Tag Archive | Chinese food

The Giant Robot Post-It Show

Giant Robot is a store and art gallery in Sawtelle, the traditionally Japanese-American neighborhood on the Westside where I’ve gone to Obon the last couple of years. I’ve been to exhibits at Giant Robot’s gallery before. Every December, they have a post-it show for which dozens of artists (many of whom have exhibited at the gallery or have works available in the store) create art on actual post-it notes. The post-its are then displayed in a wide band around the perimeter of the small gallery; rows and columns are labeled so a given post-it can be pinpointed. The public is invited to view the post-its during a preview event, and then sales begin. People camp out for hours for the chance to buy the post-its they want. Also, there’s now a second drop of post-its on a second weekend.

Isabelle and I caught the end of the preview on the first day of this year’s post-it show, but first, we shared a bowl of Japanese-style dan dan noodles at Killer Noodle. Sawtelle is full of popular restaurants, and Killer Noodle is a relatively new one I had yet to try. Their core concept is two seven-point scales: one for   (the numbing flavor/sensation of Sichuan peppercorn) and one for (spiciness, in this case from cayenne pepper). We got three and three, and it was very tasty, but I’d go for less next time.

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After lunch, we went to the Giant Robot gallery. There were already people parked on the sidewalk, waiting for sales to begin; I couldn’t see how far the line went once it turned the corner. The preview was also packed. We entered a sort of human river that slowly flowed clockwise along the walls. It was hard to take in every post-it, but we spotted a lot that we liked. Here are some of my favorites:

Chinese New Year and More Zines

As I’d hoped, I went to the AAPI Dialogues zine-making workshop in Powell Library with Isabelle last week. The workshop was part of the Common Book events related to Thi Bui’s The Best We Could Do, which started as zines. Someone explained how to make a zine out of a single sheet of paper (the same technique we’d learned at the Long Beach Zine Fest), and then the rest of the workshop was completely unstructured. There were tables set up with stacks of colored paper, pens, crayons, glitter, and piles of magazines for cutting up. There were a lot of issues of KoreAm, and I also found an issue of the bilingual WAPOW/華報, an LA Chinatown magazine. I made a larger format zine about some of my friendships. It’s all text, no illustrations, except for borders in colored Sharpie. Toward the end of the workshop somebody saw how much I’d written and remarked that I’d produced a lot of “content.”

The next day, I made it to the AAPI Dialogues book club for Thi Bui’s The Best We Could Do. It was the second week, but they alternate between Wednesdays and Thursdays, and I can only go on Wednesdays. It’s a very small group, but I enjoyed it a lot; it was nice to get out of my department and spend some time with some folks in Asian American Studies. We actually only talked about the book about half the time. The rest of the conversation was wide-ranging. There were other writers, so we talked about our stories, and opportunities for writers of color, and speculative fiction. I’m looking forward to going back!

At the zine-making workshop, I’d folded a single-sheet zine but hadn’t started making a zine out of it because I didn’t have a fully formed idea. I’d had the seed of an idea about preparing for Chinese New Year with new relatives I didn’t know very well, but it wasn’t until later in the week that circumstances gave rise to new material for such a zine. On Thursday evening, I wrote and illustrated most of what would become Chinese New Year with the Cousins-in-law, Vol. 1. I left the last page blank because I didn’t yet know what was going to happen!

Last year, I wrote about going to my mother’s cousin’s wedding in Maui. My cousin’s wife is from Los Angeles, and this year I was invited to join her family for Chinese New Year. My cousin and his wife and my great-aunt from Minnesota, who was visiting them, came down from San Francisco. I got picked up on Friday afternoon and stayed with the cousins-in-law for about 24 hours. On Friday evening, fourteen of us had dinner at a restaurant. We had lobster, crab and fish maw soup, and white cut chicken, among other dishes (I only figured out what some of the food was (called) afterwards). I stayed overnight, and the following morning, my great-aunt, my cousin, his wife, her aunt, and her aunt’s son went to Din Tai Fung at a mall that was well-decorated for the Lunar New Year. We had xiaolongbao and other dumplings and noodles and black sesame buns for dessert. Later that day, my cousin took me back to the Westside, and in the evening, my friend Meng hosted the Chinese and Chinese-affiliated folks from the department for hotpot. So I think I can say I thoroughly celebrated Chinese New Year.

Calligraphy by Andy, my former undergraduate student and current fellow grad student

And here is Chinese New Year with the Cousins-in-law, Vol. 1! Stay tuned for Vol. 2!

Friendsgiving

Quick announcement: YA Book Central is running a giveaway of 3 signed copies of Wildings, so if you want to enter, you can do so over there!

Until this year, I’d always celebrated Thanksgiving with my family. I was lucky enough to be able to go home for the holiday throughout college and for each of my first three years of grad school. This year, since I was just in Minnesota for the release of Wildings, I decided not to fly home for Thanksgiving. Instead, I hosted Friendsgiving for eight. As the host, and the only American, I was rather invested in cooking all the traditional dishes (for my definition of traditional) for my friends, some of whom had never attended a Thanksgiving meal. As it turned out, everyone at the gathering was Chinese, but we represented five different nationalities: American, Singaporean, Canadian, Chinese, and French.

As Thanksgiving approached, I occasionally asked myself if I had gotten in over my head, but in the end everything went swimmingly. I was most paranoid about the two turkey breasts I was roasting, since I’d never roasted any large piece of meat before, but I did not turn them into cardboard.

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Tuesday: Bake pumpkin pie

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Wednesday: Make stuffing

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Wednesday: Also make sweet potato salad (no marshmallows here)

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Thursday afternoon: Make cranberry sauce (no cans here)

The complete feast included turkey, Meng’s bacon-y mashed potatoes, stuffing, gravy, sweet potato salad, Isabelle’s green beans, cranberry sauce, and Adeline’s coleslaw. Elly (a visiting scholar in our department) and her family brought beef, pig ear, tofu, and authentic kung pao chicken with chilies and peppercorns, and we had white rice too. (It felt like my family’s Thanksgiving, which always consists of an American feast and a Chinese feast combined!) For dessert, there was the pumpkin pie and a walnut cake my mother sent me.

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It was an intergenerational gathering, since Elly brought her father and her five-year-old son. We all gathered around the coffee table with our plates to eat. A significant portion of the conversation was in Mandarin, and everyone else eventually played a Chinese language game (I refused to join in, pleading insufficient Mandarin vocabulary).

These feel like dark times, but I have countless things to be thankful for: a loving family, wonderful friends, an academic home, the opportunity to write stories and have them read. And this month particularly I’m also thankful for the water protectors at Standing Rock, the activists who work day after day to change this country and our world, and the people who challenge me and help me to become a better person.

紅樓夢 – Dream of the Red Chamber

The second weekend of September, I joined my parents in San Francisco for the premiere of a new opera, Dream of the Red Chamber, based on the 18th century Chinese classic 紅樓夢 (Dream of Red Mansions) by Cao Xueqin. The Chinese Heritage Foundation, a Minnesota organization, commissioned the opera, and the San Francisco Opera produced it. The music was composed by Chinese-American composer Bright Sheng, and Sheng collaborated with Chinese-American playwright David Henry Hwang on the libretto.

This was my third trip to San Francisco this year, and this time, instead of flying, I took Amtrak’s Coast Starlight up the coast. It’s an 11-12 hour journey one way between Los Angeles and Oakland. I brought the first two volumes (out of three) of Gladys Yang and Yang Xianyi’s English translation of A Dream of Red Mansions to read on my trip.

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Ocean view on the Coast Starlight

The evening before the opera premiere, there was a Chinese banquet for the Minnesota delegation to the premiere. I tried abalone, sea cucumber, and bird’s nest soup for the first time. I was also seated next to Kevin Smith, former director of the Minnesota Opera and current president of the Minnesota Orchestra! He played a crucial role in making Dream of the Red Chamber a reality.

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My banquet place setting

The morning of the premiere, we went to the Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park.

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Japanese Tea Garden

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Lotus painted on the ceiling of the gate

In the evening, we arrived at the War Memorial Opera House for the performance. I said hi to David Henry Hwang in the lobby! The production was spectacular, particularly the sets. The score was Western, but there was a qin in the orchestra. The libretto was in English, and there were both English and Chinese surtitles. I amused myself during the opera by attempting to read the Chinese and comparing it with the English. Now and then I could read an entire Chinese sentence, and I also noticed places where the English and Chinese differed (e.g. while the singers said “Red Chamber” the Chinese might say 大觀園).

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Opera togs

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On our way from the opera house back to our hotel, we wound up in the cab of a (white American) taxi driver who turned out to speak Mandarin. He kept up a stream-of-consciousness monologue about the Dowager Empress Cixi selling Taishanese people to the U.S. to build the transcontinental railroad, Ho Chi Minh, and his college Chinese professor’s hatred of 廣東話 (Cantonese). That is, when he wasn’t asking us to explain the character , the second character of Cixi’s name, to him.

I had only read about 26 chapters of the novel when I saw the opera. Now I’m on Chapter 59. I hope to finish one of these days!

中秋節 – Mid-Autumn Festival

Monday was the Mid-Autumn Festival, a Chinese celebration of the harvest and the full moon. On Saturday, my roommate and I traveled to Chinatown to buy moon cakes for the occasion. We first met a friend of mine who goes to Caltech for lunch at Sam Woo, where we ate braised fish with tofu (a dish which included, to our surprise, a fair amount of pork), green beans with minced pork, and beef pan-fried noodles with pickled vegetable.

We then walked to Phoenix Bakery for the moon cakes. The bakery sells quite an assortment of pastries and confections, from French-style viennoiseries to mochi ice cream, from enormous frosted cakes covered with sliced almonds to savory buns and dim sum items. And moon cakes, of course! What’s more, they were 25% off!

They had the traditional red bean paste and lotus seed paste fillings I like, so I bought one of each, both without egg yolks inside. The moon cakes were labeled in Chinese and had quite poetic names. The lotus seed one was marked 雙鳳蓮蓉月 (shuāngfèng liánróng yuè), which means “double phoenix lotus seed paste moon.” (The character for lotus, 蓮, is in my Chinese name.) My roommate’s lotus seed moon cake with two egg yolks was labeled 雙黃 (shuānghuáng), “double yellow” instead of “double phoenix.” To my surprise, the red bean paste moon cake was labeled 玫瑰豆沙月 (méiguī dòushā yuè), which means “rugosa rose bean paste moon.” I’m not sure why a red bean moon cake is called rose. Maybe because roses can be red?

We waited until Monday, the day of the festival, to taste the moon cakes. Both the red bean and the lotus seed were very good.

Red bean paste moon cake

Red bean paste moon cake

Lotus seed paste moon cake

Lotus seed paste moon cake

Blurry inside of lotus seed paste moon cake

Blurry inside of lotus seed paste moon cake

Since I figured it would be a long time before I had another chance to visit a Chinese bakery, I bought a couple of other things too. First, a baked barbecued pork bun, which I hadn’t had in ages and which tasted exactly how I remembered.

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Second, a rice dumpling (粽子 – zòngzi), which the bakery called a Chinese tamale. It’s a packet of sticky rice filled with pork, Chinese sausage, a salted egg yolk, and other tidbits (I’m accustomed to mushroom and peanuts, but this one had neither and I think had mung beans), the whole thing wrapped in bamboo or lotus leaves and tied with string. Zongzi are associated with the summer Dragon Boat Festival, but I will happily eat them whenever. They are so good. My great-grandmother used to make them.

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Sadly, when we visited, the bakery didn’t seem to have any egg tarts, the delicious yellow custards in flaky crust that you can get at dim sum. If there had been any, I definitely would have bought one. Or several.

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.

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