Asian pastas have a long tradition. Noodles...
Asian pastas have a long tradition. Noodles have been a staple in northern China since around AD 100. Chinese immigrants spread throughout Asia, taking the noodle with them, and local cooks soon began to add their own ingredients. Today you find noodles all over Asia, garnished in hundreds of different ways.
Asians are passionate about good quality pasta, and as the Asian population of this country has grown, so has the availability of fresh pasta. Many restaurants make their own daily; others procure it from 20 local factories. Fresh chewy rice noodles, thin flat egg noodles, water and wheat flour chow mein noodles, fresh buckwheat soba, Japanese udon , and Korean-style buckwheat noodles are readily available. Today even the ancient art of hand-throwing Chinese noodles is being practiced in L.A.
Many Chinese-Korean restaurants serve hand-pulled noodles. Just watching the chef toss, twist and pull a nondescript ball of dough into hundreds of thin strands is worth the visit. Hurry though, for this labor-intensive skill has attracted few trainees.
From our table near the kitchen entrance of Young King Restaurant, the distinctive slap of the dough hitting the wooden counter became background to our conversation. We tucked into several bowls of the gloriously chewy, silky, slightly irregular noodles no machine can duplicate. Cha chiang mein are boiled noodles topped with a rich brown sauce of bean paste, ground meat and onions; you toss the noodles with your chopsticks to mix in the sauce. Chow ma mein , a spicy red broth with shrimps, squid, sea cucumber and vegetables, is also delicious. Most restaurants serve the noodles in 8 or 9 ways; a different kind of noodle goes into chow mein, so be sure to ask which noodles on the menu are handmade.
The following restaurants all serve hand-tossed noodles.
Young King Restaurant, 3100 W. Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles, (213) 487-6154. Open daily, 11:30-9:30.
Shin Peking Chinese Restaurant, 3101 W. Olympic Blvd. (213) 381-3003/4. Open daily, 11:30-9:30.
Royal Restaurant, 1143 S. Western Ave., Los Angeles, (213) 732-4884, 732-6302. Open daily, 11:30-10.
Peking Yuen Restaurant, 3185 W. Olympic Blvd. (213) 382-3815, 736-9052. Open daily, 11:30-9:30.
“We used to make about 300 pounds of Cantonese-style egg noodles every few days but now Oriental noodles are a big industry. There’s too much competition for a small place to make its own noodles,” the young man behind the counter told me. Although they don’t make them at the restaurant anymore, the Home Cafe, a Chinatown landmark since the depression era, serves several varieties of fresh noodles.
Each noodle type is prepared in a dozen or so different ways. You can order your chow mein noodles either stir-fried or Cantonese style--often known as “two sides brown.” Patted into the wok and browned, the noodles are then turned all together to form a pancake, crispy on the outside and tender within.
The Cafe also offers 35 varieties of soup noodles. This filling dish is inexpensive, but noodle connoisseurs know that to be just right the noodle must be eggy, fine as angel hair and somewhat chewy. A golden mound comes with just the right quantity of broth, lightly garnished perhaps with seafood or barbecue pork.
Fun, the wide chewy rice noodles, are excellent here with fried beef, braised brisket, barbecue pork, chicken or tender greens.
The Home Cafe, 859 N. Broadway (corner of College), Los Angeles, (213) 624-6956. Open 8-6 Monday-Wednesday, Friday and Saturday, and 8-4 Thursday and Sunday.
“Don’t order those to go!” the waitress said. “They get too soggy; must be eaten right away.” Since its inception, the Mandarin Deli’s famous dumplings have drawn crowds, but now a growing number of regulars have also become addicted to the other homemade noodles. There are cold noodles, noodles with special pork sauce, and the square flour noodles that go into soup. The dough is rolled out and the noodle squares cut by hand, dropped into boiling broth and garnished with vegetables, bits of meat and egg drops. (If left for several hours they will soak up all the broth.)
Other dishes use fresh factory-made egg noodles--and those you can take with you.
Mandarin Deli Restaurant, 727 N. Broadway No. 109, Los Angeles, (213) 623-6054. Open 9-11 every day but Tuesday.
Just next door to the Mandarin Deli you can sample almost 70 different noodle dishes of a very different style. The owners are Chiu Chow, Chinese who fled to Southeast Asia years ago. This explains the Vietnamese writing on the signs and the Southeast Asian influence in the food.
There are three fresh noodle styles: the flat rice noodle, the thin square-edged rice noodle and Cantonese egg noodles. Each is prepared with a long list of toppings, sauces or soups. “Beef variety rice noodle” for example, is a huge bowl of wide rice noodles garnished with sliced steak, chunks of braised beef, and chewy beef balls with little wisps of tripe. The “spicy beef rice noodle bowl” is a version with thin fresh rice noodles and a mildly spicy red sauce. The flat rice noodles are also delicious; they are fried, with a little egg scrambled in at the end.
(Don’t confuse Kim Chuy Restaurant, near the Broadway entrance to the Food Center, with the Kim Chuy Deli near the Hill Street entrance.)
Kim Chuy Restaurant, 727 N. Broadway No. 103, Los Angeles (213) 687-7215. Open daily, 8-8:45.
In Japan, consuming noodles with great sucking noises is a sign of appreciation. At lunchtime, much polite sucking can be heard at Daisuke, a restaurant specializing in Japanese buckwheat soba noodles and the thicker, chewier wheat noodle udon . Both are made fresh daily at the restaurant. In the Japanese tradition, you can order either in savory broth with your choice of a topping, or on a mat with a dipping sauce on the side.
Daisuke, a noodle restaurant chain in southern Japan, saw Gardena as a good opportunity for overseas expansion in 1974. Only a few miles away, a separate Daisuke shop makes and serves ramen , the Japanese version of Chinese noodles. Why have a separate location for ramen ? “Japanese flavors are more delicate than the Chinese, so we don’t mix them,” I was told. So, if you want cha shu men garnished with rosy-edged slices of barbecued pork, wonton men , or cold Chinese noodles-- hayashi chuka --you’ll have to drive down the road.
Daisuke, 15410 Normandy Avenue, Gardena, (213) 532-9537. Open daily, 11:30-10.
Daisuke Ramen, 1610 W. Redondo Beach Blvd., Gardena, (213) 327-2036. Open daily , 11:30-9:30.
Daisuke Little Tokyo, 123 S. Weller St. (213) 617-2239. Open daily 11:30-9:30.
Each day the noodle chef at Korean Gardens makes fresh naeng myun , the fine, light chewy buckwheat and potato-starch noodles. At lunchtime huge white porcelain bowls of noodles and broth or sauce are on almost every table.
One of the first Korean Restaurants in Los Angeles, Korean Gardens is one of several to offer fresh naeng myun . The noodles are served cold in a broth topped with thinly sliced brisket, white radish, Oriental pear, hard-cooked egg and a few strands of dried chili. A symbol of longevity, the noodles are served very long; many diners make use of the scissors provided to cut them into a manageable eating length. If you love spicy food, try the bibim (mixed up) naeng myun --the same noodles served with a searingly hot pepper and garlic sauce.
Korean Gardens Restaurant, 910 S. Vermont Ave., Los Angeles, (213) 388-3042. Open daily 11-11.
Korean beef dumplings, mandu , are handmade at this Dumpling House. Many places use commercially made won ton skins, but here the hand-rolled wrappers stretch thinly around the chunky filling which has just the right balance of meat and vegetables. The mandu are served steamed in a round bamboo basket or pan-fried. You can also order them cooked in a mild beef broth.
Ddo Wa Korean Dumpling House and Restaurant, 3542 W. 3rd Street, Los Angeles, (213) 387-1288. Open Monday-Saturday, 10-10:30, and first and third Sundays of the month.
When you place your order at Little Dragon, two workers immediately begin to roll out the dough and assemble the dumplings. In addition to traditional beef mandu , Little Dragon serves light fish dumplings, a vegetarian dumpling and something called the “dragon dumpling.” Typical Chinese-Korean style noodles are also freshly made, but by machine, so they lack the character of the hand-tossed noodles available in many nearby establishments.
Little Dragon, 2897 W. Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles. (213) 383-0955. Open daily, 11:30-9.
In past eras every Korean household served knife noodles, or kal kougsou . These are made by cutting hand-rolled noodle dough into ribbons with a large knife. In Korea, certain specialty shops are known for their fresh kal kougsou , cooked in quantities of steaming broth; there is only one place I know of in L.A. that makes them.
They are the first thing on the menu (they spell it kal goog soo ), and should not be confused with the other noodle offerings like udong , the Korean version of Japanese udon or goog soo , machine-made wheat noodles served in spicy sauces.
Ga-Roo-Roo Noodle and Barbecue Restaurant, 215 N. Western Ave., Los Angeles, (213) 461-5845. Open Monday-Friday, 11-11.
Tessie’s Lechon and Deli is so authentic that if you turned your back on the street, you would feel as though you were in a real Filipino panciteria . This is where you get the best mami --flat, silky egg noodles--in town. All mami come in a bowl of steaming broth with assorted toppings: bola bola (meat balls), barbecue pork, chicken, slices of the baby roast pork (lechon) or, if you really love pasta-- won ton . Tessie’s other specialty is whole roast baby pig--Filipino style.
Tessie’s Lechon and Deli, 4252 W . 3rd St., Los Angeles, (213) 383-3179. Open Tuesday-Saturday, 11-8.
“We can finally get thin rice noodles locally since a factory recently opened,” said Marisa Sammabhandh, while I polished off a bowl of fresh rice noodles in coconut milk curry; “they’re so much nicer.” Sompun offers fourteen noodle dishes, many more than most places attempt. She showed me the fresh egg noodles used in curry, the familiar wide, flat fresh rice noodles and the thin square-edged rice noodles used in pad thai . Flat rice noodles with green chili, mint and beef or pork or the Sompun noodle fried with morsels of chicken and scrambled with egg are toothsome and perfectly flavored. The curry noodles are fairly mild but a lethal-looking jar of ground red chili sauce accompanies them.
Sompun Restaurants, 4156 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles, (213) 669-9906, 661-5350. Also in Studio City and Van Nuys. Open Monday-Saturday, 11-12, Sunday, 11-9.