Spring Break: Nature, Culture, and Gastronomy

Last summer, when my parents and I drove out to Los Angeles, we tried to have dinner at Newport Seafood (新港海鮮), a restaurant in San Gabriel famous for its Chinese-style lobster. When we arrived, having driven across the desert from Arizona, we found ourselves in a parking lot that looked a bit like that traffic gridlock game Rush Hour. My mother went inside the restaurant to reconnoiter and reported a scene of chaos: an entryway teeming with small children while grandmothers propped themselves up against the walls. Needless to say, we failed in our quest to eat there. Over my spring break, though, we tried again. This time, we arrived before the restaurant opened for lunch, and my brother and I camped out on the sidewalk with half a dozen other families while my parents checked out the Chinese bakeries down the street. And…success! We ordered our lobster, and it was amazing.

Lobster

The next day, we visited Topanga State Park in the Santa Monica Mountains and went on a gentle hike through live oak groves and chaparral. There weren’t many wildflowers in bloom, probably because it’s been so dry, but we saw some lizards and a California lupine, and we heard the call of the wrentit.

Topanga

On the way back from Topanga State Park, we stopped by the beach and watched some sandpipers.

Sandpipers

The following day, we took a winding road up into the San Bernardino Mountains and rose above the clouds to reach the Rim of the World. We went on to Lake Arrowhead Village, a kitschy tourist town on the shores of a blue-green reservoir populated by mallards, coots, white geese, and other waterfowl. We also walked around the nearby Lake Gregory.

Rim of the World

On our way back, we stopped for dinner at 101 Noodle Express in Alhambra. They had delicious dumplings and hand-torn noodles with minced pork and long bean, but the star of the show was this Shandong beef roll. It’s a giant fried pancake wrapped around thinly sliced beef, cilantro, and other greens, with a bit of sauce that tasted like hoisin sauce. Very different from the kind of Chinese food I grew up eating, and so incredibly delicious.

Shandong beef roll

We spent the next day in downtown LA, prowling around Walt Disney Concert Hall, home of the Los Angeles Philharmonic; visiting the Japanese American National Museum; and exploring Little Tokyo. I really liked this flower-shaped fountain made of shards of blue and white china in the Disney Hall community park.

Fountain 1

Fountain 2

Fountain 3

Fountain 4

Fountain 5

Before walking to Disney Hall, we’d put our name down at Daikokuya, a very popular ramen shop in Little Tokyo. When we returned, there were even more people waiting on the sidewalk in front of the restaurant than when we’d left. The sheet with our name on it was gone, replaced by a new one, but my mother got a server to fish the old sheet out of a wastebasket and find us on it and thus finagled us three red vinyl-covered stools at the counter. And that’s how I got to eat this savory bowl of ramen.

Ramen

After lunch, we explored the nearby Japanese American National Museum, particularly the exhibit on the history of the Japanese communities in the United States, which rightly devoted significant space to the Japanese American internment. I particularly liked this biwa, though, a traditional Japanese lute related to the Chinese pipa.

Biwa

Finally, to wrap up this spring break post, here is me at The Huntington Gardens, with a purple-flowered vine whose names include Queen’s Wreath, Blue Bird Vine, and Fleur de Dieu.

Huntington (36)

3 thoughts on “Spring Break: Nature, Culture, and Gastronomy

  1. First of all, that fried meat roll looks so delicious I want to reach into my computer screen and take a bite out of it right now. Secondly, the detail shots of the porcelain are very pretty. I’m glad to hear — and a bit jealous, I suppose — about your food- and nature-centric vacation! How I miss California and its wealth of Asian food that is not only traditional Korean food… 😛

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