Day 19: Taiwan
I got home from dinner last night, flicked on the TV and came across an old episode of Anthony Bourdain No Reservations. As I watched a little bit of it, I sort of muttered to myself as a gut reflex, “Man I’d love to do that.” Then I realized, wait. I sort of am doing that. Obviously I can’t afford to actually travel to all (or any) of those countries, sampling regional foods and chatting it up with locals and chefs— but I am doing my own personal and exciting version of it. When I watch Bourdain and things are going well, he looks damned happy and I don’t think it’s because he’s getting paid to do it. So while I’d obviously prefer to be doing this on someone else’s tab, I still get to do it and isn’t that the point? It doesn’t matter if it’s for a TV show, an online readership of friends and family or totally on your own. All that matters is that it’s a ton of fun. Friends have been coming along with me to obscure restaurants in bizarre locations because more often than not, it’s a heck of a lot more exciting than sitting around at home and ordering from that Chinese place by your house. For other people out there, it could be about furniture, music or exercise. For me it’s food. You take the thing you’re excited about and you try to do it more. To be perfectly honest, I’m a lot happier right now than I’ve been in quite some time and all it took, really, was deciding to be.
QQ Kitchen in Temple City, CA. Due to the amazing world of the internet, I was recommended this place by a total and complete stranger, right in the comments section of Morocco Day. So a special thanks goes out to Eileen on this one. I had heard that there was some debate over which is better between this place and Won Won Kitchen in the adjacent strip mall, so I wanted to do a side by side comparison. But Won Won has the audacity to be closed on Mondays, so now they lose the competition by default. I’m joined by Mr. Meatball, who is trying to work his way out of the trend of joining me for some of the worst meals so far on this Personal Food Project in Blog Form (see Ukraine and Morocco). But also meeting us out there is “Danielle”, the friend of Bosque who previously shared in the meal eaten for Serbia.
“Danielle” is someone who, from what I can gather so far, really just adds to a group. She’s friendly, confident and the kind of person who is willing to drive 20 miles through rush hour traffic to meet a guy she barely knows (me) and someone she’s never talked to (Mr. Meatball) for a plate of fried intestines in a restaurant about the size of the living room of a one bedroom apartment. So what happens when we all convene in front of the restaurant? Some combination of “Hi”, “Hey”, “How’s it going?” and “Okay let’s eat.” Thanks once again to Eileen, who also found the time to recommend some dishes for us. The women at the counter speaks very little English, but as I’ve become increasingly confident in awkward restaurant situations, I just start going for it.
Turns out the intestines are called “fried bung”, which of course leads to the following sentence: “So the bung is the intestine, but if you follow it all the way to the end, that’s where you get the bung hole, right?” The bung, sans hole, also manages to prove the point that anything can be fried and dipped in sweet sauce and taste great. I express this to Mr. Meatball by saying “If you take your pants off, squat in a vat of hot oil, then cool yourself off by sitting in a bowl of this dipping sauce, your bung would be delicious too.”
Further ordering confusion occurs when our orders of “pork chop rice” and “popcorn chicken” turn into “pork chop rice” and “pork chop, chicken rice”. So we have two nearly identical plates, except one of them has a little less pork chop and a small piece of chicken instead. But they, like everything else in the meal, are a surprisingly accessible mix of flavors that taste like what would happen if Chinese food could pick you up, hold you in its arms, take you home and tuck you into bed. The only exception is the oyster omelet , which is a revelatory mixture of sweet, slimy, sloppy and crispy. Just when you start to feel like you’re getting a grasp of it, you bite into an oyster and get the overwhelming feeling that the entire ocean just formed a fist and punched you square in the face. This is not the oyster of a 50s style Chinese restaurant’s “shrimp with oyster sauce”. These are actual oysters.
But follow that bite up with the slurp-able noodles and shoulder-relaxing broth of the beef noodle soup and you’re right back in your crib, trying to keep your eyes open long enough to watch the dangling toy airplanes above you spin around just one more time. Some pork cheeks with ginger, a boba milk tea and a hearty, brown hard boiled egg later and I’m hooked. Knock me in the head, tie me up, throw me in the trunk and wake me when we’re in Taiwan.
On the way back, Mr. Meatball really wants to stop at Bahooka Family Restaurant. I’m pretty sure it’s not Taiwanese, but who am I to stand in the way of a man and his desires? “Danielle”, of course, is willing to come along for one more stop. Billed by Mr. Meatball as one of the last great L.A. tiki bars, it seems like as good a place as any to stretch the evening’s adventure out a little bit further— especially when we notice a World War II style anti-aircraft gun outside. We are greeted in the creepily empty restaurant by a nice man in a Hawaiian shirt standing under a big wooden sign that says “Hostess”. He shows us to our table and we try to decide what to order. Glasses of wine are two dollars, but on a night like tonight, what else could we order but a giant vodka drink with three long straws served in a salad bowl with a cup of flaming croutons in the middle? Once done, and obviously still on a high from a great evening out, I order a jug of their cocktail mix to go so that GirlfriendBites can share in the festivities when I get home. I’ve gotta say, I’m really starting to like this whole “happiness” thing.
9441 1/2 Las Tunas Dr
Temple City, CA 91780
Food Breakdown: 3 non-alcoholic beverages, 6 dishes, 3 complimentary desserts
Distance From My House: 24 miles