What’s soft, white, and pillowy on the outside, meaty, soupy and surface-of-the-sun-hot on the inside? If you say xiao long bao, or any other type of steamed bao, you’re wrong — at least in this case. The answer is the fish balls from Fujianese restaurant Liu Xiang Yuan (aka Liu Xiang Yuang if you go by their take-out menu).
When I stopped by for dinner last night, the restaurant was deserted. Not one person at the table — not even a soul in the main part of the restaurant. The lao ban niang (proprietress) came out from the kitchen to take my order. I asked if their house noodle soup came with fish balls. My dilemma was that I wanted fish balls, but I was starving and also wanted noodles. The lao ban niang offered to put some noodles in their fish ball noodle soup and I heartily accepted.
I needn’t have worried about leaving hungry. The bowl that came out of the kitchen was large enough to knock me out had it been thrown at me and the fish balls were ginormous. In my starving state, I spooned out a fish ball, took a bite into it and almost died from 1.) how delicious it was and 2.) how unbelievably hot it was.
The texture of the outside was so pillowy and soft that I couldn’t believe it was made from fish. It was like some molecular gastronomy project gone very, very, right. Unlike the small, rubbery fish balls you buy frozen at the Chinese market, these were almost the size of my fist. They were so light and airy, I found it amazing that they could contain the lava-hot broth inside.
The interior of the fish ball was filled with ground meat which was aromatic with ginger. The firmer texture of the ground meat contrasted nicely with the delicate fish paste that surrounded it. The broth inside the fish ball was rich, salty, and distinct from the more delicate broth the fish balls were served in.
After three fish balls, some of the noodles, and some stray leaves of greens, I was ready to call it a night. The giant bowl is definitely meant to be shared by two people.
Liu Xiang Yuan
704 W. Las Tunas #4
San Gabriel, CA 91776