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Finding Chinese Food in Los Angeles

by: Carl Chu

Manhattan Beach CA: Crossbridge Publishing Co. 2003, $19.95, Paperback
ISBN: 1-932296-01-8

Reviewed by: Jacqueline M. Newman
Summer Volume: 2004 Issue: 11(2) page(s): 18 and 19

This culinary guide looks at Chinese food in Los Angeles and its environs, and does a whole lot more. Its subtitle says: A Guide to Regional Cuisines, and that offers a whole lot more, too.

The book is about Chinese food in general, Chinese regional cuisines in particular, and about foods, restaurants, and take-out places in and around Los Angeles. It discusses Chinese in America, California and Los Angeles, tea drinking, types of tea, Chinese alcoholic beverages, their desserts, Chinese vegetables, and Chinese banquets. For those unfamiliar, it is a great introduction to Chinese food. In it, regional cuisine details food in Guangdong, Hunan, Chaozhou, Shandong, Sichuan, Yunnan, Jiangzhe, Shanghai, and Hong Kong. The eateries written about are all in Southern California, and they serve foods of the above regions. Are full-service restaurants, coffee shops--yes, the Chinese adore coffee, and take-out types. They range from fancy Hong Kong-style seafood houses to speciality spots serving Islamic Chinese Cuisine issue. These eateries may feature foods of one province or place, or serve one kind of food, such as a noodle house.

If you really want to learn more about the foods of China, and Chinese can benefit too, first turn to the appendix. Want a good restaurant in Monterey Park or San Gabriel? You need to turn every page and zero in on the light gray page parts and check out addresses at the page bottoms. This is a 2003 edition, hope the 2004 one will index or alphabetize or somehow make it easy when visiting places such as Irvine and find Chinese restaurants there. Regions in China are in the index, why not cities in southern California?

We read the volume four times. Once at home, the other times onboard a long-delayed flight, its plane suffering from mechanical problems. On those occasions, it was very informative about Chinese food, less so about specific restaurants. Mr Chu, please work on that for the next edition; we are a strong supporter of your otherwise fine efforts.

Tea-drinking and finger-tapping games were on target, bubble tea is less so; anyway, in California they call it 'boba tea.' Chu says that it is a common misconception that boba is made from tapioca; rather he says it is made from yam flour. Our sources, one a manufacturer of the bubbles, says that most bubble tea is made from cassava flour. For the record, cassava flour is what makes tapioca. For more about this tea, be it boba or bubble, see the article in Flavor and Fortune’s Volume 6, Number 4, on pages 5 and 6. Bubble tea originated in Taiwan, and now even supermarket magazines recognize and write about it.

Chu's chapter on Chinese desserts is worth several looks. Like other book sections, it has photographs of many food items, and details about them. Their names are in English and Chinese, a sure hit when trying to order or ask about one of them. Chu champions a dozen desserts from Beijing, fifteen teas from all over China, and quite a few alcoholic beverages from the Guangdong province, just to mention a few things one can learn from this guide.

Other things are six cooking techniques, six sauce items, twenty-one specific foods and dishes with four places to enjoy them, and some 'dim sum/yum cha' foods and places to try them. Current foodies, Chu included, say eat Chinese food in the San Gabriel Valley. But do they know, as he does, that more than three hundred Chinese live in Los Angeles County, so they all can not be eating there?

Congratulations Carl Chu, you have developed a fine Chinese resource. Would that others delved as deeply as you did. We encourage people to contact Crossbridge Publishing at PO Box 3555 in Manhattan Beach CA 990266 to get their copy. This data base has more than a hundred color photographs. Reading it could even assist restaurant reviewers; they might make fewer errors about the history of Chinese regional cuisines, foods and beverages, some local Chinese dishes, and the rest of the Chinese food landscape. In the Los Angeles area, at least, Cjhinese food is well fertilized and is great place to enjoy it. Reading Carl Chu makes it easier, too.

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