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It’s time to head to the SGV for Taiwanese breakfast

Fan tuan from Today Starts Here.
(Bill Addison/Los Angeles Times)

Last month, I picked up breakfast from Today Starts Here in Chinatown and spread out the haul on a table at home. Where to start? Daikon cakes flecked with shiitakes and fried shallots, or oblong shao bing filled with scrambled eggs, or dan bing, the rolled Taiwanese egg crepe filled with cabbage and corn?

We’d get to them, but first my partner and I lunged for the purple sticky rice fan tuan. I’d cut the roll in half to reveal its center: crackling youtiao, revealing caverns of fried dough and a braised egg squeezed into one corner. Pork floss and specks of preserved greens hid in the crevices.

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It’s one of my favorite things at Vivian Ku’s Taiwanese breakfast pop-up, the subject of this week’s review. The eternal beauty of writing about restaurants in Los Angeles, even during a pandemic (or maybe especially during the crisis), is that one meal touches off memories, curiosities and alarms that lead to other places.

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The last time I’d eaten fan tuan was at Huge Tree Pastry in Monterey Park, arguably America’s most famous destination for Taiwanese breakfast, with my friend Lee visiting from Vancouver. “Purple or white rice?” asked the server. Purple, we nodded. “Egg or pickle?” Both, please. We ate it while dunking hunks of youtiao in bowls of warm soy milk and in between bites of beef roll, or a jian (the oyster pancake that is a staple of night markets in Taiwan) and scallion pancake veneered with scrambled egg.

This week I stopped by Huge Tree, to buy the usuals to take home (but eating steamed pork dumplings in the car while they were still warm), and then I swung by a couple of other breakfast institutions in the San Gabriel Valley.

At Yi Mei Deli in Rowland Heights, customization is expected when you order fan tuan (made here with white sticky rice). I wanted it all — youtiao, fried egg, pork floss, vegetables — for its chorus of textures, and a soothing dan bing alongside, splashed with garlic-infused soy sauce.

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A platter of dishes from Huge Tree Pastry in Monterey Park and Yung Ho Dou Jiang in San Gabriel.
(Bill Addison / Los Angeles Times)

Yung Ho Dou Jiang in San Gabriel (also known simply as Yung Ho) had set up an intercom system by its door, open but with a table up against it, to make it easier for customers to speak with the staff taking orders from a counter in the back of the room. In the to-go bag — among congee, oyster pancake and a crisp, standout leek pie — the staff had slipped in a rice cake filled with red bean paste as a Lunar New Year gift.

The Year of the Metal Ox began yesterday, Feb. 12. It’s a somber year for many celebrants, and not just because of warnings and restrictions against large gatherings. The new year coincides with the moment in 2020 when fears about COVID-19 began accelerating around the globe. In the United States it came with boldface xenophobia and racially fueled violence against Asian Americans and Pacific Islander Americans.

Waves of aggression and bloodshed continue in 2021. Out of the Bay Area came news of an 84-year-old man, Vicha Ratanapakdee, who was forcefully shoved to the ground and later died; a New York Times article reports that the Oakland Chinatown Chamber of Commerce has counted more than 20 assaults in its community over the past two weeks. Los Angeles food writer Esther Tseng recounted her experience of being told to “go back to China” during a visit to Huntington Gardens on Feb. 6.

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Thoughts of these deplorable events stayed with me as I drove through the SGV this week. Businesses remain quiet. I didn’t need to exercise social distancing at the restaurants where I picked up breakfast: I was usually the only customer.

Which is to say: Please continue supporting restaurants — all kinds of restaurants — as much as you can. Education is key. Informed friends have steered me to the organization 18 Million Rising as one resource.

I’m marking the holiday this weekend by ordering food from fledgling businesses. Last night I had a beautiful, multi-box dorisak filled with fish, soup and banchan from Naemo, a pop-up from Los Angeles newcomers Arnold Byun and Ki Kim; you’ll hear more about them soon. Today I’m picking up Edlyne Nicolas Page’s Lunar New Year pie from her Laroolou pop-up in Chinatown: It’s Cara Cara orange curd and cardamom-vanilla custard layered over graham cracker crust. (Hello!) Tonight is Pearl River Deli’s much-anticipated foray into poon choi.

And tomorrow? Probably another fan tuan from Today Starts Here.

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Dinner with Dear John’s and Jamie Lee Curtis

The next Los Angeles Times Dinner Series event is on Saturday, Feb. 20, featuring food from Dear John’s in Culver City, a restaurant whose retro coolness has landed it on The Times’ 101 list for the last two years. Food team colleague Jenn Harris hosts the event, which will feature actress Jamie Lee Curtis in conversation with Dear John’s owners Josiah Citrin (Mélisse, Charcoal, Openaire) and Hans Röckenwagner (the Röckenwagner Bakery Group).

Participants will pick up their meals from Dear John’s and share the meal online at 6:30 p.m. The menu includes shrimp cocktail, Caesar salad for two, chicken Parmesan with spaghetti marinara and creamed spinach, and mascarpone cheesecake for dessert. Tickets are $105 per person, with a minimum of two tickets per household. The charity partner for the event is Project Angel Food.

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V-Day is upon us

Beyond the Lunar New Year, it is of course also Valentine’s Day weekend. Stephanie Breijo has a right-on-time piece about how to eat your feelings.

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“The only good aspect of Valentine’s Day for me is that it’s a reminder that chocolate is wonderful, no matter the occasion,” says Ben Mims. Check out his trio of new chocolatey recipes.

Chocolate chunk-hazelnut tart, jaffa cake and fresh mint and chocolate pudding
Ben Mims has three new chocolatey recipes for Valentine’s Day: chocolate chunk-hazelnut tart, jaffa cake and fresh mint and chocolate pudding.
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)


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