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EDITOR: Andrea Kirk
EXPLORING L.A.'S CULTURAL DIVERSITY ONE BITE AT A TIME
By Abby Abanes
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|In August 2009, two enterprising USC Grads, Jeff Okita and Alex Tao, launched one of Los Angeles' premiere food tour companies, Six Taste. Six Taste is so called because it hints at the possible discovery of a new taste beyond sweet, sour, salty, bitter and savory through one of their many weekly tours. Tour destinations include a Downtown LA Food Tour, Hollywood Food Tour, New Chinatown Food Tour and much more. Click here to see all their available tours.|
Last November, I took the Six Taste Delicious Dumpling Tour in Arcadia, CA. The focus of the tour was on Taiwanese food and apparently, Arcadia has become quite a mecca for this type of cuisine. Led by our knowledgeable guide, Michael Lin, a Taiwanese-American born and raised in Arcadia, we tasted our way through 5 delicious destinations.
Our first stop was J.J Bakery, a Taiwanese bakery. One thing Michael mentioned about Taiwanese pastries and desserts in general is that they don't tend to be extremely sweet.
In fact, when it comes to pastries, you'll find both sweet and savory versions like the Sweet Coconut Cream Bun and Green Onion Bun below. When a sweetening agent is used, brown sugar is a popular ingredient for Taiwanese foods as a whole.
More unique offerings that we saw included a French Toast Ham Sandwich and what our guide referred to as a Taiwanese Sushi Roll with ingredients like bread, green onions, pork sung (dried shredded pork), ham, tamago-style egg and more all wrapped inside nori.
Also in their shelves were beautifully decorated cakes and other desserts.
Our second stop was the infamous Din Tai Fung. I've been to Din Tai Fung quite a few times, but it wasn't until I went with Six Taste that I learned a few new things. One thing I knew for sure was that Din Tai Fung was known for their xiao long baos, also known as soup dumplings.
What I didn't know was that the XLBs at Din Tai Fung are done in the Taiwanese-style, which makes sense considering that the owners are Taiwanese and the first DTF originated in Taiwan. Those were two pieces of information I didn't know before either.
All this time I thought DTF was a Shanghainese restaurant. According to our guide, Taiwanese XLBs are smaller with a thinner, more elastic dumpling skin and the filling is firmer with less oil. Shanghainese XLBs are bigger with a softer dumpling skin and the filling is a little oilier with a softer texture.
Specific to Din Tai Fung is the fact that all their soup dumplings have 18 folds because 18 folds equate to the perfect dumpling. Can you count them below?
Along with both Pork and Crab and Pork Dumplings, we also enjoyed Fried Rice, Rice Cakes and for dessert, the Taro Dumpling below.
From Din Tai Fung, we made our way to SinBala where our group enjoyed trying out Taiwanese Night Market Street Food. To find those specific foods, be sure to look for the Snacks Section on their menu.
At SinBala, we tried 6 different items. The first to arrive was the Taiwanese Sausage with Raw Garlic. By itself, the sausage was good, but it's best enjoyed with the garlic for a nice little spice kick. If you're looking for something a little different, try the Taiwanese Sausage with chocolate sauce or passion fruit sauce or even strawberry jam. I actually went back to SinBala a month later and thought the Taiwanese sausage with passion fruit was awesome.
The Popcorn Chicken on the menu may not seem very interesting, but you'd be wrong. With a batter that has salt, white pepper and five spice, this chicken was, excuse my pun, poppin' with flavor.
My least favorite item was the Oyster Pancake with a Sweet Garlic Chili Sauce. The pancake itself was made with a sweet potato starch and there was just something about the texture that I didn't find too appealing.
Fourth to arrive was the Chicken Roll and there's actually an interesting story behind it. First, you should know that chicken isn't one of the ingredients for this dish. Our guide mentioned that three of the main foods you would bring to your ancestors are fish, pork and chicken. If chicken wasn't available, they'd fake it by stuffing pork sausage into a tofu skin to make it look like a chicken neck; hence, this Chicken Roll is actually made with pork.
My favorite dish at SinBala were the Spicy Won Tons. They come in a bowl with red chili oil, garlic, ginger, green onions, Sichuan peppercorns and more and as you mixed it, those aromatics released a wonderful smell. Then of course, the plump won tons took on the flavors of all the delicious ingredients that they were mixed with.
Our final dish was what our guide referred to as a Taiwanese Tamale although I think it's called Taiwanese Gluten Rice on the menu. It was basically sticky rice with pork belly and whole chestnuts wrapped in bamboo leaves and was also a tasty addition to our meal at SinBala.
After being satiated at SinBala, we took a walk to Hanny Snack House, which shares a space with LolliCup. By the way, before I talk about Hanny, I have to share an amusing story told to us by our guide, appropriately enough, in front of Lollicup. "Boba", if you didn't know, is the Taiwanese word for the "T" in "T&A". Apparently, the word "Boba" is very LA-centric because out of LA, the term "Boba Tea" is replaced by "Pearl Tea" or "Bubble Tea." So now you know.
Okay, back to Hanny. Hanny is Taiwanese dried goods shop where the dried goods were everything from jerky to dried fruits and vegetables to dried fish and other seafood.
The first thing we tasted at Hanny was a variety of jerky. We tried a Honey and Brown Sugar Glazed Pork Jerky, Fruit Juice Beef Jerky and a Five Spice Beef Jerky.
Then we sampled the Taiwanese Dried Mango. I really enjoyed the Taiwanese Dried Mango a lot because it's not as sweet as Filipino Dried Mango, which is always too sugary for my taste.
After the jerky and mango, we were told that we could go ahead and sample anything else that we wanted. Some of my favorites included these light and crispy mushroom "chips" as well as squash chips.
Other things that hit my taste buds included Dried Guava, Thai Sesame Yellow Fish and BBQ Sesame Fish. Hanny's was definitely a find and I've actually been multiple times since my first visit there with Six Taste.
Our last stop was at Bin Bin Konjac for dessert, specifically Taiwanese Shaved Ice.
What we got was Eight Treasure Shaved Ice, so called because of its eight ingredients: konjac, almond jelly, red beans, green mung beans, stewed peanuts, mochi balls and barley grain. I was actually surprised when I got my first taste of this dessert. It was very icy, starchy and not very sweet.
My only other experience with Taiwanese Shaved Ice was the kind where the ice was sweet, silky and was topped with fresh fruit. When I asked our guide about it, he replied that what we were having at Bin Bin Konjac is more traditional while what I had was a more modern take on shaved ice. The main difference is that the newer-style of shaved ice is basically condensed milk frozen with water; hence, the sweeter, creamier texture.
In the end, I really enjoyed my Six Taste Delicious Dumpling Tour. Our guide, Michael, was very knowledgeable about the food and was patient with all our questions. What I really loved was that I was introduced to food destinations in Arcadia that I've simply walked by in the past, but am now going to visit on a more regular basis. I also left the tour knowing more than when I went into it. How fantastic was that.
Along with the Delicious Dumpling Tour, I also took the Thai Town Food Tour and below you can see some photo highlights from that tour.
Overall, what is so wonderful about the Six Taste Tours is that they're great for both Angelenos and Out-of-Towners. The tours are a way to explore neighborhoods that are unfamiliar to you and to also learn more about the cultural diversity that exists in Los Angeles through food. What better way to discover LA than one bite at a time.
Visit the Six Taste website here!
If you’d like to read more about my tasty travels around town, click here
or if you’d like to join my dining group, Pleasure Palate, click here!
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