Eating Hornet Larvae in Taiwan

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I have a very distinctive childhood memory of my father eating bees.

My family and I were in a restaurant in the mountainous parts of Taiwan and in front of us — a smorgasbord of food from the island’s aboriginal groups. Think stir-fried fern with anchovies, salt-baked fish, and tender wild chicken roasted until the skin was like velvety paper. Somewhere on the table were fried chunks of unidentifiable meat.

“What is that?” I remember asking.

“Bees,” my mother responded, in plain disgust. She’s never been a fan of odd foods. My father shrugged and happily popped a couple of them in his mouth while my brother and I, barely in our teens and thoroughly Westernized at the time, watched wide-eyed with fascination. He single-handily finished off the entire plate. We wouldn’t touch it.

It’s now decades later. I’m a food writer and the prospect of such a culinary oddity is fascinating. I ask my parents about the memory and they have no recollection of it. My dad eats too much bizarre food on the regular for any one particular dish to stand out. But for the sake of research, we call up one of my aunts.

“Those weren’t honeybees,” my aunt says. “He was probably eating hornet larvae.”

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The next week we’re at a restaurant called Ah Min near her house in Hualien. Hualien is a gorgeous beachside county on the coast of Taiwan. A two-hour train ride from Taipei, there’s a good amount of indigenous cuisine there; the aborigines make up 28% of the population.

Ah Min is the name of the owner — a quiet, half-aboriginal chef who has 33 years of cooking experience under his belt. His store has been around for 16 years and it’s known throughout town for its peculiar bites. They have crocodile meat, if you call ahead. There’s pig head cartilage, silkworm larvae, and of course, hornet larvae. While it’s bizarre food for foreigners, locals consider all of the above drinking food. We order two bottles of Taiwan beer to pair with the meal.

“You have to have beer,” my uncle notes. “Everything is fried.”

The larvae can be ordered in one of two ways — sautéed with salt and pepper, or cooked with chili oil. We choose the former. A medium plate of hornet larvae is 400 NT ($12 USD) and it’s 500 NT ($15 USD) for a large plate. We get the medium.

At our request, Ah Min lets us photgraph the plate of hornet larvae before he cooks it. The bugs are all at different stages of maturity. Some are tiny ovals, smooth and round, others look like full-fledged hornets. They all have a milk chocolate-hue and from far away, can probably be passed off as chunks of candy. But up close, the gnarly appendages and buggy eyes indicate that they are anything but.

As we wait for our food, my aunt and uncle explain the culinary tendencies of the aborigines.

“They were poor so they would eat anything they could get their hands on,” my uncle says.

“Why larvae?” I ask. “Why not fully-matured hornets?”

“The larvae stage is when the hornet is most tender,” he says.

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“Is this a common dish for the Taiwanese people?” I wonder out loud.

“In previous generations, yes. But not so much anymore,” my aunt explains.

Ah Min brings out the cooked plate. Most of the hornets, thoroughly cooked, are unrecognizable now. They have been stir-fried with oil, pepper, salt, basil, garlic, and scallions.

I pop one in.

There isn’t much meat; there’s a hollowness to them.

So I eat a spoonful.

The taste is akin to chicken. The seasoning, a strong mix of white pepper and salt, is really what drives the dish. It’s similar to salt and pepper shrimp, but there isn’t an ounce of juiciness to the insect. Curious, I pry one in half with my chopsticks. The meat is white — like chicken.

They were quite good. Hornet larvae doesn’t taste as disgusting as it looks. The insect pairs well with rice and with enough beer, you’ll forget that you’re eating baby bugs.

My extended family and I ended up cleaning up the entire dish while my mother looked on with the same bewilderment she had decades before.

“Do you want some?” I ask her.

“Never,” she says, staring at my dad. There he was, oblivious to our conversation, eating the hornets with the same delight as he did decades before.

Some things never change.

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Ah Min Small Eats
Jianlin Road, #43
Hualien County, Taiwan
阿民小: 花蓮市建林街43號
+886 3 831 0890

My Love/Hate Relationship With You All

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Guys. I love you. I love you a little bit too much. I love seeing my Facebook rack up with Likes and the little hearts on my Instagram feed. I love the slew of retweets and mentions and followers and favorites. It’s become addictive and intense and sometimes I hear a very conscious part of my being whispering while I scroll up and down: “Validate me. Validate me.”

This is the embarrassing truth.

[Read more…]

The Best Dishes Of Taiwan

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I’m so behind on work lately and haven’t had a chance to update this blog with my latest posts. (If you’re a regular reader, please follow me on Facebook, where I’m better with these things) But I had to put this up because this article took a long time to write and the research was intense. #humblebrag

Here are the top 19 dishes of Tainan for CNN. This is my family’s hometown. We’re a city of big eaters. Enjoy

Read it here.

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Cafe Fusion — Taiwanese, $100 Lobster Salad

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Cafe Fusion has become a reoccurring family favorite. It’s where we go for special occasions only — because it veers on the pricey side. The name is deceiving. It’s by no means fusion at all. Fusion is full-on Taiwanese and is perhaps the best higher-end Taiwanese restaurant in town.

Note: most Taiwanese restaurants in the greater Los Angeles specializes in small eats. Fusion does not. It’s family-style. Below are photos of our Lunar New Year family reunion dinner. It was enough food to feed 15 people and the prix-fixe totaled up to $490.

The star dish is almost always the $100 lobster salad. It’s drizzled with kewpie mayo and paired with mango and apple slices.

I also dig the oyster vermicelli (photo below). There aren’t many places that do it around here, and if they do, it’s way too dry. This is sufficiently moist and the oysters are tasty.

510 E Live Oak Ave, Arcadia, CA 91006; (626) 447-6488

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Brunch At Faith & Flower

Handmade cavatelli ($14) and 62 degree egg ($11)

Handmade cavatelli ($14) and 62 degree egg ($11)

“Surprise!! I’m overriding your brunch selection and taking you to someplace better.”

Today was my friend Karen’s birthday weekend and last minute, I decided to override her initial weekend brunch reservations and take her to Faith & Flower instead. At first I thought this could potentially be construed as a douchebag move … but I was really confident Faith & Flower would be much better than the place that was originally selected.

Turned out it was actually what Karen is into: whimsical aesthetics, beautiful lightning, tapas-style food, and most importantly fresh, seasonal ingredients. So I’m happy to say that she was totally okay with it. More than okay, actually.

I recommend this place for a get-together brunch with friends or if you can make it for the dinner rush, a sultry date night destination. I’ve done both and I most definitely liked the brunch more. Probably because the lighting was on point. ;)

Winning dishes: Deviled Jidori eggs (because of the kimchi on top), the sunny side up egg (with dirty rice and sweet sausage), and the handmade cavatelli (roasted mushrooms, baby kale, and parmigiano broth). The eggs were a great starter, the sunny side-up egg was like mini-rice bowl with a glorious egg on top, and the cavatelli (a pasta by the way) was toothsome and chewy and made me smile.

Wash it all off with DIY mimosas. You get a cute jar of OJ, a bottle of sparking cava, and a glass. Mix accordingly.

Happy birthday Karen.

705 W 9th St, Los Angeles, CA 90015

Bread and muffin basket ($11): one of the fritters in there has Stumptown coffee custard inside. So great.

Bread and muffin basket ($11): one of the fritters in there has Stumptown coffee custard inside. So great.


Handmade cavatelli: roasted mushrooms, baby kale, parmigiano broth ($14)

Handmade cavatelli: roasted mushrooms, baby kale, parmigiano broth ($14)

Fennel and citrus salad ($11) and deviled jidori eggs ($6)

Fennel and citrus salad ($11) and deviled jidori eggs ($6)

Daily selection of oysters ($16)

Daily selection of oysters ($16)

Roasted mushroom pizza ($17)

Roasted mushroom pizza ($17)

62 Degree Egg: roasted chioggia beets, root vegetable mousseline, citrus butter sauce) $11

62 Degree Egg: roasted chioggia beets, root vegetable mousseline, citrus butter sauce) $11

Fresh burrata pizza: San Marzano tomatoes, baby kale eggs ($16)

Fresh burrata pizza: San Marzano tomatoes, baby kale eggs ($16)

Strauss greek yogurt panna cotta ($8), cookie board ($12), matcha green tea cake ($8)

Strauss greek yogurt panna cotta ($8), cookie board ($12), matcha green tea cake ($8)

Struass greek yogurt panna cotta: buddah's hand, puffed wild rice, honey, bee pollen ($8)

Struass greek yogurt panna cotta: buddah’s hand, puffed wild rice, honey, bee pollen ($8)

Handmade cavatelli and 62 degree egg

Handmade cavatelli and 62 degree egg

新年快樂 Everything Food-Related About Chinese New Years

新年快樂 Happy Chinese New Years. Here are all my Chinese New Years articles in one post:

cnylead (1)Hot Pot: The Ultimate Chinese New Year Hack (First We Feast)
The electric hot pot makes the holiday time a lot easier. Simply plug into an outlet, heat the broth until it comes to a boil, and dip the ingredients to cook. Vegetables, mushrooms, and fish balls can be left in the pot for as long as possible. Thin slices of beef can be dipped for a few seconds, whereas pork and chicken must be cooked more thoroughly. Ingredients can be smothered with sauce or eaten plain. Sides of rice and noodles are strongly encouraged. Little prep work is required, which makes it a hassle-free method to usher in the Lunar New Year festivities without breaking the bank. Here, we offer some essential shortcuts for how to celebrate 2015 like a Chinese family.

1556334_571320009617141_2120710016_oLunar New Year Staples From Around The World (LA Weekly)
While the Lunar New Year festivities are most commonly associated with China, most East Asian and Southeast countries also have their own versions. Food, of course, is at the cornerstone of these. Here’s a breakdown of New Year food staples from four Asian cultures.

sam-woo-duckLucky Chinese Dishes in Los Angeles (Discover Los Angeles)
The Chinese New Year begins on February 19, 2015. 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.

IMG_0477Ten Essential Chinese New Year Dishes in Los Angeles (LA Weekly)
Food is the cornerstone of the celebrations. So in the spirit of the festivities, we’ve rounded up 10 essential New Year dishes, and included the significance behind them all. All of these dishes can be found in Chinese restaurants, but we wouldn’t advise making the trek to the San Gabriel Valley over the weekend — most of these places will be closed for the holiday.

398164606_6b6be2342a_zThe 5 Most Popular Chinese New Year Desserts (KCET)
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.

mainchineseRegional Chinese Food Guide To Los Angeles (KCET)
The Chinese New Year festivities are kicking off on February 19 this year, and so in honor of it, I’ve compiled a list of all the regions of China represented in the greater Los Angeles area. Click on the links for more in-depth features. Happy eating, and remember to make your reservations.

And of course, this poster by Moses Kim and I:

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I was even interviewed on the radio about all of this. Listen to the segment here.

Bún bò Hue at Nha Trang

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Bún bò Huế (beef rice noodle soup with knuckle and duck blood) at Nha Trang on San Gabriel Blvd. This is my guilty pleasure and one of the few restaurants I’ll go back repeatedly to. My friend Chris calls it his crack house. He can’t go a week without coming here and I see why. I mean — LOOK AT THAT.

Pro-tip: Swap out the knuckle for meatballs. And ask for flat noodles instead.

120 N San Gabriel Blvd
San Gabriel, CA 91775

Why Kristie And I Are Good Friends

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Kristie Hang and I met after crushing on each others Twitter account back in 2011/2012. Who crushed harder? Well, that’s up to debate. Both Asian-American females, at that time we were both recent journalism school grads and pursing food… particularly Chinese food in the San Gabriel Valley. We also later found out that we were both born and raised in the San Fernando Valley but later our families had respectively moved to the San Gabriel Valley because of, well, the food.

Fast forward three years. We both write about Chinese food in the San Gabriel Valley for various outlets. Kristie is pursing an on-camera career and I’m focusing on the writing.

In every single sense, we’re competitors… vying for the same scoops and round-ups and photos and connections and interviews. Sure this may be true on a literal level, but we don’t see each other as competitors.

We go out to events together a lot and as one would imagine, people get us confused all the time. Asian girl who writes about Chinese food in the San Gabriel Valley. There’s not that many of us. It’s a very weird niche. To add to the confusion, sometimes we’ll accidentally dress in the same colors.

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When we introduce ourselves… in overlapping sentences, dressed in very similar clothes… to people at networking events, we always get the same reaction: But how do you stay friends? And which one is Clarissa and which one is Kristie?

Simple. (I’m the taller one.)

There’s enough room in the San Gabriel Valley…and in Los Angeles…for everyone and anyone to write about it. Perhaps that’s a naive way to approach things, but Kristie and I have lived by this philosophy and more opportunities have come to us by being friends instead of being haters.

We have a thing going where we’re allowed to take and use any of each others photos for our work — just credit accordingly. And if a Canadian camera crew reaches out to me and asks me to be on television but it doesn’t fit into my schedule? I’ll give it to Kristie…and vice versa. (True story, of course)

Kristie’s food preferences skews toward Southeast Asian, HK, and Cantonese. I like to focus on mainland China and Taiwan. Sometimes we disagree with each other’s articles. We’ll vocalize it. Nod. And move on. Or we might write our own version.

In my limited time of writing about Chinese food, I’ve been shocked by a) all the trolls and b) mean people. Er, actually that extends beyond food writing. In my time as a public blogger/writer…I’ve been truly and honestly appalled at how nasty people can get. Not anymore of course. But at the age of 19 — when I first started — I was seriously confused.

Yeah, I make mistakes. But it’s a learning process and I’m honestly trying my best.

When one starts a Twitter war or forum war with: “This girl is stupid.” It shuts down the conversation. It creates immediate animosity. I’d personally rather just talk it out, not argue it out.

“Take everything you read online with a grain of salt,” seems to be the default mentality among my peers. True. But I do value what you guys think and feel. After all, even trolls are human. This online space can get petty-middle-school real fast. But it can also be mature and productive.

I get the technical and Darwinistic advantage of being fiercely competitive. Maybe I just don’t feel that because there isn’t much any money to lose. One of my colleagues had remarked recently in regards to all of this: “Nice writers finish last.”

Perhaps that’s true. But I think and Kristie thinks, as people who are trying to establish their unique brands, that a single story scoop won’t make or break us. You guys read me because of the combination of things I have created and written. And that’s a combination and unique voice that can’t be replicated. We both have very specific knowledge on certain topics that the other doesn’t have / doesn’t have an interest in.

And so that’s why we’re friends. We’re so cheesy about this, back when we first met each other, we created a mini hyperlocal food blog called the 626 Foodettes. We’re friends because we have an eerie similar set of passions and hanging out with each other helps reinforce that.

I think this story sums it up our friendship perfectly:

Yesterday we were at a bar in downtown Los Angeles catching up on life and eating noodles. Two guys bombarded us mid-conversation and Kristie immediately scowled.

“Whoa okay you guys totally just interrupted us,” I said.

“Why does your friend look like she’s pissed off?” the guy to my left asked me, totally ignoring what I had just said.

“Excuse you. That’s just her normal face and there’s nothing wrong with that and that’s really rude,” I responded.

All at the same time, his friend is talking to Kristie, asking her what her real name is and where she’s really from. (This guy was also Chinese-American, believe it or not.) Kristie, of course, tells him off.

Our beef potstickers come and without a beat, Kristie and I look at each other and take a dive for the food.

“Er. I’ll let you girls get back to your food,” one of the guys says before walking off.

We don’t even look at them.

It’s hard enough to find likeminded people to surround yourself with. And when I do, I will support them. I don’t see the importance of being mean. And I don’t see the value of screwing people over. My relationships with people are far more important to me than my social standing. Because at the end of the day, if I lose everything, it’s people that I will need to depend on, and people who will lift me up. Not the number of followers I have on Facebook.

And if and when I find a lady journalist who knows Asian food, who loves the San Gabriel Valley, is all about Asian-American activism, and believes strongly that girlfriends will always come before men?

I’m going to be her friend.

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A Lucky Chinese Food Poster

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I love the San Gabriel Valley so much. I intend to stay here as long as humanely possible because it’s a wonderful melting pot where East meets West. I write a lot about this area but I lately one of topics I’ve been pondering is…how can I directly support this community? Because so far, the SGV is synonymous with food. But what about the people? What about specific personalities?

I’ve been in talks with a lot of my artist friends from childhood… and I came up with this: informative food posters. I know a lot about food. They know a lot about art. Let’s combine the two. To be perfectly honest. I don’t know where I’m going with this, but I know that this is a stepping stone to possibly something great. That is, if you guys are into it. PLEASE BE INTO IT.

This is a beautiful drawing by Moses Kim — an Art Center graduate and talented cartoonist. We worked together to create this banquet of lucky Chinese dishes in honor of the Lunar New Year.

How this whole thing came about: I sent Moses one of my articles on lucky foods that are consumed during the Lunar New Year festivities. Here’s his work in progress:

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Fun facts: that gnarly looking fish is inspired by Chengdu Taste’s lion fish. The turnip cake is from Four Seas, the rice cakes come from Shanghai No. 1, the shrimp is from Yunnan Garden, and those dumplings are modeled after Luscious Dumplings.

If you want prints….

Specs: 5.5×8.5 or 11×17, laser print
Price: $5 or $10
USA ONLY
I’ll personally mail it to you and all.


Poster (USA Only)