Betcha never seen this one before! Yes, hot Chinese sausages and kiwi! I cracked up after reading this item on the menu, bluntly stated as “Sausage with Kiwi”. At first I was very confused, was it a typo? So I ordered it, just for fun. And I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it! The sausage, fried till peak popping point, bore a perfectly tight and crisp skin, wrapping the savory sweet juices of the sausage. Paired with cold dices of fresh kiwi, I ate bite after bite trying to figure out if I liked it cause it was odd or because it was just really good. My conclusion? A little of both. The neon green puddle of kiwi syrup doesn’t do much other than catching your eye. It’s on the thicker side and very sweet, but the color, now that’s something. If kiwi isn’t strange enough for you, feel free to have your sausages with peaches, chocolate, wasabi and strawberry jam, all at only $1.50 an order. Leaning on the safer side? Sausages with leek, garlic or sate sauce is also available. But really, I think it’s worth trying something funky at least once (or a million times in your life :)

As you’ve probably figure out by this point, SinBaLa specializes in Chinese sausages. Their most basic entree is the SinBaLa Sausage Rice ($4.75) featuring a land mass of rice covered in aforementioned sausages with corn, cabbage and eggs on the side. The “sides” were reminded me of airplane food: lukewarm scrambled eggs in a goopy orange sauce, cold cabbage and a frozen corn, carrot and pea mixture. You’re better off ordering a variety of sausages to sample. (Maybe it’s just me, but doesn’t the food look fake – like the plastic displays found in Japanese restaurants?)

Meg, who’s a bit of dumpling nut (and I say this with complements) had the Napa Cabbage & Pork Dumplings ($4.50/10 pieces). I didn’t try any, but she finished them all so that must have been a semi good sign. I vaugely heard her mention something about “what the heck kinda dipping sauce this is, so bitter and spicy…” Lesson learned. Stick to sausages with…various toppings. SinBaLa does well what they’re known for, but appear to be lost in all other fields.

Also stopped by the supermarket to pick up a box each of black sesame and kinako pocky. The black sesame is my favorite flavor so far, but I haven’t tried the kinako yet and god knows I have a habit if eating kinako powder by the (tiny) spoonfuls (if the spoonfuls are too big all the powder busts up right up your nose and chokes your throat).

I just might come back next week…Sausage with Chocolate is calling my name.

18489 Colima Road
Rowland Heights, CA 91748
(626) 581-9885

From Robyn, Via New York

Whooooa. Robyn is such an fantastic food-trader-wither. I did a food trade with her a few weeks ago, but because of an excessive backlog of posts, I had to set aside enough time to give her package its much deserved thanks. Thank you Robyn, for giving my many cavities and fat calories :) Everything was so good I ate it all in a matter of three days, giving no regard whatsoever to the excessive quantities of sugar I consumed. I was on a continuous happy sugar high. Oooh, food trades, so bad, yet so gastronomically satisfying.

Thank you thank you Robyn!

The beautiful baby is the LEVAIN cookie. Oh, sexy, this hefty chocolate chip walnut baby weighs in at half a pound. I don’t know where to begin but know you’re not supposed to eat it all in one sitting (which I regretfully/happily did). You bite and it’s like Whhhoooa. Crazy. The insides were soft and cookie doughy with equally generous portions of walnut and chocolate chunks. It drove me crazier than any guy ever has. It’s rich, it’s moist, it’s huge. There’s really nothing more you need in a cookie. If I were not simultaneously a bad photographer and aggressive eater, you’d also see the innards, which I scarfed down too quickly to be photographed. I’m sending you over to read Robyn’s review, which not only offer better pictures but is a 100 times more drool worthy.

Buried in the tasty heap of sweets was a City Bakery cookie. It manages to be iron board flat, crispy and crunchy but at the same time, include not chips or chunks of chocolate but layers of chocolate. Mind blowing. And we thought chocolate chip cookies were just chocolate chip cookies.

You see this little green and white striped box? It’s magical. I requested that Robyn include macarons, my favorite cookie addiction of the moment. After reading much about these French cookies on many blogs and tasting a trio of mini macarons at Jin’s Patisseire, all I wanted to do was eat the world one macaron at a time :)

Ok, these pictures are unforgivably bad. Please don’t judge taste by them. They chipped a little in the mail, but that was rendered negligible after the first bite. This is what the pistachio one is supposed to look like. Now that’s an awesome picture, isn’t is? But the one I need to tell you about is the chocolate bugger on the right. This was the single best item in the whole package (a difficult choice to make!) I bit into cookie and was instantly taken aback by how the thin brittle layer with just a whiff of chocolate gave way to a dense, moist and chewy innard. Before I could comprehend this, something oh so smooth slid across my tongue, a dark rich and bitter chocolate ganache. Caught between the two perfectly round cocoa cookies, it was chocolate in the most sinfully addicting form. I told myself I would only eat half, as I insisted on “sampling” EVERYTHING while opening the box. Ha. Half? Are you kidding. The whole macaron in all its decadence made it’s way from NYC and straight into my tummy. I would not have had it any other way.

Much to my delight, Robyn kindly tucked in a duo of chocolate truffles hidden in the Financier box. I gave one away to Meg, my future roommate and kept the dark chocolate coconut for myself. Sweeet. A bite into the mellow, bitterly sweet shell revealed a liquidly center, boasting rich coconut flavors. It was a bit sugary for my tastes, or maybe it was cause I just had a ton of sugar via various baked goods J

The cookie parade never ends! This Ranger Cookie was from Alice’s Tea Cup. This was the “healthiest” cookie of the bunch, with all the good basics rolled into a light and crisp disk. Every sweet crumbly bite revealed combinations of chocolate chips, coconut and rice crispies. It was a comfort cookie, like something found at a (very good) school bake sale. I have fond memories of Alice’s, having visited at least every other week to enjoy afternoon tea. Often I’d go by myself, nothing quite like passing away a Friday afternoon hidden underground in the cozy nooks of this restaurant. I love their scones the way a mother loves her daughter, an intense fondness and…ooookay. That was getting way off. But yes. They’ve got a wonderful rotation of scones, my favorite being the strawberry caramel and ginger honey blueberry. Fly me home to the city and I promise we’ll dine on scones together. Cream and jam. You, me and a dozen scones. Divine!

What is this? Huge, triangular, all the poppy seeds on the planet packed into a dough that’s not quite cookie, not really cake, but both! It’s a hamentaschen :) No fruit filled ones here, only poppy seed will do. This particular one came from Moishe’s in the East Village, nyc’s finest (in my opinion) Jewish bakery. I like these cause every bit has that haunting flavor of poppy entwined with a softer cakey shortbread-like dough. None of the components are sweet in the traditional baked good sense, but put together, they make a most interesting kind of cookie.

I saved the best for last! Oh wait, I already said the Financier’s chocolate macaron was the best. Ok. It will be a tie. I requested this loaf from Arte Around the Corner after reading Nosher’s post. His post honestly made me drool and all I could think about for the next two days was his sage-honey loaf. I’d sit in class trying to balance so-and-so’s firm’s 1999 balance sheet when the words “sage-honey loaf” would dance across my head and right onto my paper. Instead of debiting the inventories account, I had drawn a picture of the loaf. Nice. Which explains why I was literally trembling when I saw the loaf in Robyn’s package. They had run out of the sage flavor, but I was equally content with the rosemary-honey loaf. It looked beautiful and tasted even better. A thick dense slice that smelled and tasted powerfully of rosemary, richly saturated in honey. The edges, after a light toasting, were delicately tender and crisp. Isn’t the color of the slice something? The contrast between golden brown and a husky yellow? I’m not kidding when I said saturated with honey, my head was spinning, all sweet breads need be honey soaked then boldly shocked with savory herbs. I love it! I love it!

Afghan cuisine isn’t found too frequently in LA, so I was naturally excited to try out Azeen’s in Old Pasadena with friends last week. We arrived for an early 5:30 pm dinner and the restaurant was empty save for an older couple in the corner. It was a quiet place, tucked in just streets from the popular Xiomara and Yujean Kang. Our waitress, though a bit forgetful, was very helpful with the menu and eager to please.

We started with a trio of appetizers, first, the Mantu. A set of four large dumplings filled with a savory mixture of ground beef, onions and various herbs. Steamed and topped with raita and vegetables (chickpeas, corns and peas) sauteed in tomato based sauce, I thought they tasted like massive Chinese potstickers (pronnounced “worteep” in Cantonese) with the added Afghan influence combo of raita and sautéed vegetables. They were alright, but after being exposed to many good variations on Asian dumplings, I didn’t find Azeen’s any more spectacular.

I did enjoy the Bulanee-E-Katchalu, deep fried pastries with the same filling as the Mantu only with the addition of potatoes. The hot crispy shells made a welcome contrast to the cooling tang of the yogurt. Topped with a ground beef sauce (much like Zippy’s meat sauce) you got your crunch, moosh of the yogurt and a beefy goodness rolled into one.

I swear they’ve got a Chinese chef in the kitchen making the Aushak – leek and scallion filled dumplings. They were exactly likes the ones found all over Arcadia. Was I eating Chinese or Afghan? The only thing that made this un-Asian was the yogurt and meat sauce, finished by sprinkled of chopped mint. All the flavors blended well, I was just taken aback by how similar Afghan food was to my “home” food!

Julie and Daniel had the Kabob-E-Gousfand, fancy name for luscious lamb kabobs! They were presented with two long skewers between a side of Pallaw and Afghani bread. I tasted a bit of everything and the Pallaw was crap good. The rice was nutty, browned and well seasoned with strong onion flavors. A long, bumpy strip of bread looked better than it tasted. Could have benefited from being heated up as the cool temperature made it kind of hard and unpleasantly chewy. The bottom was sprinkled with black sesame seeds, which I thought were a nice touch. And the lamb, sweet and tender, a tad spicy but boasting an inherent gamy-ness that makes lamb so attractive. I wanted more than a bite, but felt bad about eating their entrees.

The Absi Challaw looks a lot like palak paneer but this is no vegetarian dish. Under the layer of softly cooked spinach with onion and garlic were soft chunks of stewed lamb. I liked the stewed method of cooking lamb better than the grilled kabob style – pieces just fell apart with the prod of a fork. Oh, all soft and moist, I craved for a big hunk of bread to soak up the meaty sweet juices and spinach.

The Challaw Badenjan was my least favorite. Even after only two bites, the dish became boring very quickly. There was nothing wrong with the eggplant, cooked in a tangy tomato based stew and topped with raita, but I got tired with the repetitive texture. It was mush after mush. You definitely taste eggplant, but it was cut into such tiny pieces it may as well have been nonexistent were it not for the flavors.

Saving the most delicious for the last, my Challaw Kadu was crazy good. The vibrant yet homey yellow shade of the sautéed butternut squash was a visual delight but warm and comfortingly sweet in my mouth. The mellow squash were sprinkled with spices I cannot recall the names of, but I can tell you they added their own bit of western umami while cooing out the natural sweetness of the squash. My first spoonful: a bit of hot Pallaw, scoop of squash and some minty raita. That rocked any lamb dish straight out of its bowl.

Azeen’s Afghani Restaurant
110 E. Union St.
Pasadena, CA 91103
(626) 683-3310

(I’m sorry for constantly “interrupting” and delay my NYC spring break posts, but I’m eating rather well here and don’t want to fall back on LA either. So, just a short break, cause Sunday was a really massive and good eating day!)

Kathy knows she eats a lot. Perhaps a little (or a lot) too much. And one day her tummy is probably going to explode if she doesn’t learn how to control mad cravings to try everything. She woke up Sunday morning very hungry. So hungry that she ate the world. No, not really, but almost. Accompanied by her friend Julie, they made the 90 minute long trek to the LA’s Farmer’s Market. It’s a farmer’s market in the traditional sense but more along the lines of many outdoor eating spots crammed together in a nice location. But there’s a huge variety and provided you know which stall to invest in, it’s delicious!

Our first stop was Moishe’s Village Mediterranean flatbread sandwich. As you can see in the picture, they sell about a dozen kinds of flatbread with assorted toppings. It’s like pizza, but they’ve “Medeterranian-nized” it somehow. How? I do not know. After you decide, the rough ‘n tough guy behind the counter whips out a precut piece of dough, rolls into a rectangle, lays on your toppings and pops it into the wood fired oven behind him.

We had to get the prosciutto and egg just because the idea of cracking an egg on flatbread then baking it is, well, very very awesome. It’s hard to go wrong with this basic combo, made better with a bread base to soak up the warm melty yolks. I felt they didn’t cook it long enough, as the crust was still on the pale side. A creative, aesthetically pleasing dish, but since it was so basic, everything from ingredient quality to baking time/temp is much more crucial, something they should have paid more attention to. (This might be for a Sunday morning breakfast – going back to Hawaii in 3 weeks, I’d like to surprise my family with this dish:))

The Gumbo Pot is the best known of the food stands in the market. Claimed by magazines as “best gumbo this side Bourbon Street” and “Inexpensive and Delicious” by Bon Appetit, I had high expectations. They’ve got all the Cajun food covered from Po’Boys to Jambalaya and even Blackened Alligator Tails. I was tempted to try the alligator but since it was my first visit I had the Gumbo Ya Ya.

Ok, so my picture sucks, all you can see is rice in a muddy red/brown stew but keep in mind that looks can be deceiving. And they are in this case. The gumbo was thick and spicy, coating every grain of rice as I gave it a stir. Ample chunks of juicy andouille sausages and soft cuts of chicken were so satisfying. The meats were clearly cooked over low heat for looong time, retaining the sweet juices and flavor but taking on a completely different texture. Even though it was a hot day, I found the warmth and spice of the gumbo demanding me to spoon up one spoonful after another till nothing was left.

I ordered a side of Sweet Potato Salad so was surprised to discover this when I opened up the container. Doesn’t it look like a shredded carrot salad? But nope, they were right. It was sweet potato! Funny thing was, it TASTED like carrots. Either way, I enjoyed shredded bits of sweet potatoes/carrots, the raisins and apple cubes rounded out the salad, adding both necessary sweetness and texture to the dish. (I swear they were carrots. I’ve had my share sweet potatoes and they sure didn’t taste like sweet potatoes!)

I love cornbread, but I did not love this cornbread. I loved it even less after seeing Robyn’s beautiful cornbread brick. Very dry and nearly tasteless, I don’t know why I finished the entire thing, but I did.

Luckily the meal started on a high note and ended on an even higher one. Four puffy beignets to an order, and though they look big, they were so airy and fluffy that I would also have ordered the chocolate ones if our parking validation didn’t expire soon. Blistering hot, these rectangular babies were showered with powdered sugar and absolutely emphermal. They’re nothing like donuts, more like soft, fried doughy baguette dough, sweetened only by a welcome coating of powdered sugar. A bite though the thin crunchy surface revealed a warm moist dough. They remind me of a refined malassada – only not even a hint of grease.

Normally this would fill me up. But something was wrong today. I was still hungry. Very hungry, actually. I needed BREAD!!! We drove down Fairfax to Canter’s, (Julie had challah on the mind, so we both benefit here:)) Having no self control whatsoever, we walked out with THREE loaves, each one about a foot long, of bread.

A Jewish deli and bakery, Canter’s always seems to be full – like LA’s version of Katz. Their shelves were pack full of beautiful braided brown loaves of challah, but the ones studded with golden raisins caught out eyes. Not knowing when we’d come back again, we logically decided that splitting a loaf wouldn’t suffice. So we got two. Crap, this bread was good. The exterior was crunchy, almost flaky, even and gave way to a soft, eggy dough generously studded with juicy raisins in shades of gold. I wish I could share it with, but you’ll have to come here. I’d say the challah here even beats B&H Dairy in the East Village.

So that was the plan. Just challah. But then I noticed a whole nother row of breads, savory breads! I was doomed from the start. The women at the register named a variety of breads from poppy seed, oatmeal…and a onion, garlic, cheddar cheese, poppy seed one that had my name written all over it. It was like they decided to put all of my favorite bread “extras” into one loaf and place it right in front of me. Good business plan. I doubted I could finish another entire loaf on my own, but they wouldn’t sell a half loaf, so I really had no choice. Hehe. I bought the whole damn thing. And two days later, it’s gone. I ate about a third of it in the car. First the smell, the cheese, onion and garlic honestly permeated out of the plastic bag. It was crying, “EAT ME EAT ME I’M SO DAMN DELICIOUS” and it was not lying. Using the same eggy challah dough, the breadmaker weaved in plenty of cheese into the bread and all over the crust. Each slice revealed cuts of caramelized onions and pungent chunks of garlic with spots of poppy seed everywhere. It was all at once cheesy, sweet and combusting with strong flavors of onion and garlic that never competed but complemented each other. I can’t believe I finished the loaf. But then again, it was insanely delicious, so I guess I can.

That was supposed to be the end of my fooding for the day. But things don’t always go according to plan…Fan knocked on my door around 9pm and shouted the words, “Rowland Heights!” with great gusto. Off we went.

We picked up an order of dan dan noodles from Shufeng Garden, a small Sichuan restaurant across the street from the Hong Kong Supermarket. Nothing like that lovely burning feeling of spicy hot noodles. And I don’t mean it sarcastically. It’s got that good meaty burn that hurts but keeps you craving more. That, tossed with slippery moist noodles is supposed to compose a meal, but makes a damn delicious snack. There was a lot of sauce left on the bottom and I imagine that I’d suffer from sodium overkill if I mixed it all.

And a little box of something to snack on. After all, there were two us. For $3.95 we had a container split between fuqi feipein, spicy stewed chicken and a type of sweetened seaweed. The seaweed was strange, in a bad way. I don’t know what I was expecting, but coordinately nothing so sugary and wet. At the other end of the container, aside from being composed of only brisket, tripe and peppers, the beefy hot flavoring of the fuqi feipein was quite pleasing, cold and spicy. I believe the chicken was boiled and seasoned with the same sauce/spices used for the fuqi feipan. What scared me though, was all the chili oil left at the bottom of the container after we finished!

All this spicy does the tummy good, but as I’ve been taught by Robyn, the night must end with something sweet. We walked next door to the “food court” and were instantly taken in by the picture of Taiwanese ice. Perfect!

This was the best deal I scored all day. $3 for EIGHT toppings! Count them: red bean, green bean, peanuts, tapioca, mango pudding, taro, black grass jelly and custard (and to think I’ve been paying $3.50 for 3 toppings down the street…). All topped a mountain of ice and ample drizzles of sweetened condensed milk. It was so big that I had difficulty navigating the dessert, a bit of taro, wait no! I want some green beans too and red ones! Before I knew it, I was left with lots of melted ice and a pile of toppings. Still delicious. The perfect way to end a spicy outing. Now my poor stomach is in recovery (no worries…it tends to bounce back pretty quick:))

(Yes it was all in one day. Should I be proud, or horrified of myself?)

LA’s Farmer’s Market
6333 W 3rd Street
Los Angeles, CA 90036
(323) 933-0358

419 N Fairfax Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90036
(323) 651-2030

Shufeng Garden
18459 Colima Road
Rowland Heights, CA 91748
(626) 839-7589

Late night dining seemed to be the norm during spring break – after all, I wanted to fit in as many meals as possible over the course of a day! Rai Rai Ken was my favorite late night treat. Though often stuffed from dinner I always managed to make room for a 11pm bowl of curry ramen and curry rice. Curry anything, and I’ll love you for it.

Haven’t been to Tokyo yet (hopefully this August!) but I was told that the setting of Rai Rai Ken is similar to many ramen shops in Japan. A long narrow restaurant that barely seats a dozen, my immediate thought upon walking in was, “man, this feels cozy!” (in a good way, of course) The room was warm and smelled of homey noodles and soup, a slight scent of fried katsu and…onions. There were definitely onions floating in the air.

The Curry Ramen cures everything that doesn’t need to be cured. A steaming warm bowl of thick broth heavy with expected deep warm, just a tad of spicy curry flavors that mark any version of this dish. The noodles had the right bite balance between chewy and soft, and paired well with hearty slices of sweet pork, a perfectly boiled egg and a requisite scattering of green onions.

On another occasion I had the beef curry rice. The rice was preceded by a simple bowl of clear broth (same broth used for the plain ramen?). Though flavorful, I found it to be on the sweet side and unusually oily. Unlike spicy oils often found in Chinese food, the oil here did nothing for the soup. The aroma and rich flavor of the soup was enjoyable but a greasy aftertaste left much to be desired.

Ah, nothing like beef curry and rice with a lots of pickled ginger on the side. I could eat curry rice everyday of my life! This was a warm, cuddly dish. Soft grains of tummy soothing white rice with thick Japanese curry, sweetened by apples and accompanied by chunks of softly stewed beef. The ginger is necessary to provide what I feel to be tart cleansing bites, something to offset the monotony of repeated spoonfuls of curry and rice (not that that’s bad or anything!) Only complaint about this dish was that the curry was served at a lukewarm temperature. Aside from that, it reminded me much of the Curry House back home in Hawaii. A good bowl of reliable curry that doesn’t quite blow you away but leaves you very happy. Sometimes that’s all you need.

Rai Rai Ken
214 E 10th St
New York, 10003
(212) 477-7030