Showing posts with label dumplings. Show all posts
Showing posts with label dumplings. Show all posts

Eat Drink Style Soo Rak San House of Noodles, Koreatown Los Angeles - Sujebi Korean Hand-Torn Noodles

Soo Rak San House of Noodles, Koreatown Los Angeles

The Koreans have quite a number of different dishes that are served on special occasions, seasons and holidays. I read on a Korean tourism site somewhere that bi bim bap is a typical New Year's day dish, same with rice cake soup, tteok. Or when a child is born, colorful rice cakes dusted with various bean powders are served to the family. I remember my good friend Immaeatchu telling me how she had made a beef and seaweed soup in celebration of her mom's birthday. Whatever the case, it seems like everyday is a party for Korean people. And for sure kimchi is that one dish that is celebrated everyday.

But for the not-so-glorious non-Holidays and special occasions that involve too much soju and watered-down Crown Royal, Koreans are also prepared for that department with the many 24-hour joints in Koreatown. A bowl of haejang kook (hangover soup), yu kae jang (spicy beef soup) or shul lung tang, white beef bone broth, always seems to do the trick. Although Korean soups and stews may not be glamorous enough to graze the cover of Food & Wine, they do serve their purpose in satisfying hunger and even providing bodily warmth. I recently found a place that serves Korean hand-torn noodles known as sujebi (soo-jeh-bee) and as I've heard from many of my Korean friends, a perfect dish on a rainy day. This dish may even be perfect for those "just got dumped by my girlfriend who started poking some guy who kept on poking her over Facebook" kind of day.

Sujebi refers to "noodles" that are hand-torn from a ball of dough and boiled in water. The texture is similar to Korean knife-cut noodles known as kal gook soo, but a bit more rough and chewy. In my opinion they are not as chewy as the standard rice ovalettes you see in dishes like dok pok ki and I actually prefer sujebi over those. Due to the hand-tearing technique, you'll never get the same noodle shape which adds a nice homeyness to the food – something I feel best represents Korean food.

Soo Rak San Noodle House - Koreatown, Los Angeles

I was first introduced to sujebi at the wonderful crab hot pot restaurant known as Ondal 2 (pictured above) – a delightfully ludicrous, four-part dinner that almost always requires a gurney to exit the restaurant. It is Part Three of the dinner and quite fun to watch. For those that have never been to Ondal 2, a waitress unravels a ball of dough out of saran wrap and rips pieces of "noodles" into the boiling crab soup. And they are tasty.

At Soo Rak San Noodle House, their specialties are sujebi and kal gook soo, with at least 5-6 versions of each for you to choose from. When I walked in, it was quite clear that I should stick to the sujebi based on the number of diners eating it as well.

Soo Rak San Noodle House - Koreatown, Los Angeles

For only $7.99, you are served quite a large portion of sujebi in a typical clay/stone pot, to maintain the hot temperature of the dish. The seafood sujebi came with shrimp, a piece of crab body and legs, clams and mussels. The sujebi broth consists of dried anchovies, seafood and kelp and really has a nice umami taste – more than your typical bowl of kal gook soo. The waitress came with the bowl and I parted the fruits de mer to the side... ah, there you are, my little gems of starch. There were two colored sujebi noodles: white and green. Turns out the green is not made of vegetable (squash noodles) like the ones served at LA 1080 Noodle House on Western. Instead, the chef uses chlorella powder to enrich with vitamins and enhance the color. Chlorella, not to be misread as cholera, is a type of green algae first incorporated into food to curb global hunger during the 1940s. Due to its high protein properties, it was used heavily in Korea during the war, when nutritious food was hard to come by. Don't you love it when you're eating something delicious AND nutritious? Double win.

Soo Rak San Noodle House - Koreatown, Los Angeles

I devoured the sujebi faster than I ate the seafood. In fact, the seafood was getting in my way. If you can handle the heat, this is one dish you want to eat when its spicy – so good. Compared to the other sujebi places I've eaten at – Ondal 2 and Olympic Noodle, this definitely holds up. But they are all pretty equal in my opinion. I don't think that Ondal 2 serves them separate from the crab hot pot. I have to go back and check out the kal gook soo soup noodles to make a better assessment. For now, both Soo Rak San and Olympic Noodle will do you just fine if you are interested in trying sujebi.

Soo Rak San Noodle House - Koreatown, Los Angeles

I also ordered a basket of their steamed dumplings and they were definitely tasty. I think I still prefer the dumplings over at Olympic Noodle and Myung Dong Kyoja over these. My only problem with these steamed dumplings is that they got dried out like a Hollywood celebrity's botoxed face. So you have to eat these quite fast. Flavor is there though.

Thanks for reading.

Soo Rak San Noodle House
4003 Wilshire Blvd. #1
Los Angeles, CA 90010
(213) 389-2818
Everyday 10 am - 10 pm

Eat Drink Style Olympic Noodle, Koreatown - Korean-Style Knife-Cut Noodles

Olympic Noodle, Koreatown Los Angeles

As a noodle enthusiast, I give every cultures's offerings a chance whenever I can. Up until a few years ago, I didn't think Korean food had much to offer outside of their cold noodles (naeng myun), fried vermicelli noodles (jaap chae) and more popular amongst pimple-faced, brace-wearing teenagers, the instant kimchi noodle bowls loaded with MSG. Then I was introduced to Ma Dang Gook Soo and Myung Dong KyoJa, both of which are popular noodle joints in Koreatown. It was the first time I had eaten Korean-style knife-cut noodles and it was pretty good. I lost interest in MDGS pretty quickly because the soup was just too starchy. MDK's style of soup noodles also reminded me a lot of Chinese ground pork noodles (rou zhao and ja jiang mian). The dish itself is tasty when you add all the necessary condiments but the overcooking noodles was sadly consistent and really killed it for me. Korean noodles are good, but in the minor leagues compared to Chinese knife-shaven noodles (dao xiao mian). This style of noodle was done really well at places like Heavy Noodling and Kang Kang Food Court in SGV, and more recently, JTYH Restaurant in Rosemead. But there's a certain simplicity and homeyness to Korean food that I really enjoy. I'm not Korean but I certainly eat a lot of Korean food.

Given the option to spend $12-15 for a lunch in Culver City, I'd rather take El Diez down to Crenshaw for a place almost 1/2 the cost of it – and that's where I've been eating a lot of lunch. The fact that I've been back here nearly 10 times... bringing my wife Jeni, 3-4 coworkers and in the near future, the members of the Le Club de Grub project at work, it is clear that I really do enjoy this place.

You can expect your typical Korean restaurant set-up and decor here. Wood-laminate walls, a TV blaring Korean soap-operas and a large fridge loaded with condiments. The majority of the clientele here during lunch are older Korean businessmen, wearing napkins to shield any oily splash-back from the broth. But what you'll notice here if you pay attention is just how silent it is, with exception to a few loud slurpers. Everyone is pretty busy with their face in the large metal bowls. Always a good sign.

Olympic Noodle, Koreatown Los Angeles

Here's the first reason why I like Olympic Noodle: their kimchi. It's not that bullshit watery, acidic kind from Cosmos jars. It's fresh, pasty, spicy and garlicky kimchi that is made like every few days. If you touch the kimchi with your fingers, you can still feel its pulse. Also, the servers are as nice as your own mother (hopefully). When it's not busy, they'll come and cut up your kimchi, making you a prince instantly for that $7.69 you're spending on their soup noodles – not bad right? AND, peppermint candy for your breath.

Olympic Noodle, Koreatown Los Angeles

Steamed Dumplings
The Chinese make solid dumplings. I never had a huge liking for Korean dumplings because (A) they overstuff their dumplings, (B) don't go beyond meat and green onion filling and (C) I can't for the life of me figure out why a bag of 40 Korean dumplings will cost $12 at the market. And after trying Myung Dong Kyoja's dumplings, which I know is a big Koreatown favorite as well, I think I decided to stay with Chinese dumplings. And then, I find this place thanks to a coworker and I am liking Korean dumplings again. You can order these steamed, boiled or fried but I highly recommend steaming because you'll get the maximum flavor. But either of these will taste good unless you have your dipping sauce. A simple mix of soy sauce, vinegar, red chili paste and a few dashes of sesame oil – you're good.

Olympic Noodle, Koreatown Los Angeles

Portrait of a Dumpling About to Be Eaten, 2009, Oil, Paint, Printed on Canvas
It was steamed perfectly and full of flavor. My coworker and I downed these in like 5 minutes. Note: Korean-style fried dumplings usually mean they are dumped in the fry-o-lator, not pan fried like potstickers or gyoza. Fried is good as well.

Olympic Noodle, Koreatown Los Angeles

Main Event: Chicken Noodle Soup
This is what most people order and it's tasty. You can tell the soup is boiled with bones when it has that muddier color like tonkotsu ramen, which is known for its rich, pork bone broth. They give a lot of chicken actually and boiling it for a while is probably the easiest way to eat a dry-ass piece of chicken breast. The noodles have curves and jagged edges from inconsistent knife-work but have a nice bite to it. On the side, you'll see a red chili powder/scallion paste that you add to the chicken soup noodles. Then there's a soy sauce/scallion "relish" jar too for you to flavor the broth if needed. A few dashes of sesame oil can make it taste pretty good too. I prefer the Anchovy broth noodle soup because it has that nice dashi taste to it. But with first-timers, I always order them the chicken incase the word 'anchovy' makes them run for the hills.

Olympic Noodle, Koreatown Los Angeles

Just a note, one bowl of soup noodles is usually good between two people if you order the dumplings – only costing you $15 total with tax. Actually at Olympic Noodle, I usually see TWO GIRLS, ONE BOWL. K, bad joke – I'm not even going to provide a reference link. If you're in the mood for something homey and tasty, Olympic Noodle will do the trick. Thanks for reading.

Olympic Noodle
4008 W. Olympic Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90019
(323) 931-0007

Eat Drink Style Myung Dong Kyoja, Koreatown - Garlic Warfare in Koreatown

Myung Dong Kyoja, Koreatown

If you think about it, garlic is probably the one ingredient that is prevalent in almost every culture's food. Revered for its healing and medicinal qualities, this member of the onion family, along with leeks, shallots and chives, was used once as currency, for healing wounds, ingested for spiritual reasons and for warding pale, creepy people with fangs. But for those that enjoy food, we all know that garlic is a major component in cooking and repelling a hot date during dinner. Whether its sauteed or even eaten raw, garlic can take a dish to higher levels. But to what level specifically?

I don't know, but I have a feeling the Koreans may have an answer. Why Korea? Over Spain, Italy and America, Koreans consume more garlic per capita than anyone else. Just how much? Americans eat an average of 2.5 lbs. of garlic a year... Koreans – 22 lbs. a year. 22 lbs. of garlic in a bag can knock you out if it was swung at you with enough force. I've always known that Koreans use copious amounts of garlic, along with sesame oil and red chilis, but this as you will learn very soon, is a complete understatement. For many years already, garlic warfare is happening in Koreatown. And you probably didn't know that it was happening at a place on Wilshire and Harvard.

I first came to Myung Dong Kyoja when I was searching for one of my favorite korean dishes, kal gook soo. Kal gook soo literally means "knife-cut noodles" and it is basically a soup noodle dish with various toppings and broth flavorings. The most popular being chicken noodle soup (dahk kal gook soo) and anchovy-flavored noodle soup (myeol chi kal gook soo) offered at Koreatown places like Ma Dang Gook Soo and Olympic Noodle. Unlike a proper bowl of pho or Chinese beef noodle soup, this dish is much more simple, comforting and homey. The soup at first may seem light in flavor, but the simple addition of some scallion/chili/soy sauce relish and chili powder and you're good to go.

When you first walk in here, almost instantly, you will be hit with an invisible fist of garlic. It is at the entrance of the door that you have the option of saving yourself from sweating out garlic for the rest of the day, or taking your palate on a test drive through Garlicville. Go for the latter if you're true garlic-head.

Myung Dong Kyoja, Koreatown

And once you've ordered your food, the server comes out with a small portion of kimchi as seen above. You're probably wondering why so little is given, but it's more than you'll need. I can promise you that every piece of cabbage packs a decent amount of minced garlic. At first bite, you'll know what I'm talking about. I think I ate about three pieces before my tongue started to sting a little from the fresh, fieriness of the minced garlic cloves. So fiery that when you drink some water to abate the pleasurable pain, you can feel a sort of numbness in the tongue. And I love it. It's almost like you're eating minced garlic with a side of red chili and cabbage.

Myung Dong Kyoja, Koreatown

Look at that, it is a crater of garlic. Just standing over this holding pot, I was hit with major garlic fumes. Insane!

Myung Dong Kyoja, Koreatown

If you can handle the hazing on the tongue, they'd be more than glad to serve you with another 1-2 punch. The servers come by with their kimchi pitcher and tongs. Intense!

In addition to the garlic freak show, there are a few things that are worth eating at MDKJ. The steamed dumplings (goon man doo) at first appear to be Korean cousins of the widely-adored Chinese xiao long bao, soupy pork dumplings. But they are nowhere nearly as juicy as they are. The dumplings themselves are plump due to a heavy vegetable to meat ratio. They are steamed in a plastic basket and are indeed pretty decent. But I prefer the well-balance boiled dumplings found at places like Dumpling 10053, Dean Sin World and Lu Noodle House. Anyway, a simple mixture of a Korean condiment and vinegar and you're good to go.

There's also MDKJ's version of kal gook soo, which tastes even better once you add the Korean flavoring condiment and maybe a dash of vinegar. The thing I've noticed with Korean soup noodles is that they cook the noodles a little too long for my taste. I enjoy a toothsome, notable al-dente-ness in every bite. So I highly recommend ordering your noodles a bit harder. Problem is if you're non-Korean like me, communicating that is a bit difficult.

Myung Dong Kyoja

But thanks to my trusty Translator app for my iPhone, I can get from point A to B. I always get a kick out of seeing their reaction because this Translator app is so literal, but they get the idea. I said: "Hello. I like my noodles chewy. Not soft. Thank you. Also your kimchi is very strong in garlic taste. Intense! But I love it."

Myung Dong Kyoja

If the garlic kimchi isn't holding up to your garlic expectations, you need to use this relish consisting of soy sauce, minced garlic, scallions and a type of mild korean pepper that has a taste similar to bell peppers and slight spice kick from shishito peppers. I love this sauce. Add 2-3 big scoops of this sauce into your kal gook soo soup noodles and you're set. Like I said before, the soup can be a little too plain without any sauce, so this is what is used to flavor your dish. I like my soup noodles with a touch of vinegar to cut through that muddy garlic tone.

Myung Dong Kyoja

Myung Dong Kyoja Kal Gook Soo
The version served here is much different than what you're probably used to. Soup noodles are served in a slightly starchy broth from the noodle runoff. It's topped with a simple stir fry of ground meat, zuccini, carrots, onions and 3-4 mini dumplings that I really enjoy. If you like the mini dumplings, you can order them straight up with soup and nothing else. Win.

Myung Dong Kyoja

Myung Dong Kyoja

This is what I call a happy meal. The surprise gift is a fiery mouth of garlic.

Myung Dong Kyoja, Koreatown

I wasn't kidding when I said there is garlic warfare happening in Koreatown. They've even provided you with a fancy gargling machine in the restroom, the Garlic Kimchi-a-tor 5000. I took a shot of the gargling liquid and it did nothing for me but create this minty garlic taste that seemed to never go away. Don't say I didn't warn you about the garlic. Enjoy and thanks for reading!

Myung Dong Kyoja
3630 Wilshire Blvd. (c/o Harvard)
Los Angeles, CA 90010
(213) 385-7789

Eat Drink Style 101 Noodle Express, San Gabriel - Freshly-Made Beef Scallion Pancakes

101 Noodle Express San Gabriel

Driving around on San Gabriel Valley's, Valley Blvd. can be a dangerous thing. It's basically an obstacle course for Traffic School students... 24/7. Almost every time I drive on this street, my blood begins to boil because I am always behind a 30-mph herd of people that are doing anything but focusing on the road. Some people are busy yapping away on their cell phone, some are just blinded by their own facial sun visors that remind me of a welding mask (are you going to drive or are you going to solder me a new metal table in your car? make up your mind!) and most of the time, people are just too freaking old to be on the road. Like Koreatown, SGV's streets are surrounded by strip malls and shopping centers. If you don't know you're way around here and are trying to find your address, you can easily get into a car accident by not paying attention to the road. I've been close to rear-ending people in Koreatown because it is strip-mall overload – laden with signs that bear virtually no English. In SGV, there's one strip mall that I drive by all the time, always with a line of people strung along the parking lot. And if it wasn't for Jonathan Gold's review, I would simply drive by as usual... not knowing that this Shan Dong-style restaurant called 101 Noodle Express makes a truly delicious beef scallion pancake.

101 Noodle Express Inside

With a name like 101 Noodle Express, I am immediately discouraged. When I pass places like Pizza Pit, Burger Barn and Taco Town... I can't help but yawn. Even Panda Express is more interesting than 101 Noodle Express because pandas are just more interesting than pits, barns and taco-laden towns. Once I walked in to this aromatic and crowded restaurant, I had a feeling that the name did no justice for this place. While standing around for the next available seating, I looked around to see what people were ordering. Okay, I see beef scallion pancake... over here, there, there, there, back there, a few crumbs on that old lady's mouth, right here, one piece dropped on the floor, there... I think the jury has reached a unanimous decision.

101 Noodle Express Beef Pancake
Beef Scallion Pancake ( 牛 肉 捲 餅 )
I have no idea why I have the habit of rubbing my hands together whenever I see the waitress come out with my dish. It's automatic. The waitress laid the pancakes down and I did a double-take on the size of these mothers. My god, they were super-sized. Thinly-rolled and wrapped around beef that I could tell was super moist, and a generous serving of chopped scallions and cilantro. Awesome. Before I even drilled my teeth down to the center of the pancake, I felt the thin crackling of the toasted pancake. The beef was super tender and seasoned well with a sweet, home-made bean sauce. The balance was perfect in every bite. I recommend adding some of the chili sauce on top for a nice kick in the ass. 2 big 'fajitas' for $6.75. I like these much better than Mandarin Noodle Deli's version. The beef is not as tender there.

101 Noodle Express Beef Pancake Nachos

Stir-Fried Scallion Pancakes ( 家 常 炒 餅 )
Don't be frightened, it's not Applebee's strange new appetizer. This is the wilder cousin of the aforementioned dish. The ladies next to me were kind of enough to let me take a photo of their dish. The scallion pancakes are chopped into triangles and stir fried with bean sprouts, scallions and probably a little bit of salt and sesame oil. Jonathan Gold says it best... they're kinda like a wild version of Chinese nachos.

101 Noodle Express Dumplings1

Shrimp Pork Dumplings ( 蝦 豬 肉 水 餃 )
A lot of people ordered these as well. 101 offers a nice variety of dumplings, more than Dumpling 10053 in El Monte does – 19 kinds! The most interesting ones are lamb dumplings, pumpkin shrimp pork and scallop leek dumplings. I'll have to try next time. The ones pictured above are shrimp pork and filled with a nice amount of stuffing. They don't skimp on the shrimp. The dumplings were juicy but compared to Dumpling 10053, I have to give the gold medal for taste to D10053. The shrimp/leek and 3 flavor (sea cucumber, pork, imi. crab) are done nicely.

101 Noodle Express Dumplings2

101 Noodle Express Relish

Chinese Chili Relish
Seems like there's a bit of Latino influence here at 101 Noodle Express. You've got the beef 'fajita's, the scallion pancake 'nachos' and then there's this 'salsa verde'-like relish you can use on almost any dish. It's made of cilantro, chinese celery, green chilis and boiled onions – it's awesome. I put this in my beef noodle soup, scallion pancake and stuffed it into my dumplings. Sometimes even the smallest, unexpected things at a restaurant are reason enough to bring you back. In this case, I'm all for that chili relish.

Thanks for reading.

101 Noodle Express
1408 E Valley Blvd
Alhambra, CA 91801
(626) 300-8654

Eat Drink Style Yangshuo, China (Guangxi Province) - Hello From A Tiny Dot on the World Map

Yangshuo, China

I've been to Southeastern China many times in the last few years, but the trip to Hong Kong this time would be different because I would be going with my other half. If you've been following J's blog, you'll know that she's been backpacking for the last few weeks with her brother in Vietnam. As a teacher, she's got a crapload of time off. So she decided to meet me in Hong Kong and Macau. This would be a good chance to see how J and I do in a foreign land. We get along very well but of course, we have our downfalls. For example, fighting over color correction in photo editing. Fun stuff.

Yangshuo Bear Zoo

We decided to backpack in a small town two hours away from the beautiful city of Guilin. Guilin is known for its beautiful, lush karst peaks, two long rivers, the Yulong and Li and weird circus acts pictured above (thanks Jozy!). But its also known for its large influx of Chinese tourists. If my parents have been there, then for sure it's touristy. No thanks. We read in Lonely Planet that Yangshuo was the place to be for those interested in NOT being on a tour and those that tread away from the beaten path. Getting to Yangshuo was not easy... an hour bus ride to the airport, two delays, an hour flight, a 2 hour taxi ride that finally got us in at 2 am, when we were supposed to arrive at 9 pm. We found a place off Hostels.com called the Yangshuo Culture House which got an A rating from reviewers. For $11 a night per person, we got A/C, wireless internet, comfortable beds, 2 cooked meals a day and a choice between Chinese calligraphy, cooking or Tai Chi classes daily. Not bad. It was different once we got there though. It was 2 am, muggy, raining and we were greeted by a sleepy owner, named Wei. There's a reason why there aren't many photos of this place on the internet. Well, simply because the hostel was built in an underdeveloped area with absolutly no street lamps. Things didn't look good at this point and the only thing we could think about was showering and sleeping. But what we didn't know, was that this place would change our lives, open our minds even more and leave a memorable experience inside our hearts. For only $11 a night.

Yangshuo Culture House

One thing everyone talked about on Hostels.com was the fact that Wei and his family, who also live there, really make you feel at home. As soon as I walked in, he asked me to take my dirty ass Pumas off. So Asian, I like it.

Yangshuo Wei

Here's Wei and I outside. Many people online have also commended Wei on his willingness to take care of everything for you. As an ex-travel agent, his English is very good and makes things much easier for China newbies. From raft rides to taxis to minibuses - anything you want, Wei will take care of it for you. Wei also states on his site that many people in the Yangshuo town will pretend they are him and take you to another hotel. On his site, it read, "You only have to look at my right hand and see that I only have four fingers." When we arrived and shook Wei's hand, we knew it was him right away. *Kinda tickled.*

Yangshuo Backpackers

Fellow backpackers from Portland, Netherlands, UK and Spain.

Yangshuo Family Meal

Wei and his family weren't joking when they said that family meals were provided. I don't have a wide lens on my camera, but you can see that there are clearly over 11 dishes of awesome homecooked food... all ingredients picked fresh from the local market and fields. I usually don't like rice, but I was eating the food non-stop. The setup was great. 6:30 pm we showed up for dinner and seated with the rest of the backpackers, 14 total. Beer and soda was available in a small fridge for only 4 RMB. FYI, the exchange rate for US to China RMB is 1 to 7.5. Yes, ice cold beer for only $0.53, whichs is SIX TIMES more expensive than the beer J & her brother were drinking in Vietnam.

After a night of full rest, we walked out to the main area in Yangshuo called West Street to explore.
Yangshuo Oldman

I took one look at this old man (I named him 'Old Man Liu') and knew this would be a classic shot. He's playing an instrument called an 'er hu', a two string chinese violin which sounds super sad. If he played Celine Dion's titanic song on the 'er hu', he could drive people mad. I gave him some money and he happily fiddled away. Time for our first meal in Yangshuo.

Yangshuo Guilin Mifun

Yangshuo Guilin Mifun

This is Guilin's most popular dish, 'mi fun', which means 'rice noodle'. This soup noodle dish consists of preserved vegetables, ground pork, roasted peanuts, noodles in a powerful chicken broth. God, the broth in China rocks. Only 5 RMB. A taxi driver we had met expressed his anger in the price increase of this dish due to tourism. It USED to be 2 RMB. Was there a point in time when everything was once FREE in China?

Yangshuo Wontons

Yangshuo Wontons

These are Yangshuo-style wontons, which mainly consist of ground pork, unlike Hong Kong-style wontons which have ground pork, shrimp, dried fish and yellow chives. These were absolutely delicious. The wontons were cooked for no more than 2 mins in a delicious chicken broth and the freshly made wonton skins melted like snowflakes. I think I ordered another bowl of these.

Yangshuo Guilin Chili Sauce

Guilin is also known for their craft in making excellent chili sauce, 'gui lin la jiao'. I say you put Sriracha down for once and go pick up this sauce at your local Chinese market. Its perfect for dumpling sauce, stir fries and soup noodles. I use this when I make my Chinese beef noodle soup and it kicks people's asses!

Yangshuo Claypot Rice

Besides porridge, the Chinese like to eat a type of 'wet rice' or 'soupy rice' called 'xi fan' (pronounced 'she faan'). This must've been a staple here in Yangshuo because we saw nearly 12-15 of these restaurants in town. While you're 'xi fan' was being cooked over high charcoal heat, you got to choose your own meats and veggies as you can see in the image. You would then hand it to the cook who cooked everyone's meal in an assembly line fashion. Definitely not as cheesy as those mongolian-style joints you'll find at mall food courts. They weren't using 3-foot long chopstickers either.

Yangshuo Young Fisherman

After lunch, J and I headed to West Street and chilled at a cafe called 7th Heaven, one of 25+ eateries where the foreigners hung out. There, you could get western food, WiFi and cheap alcohol.
Yangshuo Tsingtao

It was only 1 pm and it was damn hot. I usually don't practice the religion of drinking alcohol in the sun because of its dizzying effects on the head, but rules change on vacation. Yes, this Tsingtao beer tasted as refreshing as it looked.

Yangshuo Li Quan Beer of Guilin

LiQ is Guilin's standard beer with 10% alcohol. 10% for a beer is way higher than domestic American beers but it certainly didn't taste bad at all. Even J was downing the beer because it was simply refreshing in the humidity. I also tried Guilin's official rice wine and it was quite possibly the most awful thing ever... with just a few notches above the plastic Popov Vodka bottles you can find at Albertson's for only $7. It was so nasty that I had another 6 shots. Beer after beer, shot after shot... I was in a happy place at about 2 pm. J just looked at me and shook her head with that 'you're a loser' look. Yes I know J, but I'm on vacation.

Yangshuo Scooter Time!

Next thing I know, I'm bugging J to get off her stupid laptop and go do something. I looked over to my left and saw a few people renting out bicycles and scooters. I walked over to them.

Me: "How much does a bike cost a day?"
Lady: "30 RMB."
Me: "Ok, not bad. How about the electric scooter?"
Lady: "50 RMB."
Me: "Wait, so for us to get two bikes and expend our own energy, it'll cost 60 RMB."
Lady: "Yes."
Me: "Give me the electric scooter!"
Lady: "Ok, 500 RMB deposit though."
Me: "No problem."

Even if I didn't return it, a scooter for 500 RMB is not bad at all. I could have a scooter for myself until the police tracked me down. I called J over and we both got on the scooter. Problem was, my motor skills weren't exactly at 100%. Apparently I was twisting the accelerator the wrong way and going a whopping 8 mph. The people that rented us the scooter just laughed at us. Old people were walking by faster than us. Was this some joke??? Once I pressed the accelerator in the right way, it was definitely business time.

J: "Where we going?"
Me: "Who cares. Let's just go!"
J: "Let me get the map."
Me: "Fuck the map."

Within a few minutes we're out of West Street and stopped on the main street. Boy, did it look like the Frogger video game. At top speed (20 mph), we were no match for buses, motorcycles and even really fast old people on bicycles. Things were moving around EVERYWHERE. I really didn't know why there were lanes to begin with. Alright, here we go.

1.... 2.... 3....

We put trust in our little electric scooter, 'Frogger', and gunned it across the street. Never have I heard J scream so much and say things like "Watch out for the TRACTOR!" The Chinese LOVE to use the horn, so I took advantage of it. Honking at slow bikes, slow people and big trucks. I didn't see one middle finger haha. Within a few miles, my alcohol buzz had worn off and fear had converted to pure andrenaline and joy, and we were on the road to nowhere. Exactly what we wanted.

Seems like the thing to do in Yangshuo, if you're a guy, is to hangout on your bike on the street, smoke cigarettes and watch people go by. Maybe it's not a choice if you're unemployed. We stopped over and asked this random guy for some directions. His name was Mr. Hsu, and for 5 RMB, he offered to take us around the countryside... ROUNDTRIP. Hell yeah!

Yangshuo Random Guy Mr. Hsu

Yangshuo Moon Hill

This is called Moon Hill, a tourist destination that requires YOU to pay THEM to WALK up a steep mountain. No thanks. Mr. Hsu gladly showed us a nice vista point. For how much? All inclusive of the 5 RMB tour. After this, Mr. Hsu took us to three other areas and it was just awesome. We then started to hunt for restaurants serving dog meat. Every place we went to ran out of it... or maybe IT ran away. Oh well, maybe the whole dog meat thing is a myth started by PETA. As I was coasting at 20 mph on a scooter with J holding me from behind, I couldn't help but smile and appreciate the fact that life couldn't be better even with J's constant screaming as vehicles approached. The scenery was simply amazing and pristine. I realized that I started a little late in seeing China and the possibility of traversing China as a whole was all but too slim. If I were to die that day and get roadkilled by some tractor, it would be all good. We thanked Mr. Hsu for the 3 hour ride and payed him 35 RMB instead of 5 RMB. He looked like he was going to cry.

When we got back to the Yangshuo Culture House, we were still thinking about our awesome scooter trip. Like a redneck convincing people about his alien abduction, we told all the other backpackers about our day and they all wanted to do the same. The next day, we decided to hangout with a group from Portland, Oregon.

Yangshuo Massage Menu

After lunch, we decided to get a massage for dessert. Look at these prices... for 2 HOUR massages. Divide by 7.75 and that's the US rate. I can afford a $10 massage! The 5 of us were just silent in the massage parlour. Nobody said a word; it was just too good. Portland had been traveling for nearly 5 months, coming from Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos most recently – and a foot massage was long overdue.

Yangshuo Portland 7th Heaven

Here's a shot with Portland. 2 hours later and in a higher level of relaxation, we took them to the same cafe yesterday. Walking over there was pure bliss. I've never had a foot massage b/c I know it can be painful, but they seriously turned my feet into pillows. An hour later, we said bye to Portland and we were off to our next thing.

Yangshuo Street Market

I love to cook and I'll even do it on my vacation. We signed up for the Yangshuo Cooking School, which we found online a few months ago. Bob, tell them what they get! For only 100 RMB, a van will pick you up, take you to see the local market, teach you how to cook 5 Yangshuo favorites, eat the 5 things you cooked, admire the stellar view of the karst peaks during sunset AND take you back home. Nice! The following are shots from the market tour.

Yangshuo BBQ at the Market

Yangshuo Tofu

This lady was totally dozing off. I don't blame her because the heat here was intense. I was just waiting for her to take a face dive into the tofu sheet. Look at the beautiful fresh tofu.

Yangshuo Chickens

Chickens were everywhere. So was the smell of an incense used to burn off the odor of freshly killed meat. It smelled like the anti-mosquito stuff you use while camping.

Yangshuo Pigeons

I think I might have a new favorite bird. I didn't eat pigeon here in Yangshuo, but I did a few days earlier in Macau. I had it served like roasted duck. The pigeon meat does taste like duck but is definitely not as fatty as duck; neither is the skin. Not a bad way to get rid of the rats of the sky.

Yangshuo Clay Eggs

These are similar to the 'thousand year old eggs' called 'pi dan', only they are buried in clay/mud for long periods of time.

Yangshuo Cleavers

This is probably one of my favorite shots. So manly and grisly. I love the remaining morsels of whatever beast was killed for our gastronomic pleasures. The meat dept. in the market didn't seem too fresh. There was absolutely no refridgeration and meat was left out on benches for immediate purchase. It was already 3:30 pm and I could smell the odor of old meat. I saw a man taking a nap on the bench next to some pork butt and pork belly, and asked our cooking school tour guide how much that guy cost per pound. She didn't find that too funny and continued walking.

Yangshuo Cooking School

Yangshuo Cooking School

After the market tour, we were herded to a small pocket in town laden with chickens and dogs on the road. The architecture changed dramatically as we drove. I looked back and smiled as the town shrank to a tiny dot. Here the buildings were made of bricks that may not pass US inspection, but you know that they've been here for probably close to a century. I felt like I was on the set of a Asian period film, like Crouching Tiger. If only I had long straight hair, a silky man-gown and levitation capabilities.

Yangshuo Cooking School Introduction

Our class consisted of two instructors and about 14 students, mainly from the UK. Like our buddies back at the hostel, they had also been traveling for a few months. We each had our own setup: wok, burner, cleaver and ingredients. The class was a lot of fun and lasted almost 3 hours.

Yangshuo Cooking School Garden

One of the workers at the cooking school picking out fresh scallions in the huge garden.

Yangshuo Cooking School Steamed Food

Here are three things the people of Yangshuo love to steam: squash blossoms, mushrooms and fried tofu cubes. Each of the items were stuffed with a filling consisting of ground pork, scallions, garlic, ginger and oyster sauce.

Yangshuo Cooking School Steam Baskets

After we stuffed the items, we stack-steamed them and had to remember our number for later retrieval.

Yangshuo Cooking School Prepping

I haven't used a cleaver in such a long time and I actually missed it. I forgot how versatile this tool is. While American and French cooks rely on several different knives in a knife block, the Chinese use this one tool for everything, including circumcision. Just kidding.

Yangshuo Cooking School

Beware of people with cleavers. They are usually angry and very hungry. Especially the 1/2 vietnamese, 1/2 japanese ones wearing white hats.

Yangshuo Cooking School Prep

Yangshuo Cooking School Eggplant

Yangshuo Cooking School Cashew Chicken

Yangshuo Cooking School Beer Fish

This dish I was excited for. I had read about Yangshuo's famous dish, Beer fish. First, carp fish is fried skin-side down and then tossed with beer, pickled chilis, garli, ginger, oyster sauce and scallions. The result is a very tasty and light dish that is reminiscent of Chinese home cooking.

Yangshuo Cooking School Beer Fish

Yangshuo Cooking School View

This was our view at the cooking school as we ate the food we cooked. There was something amazing about eating rural Chinese food with huge karst peaks all around you. You could hear the loud buzzing of cicadas all throughout the valley. We were a bit sad to leave.

When we got back, we had another family dinner, which was excellent. For some strange reason, I decided to buy the nasty Guilin rice wine and bring it back to the hostel. After a few of us killed the whole bottle, we were hungry. And you haven't had the full experience of China until you've paid a visit to the night market, like Taiwan. Party time!

Yangshuo Fellow Backpackers from Spain

Here's a shot with Spain, Jeff and Maria. Jeff looks like 'Jesus with a Trim'. And guess what, he's a carpenter. No kidding.

Yangshuo Li River Shrimp

Oh man, one of my favorites of the night. This is Li River shrimp and grow no larger than 1.25 inches. They are deep fried and then stir fried with veggies. This is the REAL popcorn shrimp – the shells fried crispy and flavored with the perfect amount of salt. I probably ate 30-40 pcs.

Yangshuo Chili Snails

Another great Yangshuo treat... snails. These took a bit more work because you had to take each shell one by one and suck them out of their shells. Nonetheless, a big reward for a small task.

Yangshuo Grilled Oysters

These were a night market favorite. I didn't try these grilled oysters though.

Yangshuo Eels

Fresh river eels.

Yangshuo Grilled Chinese Sausage

Do I make your horngry? Grilled sweet sausages.

Yangshuo Pickled Chilis

Chopping up pickled chilis.

Yangshou Garlic Chives

Another favorite of mine... skewered garlic chives. These were flash fried for 2 seconds and brushed with a spicy satay bbq sauce. Killer!

Yangshuo Noodle Man

This man is not jumproping. He is making fresh hand-pulled noodles.

Yangshuo Hand-Pulled Noodles

Yangshuo Dog

Out of respect for those that own a furry friend, I am using a fork and knife as a metaphor for what really went on. What I saw in the market the other day was definitely grisly and I myself am not comfortable showing anyone the photos. But before you call PETA on me, please understand that China is not a rich country and will eat anything to get by. We love pork, beef and chicken... just as they do. Americans find it odd to eat dogs but in China, there are only 4 species of dog that they eat: black, white, spotted and brown. And according to my friend Nick, that is the same ranking in quality with black dogs being the USDA Prime and brown dogs being the canned meat. There are no cute chihuahuas with pink ribbons, golden retrievers that bring you your daily newspaper or poodles that sing and hop on two feet. These are mutts, animals that have naturally roamed the land like wolves and coyotes do. Asians found it odd that Americans were so into beef because in Asia, cattle provides labor in the fields, much like a dog provides companionship. After searching for dog meat in the outskirts of Yangshuo, I was finally able to find this delicacy. I approached a young girl working a small stand. She asked me what I wanted, and after asking 10+ times for dog, I had given up hope.

Girl: "What do you want? What can I make for you?"
Me: "Do you have dog meat?"
Girl: "Yes!"

My eyes grew big and face lit up in joy. In the most barbaric, beastly way. So did the other backpackers.

Me: "How do you cook it?"
Girl: "Quick braise and stir fry it with chilis, celery, garlic and chives."
Me: "How much?"
Girl: "35 RMB."
Me: "30 RMB."
Girl looks at me and pauses and finally gives a nod and starts running off.
Girl: "Be right back!"
Us: "Nice!"

We took a seat at the tables and ordered up some beer. We were all very excited. 5 mins. 10 mins. 15 mins. 20 mins. 25 mins. 30 mins. Wait a minute, the fact that we saw her run off and still hasn't returned in 30 mins seemed bizarre. We grew more curious. Suddenly, as I lifted up my beer for another cool sip, I see a blurry figure running towards me.

It was the Girl. Holding a dish. With the dog meat in it.

She placed the plate down and we all put down our beers and gathered around it like a campfire. It smelled great! I went first. And I'll tell you what, this is the some of the TASTIEST RED MEAT I HAVE EVER TASTED. J wasn't with us so I asked the girl to well, doggybag the dog, so that J could taste it. J and the other backpackers loved it. The meat, like kobe beef, is extremely rich. On a gaminess level, it's way softer than lamb but has a taste that makes you want to eat more and more. One of the backpackers said he would convert to a dog meat eater if it was more available in the UK.

Yangshuo Bamboo Rat

We decided to go to Round 2 of fear factor. As we paid the bill for the dog mcnuggets, I saw what appeared to be a rodent that looked like it was ironed by a semi truck. I looked at the other backpackers and without saying, we nodded. It was a bamboo rat, not rodentus lowereastsidenewyorkus. The guy working the stall grabbed the rat and chopped the hell out of it, head first. He then stir fried it with chili, soy sauce, chives and ginger. The result was a plate of small brown bits. We took a bite and tasted skin and bones, no meat whatsoever. The bones were brittle enough to be eaten but this dish was definitely more work than pleasure. I recommend dog over rat for sure.

Yangshou Frog

Frog legs are easy to find in the SGV, but to watch the whole preparation of the frog is really awesome. Our guy picked out 3 fat frogs about 7-8 inches long from a net. He took one frog in one hand and lightly banged the head of the frog a few times. He set the frog down on the chopping block and I watched as the frog started to spit out foam. The banging technique was apparently used to knock the frog unconscious so it wouldn't hop away. The guy then picked up the frog and exposed the belly to us and used the cleaver to make an incision to remove the organs. It was quite gross. Spain filmed the whole thing on their digital camera and will probably put it on YouTube soon.

Yangshou Frog

And here is Kerokerokeroppi, cooked with garlic, chives and bell peppers. The skin on the frog came off like skin on steamed fish, exposing white meat that resembled chicken. And guess what, it tastes like really fresh, juicy chicken. Very good!

Yangshou Grilled Corn

Now for some more Fear Factor food. Grilled corn with spicy satay sauce. Awesome.

Yangshuo Happiness at the Night Market

Look at the smile on my face. I was like a kid at the county fair, only I didn't eat corndogs or deep fried twinkies. No, I definitely didn't haha.

Yangshuo Hammer Time

The next day, we decided to team up with Spain and ride the scooters through the countryside. We again saw Mr. Hsu hanging out on his bike at the same spot. We asked him to take us around but he only ended up taking us to really touristy areas. We really just wanted to be alone. On the way up, we saw some construction workers hacking away at rock. They looked exhausted. Spain decided to help them out a bit and started hacking away. I took a hammer and started to hack away too. Damn, 8 hours of this a day. I think I'd rather stick to YouTube all day long.

Yangshuo Peeing in Public

China is a BIG PLACE. Of all the places I chose to water the plants, I had unknowingly picked an area with a huge sign saying:

"Implement the policy of preservation for soil conservation. Control the soil erosion caused by mankind activities."

Oops, sorry Mao!

Yangshuo Steamed Dumplings

Yangshuo Dumpling Dough

Yangshuo Steamed Dumplings

Yangshuo Xiao Long Bao

Pictured above are more of Yangshuo's food we had for lunch. They prefer steaming their dumplings then panfrying. Spain had never had these and loved them. The last photo of the buns are Yangshuo's version of 'xiao long bao' (soupy dumplings) which sucked.
Doughy with zero pork juice.

Yangshuo Swimming in the Li River

Yangshuo Swimming in the Li River

And this is where we finally ended up at after an hour in the countryside. Exactly what we were looking for. It was bliss. You can see me swimming in the photo above. I really can't explain the feeling of jumping into a warm river that provides so much for the small town of Yangshuo. Seeing little fish swim around you, investigating your foreign body. Watching old men on rafts glide by, making the moment seem timeless. I didn't know what time it was or what day it was really and this place was certainly a home I'd never have. I realized that to backpack through a country is to leave all that you have behind and taking only what you need. But the same ideology works on a physical and mental level. You have to leave any thoughts and concerns you may have, go with the flow and keep an open mind. Even if it means staring at a dog that lays motionless on a wooden bench in the market. He is at peace, whether or not you believe it. It means no itineraries. No annoying tours. No sense of place. Only to live as the locals would live. And for me and J, China was the place for us to do this. And I'd give anything to ride through the countryside again with J on that 18-mph scooter.

Thank you to J for sharing an amazing trip with me, to the awesome backpackers, Wei and to you for reading.

Check out Portland's thoughts on Yangshuo.