626 Night Market – July 2013

Food Adventures, Los Angeles

On select weekends this summer, the 626 team transforms the Santa Anita Race Track into a Taiwanese style night market, complete with rows of vendors hawking a variety of noms and live music performances to keep the crowds energized. The very first 626 Night Market in 2012 clearly met a real need, attracting far more attendees than the venue could handle. But thanks to this year’s planning team (including our friends Brian & Patricia) subsequent Night Markets have seen dramatic improvement. Still, the crowds are pretty epic — this past weekend brought out 55,000 Angelenos and even long distance visitors, trumping the June weekend’s record of 40,000 attendees.

Summer Garden Nights: 3 weekends (and now Labor Day Weekend as well!)

Summer Garden Nights: 3 weekends (and now Labor Day Weekend as well!)

While a night market experience isn’t quite the same unless the sun’s down, we opted to go early, right at 4pm when it opened, so we could maximize our time sampling noms. Shorter lines, less congested walkways, and plenty of delicious inventory that will certainly sell out as the night progresses? We can handle some hot summer sun for that.

Tan San Skewers

Tan San Skewers

Be sure to grab a vendor directory when you walk in. Those looking to stay green can download the PDF from their website and view it on their smartphones instead. It will help you a) identify mysterious-looking noms, b) track down your favorite noms, and c) avoid (or find, depending on your preferences) the STZ – Stinky Tofu Zone.

This is our friend Zhu. He's proud of that lamb skewer.

This is our friend Zhu. He’s proud of that lamb skewer.

The first thing we gravitated toward were these smoky, meaty lamb skewers from Tan San. Fresh off the grill, the lamb itself was a bit chewy, but the seasonings were enhanced by the charred bits from the barbecue.

Takoyaki and Okonomiyaki!

Miniyaki Takoyaki and Okonomiyaki!

There were a surprising number of Japanese food vendors, expanding the scope of the Night Market to encompass many Asian street food cultures. I was extra excited about takoyaki. I love okonomiyaki too, but I love takoyaki so much that I sometimes sing the Takoyaki Song.

Miniyaki: Wasabi Takoyaki

Miniyaki: Wasabi Takoyaki

I grabbed an order of the wasabi takoyaki from Miniyaki. 6 delicious balls of octopus-filled batter, drizzled with sweet okonomi sauce and wasabi mayo and topped with a mound of shaved bonito flakes. Whoever said “Money can’t buy happiness” obviously never spent $5 on an order of these. おいしかった~!

Brace yourselves for this next one…

Rosal's Family Shoppe: Balut

Rosal’s Family Shoppe: Balut

A common street food throughout Southeast Asia and the Philippines, balut is really tastes much better than it looks. As a kid, I used to eat this with my dad; he would let me have the hardened yolk and drink the brothy juice while he ate the duck. Martin and Zhu dug right in, though this one was a little too developed for Martin’s tastes.

Simbala: Taiwanese Sausage

Simbala: Taiwanese Sausage

The boys had grabbed refreshments from a Stella Artois booth, so naturally the next victim would be more noms that pair well with beer: Taiwanese sausages from Simbala. The texture was firmer than expected and it reminded me of a Vietnamese lap xuong. Very juicy and flavorful and also went well with…

Wei's Scallion Pancakes

Wei’s Scallion Pancake Hut

…scallion pancakes! Crispy flat discs of flaky dough layered with chopped scallions (green onions), fried on a griddle until golden brown. And for only $4? Sold!

Anxiously watching them fry my scallion pancake

Anxiously watching them fry my scallion pancake

Each pancake was made to order and arrived hot off the griddle. I watched the grill master skillfully monitor and flip eight pancakes at a time (not all at once, of course, though that would be incredibly impressive!).

Wei's: Green Onion Pancake

Wei’s: Green Onion Pancake

It was everything I had hoped for and more. They offered sweet chili sauce, garlic soy sauce, and generic unlabeled hot sauce that suspiciously resembled sriracha. I kept it simple with just a dab or two of sriracha. They were excellent plain too.

Gottsui~!

Gottsui~!

As we wove through the crowds, we noticed a distinctly long line gathering. We discovered that it was none other than my latest Sawtelle obsession, Gottsui! The guys seemed like they were having a great time. I was tempted to grab one but I think I’ll just have to make a return visit to their storefront. Really soon. また ね~!

Turkish Doner Kebab

Turkish Doner Kebab

Turning the corner, we found a selection of more international cuisines – Mexican, Turkish, Indonesian… The guys at Turkish Doner Kebab even brought out fresh spits of turning shwarma and generously offered samples for us to try. So moist and so good. Unfortunately I was getting too full to finish my own pita pocket.

Aunty Merry Indonesian Food

Aunty Merry Indonesian Food

People seemed to be raving over the grilled corn here at Aunty Merry, but Martin spotted the bird’s egg curry skewers and had to have it. Both of us noticed that the bird must be quail and well, quail’s eggs are delicious!

Aunty Merry: Bird's Egg Curry Skewer

Aunty Merry: Bird’s Egg Curry Skewer

Lightly marinated in curry sauce, these hard boiled quail eggs were tender and succulent. They lacked the punch we had expected with the curry description, but it’s possible that the creamy yolks overpowered any seasoning.

Tea Lane: Candied Hawthorn (or Haw) Berries

Tea Lane: Candied Hawthorn (or Haw) Berries

Now these were something I did not expect to find on a skewer. Hawthorn berries are often used in Chinese candies, most memorably the chewy red discs packaged in paper tubes that I knew as “haw flakes.” This was my first time trying the fruit itself, and it was just as sweet-tart as I expected. The hard candy coating was done well – not sticky at all.

Starry Kitchen

Starry Kitchen

We made our way around the ring of food trucks which featured the usual suspects – Grilled Cheese Truck, Lobsta Truck (one of our favs!), Ludo Truck, and many more. But then I spotted Starry Kitchen. Okay fine, I saw the dude in the banana suit long before I even saw the banner.

Starry Kitchen: Pandan Churros with Kaya Cream

Starry Kitchen: Pandan Churros with Kaya Cream

Genius. Pure genius. The pandan churros tasted exactly like my memories of buying freshly pressed lá dứa waffles at Van’s Bakery back home in the OC, but in bite-sized, chewy+crispy stick form. The kaya coconut cream was so deliciously sweet and fragrant that I scooped out every drop with my last churro. So freaking good.

CoCo Tea House

CoCo Fresh Tea

The guys all made a boba stop to get a milk tea from CoCo. I noticed they had recently opened a location at the Olympic Collection on Sawtelle, but apparently they have over a thousand locations, 900 of which are in China alone! Crazy!

Thoke: A Burmese Kitchen

Thoke: A Burmese Kitchen

Of course we had to circle back to visit Thoke. There we found some familiar faces, our friends from camp! Jason and Sherlock were busy manning the fryer, serving up some hot egg rolls and curry potato samosas.

Thoke: Curry Potato Samosa

Thoke: Curry Potato Samosa

One bite and you’ll be hooked after hearing the satisfying crackle of the golden brown pastry shell, but it’s the flavor-packed curry potato filling that really makes it an awesome addition to the variety of street food at the night market. Kudos!

Grilled Octopus

Grilled Squid and Octopus

I REALLY wanted to get one of these, but it was already 7pm and the lines were quickly building at every vendor’s stall. The aroma of grilled squid and octopus legs wafted through the air, a welcome change from the… pungent stinky tofu.

Last Stop: iSweet Snow Ice

Last Stop: iSweet Snow Ice

I saw snow ice and had a feeling it would resemble Blockheads Shavery. We decided to go simple and get a watermelon snow ice, plain (no toppings).

Zhu and the Watermelon Snow Ice

Zhu and the Watermelon Snow Ice

I always worry that watermelon desserts will get their flavor from the artificial stuff, but luckily, summer is the perfect season for the real stuff. The snow ice here was fluffy and really carried the essence of real watermelon, down to its gentle sweetness. Really a great way to end a prevening of nonstop nomming.

626 Night Market: Summer Garden Nights is an awesome event, and we’re glad we got to visit and try delicious noms from so many awesome vendors. If you have not yet checked it out or if you’re still traumatized from the very first one, mark your calendars for August 3-4th AND the newly added Labor Day Weekend!

Bring cash, wear comfortable shoes, and go early or prepare for 30+ minute waits. Admission is only $2 before 6pm, $3 after, and parking is absolutely FREE. What are you waiting for? 626 Night Market is the largest Asian night market in the US!

UPDATE:

GIANT BOBA!

GIANT BOBA! (via 626 Night Market FB page)

Interested in being part of the World’s Largest Cup of Boba?! Check out their Kickstarter and the potential unveiling at the August weekend of Summer Garden Nights! 320 gallons of milk tea in a 6 foot tall plastic cup — it’s definitely going to be a sight to see!

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Check out 626 Night Market: 626nightmarket.com

285 W Huntington Dr
Arcadia, CA 91007

See their Yelp reviews here!

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Dim Sum – 888 Restaurant – Rosemead, CA

Food Adventures, San Gabriel Valley

Brunch is definitely the “thing” to do in Los Angeles on sunny weekend mornings. But as much as I love my crab cake benedicts and mimosas, there’s nothing that quite compares to a dim sum “brunch.” Dim sum is traditionally known as the food that accompanies yum cha, a session of enjoying tea with the main star being the tea and the dumplings, etc. acting as secondary characters. In the US, dim sum is commonly used to refer to the whole meal inclusive of tea. The meal includes fried or steamed dishes such as bao (steamed buns) and dumplings of all shapes, sizes, and fillings.

Dumplings

Dim Sum Dumplings

One of our favorite places to partake in dim sum is 888 Restaurant in Rosemead, Martin’s hometown. The food is pretty darn good, the service is friendly enough, the prices are very affordable, and they serve dim sum until 3pm. 3pm! That means we could sleep past noon just like the good ol’ college days and still make it there from the Westside in time to enjoy a smorgasbord of dishes! Yes, this happens quite often.

Here are some of our favorite dim sum staples:

1) Har gow (pictured above, left): steamed dumplings with a clear, chewy rice flour wrapper encasing a ball of shrimp and ginger. A dim sum staple, this and shiu mai are the most popular dumplings, but fear not — the dim sum places know this too and always have plenty available for purchase.

2) Xiao long bao (pictured above, right): Taiwanese steamed soup dumplings. They don’t quite measure up to the ones at Din Tai Fung, but if you’re really craving it, these soup-filled pork dumplings will hit the spot. Don’t forget the vinegar!

Sticky Rice (before)

Sticky Rice (before)

Sticky Rice (after)

Sticky Rice (after)

3) Lo mai gai: savory sticky rice steamed in lotus leaves. Tender, gooey rice drenched in saucy braised pork, fragrant with the infused aroma of the lotus leaf wrapper — so yummy!

Tripe & Daikon Stew

Tripe & Daikon Stew

4) I’ve seen this referred to as “niu za” but if you ask for tripe, usually they’ll know what to give you. A hearty bowl of daikon (radish) cubes and stewed beef tripe in a flavorful broth, this one is one of the more “adventurous” dishes but definitely give it a go.

Xia chang fun - shrimp rice noodles

Xia chang fun – shrimp rice noodles

5) Xia Chang Fun: sheets of freshly steamed rice noodles rolled up with whole shrimp and served drizzled with a sweet soy sauce. This is one of our all-time favorite dishes, reminiscent of Vietnamese bánh cuốn. Prepared properly, the noodles will have a chewy, not mushy, and the shrimp will be just cooked and tender.

Turnip Cake

Turnip Cake

6) Luo buo gao: blocks of doughy rice flour containing bits of turnip and occasionally other add-ins like taro or Chinese sausage, sliced and pan fried to order. These are a bit greasy (they’re oiled to keep the blocks of dough from sticking to each other, and then oiled again to keep the slices from sticking to the griddle) but oh so delicious. Even on days when I’m trying to be “good” and healthy, I can’t resist the roasty-toasty aroma wafting from the cart.

Turnip Cake Cart

Turnip Cake Cart

Yes, friends, I risked ending up on Asians Taking Pictures of Food in order to capture this moment for all of you. I hope you enjoy it.

Bor Lor Bao

Bor Lor Bao

7) Bor lor bao: literally translated as “pineapple buns,” these sweet treats do not necessarily contain pineapple at all! They are named for the crust, which cracks and crumbles like the scales of a pineapple. The top is crispy and flaky, the bottom is soft and fluffy, and the filling is usually a sweet eggy custard. So good!

Mango Pudding

Mango Pudding

8) Mango pudding: Martin’s favorite dim sum dessert, this mango pudding is often prepared using the boxed mix, but sometimes we luck out and find a place that prepares theirs with fresh mango puree. Don’t forget to have it drizzled with milk!

Sweet Tofu

Sweet Tofu

9) Doufu Hua: freshly made silken tofu served with a ginger-infused simple syrup, this sweet warm dessert is the perfect way to end a dim sum meal.

Dahn Tat (Egg Tarts)

Dahn Tat (Egg Tarts)

10) Dahn tat: Flaky layers of dough make up the tart base, each tart is filled with creamy egg custard. These are an iconic dim sum dessert, but watch how many you eat — the custard has plenty of egg yolk and you know what makes the tarts so flaky? Lard. Still, life’s too short not to enjoy one or two every once in a while.

These are just a few highlights of our favorite dim sum dishes. Not pictured but noteworthy is the ever-popular char siu bao, a.k.a. barbecue pork buns a.k.a. manapua (for all you Hawaiians out there!). Warm, fluffy steamed buns filled with a sweet and salty pork filling, these are the perfect “starter” item for first-time dim sum goers.

One of the biggest appeals of 888 is that they still serve dim sum the fun way – with carts pushed through the aisles, navigating the maze of tables in the dining room. You can peruse the offerings in their cart and point to what you want or ask for it by name (see a few of our pointers above!). They then stamp your order sheet according to the price range of each dish, and when you’re stuffed to the brim with dumplings and (if you specified) chrysanthemum tea, a guy in a suit will come over and tally your bill with mind-bogglingly quick mental math. Definitely a unique experience!

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Check out 888 Restaurant:

8450 E Valley Blvd, Ste 121
Rosemead, CA 91770

See their Yelp reviews here!

PS: If you’re craving some soy sauce chicken, check out the small barbecue shop located just behind the restaurant (it’s an extension of 888) that has ducks and sides of pork hanging in the window. If you come in the afternoons on the weekends, sometimes they’ll have dim sum leftovers for sale (I’ve been known to snag some last minute bor lor bao this way).

Steamed Fish with Scallion-Ginger-Soy Sauce

Main Dishes, Recipes

My dad is a master at sampling dishes at restaurants, deciding he could do it himself, and going home to replicate (and most times, improving on) said dishes. I’d like to think that I got that culinary gene from him, but in the meantime, at least I get to benefit from the magician finally revealing his secret (recipe, that is!).

Steamed fish fillets, swimming in a ginger-soy sauce and topped with bright julienned scallions, is a prime example of a simple yet intricately flavored dish found on the menus of many Chinese restaurants. There’s just nothing quite like spooning the sweet and salty sauce over a bowl of white rice and flaking apart the tender fish with my chopsticks to make me feel right at home.

NomCat tip for the ingredients:

The Fish: Costco. My parents love to keep it easy, and once they introduced the frozen, individually vacuum-sealed tilapia loins from Costco to us, we never looked back. It’s easy to pull as many (or as few) fillets as you need, thaw them in the sink, and have dinner on the table in 15 minutes, which works perfectly for us coming home from a long day at work. They are packaged by weight, so one $14 bag will have about 10-12 fillets.

From frozen fillet to this in just 15 minutes:

Picture-perfect steamed fish topped with lots of scallions!

Ingredients:

2 tilapia loin fillets, frozen or thawed (you could also use any white fish)

1 bunch of green onions (just the whites, save the greens for another dish)

2 tablespoons soy sauce

1 teaspoon sesame oil

2 tablespoons cold water

1 teaspoon sugar

1/2 teaspoon minced ginger (or ginger paste)

The fish can be cooked in two ways: in a steamer or (my favorite) in the microwave. Yes, I said it. The Microwave. Maybe it’s because we were college students not long ago, but I love healthy, homemade dishes that can be prepared by microwave. If you have time, you can thaw the fillets in the sink for about an hour or overnight in the refrigerator. If you’re short on time, fear not! Simply adjust the cooking times – it may even be for the better since the fish will have extra time to soak in the delicious sauce.

We like to eat this with white rice, so you’ll want to start by getting the rice cooker going. If you’re using a steamer (or a steam pot?) to cook the fish, you’ll want to get the water boiling. Then it’s time to show off your knife skills by slicing the whites of the green onion into a fine julienne.

Julienned Scallions

I know, mine aren’t that finely cut. That’s okay too. The finer the cut, the better the scallion wilts as it sits over the hot fish. The wilting helps it lose the bitter onion-y flavor. (So yes, by not cutting very well, I literally tasted my defeat.)

The sauce is pretty easy. Just throw the last 5 ingredients together in a small bowl. You may want to adjust the proportion a bit to your own preference. Some like it saltier, some like it sweeter. It’s okay to make it a bit more potent that you’d expect, because the cooking process will let the juices from the fish mingle with the sauce and dilute (and at the same time, add flavor to) the sauce. Whipping it with chopsticks or a fork will be the best way to break up the globules of sesame oil.

(Soy) Saucy, isn’t it?

Now just unwrap the fish fillets, give them a quick rinse, pat dry with paper towels, and arrange them in a microwave safe dish. The Pyrex pie pan is unconventional but perfect for this. Drizzle the sauce over the fish fillets, flipping if necessary to coat them. I like to fish (pun intended) out the floating bits of ginger and lay them over the fish pieces. At this point, it is ready to go into the steamer or microwave. For the microwave route, tightly cover the dish in plastic wrap to create a hot and steamy cooking environment. Steam until the fish is opaque and flakes cleanly. Times will vary depending on the method and whether the fish is frozen or thawed. We did frozen fillets in the microwave for about 5 minutes on high.

Ready to go!

Be careful when opening the steamer or removing the plastic wrap as the steam will be very hot! The sauce will have settled, so baste the tops of the fillets before topping with the scallion. Bon appetit!