scattered around the Southland, and luckily for those over on the Westside, there’s one in a food court in Culver City. The specialty here is the Dezhou chicken, a succulent, black-skinned chicken that was popularized in the Qing Dynasty. It’s named after the city of Dezhou in the Shandong province. The poultry is deep-fried and, before served, is marinated in a mixture of soy sauce, cloves, malt sugar, and mushrooms. The chicken is a must-have dish, but 101 Noodle’s real claim to fame is their Chinese beef roll. The dish is made up of tender beef flanks, soybean paste, hoisin, scallions, and chopped cucumbers rolled up and enclosed in a flaky scallion pancake wrap. A lot of food writers have dubbed these Shandong beef rolls, but that’s not entirely true. This particular version was invented in America. It’s a morphed version of Shandong’s jianbing juan (translation: pancake roll), which uses a thin, millet crepe paper as a wrapper instead of a thick scallion pancake. The jianbing juan originates from Mount Tai in Shandong and is over a thousand years old. Salty bean paste is still used, but the traditional rendition doesn’t use beef. Common ingredients are egg, green onions, carrots, and cucumbers. 1408 E Valley Blvd., Alhambra, CA.

Qing Dao Bread Food
Qingdao is coastal city in Shandong and by virtue of its location, seafood dominates the menu. Qingdao Bread Food is a dumpling specialist and makes an amazing fish dumpling stuffed with cilantro. The eatery is a small lunch joint in Monterey Park with no more than a handful of seats. Dumplings can be pan-fried or boiled. 301 N Garfield Ave, Monterey Park, CA 91754.

5 Chinese Restaurants Without MSG

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Originally posted on the LA Times. See full piece here.

Monosodium glutamate: Love it or hate it? Some people are convinced it’s toxic, though there isn’t much science behind that claim. Others compare it with table salt.

Regardless of which camp you fall into, it’s no secret that MSG is used heavily in restaurants – especially in traditional Chinese ones. There are very few Chinese eateries that give you the option of opting out of MSG, and fewer that leave it out altogether.

MSG is one of the chemical sources of umami, a word that was coined by Kikunae Ikeda in 1908 when he linked it to the amino acid glutamate. Umami means savory, and Ikeda found that a little glutamate, derived from dried seaweed, was sufficient enough to create a strong umami flavor. MSG is one especially useful form of glutamate.

“A lot of foods are naturally high in glutamates. MSG is just the purified form,” said Andy Trang, a former teaching assistant at the UCLA Science and Food lecture series. “A lot of people claim it has adverse side effects, but there is really little evidence for it scientifically.” Trang taught a class that explained the relationship between umami and MSG.

Even so, there are many who swear that MSG is responsible for any number of physical symptoms. There’s even a name for it — “Chinese Restaurant Syndrome.”

But for those who are MSG-averse, there are several traditional Chinese restaurants in the greater Los Angeles area that don’t use the compound.

Dai Ho
This Temple City establishment is open only for lunch and only five days a week. They don’t need the extra hours – they’ve already acquired a steady stream of regulars over the years. Dai Ho, fronted by Jim and May Ku, is known for their small-batch Chinese noodles, made fresh every day. Their zha jiang noodle, topped with fermented bean paste and diced pork, is a crowd favorite. And if you’re into broth, the Kus make a mean beef noodle soup with beef shanks that are cooked for four hours and marinated overnight. 9148 Las Tunas Drive, Temple City, (626) 291-2295.

Green Zone
This wildly popular San Gabriel spot is one of the few Chinese restaurants in the area that has dedicated its menu to being organic and MSG-free. The waiting area of the restaurant doubles as a mini-produce mart. They make a fantastic Hainan chicken over rice with julienned scallions and three types of dipping sauce. The menu veers toward Asian fusion with Japanese, American and Cantonese touches.
534 E. Valley Blvd., Suite 4-5, San Gabriel, (626) 288-9300, www.greenzonerestaurant.com.

QQ Kitchen
QQ is a Taiwanese haven for vegetarians. A large “No MSG” sign is displayed at its restaurant. The best part? It’s insanely inexpensive here. You can get lunch for less than $5. Recommended are the mushroom “pork” rice and the ba wan – a Taiwanese “meatball” enclosed inside a gelatinous shell. But instead of meat, the restaurant uses tofu pieces, gluten strips and shiitake mushrooms. And in the spirit of eating healthfully, you can opt for brown rice instead of white. 9441-½ Las Tunas Drive, Temple City, (626) 292-1128.

BeBe Fusion
BeBe is one of the best Taiwanese restaurants around right now and they use absolutely no MSG. Run by Monica Wu, the restaurant is dedicated to traditional Formosan bites. Try the “three cups” squid, served in a clay pot and topped with a generous amount of basil. The three cups are soy sauce, Chinese rice wine, and sesame oil. And great news for stinky tofu fans: BeBe Fusion has one of the most putrid tofu dishes in Los Angeles. You can get it in French-fry form, deep-fried or served in a casserole.
201 E. Bay State St., Alhambra, (626) 284-1288.

Chi Lin [CLOSED]
Chi Lin is one of Hollywood’s more popular Chinese restaurants, so it makes sense that everything is MSG-free. In addition to a regular menu, chef Tyson Wong has a portion dedicated to light and healthful options. If you have the budget, do splurge on the lacquered Peking duck – served with crepe, plum sauce and finely julienned cucumbers. Otherwise, go for their zha jiang noodles, paired with a fermented bean paste and elegantly topped off with purple edible flowers.

3 Great Chinese Meat Pies in Los Angeles

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Originally posted on my food column, ‘Have You Eaten?‘ on KCET.

Meat pies are delicious. They’re the ultimate comfort dish — juicy discs of hot, ground meat enclosed in crisp, pan-fried shell. It’s a wonder they haven’t spread beyond the mom-and-pop Chinese restaurants of Los Angeles. They can be terribly addicting.

Here are three amazing places in the greater Los Angeles area to get your fix.

1. Beijing Pie House
Beijing Pie House is the prime destination to get a hold of the best meat pies in town. The Chinese name for them is xianbing. Pan-fried and bursting at the seams with hot, fragrant oil, these discs are the crack pies of Los Angeles. Pair them with sambal sauce if needed, but they’re perfectly fine by themselves. 846 E Garvey Ave, Monterey Park, CA 91755; (626) 288-3818.

2. Da Qing Hua
Da Qing Hua is a dumpling specialist but on their menu, they have an entire section dedicated to xianbing. There are eight different varieties available. We recommend the beef and green onion version. Dip it with a mixture of soy sauce, vinegar, and chili sauce and be cautious of popping the entire thing in your mouth. Take it one bite at a time. These things are hot. Each order comes with eight pies. 706 W Las Tunas Dr., Ste B2-B4, San Gabriel, CA 91776; (626) 293-8098.

3. Silk Road Garden
Silk Road Garden is a Uyghur specialist with massive portion sizes. A single meat pie, served with a braided crust and stuffed with marinated ground beef, will easily amount to one full meal. The pie at Silk Road is anatomically different from the ones at Beijing Pie House and Da Qing Hua. It’s one large pie, cut into pizza-like triangles. 18920 Gale Ave., Rowland Heights, CA 91748; (626) 999-6165.

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
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!!

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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

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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.