Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Los Angeles and its ethnic foods

Los Angeles, California.

It's a foreign country for us residing on the east side of the Rocky Mountains--a sun-filled dream of exotic landscape and modern architecture.

But the one essential touch that makes LA the true wonderland for me is the thriving "ethno-burbs" (mainly around San Gabriel Valley), where the Asian--particularly Chinese--scenes can be, and are, loud, proud, and posh. 

The first stop for our LA ethnoburbs tour was Alhambra, CA, where we had very nice "garlic shrimp noodles" at Honey Badger Noodle Shop. This is a bit of a hipster joint with a touch of fusion (you can have French fries with bacon bits and aioli here), but it still maintains the Chinese grandmother's respect for the right way to prepare the food (the noodles were chewy, the fried egg was perfectly runny at the sunny center and crunch around the edge, and the string beans were wonderfully crispy). 

After the meal, we walked three minutes to 85°C Bakery Cafe for the sea salt coffee that I'd yearned for the last two years. "Sea salt in coffee?" you say skeptically? Try it, and you'll be surprised. (The salt is in the cream floating on top of the coffee. The trick is mixing just the right amount of the salty cream in the coffee so that the coffee gets enough taste of the salt without getting overly creamy.)

After the coffee, we drove across Monterey Park... San Gabriel, populated with large Chinese malls.

In San Gabriel Square, we shopped at Ranch 99 (the famous supermarket chain) and a Japanese Daiso store (where you can get all sort of things--from snacks, to cosmetic brushes, to stationery, to mugs and dishes--at $1.50 unless marked otherwise).   

Our biggest gratification came at the Westfield Santa Anita mall at Arcadia.

First, just look at this store called Wing Hop Fung. Here you can buy:

a bird's nest (see the sign up there)

wheels of teas

dried sea worms and sea cumbers, and many more...
The mall's food court features some good-looking Asian eateries. Among them, we chose to dine at Side Chick, a Hainan chicken joint favorably reviewed by the Pulitzer-winning food critic of the LA weekly. (Well, it was Hainan chicken alright, is our own verdict.)

But what truly blew my mind, and nearly brought me to tears, was Uncle Tetsu's cheesecake. The Japanese cheesecake from my childhood in Seoul is light and fluffy, with subtle flavor of cheese, nothing like the dense slap of sugar-loaded cream cheese that is the American cheesecake. And Uncle Tetsu perfected it. You wait in line for your cake to come fresh out of the oven, and it's well worth the wait. I recommend you taste some of it right then and there when it's still warm and light as a cloud (you almost inhale it rather than eating it), and then finish the rest later at home after it cools down.

Each cake is branded with the shop's logo.

The Force is strong with the Japanese food in LA. We were glad to find a few stores of Coco Ichbanya Curry in the area, including the one in Koreatown.  

From the of the savor of the sauce to the texture of the rice, this is the Japanese curry perfection. You can also add cheese to your curry for a different experience. It's fun (the ever stretching strings of mozzarella) and it kinda works. 

A bit north of Santa Monica, off highway 405, you can also find a thriving Japanese (and Asian) neighborhood.

One of the most notable restaurant here is a ramen place called, Tsujita. When I first tried it one and a half years ago, it fundamentally shook my conception of ramen. Beware, however, that the restaurant only accepts cash (as of June 2017) and was showing the sanitary rating of "B" when we visited the shop this time, which is why we skipped ramen and went to a Taiwanese restaurant two doors down the street. But Tsujita definitely is worth a try. Hopefully they cleaned up their act after the "B" rating.   

You cannot talk about ethnic foods in LA without mentioning the K-town. We had dinner at Chunju Han-il Kwan. The dol-sot bibimbob (rice mixed with vegetables and meat in a stone pot) was just what you'd expect based on the regular East-coast experience, but in this restaurant, you can also get what you can't in New England: the spicy crab soup.

Getting the meat out of the blue crab is a challenge, but even if you're lazy (or trying not to gross out your date), the flavor is in the soup.

Din Tai Fung, the Taiwanese dumpling franchise just invading the West Coast, is also worth mentioning. Each little precious pocket of dough holding ground pork and its soup (called xiao-long-bao) is handmade in front of the lustful eyes of the patrons waiting for their numbers to be called outside the shop. The dough here is slightly more matted than that of your average xiao-long-bao. You can also experience the truffle pork xia-long-bao at $4 per a bite-sized dumpling. 

Los Angeles, California.

It's a foreign country for us residing anywhere outside it--a delicious dream that haunts you between the meal times and reminds you how to be an Asian-American in a proper way.

Old notes: Quote from "Hamlet and his problems" by T.S. Eliot.

"The only way of expressing emotion in the form of art is by finding an “objective correlative”; in other words, a set of objects, a situation, a chain of events which shall be the formula of that particular emotion; such that when the external facts, which must terminate in sensory experience, are given, the emotion is immediately evoked. If you examine any of Shakespeare’s more successful tragedies, you will find this exact equivalence; you will find that the state of mind of Lady Macbeth walking in her sleep has been communicated to you by a skilful accumulation of imagined sensory impressions; the words of Macbeth on hearing of his wife’s death strike us as if, given the sequence of events, these words were automatically released by the last event in the series. The artistic “inevitability” lies in this complete adequacy of the external to the emotion; and this is precisely what is deficient in Hamlet. Hamlet (the man) is dominated by an emotion which is inexpressible, because it is in excess of the facts as they appear." 

"The intense feeling, ecstatic or terrible, without an object or exceeding its object, is something which every person of sensibility has known; it is doubtless a study to pathologists. It often occurs in adolescence: the ordinary person puts these feelings to sleep, or trims down his feeling to fit the business world; the artist keeps it alive by his ability to intensify the world to his emotions."

Monday, April 18, 2016

Quotes from "In Other Words"

"What passes without being put into words, without being transformed and, in a certain sense purified by the crucible of writing, has no meaning to me." p.87

"If it were possible to bridge the distance between me and Italian, I would stop writing in that language." p.95

"I've bee in writing since I was a child in order to forget my imperfections, in order to hide in the background of life. In a certain sense writing is an extended homage to imperfection. A book, like a person, remains imperfect, incomplete, during its entire creation. At the end of the gestation, the gestation the person is born, then grows, but I consider a book alive only during the writing. Afterwards, at least for me, it dies." p.113 (An interesting notion, but I'm not sure if this speaks to my heart as nicely as it does to my ears.)

"I now have quite an extensive vocabulary, but it's an eccentric one. I feel as if I were dressed in an outlandish manner, wearing a long elegant skirt of another era, a T-shirt, a straw hat, and slippers. That graceless effect, those muddled tones might be the consequence of the distance, from the beginning, between me and Italian: of my having adsorbed the language for years from afar, from a variety of sources, before I lived in Italy." p. 179 (Nicely expresses how it is like to write in a second language.)

"Matisse's new approach was at first received with distrust, with skepticism. One critic found it, at best, 'a pleasant distraction.' The artist, too, was unsure. Cutting, for Matisse, began as an exercise, an experiment. Without knowing what it meant, he followed an unknown path, exploring on an increasingly vast scale." p.205 (In any case, I suppose Lahiri was lucky enough to be in a position where she could afford a "pleasant distraction.")

"The effort of making the language mine, of possessing it, has a strong resemblance to a creative process--mysterious, illogical. But the possession is not authentic: it, too, is a sort of fiction." p. 213 (She goes on clarifying:  "The language is true, but the manner in which I absorb and use it seems false. A vocabulary that is sought-after, acquired, remains forever anomalous, as if it were counterfeit, even though it's not.")

"Italian remains the mask, the filter, the outlet, the means. The detachment without which I can't create anything. And it's this detachment that helps me show my face."

On page 223, Lahiri says "I'm afraid it's frivolous, even presumptuous. ... I wonder if it will be considered a dead end, or, at best, 'a pleasant distraction.'" I think she has a good point.

Quoting Lalla Romano: "in a book everything is true, nothing is true."

Quote from a short story

"She considered herself imperfect, like the first draft of a book. She wanted to produced another version of herself, in the same way that she could transform a text from one language into another."

The Exchange, Jhumpa Lahiri

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Excerpts from "Missing Person" by Patrick Modiano

"I am nothing. Nothing but a pale shape, silhouetted that evening against the cafe terrace, waiting for the rain to stop; the shower had started when Hutte left me." p.1 
"Strange people. The kind that leave the merest blur behind, soon vanished. Hutte and I often used to talk about these traceless beings. They spring up pit of nothing one fine day and return there, having sparkled a little. ... Most of them even when alive, had no more substance than stream which will never condense. Hutte, for instance, used to quote the case of a fellow he called "the beach man." This man had spent forty years of his life on beaches or by the sides of swimming people, chatting pleasantly with summer visitors and rich idlers. He is to be seen, in his bathing costume, in the corners and backgrounds of thousands of holiday snaps, among groups of happy people, but no one knew his name and why he was there. And no one noticed when one day he vanished from the photographs. I did not dare tell Hutte, but I felt that "the beach man" was myself. Though it would not have surprised him if I had confessed it. Hutte was always saying that, in the end, we were all "beach men" and that "the sand"--I am quoting his own words--"keeps the traces of our footsteps only a few moments."  p. 47 
"I believe that the entrance-halls of buildings still retain the echo of footsteps of those who used to cross them and who have since vanished. Something continues to vibrate after they have gone, fading waves,, but which can still be picked up if one listens carefully. Perhaps, after all, I never was this Pedro McEvoy, I was nothing, but waves passed through me, sometimes faint, sometimes stronger, and all these scattered echoes afloat in the air crystallized and there I was."  p.84 
"I turned around and stood a moment on the quay. I watched the cars passing and the lights, on the other side of the Seine, near the Camp-de-Mars. Maybe some part of my life still survived there, in a small apartment overlooking the gardens, some person who had known me and who still remembered me." -p.161 

Although I believe "Missing Person" concerns the memory (and forgetting) of the Occupation era, I still think the phrase "an existential detective story" is an apt description of the work. I cannot resist the temptation to summarize the first and the last excerpts above in the following sentence: I am nothing--nothing but how I am Regarded and remembered by the Other. (It is also interesting that the main narrator starts searching for his own identity when his long-time friend and employer retires and leaves him alone in Paris.)

Interestingly though, the novel, written mostly in the first-person perspective, records the experience of "I," not how "I" is seen by the Other. It probably is no accident that three brief chapters are there to offer three other characters' perspectives on the main narrator. But these chapters are brief and their accounts superficial. It is how "I" see other characters that constitutes the main stream of the novel. And in the end, it is in the descriptions of the subjective experience of "I"--in those "waves passed though me"--that the reader finds him.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Quotes on life and pleasure-seeking

I confess I'm rather embarrassed about reading Eat, Pray, Love. Well, I read it only in  preparation for my trip to Italy... To my surprise, I found in it many sentences that I want to remember--whether I agree with them of not.

"That the thing about a human life--there's no control group, no way to ever know how any of us would have turned out if any variables had been changed." p.52 
(So true.)
"Generally speaking, thought, Americans have an inability to relax into sheer pleasure. Ours is an entertainment-seeking nation, but not necessarily a pleasure-seeking one." 
(I think it depends on to which people you compare the Americans. Compare to the Koreans, Americans are decadent pleasure seekers. Just my opinion.)

"And the question now for me is, What are my choices to be? What do I believe that I deserve in this life? Where can I accept sacrifice, and where can I not?" p.83 
(Some truism from the self-help paradigm can still be useful. My only problem is that I honestly do not believe we can think ourselves as deserving much in life. We can only want.)

"What's Rome's word?" I asked
"SEX," he announced.
[The discussion goes on about Vatican's word being "POWER," New York, "achieve," LA, "success," Stockholm, "conform," Naples, "fight."  p.103-104 
"...the appreciation of pleasure can be an anchor of one's humanity." p. 115
(Personally, I would replace "pleasure" with "beauty" in this sentence.)

By the way, I got at least one good recommendation on a pizzeria out of this book: Pizzeria da Michele. [EDIT: S and I tried this place out. It was unbelievably good. Although, we had to wait for two hours for a pizza.]

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Quotes of Eco on storytelling

“That which we cannot speak about, we must pass over in silence.”
 -Ludwig Wittgenstein

“Those things about which we cannot theorize, we must narrate.”
 -Umberto Eco


"I always assume that a good book is more intelligent than its author. It can say things that the writer is not aware of."
-Umberto Eco