Sunday, September 30, 2012

Foie Gras Three Ways: Because They Told Me I Can't, And I Thought I Couldn't Possibly

"It's like you're afraid of your own shadow," the ex used to say. It was true. I lived all my life, up until the sunset of that relationship, playing by the rules. I worried about every decision as the decision that could alter the course of my entire life. I worried what anybody and everybody thought about me. It was just sort of the way I'd always been - and while I miss my twenties biologically - that worry-wart, always stressed about something part of my life is definitely something I don't miss.

Now - the more someone says to me "you can't do that", the more likely I am to do it. You only live once, right?  Ok, not in that reckless, teenage rage against everything way. But, with a clear and level-head - 'smart/controlled rebellion' (so, maybe pretty much negating the concept altogether).  And maybe only when it comes to a 'safe arena' - like food.

But, when California decided to proceed with putting into effect a law banning production and sale of foie gras in the state, in response to a vocal minority that fought to impose their ideals on everyone else - I cheered those who stood up to oppose it, as well as exploring and exploiting legal loopholes. It's true that I love and am a bit addicted to foie, but beyond that, it's the principle of the irrational few (why bother with scientific investigation when you can rely on rhetoric?) essentially bullying others by restricting them from activities they disagree with, that I oppose. I won't get onto my soapbox again about food politics here, but suffice it to say that I was then all the more determined to continue to foie (yes, just used it as a verb).  

As luck would have it, an out of state gourmet goods store was recently offering a steep discount across all of their products - including foie gras - and I jumped on the chance to place an order for beautiful lobes of Hudson Valley, Grade A, perfection personified, foie.

At first I didn't even think they would ship it - and fully anticipated that apologetic email notifying me that they are unable to fulfill my order.  But to my pleasant surprise - the discount worked, the order went through, and I got the most gorgeous liver ever - two full pounds of it - a few days later.  It was foodgasm at first sight.

Since I pessimistically didn't think it would actually deliver, I didn't plan very well as to what I would do with it. Once it arrived I knew I only had a matter of days, maybe a week - before it would spoil, or the equally unattractive alternative, that I would have to freeze it (destroying its luscious texture). As someone who barely ever even makes spaghetti nowadays, I felt like I was in no condition to prepare the foie myself - I didn't trust myself to experiment with such a pristine (and expensive) ingredient.

After an effort to enlist pro help on short notice didn't pull through - I realized it was time to, as my friend Ms Sassy loves to say, go "balls out" and learn to make it myself - precisely because I didn't think I could.

Another friend, Sinosoul had suggested making torchon, and I realized that if I was going to do this, let's go all the way - no wimping out.  It was going to be the Thomas Keller recipe or nothing.  I decided on the Foie Gras Terrine recipe, since I like the foie a little lighter in texture.  But, since the recipe only called for 1.25lbs of foie, and I had 2lbs on my hands - I decided to play, and have it three ways.

#1: Seared.  I love the pure texture of foie, barely cooked in the pan - the better to enjoy its gorgeous natural fatty, buttery smooth consistency.  Several recipes suggested dusting pieces with flour first, and this was effective in forming a nice crust that counterbalanced nicely the fattiness of the foie.  I think the universe was sending a sign that I needed to get on this foie project - as that weekend was the Epicure Imports gourmet warehouse sale, so I was able to stock up on a bunch of fantastic toppings for the foie - white truffle salt, truffle 'pearls'/caviar, and fig preserves.  I was in heaven, tasting foie again in the sanctity of my 'special occasions only' kitchen.  Though, the next time I do this I will remember to allow for thicker cut slices, higher heat and less time on the pan.

#2: Torchon (via Terrine recipe): the Thomas Keller recipe for Foie Gras Terrine was a four day process.  Day 1 was the easiest: just unwrap the foie and soak it in milk, overnight in an airtight container in the fridge, to draw out any blood in the lobe.

Torchon Day 2: Deveining. Aka my least favorite part.  You basically have to break apart the large and small parts of the liver, then alternately cut with a knife (dipped in boiling water to allow cleaner cuts) / pick with your bare fingers, a network of veins going through the lobes, pulling them out to ensure the smoothest, vein-free torchon.  The liver was less soft and pliable than expected - I thought it would be closer to the texture of oysters, just firmer - but perhaps due to the high fat content, it was more like slick silly putty. Maybe I should have let it get down to room temperature a bit more first, but I also didn't want the thing to melt...Anyways, it wasn't fun digging through trying to locate and remove veins.  And it was heart-breaking to hack through the formerly beautiful lobe so that you end up with 'broken' chunks while you devein.  This is the way it's supposed to be though, and the recipe says that like play-dough, you can reshape and reform the pieces later.
Next: press the foie into a dish, to about 1/4 to one inch thick layer, then marinate with a blend of salts and sugar (2 tsp kosher salt, 1/2 tsp pink salt, 1/4 tsp fresh ground white pepper, 1/4 tsp sugar). The pink salt needs to be the kind with nitrates in it, specifically to cure the foie. Apparently this salt is pretty hard to find - so I would recommend for those wanting to attempt this at home - to make sure you try to buy the salt, ideally from the same place you're buying the foie - before you start. I ended up, like many others, using Himalayan salt - the only 'pink' (colored at least) salt in my local stores - which only had a small placebo effect making me feel like I had tried to follow this step as best as I could.  Actual impact on the foie itself is dubious.  Anyways, you take half that salt + sugar blend, sprinkle on top of the liver then press into it.  Then flip the foie and repeat on the other side with the remaining marinating mix.  After pressing, the foie looked more like pate...and I wasn't sure at all at this point if I was doing this right or completely ruining it. But all I could do was keep going.  Following instructions, I pressed a piece of plastic wrap directly against the foie, then enclosed the entire container in more plastic before resting it in the fridge for 24 hours.  I had made it through Day 2 ok, I hope think.

Torchon Day 3: This was the day I sort of dreaded, from a pure read-through of the recipe. There were many steps, some of which involved some cooking skill. At any one of these steps I could completely kill the whole thing.  First I had to lift the foie out of the glass dish, then roll it into a log using parchment paper (and plastic wrap), to form a 'loaf' about 6" long and 3.5" wide. The recipe asked for parchment paper, but I read that many cooks recommended plastic wrap.  I started with plastic, which helped form the log without foie getting everywhere - but found that I really needed the paper (I used repurposed the butcher paper Sur La Table used to wrap the gear I bought for this), which I wrapped around the log over the plastic.  The paper was stiffer, so helpful in properly giving shape and helping compact the foie down so that it forms a tight log, essential to making a smooth torchon that won't break apart. I also liked doing both plastic and paper, so that the paper won't absorb some of the foie.  You roll the paper while twisting the ends (so that it looks like a candy wrapper) to turn it into a log while pushing all the foie down as tightly as you can.

Removing the paper and plastic, I then put the log onto cheesecloth and rolled it up the same way, enfolding the foie while twisting the ends of the cheesecloth to compress the foie.

Then I wrapped twine around each end of the cheesecloth, winding it about 1/4" into the foie, to help compact it down (apparently if you do it tight enough, you'll see foie forced up through the cheesecloth).  Twine then had to be tied at 3 places down the length of the foie log, evenly spaced. Then came the moment of truth:  I had to poach the log quickly, then put it in an ice bath. I think this is when I finally decided to YouTube the process to make sure I was doing it right.  I was excited to find this amazing video (below) by Sean Collins, that was basically showing the Thomas Keller recipe step by step, but sped up and put to a fantastic jazz soundtrack - so that you can get quick visual confirmation of how the process should look (without the drudgery of slow building, bad-pun-ridden instructional food shows on TV).  I wish ALL gourmet recipes came with videos like his - I would definitely cook a lot more.

I prepared the wide pot of (organic) chicken broth (enough to cover the foie), brought to a simmer; and an ice bath as chase.  So - a few deep breaths - and I plunged my beloved foie into the simmering stock. Because Thomas Keller said so.  90 seconds, and I quicky retrieved it...

...then plunged it into the waiting ice bath.
After cooling, it was time to compact the log once again (because fat was lost during the poaching process).  I rolled it in a cotton dish towel ("torchon" is French for dish towel - this step is where the foie dish gets its name from!), compressing as I went, the same way as before, by twisting the ends of the towel, then tying with twine.
Then in the fridge it went to 'hang out' overnight.

Torchon Day 4: This was the day of reckoning - did I make or break My Precious?! I cut the log down, unwrapped it - then proceeded with the most heart-breaking step yet - to "scrape off and discard the outer layer" which has oxidized and turned gray overnight (as it should - but no one seemed to have accounted for the fact that it is nearly impossible to work while you are blinded by a solid waterfall of tears...I was incredibly sad to have to throw away any amount of foie, oxidized or not!!). 

Some embarassingly bad knife work - but all that matters is that it didn't break apart - considering it's my first time making this thing!  At this point in the Thomas Keller Foie Gras Terrine recipe, you're supposed to move on to the next step cutting sections up and pushing it through a tamis (drum sieve) - but I decided to take one section aside and enjoy it as torchon.

I had been inspired by the beauty of Mezze's presentation of foie torchon, and wanted to do something similar for mine.  Thankfully, Gelsons carries edible flowers, and I still had some truffle pearls from Epicure Imports.  So I assembled with those plus some fig preserves on the side, and some black and white truffle salts on top. 
Here's a close-up shot. The torchon turned out pretty spot on in consistency, I think, but there were a few cracks where the log wasn't compacted enough.  That's where the flowers came in handy as decoys, distracting from the cracks.  As I had splurged on the foie and lots of other required equipment, I had to cut back on a few that I deemed not absolutely critical - like the metal ring to shape the torchon.  And I realized I oversalted... But, all in all, I kind of loved the flaws in the torchon - it says, "I made this".  On my own.  It's not perfect but I'm proud that I tried, and it turned out pretty well.
Torchon to Terrine: I still had the majority of that log left - so getting back to the original Terrine recipe, I prepared an ice bath, put a metal bowl (ok, a saucepan as I didn't have a metal bowl) in it, then pushed the 2" sections of torchon through the tamis (drum sieve) with a plastic spatula. This process helps filter out any veins I missed in Day 2.  (The metal bowl helps keep the pressed foie cold while you work with the remainder of it)
The look of foie that's been pressed through the tamis kind of reminds me of shaved snow!
Then, the step whose description I love: to lighten the consistency of the foie, beat it for a few minutes with a sturdy spoon until it achieves the "texture of buttercream frosting".  You're supposed to then transfer this creamy deliciousness into a pastry bag without a tip, to pipe into 6 oz glass crocks.  I skimped on the pastry bag, and just spooned the foie 'buttercream' directly into mason jars.  It filled three beautiful jars.
For best results, serve the foie the same day - I had mine with a brioche loaf from the closest bakery, some fresh figs, and a bottle of Sauternes.  And almost died from sheer bliss.  For a moment, I understood The Joy of Cooking. It probably tastes better because of the journey, and the sense of accomplishment from having gone through it.  Still not gonna have time to do it regulary - but on special occasions, and especially for foie - I say, it's worth it. (For the other jars, I poured rendered duck fat over it to form a 'seal', upon refrigeration, that will keep it fresh for two weeks.)

And the next time I have the good fortune to afford / have access to foie, would I, could I, do this again?  The next time something seems too daunting and that meek voice of doubt starts to peek out again to ask if I really can pull out what it takes to step up to the task? Emphatically, unequivocally: Yes, I can.

Shopping List:

1.25lbs Grade A foie gras
Milk (a gallon will be more than enough)
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon pink salt (for curing)
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
1/4 teaspoon sugar
8 cups chicken stock, veal stock or water
1/2 cup rendered duck fat (jar of Rougie duck fat from Sur La Table is $11.95; you can also get a tub from Farmshop) or clarified butter melted and cooled to room temperature

[Toppings can be whatever you want - you can't go wrong with anything in the truffle or fig families]

Tamis (drum sieve - I got mine from Sur La Table for $39.95)
Large airtight containers
6 oz glass mason jars (available for $3.95 each from Sur La Table)
Metal bowl/metal saucepan
Cotton dish towel
Plastic wrap (I used Glad Press N Seal)
Plastic spatula
Wide pot
Dish for ice bath

Thursday, September 20, 2012

1MB Savvy Saveurs: Savings & Sweepstakes

Deals and sweepstakes uncovered this week (been way too long since I did one of these)! Click here to follow me on Twitter for instant updates on the latest discoveries :) Happy grazing!

  • Eva Restaurant - $39 for $58 bottomless mimosa brunch for 2 / $99 for $170 dinner for 2 from GiltCity (ends 9/26)
  • Fairmont Miramar Lobby Lounge $25 for 4 cocktails/wines up to $144 value from Travelzoo (~8 days left to buy)
  • La Cantina at SeƱor Fish $20 for $36 tequila tasting & mexican buffet for 1 or $36 for $126 for tequila tasting and buffet for 2 (~3 days left to buy)
  • Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf (Sunset and Horn location in West Hollywood only):  'trade up' your old/any coffeemaker for new CBTL Kaldi (worth $179.95) 9/29 11am-5pm 8775 W Sunset Blvd while supplies last!

This is meant to be an easily digestible (yes, I did) report of third party offers - I am not the sponsor. I do not receive any payment for these listings. Please read offer details / official rules carefully before deciding whether to submit your information.


To get more mileage for your money everyday - see Get More Bites Outta Your Budget. Check out my Sweepstakes Page "Win Your Next Bite" - for more foodie promotions!

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Epicure Imports Warehouse Sale: Why I Don't Really Want to Tell You About It (CLOSED)

I love my new job.  In West LA. Love the new friends I've made. Hate the commute from the SFV though, and was intending to move. Until now.

A friend who doesn't consider herself a 'foodie' but knows good food like nobody's business, told me about this gourmet warehouse sale, right near my 'hood - that is amazing: Epicure Imports. After checking it out this weekend, I want to stay right where I am, yes, to be as close to this awesome little warehouse as possible.

Epicure Imports' primary business is selling gourmet goods to hotels, higher-end grocery stores and specialty retailers.  Once in a while, they open their treasure trove warehouse to the public in two day sales, Friday and Saturday (the September sale was 9/14 and 9/15).  Yesterday, I got up at an ungodly hour of morning to beat the crowds - the warehouse sale opens at 9:30am and I managed to get over there by 9:40 (pat myself on the back). I am SO not a morning person, so it will take something major on a weekend to get me out the door that early - and it was a good thing I did as I got the very last spot in the small parking lot. 

Inside, the set up really was as others have described, like a miniature Costco with towering racks of goods in a no-frills space  - *except that the food will not just blow your mind in terms of price, but quality and selection*.  And, hearing French accents everywhere (from customer reps to the shoppers around me) - I knew this place was going to be legit. I died several times strolling through it.
There were two sides to the warehouse; let's start with my favorite - the refrigerated side: I almost got whiplash from trying to take in all the deliciousness on offer at once (and trying to make sure I spot and grab popular items before they sell out) - but almost "foodgasmed" on the spot when I saw a table of amazing butters: Echire Butter ($7.37) Urbani Truffle Butter (white: 3 oz $10.07 6 oz $19.61 black 6oz $16.43).  I haven't seen any other place open to the public that sold Echire butter - supposedly the best butter in the world, so much so that it's protected, like champagne - only butter from that region in France can be sold under that name.  Joel Robuchon uses it (in amazing oysters that I had at L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon on my last trip to Vegas).  So I was ecstatic to be able to pick up a bar at just a few bucks more than mass produced, grocery store butter.  Also, the price on that black truffle butter is also amazing, especially for Urbani (designer truffle brand) - a 'regular' tub of truffle butter normally goes for around that same price at retail.

The Fabrique Delices brand was also well represented at the sale - there were tons of products in the refrigerated area from them.  One of these, for those into bacon products of all sorts, was Bacon Butter ($6.36).  I'm a bacon fan, and could imagine this butter being great in a sandwich, but I am MORE of a truffle and duck fan and decided that's where I was going to focus my shopping spree this time round.
One of the exciting things about Epicure Imports is that they carried lots of brands/things I'd never seen before: one of these was the Tartuflanghe Perlage di Tartufo truffle pearls ($21.15) - these were basically black truffle juice in caviar form. 
This one was a necessary splurge.  For someone who doesn't cook much, this was an ingredient that could add an instant, effortless touch of luxe to ordinary foods.  I made some soft scrambled eggs this morning for brunch, topped with a dollop of this truffle caviar - and it was amazing.
Then there were the mouth-watering imported cheeses: including one of my favorites of all time, a triple cream cow's milk cheese from France called Brillat Savarin (small 200g $9.38 large 500g $15.64) - you can sometimes find these at Whole Foods or artisan cheese stores, but the large one will run you closer to $25.  Score! (They also conveniently have a cart full of baguettes in the other section of the store for $2.50 so you can go home and enjoy your cheese with bread right away - very thoughtful!)
A cheese I hadn't seen before came in a cool package wrapped in leaves: Banon de Chalais cow's milk cheese ($4.19) at that price I thought it was worth 'experimenting' - will let you know how it tastes once I've tried it!
There were other cheeses - some are domestic from Vermont Creamery ones - including Boschetto (with black and white truffles!) - but as a single household I didn't want to overdo it and end up wasting some.  Very happy with the Brillat Savarin and Chalais cheese already, and will grab some others on my next trip to Epicure Imports!
Oh actually, I lie.  I did pick up some DiStefano fresh made local Burrata as well, at $2.65 each. I skipped the smoked salmon and anchovies etc. even though they looked I was on a mission.  Truffles, cheese, duck.
The full rack of Fabrique Delices charcuterie called my name.
The first thing I picked up was the Fabrique Delices Boudin Blanc aux Truffes pork and chicken sausage with truffles ($10.12/lb) - keeping this in the freezer for a nice weeknight breakfast for dinner meal. 
There were also beautiful slices of salami and other cured meats for sampling.
As well as pates - even one that has truffle in it (of course my fav!)  And everyone was super friendly and welcoming - it really felt like you were at the local farmers market versus a warehouse.
On the non-refrigerated side, they have several aisles of shelf-stable gourmet goods from imported olives, to flavored olive oils, nut oils to fruit and balsamic vinegars. 
I love the packaging on some of these items too - perfect for gifting to food-loving friends.  This balsamic vinegar made me think of an old school ink pot - it just needs a quill-shaped re-stopper to complete the set.  Putting this on my list as a gift idea for food-writer friends (oops did I just ruin the surprise?!)
There was a whole aisle of spices and condiments - I picked up a box of Smoked Maldon Sea Salt Flakes ($4.93) and Camargue Fleur del Sel ($9.81).  A girl can never have too much salt, right?
Then at last, the truffle aisle. I was in heaven flitting from shelf to shelf of things that sound insanely good. Urbani which really has the market cornered on truffles and truffle products - was everywhere: White Truffle flavoring, Truffle Honey, and White Truffle Salt ($30.05).
Urbani Truffle Sauce ($7.37) and Truffle Carpaccio (!!!)
I loved the branding on these tins: "Truffle Thrills" - that's the kind of culinary adventure I'd sign up for.  Got a tin of White Truffle and Porcini ($12.67) even though Urbani's site lists it for $9.95 and LAFunghi sells these at local farmers markets - I was just in the mood.
There were other ingredients that I hadn't seen before, like Crimson Lentils...
...and Green Peppercorns in a can. 
Also available are ethnic goods that you can probably find cheaper at markets focused on the respective cultures (like I'm not going to get Sriracha from here when I can buy at Ranch 99) - but for those who don't know of or want to drive out o specialty markets, Epicure Imports carries things like Cortas Rose Water / Orange Blossom Water ($2.97).  I love orange blossom anything and can't wait to try this - maybe in panna cotta? Do share if you have any recipe recommendations!
I skipped over chocolates and sweet things for the most part, as I still have a stash of Max Brenner and Compartes treats I'm working my way through - but Epicure Imports had some awesome offerings like Valrhona chocolate bars ($4.50) and Le Caramel, a CA produced Sea Salt Caramel Cream that would be amazing over ice cream (I had to get a jar of this after tasting their sample - incredibly light and smooth, perfectly balanced between salty and sweet - not at all dense with sickly sweet sugar like most other caramel - I am not normally a caramel fan but loved this one!!!) There were also lots of fruit preserves and jams.

They had a tin of Gavottes but it was over $48!  So I went for another brand that I hadn't seen around town: La Mere Poulard cookies ($13.20) - love the design of the tin!
After stacking my cart as much as I dared (I already know even with the savings I'm gonna have to stay in for a while to recover budget-wise), it took about a half hour to go through checkout. The long lines are definitely justified - so happy with all my purchases!  So, seems that this is already a popular event with those who know - and I struggled selfishly with whether to post about it - it was already packed when I went early on that second day of the sale (and I know I mostly won't be able to hit up the first days, usually Fridays, as I'll be at work in WLA).  And, its local small business vibe is so perfect I kind of don't want it to change as word spreads.  But, it's too good not to share - afterall I also only did make my way there at the generosity of a friend - and also I truly hope that Epicure Imports continues to expand and be super successful!!!

Looks like they hold these a few times a year.  Next warehouse sale is November 16 & 17!  Sign up for their free newsletter to get updates! (And remember to bring an insulated bag with ice pack when you go!)

[For more pictures from my visit to Epicure Imports, check out my album on Facebook.]

UPDATE October 2015: Unfortunately, Epicure Imports has announced that they have closed for business.


Epicure Imports

6900 Beck Ave., North Hollywood, CA 91605
Ph: 818.985.9800

Parking: Free in attached lot or on street (of course, double check street signs before parking)


Next warehouse sale: November 16 & 17, 2012

Friday, September 14, 2012

626 Night Market: Second Chances: Taste of Asia in Pasadena

626 Night Market: I had a feeling it might be a bad idea when I saw the date for the inaugural event: April 14th.  What self-respecting and accordingly superstitious Asian would endeavour to hold the first of what might be a very significant event on a date containing not one, but two number fours? (The word for "four" in Chinese sounds like the word for "death" - hence two fours equal double death.  Alternatively, Cantonese may read "four one four" as daring death or taking a gamble.) But there was at the time, nothing else I was aware of like it in LA - an event that ambitiously attempted to recreate the experience of outdoor markets filled with delicious street food and vendors peddling their wares in the streets of the 'far east' (aka 'home' for the sizeable population of Asian immigrants in LA).

The concept that held so much promise was an epic fail - it was a miracle no one got seriously hurt. Usually large turnout is a good thing, but when as poorly executed as that first time - with an estimated 30,000 people showing up for an event that felt like it was planned for hundreds - there were some serious risks of anything from a stampede to fire hazards. I'm not going to rehash the grievances here, if interested check out my recap of what went wrong

But organizers saw, between the firestorm of largely angry feedback, the huge demand for an event of this type - and to their credit, pulled themselves up off the ground quickly to give it a second run: in a matter of months they were to fix all the major things that went wrong the first time - and to launch a PR campaign letting everyone know that they heard the feedback and have really addressed every key issue.  For most, it was too late - they'd been burned badly once and weren't going to stick their hands on the stove again.
Though I absolutely hated the way the first event was run, I did want the concept to succeed - especially after finding out that this was a passion project started by a small team of three, a husband, wife and friend, not some faceless corporation that failed to meet basic standards of public safety. And the second time round they had a smart social media strategy, with clear postings of event info to reassure people it was safe to give them another try.  There were maps of the vendors this time, showing thoughtful design to spread food-seekers out, clear directions to the event, including public transportation (the Metro was just a block away!) and where to park.   
Since admission was again free - and given the changes that they've said/shown they've made - the only possible risk in my mind was massive crowds again to test my patience.  And I was ready to give them one more chance - deciding that I would go early to try to avoid reenactment of that insane sea of humanity.

I arrived around 15 minutes before the official start time in late afternoon - while vendors were still getting set up.  It felt like the calm before a possible storm of the century - everything seemd to move in slow motion, with graceful fluidity.  I was able to do a quick round to check out all the stalls of food on offer, and come up with a game plan of which I wanted to hit once vendors were given the ok to start serving.

There were volunteers teeming everywhere you looked - in very visible red t-shirts - presumably to conduct crowd control as needed.  Yes they were high school/college kids, but at least they had plenty of identifiable 'staff' to help as needed vs zero that we could see last time. So far so good.

There were hard to find foods that I really wanted to hit up last time, but didn't get to, so I made a beeline for those booths this second time.  At the top of my list?  Dragon Whiskers candy - a cocoon like candy from ancient Chinese times, made by a shi fu on site live, pulling the silk-like threads made from honey and glutinous rice flour, and wrapping them around stuffings of peanuts, sesame and/or coconut, the traditional way. Loved these and bought two packs of the mixed kind with all three stuffings in one. (Shi fu is sometimes at Hawaii Super Market in San Gabriel - he didn't have a set schedule to share but I guess next time you're in the area it's worth checking to see if he's there:
Hawaii Supermarket 120 E. Valley Blvd.San Gabriel, CA 91776)
During my hunt for Hong Kong street treats, a lady firing up skewers of lamb Xinjiang style with cumin and chili over a coal trench stopped me dead in my tracks.  At three juicy, flavorful and fresh grilled skewers for $5, these were a great deal and definitely added to that street food vibe. I also loved supporting indie cooks like these folks, who take these as opportunities to showcase their stuff in hopes that they will be able to gain a following and eventually pursue their dream to have their own restaurant!  Plus, part of the coolness night markets is that element of in-the-moment-discoveries, checking out foods/things you might not normally have access to.  So, I loved this and many of the other stalls at this second 626 Night Market for those reasons.
Then I found my favorite stall of the event!!!  "Hong Kong Street Snacks" - another independent food producer without a current shop.  They were Mandarin speakers, and I didn't get to ask where they were from, but they had a pretty good grasp of classic Hong Kong street foods! 

Their Curry Fishballs (no, not gonads, but fish meat shaped into spheres) served on skewers out of a communal pot - took me back to my carefree grade school self, back when people had no issues with eating food from hawkers selling them from carts literally on illegal street corners - and health, hygiene, food safety were secondary to food that tasted the more delicious, the more it flew in the face of possible serious illness.  They sold from carts so that they could quickly roll away when they see a cop.  I used to love 'poking fish balls' from these carts on my way home from school.  It'd been so long since I'd had these - the ones at 626 Night Market tasted authentic, though legal, and definitely brought back happy memories.    
At the same stall they also served "Pig Rice Noodle Rolls".  These are rice noodle segments in a hoisin and chili sauce.  I wasn't impressed with the flavors or textures of these so much.
Another favorite Hong Kong street snack is the Gai Daan Jai - Hong Kong Egg Waffle: basically a special batter put in a hexagonal waffle mold with egg shaped compartments vs the more familiar squares in American ones.  In Hong Kong, these are usually served from illegal carts by street hawkers - and every child of the 80s grew up with these - another afterschool snack fav - and love them to death.  The ones at 626 Night Market were a little soggier than I liked and could have been a little more sweet, but delicious in the context of you can't really easily find these around LA proper! Apparently you can get them at Tasty Garden in the SGV - so that's been added to my To Do list.

There were also some interesting drinks served at the market: Momocha had a great iced tea with longan (a tropical fruit much like lychee), goji berries.

Though I was hyper focused on food, I think everyone who was there that afternoon stopped to admire this ginormous, gorgeous dog that was walking its owner round the event ;).  It's the biggest dog I'd ever seen with an Asian!

Of course, no Asian night market would be complete without stinky tofu.  I know it's blasphemy, but I'm not a fan - so skipped this stall.  It was amusing seeing non-Asians who enter within a 2-mile radius of this booth get instantly hit with a "WTF?!?" look on their face.
I was also getting full, and sad not to have room to try some of the booths like Mama Musubi (love spam musubi!) - though I figure spam musubi is relatively easy to make at home, even for someone who doesn't really cook all that much (i.e. at all, these days).

Other things I didn't get to try: red bean cakes, fresh grilled on-site.

To cool off in the crazy Pasadena heat, I had to try an iced treat that I'd never heard of before: Tofu Fa in iced ginger syrup with peanuts and dates.  It was like a cross between shaved ice, Chinese dessert soup and the traditional Chinese dessert of silken tofu in simple syrup - with toppings of peanuts and dates for crunch / bursts of sweetness.  Loved.

Though I was cautious in attending during the earlier portion of the event (in the afternoon), so that it wasn't technically a 'night' market experience, I definitely had a great time and left satisfied. The event has a lot of potential - you can never of course fully capture something as in their home country, but this is a great option for a 'staycation' activity at a fraction of the cost.  Could you get a lot of these foods in the SGV?  Yes, but this is like Asian focused food fest / street fair - where you get to sample many things in one place.  And it was a collection of good food at an event that didn't charge me admission - what more can an Asian ask for?

The turnout didn't reach the levels of insanity of the first event - but Round 2 was largely considered a success.  And organizers are already back with Round 3 - venturing soon further east to Arcadia, and expanding to two days: October 20 & 21st (as reported by LAWeekly).  Venue is Santa Anita Park.  Save the date(s), and if you were turned off by that first event - judging by the comeback in July: give the event a second chance!


626 Night Market  

July 28, 2012
Pasadena City Hall, Pasadena, CA


Next event:
October 20 (3pm-12am) & October 21 (3pm-10pm)
Santa Anita Park infield
285 W. Huntington Dr., Arcadia, CA 91007
(Enter through Gate 5 or 6 off Colorado Place)



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