Showing posts with label roundup. Show all posts
Showing posts with label roundup. Show all posts

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Your Summer Asian Staycation: The Cold Noodle Roundup

For most Asian countries, the quintessential summer dish comes in the form of a cold noodle dish. From buckwheat to spinach noodles, from fish paste to cold beef broth, slurping these noodles cools down the sweat on your back. Being the melting pot of many ethnicities, the Los Angeles area is an ethnic dining haven which offers these summer noodle dishes – sometimes year round. Don't let recession stop you from tasting all over Asia. With dishes $8 or under, the only expense you need to worry about is gas.

1. Japan: Zaru Soba

1618 Cravens Ave
Torrance, CA 90501
(310) 328-1323

The best place for soba in the area at the moment is probably Ichimiann. This small shop just off of the downtown of Torrance hand makes their soba and udon noodles. A couple of tables are available, but mostly Japanese businessmen would fill up the wooden counter lining the wall. You can get a variety of soba and udon noodle soups, with eel to Japanese sticky yam as an accompaniment. For the summer there’s only one thing to get: zaru soba. The zaru soba is not only a great summer dish, it is also an initiation dish for those new to this buckwheat noodle known as soba. Cold handmade soba is served atop a bamboo tray. A bowl of tsuyu sauce (a mixture of dashi, sweetened soy sauce, and mirin), scallions, and wasabi are provided on the side. Mix in the wasabi and scallions in the sauce, then dip your cool strands of soba in the sauce. This simple dish brings out the resilient texture and flavor of this freshly made soba like no other.

2. Korea: Mul-Naengmyun

Chil Bo Myun Ok
3680 W 6th St
Los Angeles, CA 90189
(213) 387-9292

The Korean naengmyun are delicately thin yet chewy strands of vermicelli noodles made from buckwheat. Mul naengmyun is naengmyun served in a cold beef broth along with julienned vegetables, beef slices, and boiled eggs. At Chil Bo Myun Oak, the mul naengmyun is also served with slices of Korean pear. Despite being a popular Korean summer dish, a good naengmyun is still hard to find. Chil Bo Myun Ok takes so much pride in their naengmyun that the noodles are prohibited from leaving the premises. No to-go orders, no take out, the wonderfully supple and chewy noodles must be enjoyed in their metal bowls inside the restaurant that keeps it cool during your meal. The server will ask if you’d like the noodles cut, scissors ready in his other hand. The answer is yes, you’ll need him to.

3. Vietnam: Bun Thit Nuong

Com Tam Thuan Kieu
120 E Valley Blvd, Ste I & J
San Gabriel, CA 91776
(626) 280-5660

It’s always hot in South East Asia. That’s why you can find bun thit nuong in most Vietnamese places, all year round, but summer is the perfect time to try it. Rice vermicelli is topped with chargrilled pork, julienned carrots, scallions, and crushed peanuts and served at room temperature. Order a bun thit nuong cha gio and you will find sliced egg roll (cha gio) atop your bowl. For a mere $4.99 you will find the top of the bowl generously covered with meat and egg roll. Douse everything in some fish paste and you are ready to go. For the pork lovers and the fish sauce lovers, this one’s for you.

4. China: Cold Noodles with Green Tea Pork and Cold Vegetables

535 W Valley Blvd
San Gabriel, CA 91776
(626) 281-1226

At Bamboodles, to keep the dish cold, the plate is served on top of crushed ice to keep it cool throughout your meal. Spinach noodle, as with all other noodles at this restaurant, is made fresh every day. The dough is pounded flat by the chef by bouncing up and down on a bamboo pole – a method developed by a Guangdong noodle chef – and when you’re lucky you can watch him do this through the glass window of the kitchen. The noodles are arranged on a platter with shredded pork cooked in green tea and sliced vegetables. Mix everything in with the sesame sauce served on the side for a cooling and healthy meal.

5. Thailand: Jade Noodle

Sapp Coffee Shop
5183 Hollywood Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90027-6113
(323) 665-1035

This place may be most famous for their Thai boat noodles, but don't skip the jade noodle. The delicate, bright green noodles are served dry with bbq pork, roast duck, , crab, and a sweet ginger sauce. Squeeze the lime and mix everything well with the chili flakes. The lime gives the dish a refreshing sourness but not as strong as the one found in the boat noodles. This bowl lets you appreciate the delicate yet springy noodles themselves.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Get Iced this Summer: The Shaved Ice Roundup

What's colder than ice cream? Why, ice. So what better way to cool down this summer than some shaved ice (or shaved "snow")? Los Angeles, being as diverse as it is, offers many ethnic options for shaved ice, from Korean to Oaxacan to Indonesian.

Hawaiian Shaved Ice

Perhaps one of the simplest, Hawaiian shaved ice is typically topped only with flavored syrup (though of course what's to stop you from adding more toppings?). Unlike most others which actually use crushed ice, this style of shaved ice uses a machine which literally shaves the ice, generating a much smoother texture. The most popular spot right now is probably Get Shaved, which has a storefront in Northridge and a truck that roams around the greater LA area. You can find syrup flavored with mango, lychee, passionfruit, all the way to bubblegum here and you can also add a scoop of ice cream below your shaved ice and top it all with red beans, condensed milk, and mochi balls.

Get Shaved
Get Shaved on Urbanspoon
Picture 001
Korean Shaved Ice/ Pat Bing Su

One of the best pat bing su in town can be found at Chego, although it is a rotating menu item so you may not necessarily find it when you go there. Here the shaved ice is topped with chewy mochi, red bean, mangoes, kiwi, and a red syrup. The flavors of all the ingredients here work better than many pat bing su concoctions. If you see it on the menu this summer, you might want to give it a try.
3300 Overland Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90034
Ice Kiss is a popular cafe in Koreatown for their shaved ice. Size and visual matters here where you can get the largest serving served to you in a dogbowl. All the fruit and red bean are further topped with ice cream and whipped cream, which can be overkill, but they're open late and you can be sure there'll be enough for everyone.
Ice Kiss
3407 W 6th St, Los Angeles, CA 90020
(213) 382-4776
Ice Kiss on Urbanspoon

Taiwanese Shaved Ice

While the Koreans put all the toppings on top of their shaved ice, the Taiwanese style covers the bottom of the bowl with items of your choice including lychee, pudding, peanuts, red bean, etc and then top it with a tall pile of ice and condensed milk. Two popular places are Kang Kang food court where you can choose your toppings from the deli case, and Sin Ba La, a popular Taiwanese joint.
Kang Kang Food Court
27 E Valley Blvd, Alhambra, CA 91801Kang Kang Food Court on Urbanspoon
651 W Duarte Rd Ste F, Arcadia, CA 91007
Taiwanese Shaved Snow

Shaved snow is pretty rare even in the San Gabriel Valley and the reputed best version outside of Taiwan is the one at Class 302 in Rowland Heights. The difference? The "snow" is flavored and milk is added prior to shaving and (according to Kung Food Panda) it is shaved with a special machine, generating smooth ribbons of creamy "ice". I suspect this special machine is similar to the one used for Hawaiian shaved ice. The texture is closer to an ice cream and chunks of crushed ice. Their most popular is the mango but it tends to run out, so either try to go early or just order one of their other flavors such as green tea topped with red bean and mochi balls, or the caramel pudding. And yes, the milk-added-shaved snow is still topped with condensed milk.

Class 302 三年2班
1015 Nogales St #125, Rowland Heights, CA 91748
Class 302 三年2班 on Urbanspoon

Mexican Shaved Ice / Raspado

At the newly opened Natura Bar, you can get Oaxacan-style shaved ice, raspado, with exotic flavors such as tamarind, guayabana to more familiar flavors such as walnut and eggnog. A small raspado is a big cup filled with the syrup and chunks of fruits/nuts of your flavor both at the bottom and the top for uniform flavoring.

Natura Bar
3335 1/4 W 8th St, Los Angeles, CA 90005
(213) 784-0943
Indonesian Shaved Ice: Es Teler

In Indonesia even shaved ice can be considered a mid-meal drink. "Es Teler" (semi-literally, drunken ice) is a popular drink in Indonesia that utilizes tropical fruits and topping. Lucky for Angelenos, a version of it can be found at Simpang Asia. The shaved ice is topped with condensed milk and slices of coconut, jackfruit, and avocado. You can either eat it with a spoon or mix everything and drink it through the big straw!
Simpang Asia
10433 National Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90034
(310) 815-9075

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Nasi Bungkus Roundup: 5 Banana-leaf Wraps, 60 miles.

It all started with a line in Jonathan Gold's LA Weekly article on Indo Cafe. In the last paragraph, he wrote:

But you could probably scour every Indonesian restaurant in California without finding another nasi bungkus, a sort of TV dinner of sautéed green beans, beef rend[a]ng and curried chicken wrapped with rice and a fiery green chile paste inside a banana leaf. (The leaf’s green fragrance works its way into the rice even in the few minutes it will be in front of you in the restaurant but is heaven itself unwrapped for lunch the next day.)
A marvelous description, to be sure, yet that opening line bugged me. I remembered Linda Burum's LA Times article about that same dish - at Java Spice in Rowland Heights. Granted theirs is only available on Saturdays and Sundays. But what about the restaurant just across the street from Indo Cafe, Simpang Asia? I was pretty sure they had nasi bungkus.

In the end, I decided to do a round-up. Yep, a nasi bungkus round-up. Because if you do scour - forget California, let's just focus on LA County - you can find other nasi bungkus.

First thing's first. What in the world is nasi bungkus?
The name itself just translates to "wrapped rice" and the dish is just that. Rice wrapped in banana leaf along with whatever lauk - meat, vegetables, or other accompaniments you'd want to put in. It really refers more to the packaging and a way of getting some food to-go than what is inside and is as ubiquitous in Indonesia as bento boxes are in Japan.
While the idea was that the banana leaf (natural and ubiquitous) will hold the oil, moisutre, and sauces in, it certainly didn't hurt that its fragrances seeps into the warm rice.

These days and in LA in particular though, certain staple items are expected to be found inside. An egg. Some beef rendang. Some sort of chicken, and of course some sort of vegetable medley.

I started my acquisitions with the easiest and closest:

Simpang Asia
10433 National Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90034

I ordered a nasi bungkus to go (because that's what nasi bungkus was meant to be in the first place). They wrapped the rice and further put it in a styrofoam box - a little redundant? - with a side of shrimp chips.
In this nasi bungkus ($6.99) they put white rice, chicken, beef rendang, vegetable curry (lodeh), potatoes with chicken gizzard, Balinese egg.
Their chicken was surprisingly tender, but unfortunately the rendang wasn't as tender as it could've been. My favorite part was the morsels of delicious chicken gizzard chunks. The lodeh was also flavorful without being too spicy. Since lodeh is a coconut-based vegetable curry, it adds a richness to the dish and the part of the rice that has soaked up this curry sauce was incredibly delicious. The rice itself is for the most part fragrant after having been wrapped inside the banana leaf.

Next was the restaurant across the street that J Gold had visited:

Indo Cafe
10430 National Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90034-4664

Indo Cafe's nasi bungkus contained white rice, beef rendang, green beans, hard boiled egg, chicken curry, tofu/tempeh curry.
This was served with a dollop of green chile, which is traditionally from the Padang region in Sumatra. The rice did receive some fragrance from the banana leaf, but it wasn't as moist as Simpang Asia's. The beef rendang was more tender, however, and more than makes up for it. Surprisingly, my favorite part of the dish was the curried tofu and tempeh. The tempeh here was one of the better ones in the city, chewier and not as dry as others.

Java Spice
1743 Fullerton Road
Rowland Heights, CA 91748-2614
Java Spice on Urbanspoon

At one point I managed to enlist Wandering Chopsticks and Sinosoul and dragged them all the way to Rowland Heights for the LA Times-mentioned nasi bungkus at Java Spice.

Since it received such a great write-up and is only available on the weekends, Java Spice was packed on a Saturday night and service was painfully slow.

All that aside, let's focus on the dish we came for.
Inside: rice, marinated fried chicken (ayam kalasan), tofu, tempeh, telur kecap (egg boiled in soy sauce), and of course, beef rendang, jackfruit curry.
The rice was particularly fragrant and brought this dish to a whole new level. It was much more fragrant and rich I was suspecting that it might've been coconut rice, but it might've just been the results of the curry and sauces seeping through. The ayam kalasan was disappointing as it was too sweet, a little tough and didn't really go with the rest of the dish (so I thought - chicken curry in my nasi bungkus please). Putting the chicken aside, everything else was great. The rendang was very tender and so was the jackfruit curry - usually a rare sight unless you're eating nasi gudeg.

They also serve this with a side of green chili, which was also particularly good. Sinosoul had to ask for more chili even if he had to face the possibility of them spitting in it (we've been giving them a hard time for their service ...)

I thought I was almost done but just to check I called other Indonesian places that I knew and found yet another one that serves nasi bungkus!

Sate House
812 Nogales Avenue
Walnut, CA 91789-4170
Sate House on Urbanspoon

Like Java Spice, the nasi bungkus at Sate House is also only available on Saturdays and Sundays. I had to make this trek twice because the first Saturday I went they had already run out. I was on a mission, however, and thus made the 23 mile drive again the next weekend.

A little different this time. The beef rendang was there, with fried chicken and egg, but the green beans with tofu and tempeh were not curried but just boiled, and the whole thing was topped with some stir fried vermicelli.
I'm sure you all understand why everything is piled on top of the rice right? So that their sauces and juices will trickle down and douse the rice moist with spicy, flavorful sauce ...
Probably the least spicy of the five, I enjoyed this one quite a bit with the fork-tender beef and moist and tender chicken. The vermicelli was quite a nice touch as well, adding another dimension of texture.

I saved the furthest restaurant for last but finally made my way down to the 562 area, Bellflower.

Toko Rame
17155 Bellflower Blvd
Bellflower, CA 90706
Toko Rame on Urbanspoon
Toko Rame in Los Angeles

The nasi bungkus from Toko Rame had gotten a write-up a few years ago from Elmo Monster, a fellow foodblogger from Indonesia whom I unfortunately have not met.

Upon picking up my order I immediately thought "Wow, this is the heaviest one yet!" and upon opening it and seeing the red pile of rice, thought "Uh oh, this is gonna be the spiciest one .."
White rice topped with egg balado, beef rendang, fried chicken drumstick, lodeh (vegetable curry)
nasibungkus (1)
I sat a big bottle of water next to me and I was ready. Some people complain that the beef rendang found in this part of the world is just not as spicy as back home. Well, Toko Rame's is still not as spicy but it sure does pack a heat. The beef was earthy and tender, the chicken a little dry but had a nice turmeric flavor. The boiled cabbage on top was contrastingly unspiced which helped me tone down the spiciness but on the other hand could be detracting.

Toko Rame already mixed the rice with the chili paste for you, you see, instead of putting a dollop in a corner. The end result is an amazingly spicy and flavorful rice that you won't be able to stop eating even after you've finished all the meat and vegetables. If you can't, don't worry, just rewrap the rice for the next day... back in the banana leaf, of course.

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