The Humble Baozi is a Must Eat in Shanghai

On this recent trip to China, I was happy to still be able to find street food in Shanghai.  Even in more affluent areas, I could wander down an alley and find delicious, cheap food of questionable cleanliness.

One type of place that’s easy to spot is the baozi (bun) stand, thanks to the stacks of giant steamers.  The good ones have people crowded around them in the morning like this one across the street from where we were staying.

Unless it’s a fancier type place, don’t bother queueing since an older Chinese person is just going to elbow their way in front of you anyway.  Just figure out 1.) what filling you want, 2.) how many you want, and 3.) how much money to hand the vendor before wrangling your way to the front of the steamers.

It’s hard to find good savory baozi in the US because they’re often pre-made or frozen and realistically, nothing will taste as good as a bun that’s still steaming straight from the bamboo steamer.  The buns I got in China were still white and fluffy, but the bread part was less sweet and the filling was more textured.  My favorite is the mei cai rou bao, which is a baozi filled with dried pickled cabbage and ground pork — I ate plenty of those.

I also ate a couple of baozi with a pickled green bean and pork filling. The green beans tasted like chopped up versions of the spicy and sour green beans that often show up as cold appetizers in Chinese restaurants in the US. There was only a sprinkling of pork for flavor, but that was enough. The combination of hot and tangy in the morning may be too much for some, but I’d imagine it’s a great hangover cure.

For the vegans, there’s the ubiquitous xiangu baozi which is filled with usually filled with chopped shiitake, baked tofu, and lightly pickled green vegetables.  Usually, other than a sweet filling, this is the only vegan option.

On one morning, I decided to branch out from my usual stand to a different one across the street that was attached to a larger, more formal restaurant.  It had the same amount of people lining up in front of it, so I thought it would be safe, but it turned out to be a disappointment. The baozi didn’t taste as good and the filling was cold.  This just cements my bias that the smaller baozi stands are more delicious.

Kaioo Ramen

Kaioo* Ramen opened in the first week of February, replacing an unsuccessful hotpot restaurant.  With the LA ramen revolution in full swing, it’s nice to see some new places to slurp the hot bowls of noodle in the SGV.

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On my first visit, I ordered the eponymous Kai Original Ramen bowl in a combo with gyoza.  The ramen came with slick, chewy yellow noodles in a delicious, rich broth.  Unlike other ramen places, the broth is a chicken broth base. The pork chashu topping came chopped up instead of in slices like the picture, but was still decent.  There was also ground pork sprinkled on top, which was a nice touch. My favorite part was the chili and chives mixture, giving eac spoonful of broth a pungent, spicy, taste.  According to the waitress, their style of ramen is Kobe style.

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The gyoza that accompanied my ramen catered to the Chinese palate, which is understandable since this ramenya is located in a plaza mostly full of Chinese customers.  Instead of a garlicky filling, it had green onion or chives.  The skin was also surprisingly delicate and soft without being mushy.

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After spending a week trying out ramen at other local places, Kaioo Ramen managed managed to perk my interest even then. I’m planning on returning next time for the tsukemen and the spicy chicken ramen.

 

Kaioo Ramen
1261 E. Valley Blvd.
Alhambra, CA 91801
626-940-5541

* There’s some confusion in the name. The menu makes it look like “Kai Ramen” but on Yelp it says Kaioo Ramen. And on the credit card bill, it says Kai Oo Ramen.

Dune — Frank Herbert never ate so good

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I admit to being surprised about Scott Zwiezen’s newly opened restaurant in Atwater Village. The chef that I associate with Elf Cafe is known to be an advocate of raw, vegan and vegetarian cuisine. His new venture is not in Echo Park, is not completely vegetarian nor raw. Instead, it’s middle eastern food in the form of sandwiches and is a lot more casual.

Dune soft-opened on Sunday, January 18th with the bare minimum: three types of sandwiches, two house-made drinks, and a counter to lean against while you eat your sandwich. Tucked between a dance studio and a juice bar, it offers food that’s as easy on the conscience as it is on the palate.

Zwiezen wanted the food at Dune to speak for itself. Gone is the baggage and stereotype that comes with the labels ‘raw’ and ‘vegetarian’, which can intimidate people from trying a restaurant. With the lamb and soon-to-arrive fish on the menu, Zwiezen hopes to attract people who would otherwise shy away from an all vegetarian menu.

Multiple diners in line were overheard ordering the falafel sandwich, which is no surprise, as it’s one of the best falafel sandwiches I’ve had. The deep fried balls of chopped chickpea are held together without flour, which will please the anti-gluten crowd as long as they order it sans pita. Unfortunately, ordering it without the pita also means you will miss out on the cooked-to-order pita bread that’s made in house.

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While the falafel sandwich is a no-brainer, the delicious beet sandwich was unexpected. What sounds on paper like an average beet salad served between two slices of bread was actually a playful combinations of flavors and textures. The earthiness of the beets was tamed by the briny pickle and onions, and further balanced with the rich yolk of the medium-boiled eggs. The tangy garlic sauce added a nice pungency to each sweet, savory, and tangy bite. I would say that this sandwich is easy to customize as vegan if certain elements were left out, but that would be ruining the combination that makes this a winner.

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To wash down the sandwiches, there’s also house-made root soda, which has dandelion, lapsang souchong, and a few other ingredients. It’s just sweet enough, with a slightly herbal fragrance. Fair warning though, no beverage in the restaurant will help your garlic breath afterward, so bring some breath mints if you care.

To those bookworms: yes the restaurant’s name was inspired by Frank Herbert’s magnum opus.


Dune
3143 Glendale Blvd.
Atwater Village