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Mapo Tofu… and all you can eat in LA

Sometimes, the work life of a resident physician consumes all 24 hours of my day and my life gets cooped up within a 2 mile radius of my neighborhood in East Hollywood. But the occasional venturing out has blown me away with the diversity and variety of neighborhoods in this sprawling metropolis known as the City of Angels. Of course, when I say that, I really meant that I am blown away with all the eateries unique to LA. In my brief four months here, I’ve already compiled a long list of favorites. So if you’re ever visiting, be sure to make time for these yummies!

Porto’s Bakery & Cafe: This Cuban bakery is half of the reason I visit Glendale. Every time I go to Americana or Galleria to shop, I somehow end up in front of Porto’s at some point. They make sweet and savory rolls and pies. My favorite is the fried potato balls, they are golden crunchy balls of mashed potato and savory juicy meat in the center. Their guava and cheese strudel is to die for! They also carry a variety of sandwiches and tortas for the lunch crowd. Paid parking is in the back lot.

Ruen Pair: One of the most authentic Thai places you can go to outside of Thailand is down the street in Little Thai Town. Their coconut chicken soup, served in a brass hotpot, is bursting with flavors or fresh lemongrass, lime and mint. If you dare, order the papaya salad with raw crab legs. It’s so spicy that you almost forget for a second that there’s raw crabs in the dish. It’s cash only, but don’t sob because you’ll end up only paying $15 for a meal for two.

Meals by Genet: Dressed up Ethiopian food with crisp white linens and wine glasses clicking away. Roll up your sleeves and dig your hands into a giant injera twice the size of your face and their 10 samples in the veggie combo and tender fall-off-the-bone darawot chicken. The whole restaurant is dimmed lit with candles for an intimate date atmosphere. Free parking on the street on Sundays!

Pine & Crane: This is your neighborhood hipster Taiwanese restaurant in Silverlake. And this time, hipster does not automatically equal inauthentic. Try their dan dan noodles, mildly spicy with savory minced pork and refreshing cucumbers with peanut sauce. They also serve sides of various Taiwanese cold appetizers, like bean curd salad, wood ear salad and pea shoots. The hipster element with their chalkboard menu and minimalist wooden decors add a contrasting flair.

Cauldron Ice Cream: This baby is a drive away in Santa Ana of Orange County, but trust me, every minute of the drive is worth it. It’s ice cream blended using liquid nitrogen served in a warm and fluffy puffle cone. Can you say no to flavors like earl grey lavender and milk and cereal? It’s a hot and cold and creamy and fluffy party in your mouth. Plenty of free parking in the lot.

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Okay, enough talk about food made in other people’s kitchens. Let’s get down to business about our recipe of the day: mapo tofu. I’m sure you’ve had the dish before, either in a Orange Chicken and General Tso’s takeout Americanized Asian restaurant or in a dingy hole-in-the-wall that your friend took you to in Chinatown. The recipe I will introduce here is more in line with the second kind but with a hipster presentation photographically.  The most important ingredient here is the fermented bean paste and the mouth-numbing Szechuan peppercorn, found in any local Chinese grocery such as 99 Ranch. Don’t skip any steps in the recipe because the reward is far worth the trouble!

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Mapo Tofu

  • Servings: 3-4
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Ingredients:

  • medium firm tofu, 1 block, sliced into 1 inch squares
  • 2 Tbsp fermented bean paste
  • 1 tbsp chili oil
  • 1 cup of minced pork
  • a handful of Szechuan peppercorn
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • corn starch, 1 Tbsp
  • green onions, chopped

Heat up canola oil in a skillet. Stir fry minced pork until golden, for 5-7 minutes.

In the same skillet, add canola oil and bean paste and saute for 1 minute. Add Szechuan peppercorn, chili oil, black pepper and 3 cups of water. Simmer for 7 minutes.

Add back minced pork and tofu. Cover the skillet and simmer for 3-4 minutes.

Meanwhile, mix 1 tablespoon of corn starch and 1/2 cup of water together. Add mixture to skillet. Stir to combine well. Turn off the heat. Sprinkle green onions on top. Enjoy over a bowl of steaming rice!

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