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Sunday, March 10, 2013

Noodle Boy / Delicious Food Corner: When You're Sick and Weary...

Many, many moons ago, my family spent a few years in Canada. I remember the visual beauty of seasons: fluffy mops of maple trees burning brilliant against crisp blue skies; waking to our yard and street blanketed in pristine, glistening white - as if inside a snow globe that settled overnight. I remember tunneling through snowbanks shovelled off to the sides of our driveway, with my brother, making 'igloos', snowmen, snow angels.

What I can't remember was what it actually it felt like...those subzero temperatures. And sorry, Seasons lovers - for me that's an incredibly good thing. Having lived in California so long - being spoiled by year round comparatively great weather -  I can't imagine - no, I can't live anywhere else after this. (Well, except maybe the Maldives, if I finally win that lotto jackpot...).

Each February-ish though in LA, when temperatures do drop to the 40s and 50s, it already feels like death to me (hey, everything is relative...that's freezing compared to our otherwise endless summer). Everyone gets sick around this time, and somehow I always manage to dodge the bugs on the first few go arounds. Apparently my body likes to wait til the virus mutates and/or right before I need to travel, before I succumb to a superbug, for maximum trauma.

This year was no different - it hit me on third pass, and hard. Except that I've made some amazing foodie friends through this blog - who were able to steer me away from the canned soups and Jerry's Delis of the world...to sick food that truly heals body and soul, with tastes of home.

Noodle Boy, a recommendation from well travelled, super knowledgeable Hong Kong transplant miffyeats, was a no frills place in a strip mall in Rosemead, that is as authentic to a Hong Kong wonton noodle joint as you can get in LA. These places specialize in a few variations of their signature dish, and take pride in doing so.

Noodle Boy, as the name would suggest, knows noodles and they do it well. In terms of menu format, you can almost think of it as the Hong Kong-ese version of In-N-Out, with  straightforward offerings that riff on basically the same items in different combinations.
I went for the "Any 2 Combinations" Noodle Soup ($6) with Wontons and Fish Balls.  A hearty bowl with clear, soul-soothing, clean tasting broth, thin egg noodles the way I like 'em with my wontons.  It'd been a while since I had fish balls (no, not offal sea creature gonads, but more like savory 'cakes' made of ground up fish) - and Noodle Boy makes theirs with scallion and other deliciousness mixed in: very light, flavorful yet filling in large rectangular slabs versus the more traditional small spheres.  While I loved the fish balls, the wontons were the true standouts - you can definitely taste that the wrappers are fresh made, soft and pliable, with super fresh, snappy pieces of shrimp as filling - I felt better on contact with every bite and slurp of the contents of this bowl - and only wish I had stomach space for 3 more.  They also have the wider, flatter white ("fun") noodle option, as well as sides of veggies - which I may try next time, though I hear that nothing measures up to the quality of those wonton + egg noodles.

Delicious Food Corner was a recommendation from my Go To expert on all things SGV (and beyond), Sinosoul - when I heard that the Cantonese / Hong Kong-ese contingent tend to flock there for congee, I had to make a trip out to the SGV to check it out.  Yes, rice porridge is in theory an easy DIY - but when you're sick, and single, you just really don't want to have to do anything that requires any amount of work in the kitchen - and it's NOT easy to do congee RIGHT.  Really good congee takes hours to cook, and has a smooth, soothing consistency with evenly infused flavor.  Plus, I love abalone in congee, and that's not something I can easily get at markets outside of the SGV anyway. 
DFC has several different kinds of congee (including "Pig Offal" and one with pig kidney and liver, which as Cantonese/ Chinese people 'know', nourishes the corresponding organs in the eater).  I was torn between two classic favorites: Pork and Preserved Egg ($6.25) and Abalone and Chicken ($8.50).  Since it was only $2.25 more for the abalone, and I was in the mood for it anyway, I went for that one.  Loved every spoonful of this 'jook' - testament that sick food doesn't have to be bland and soul-crushingly boring.  Also, the abalone came in fairly sizeable slices, unlike some Ktown eateries that I love for its flavors but make their abalone portions barely detectable.

Aside from an extensive offering of congees, DFC also has a pretty big menu of Hong Kong style dishes including one of my favorite street foods growing up, curry fish balls!  Except that they serve it in a bowl, and you have the option of fish and/or squid balls!  Since this was a few weeks after Noodle Boy and I was just at the beginning of another bout of cold, but not yet full blown, and not spice averse - I got the combo bowl - the somewhat unfortunately translated Curry with Mixed Two Ball ($5.95).  These are more like savory cakes, as explained in the Noodle Boy report above, but in the traditional sphere shape, and dunked in curry sauce.  The balls were...for lack of better adjective...springy....But the texture of the sauce was a bit too grainy and starchy for me, and I would have liked to see the spice more pronounced - but for a nostalgic taste of home, in a generously portioned bowl, it put a smile on my face.

By the way, DFC also serves that mythical HK cold remedy: Hot Coke with lemon (and version with ginger too). No one knows how this works - I understand the bug fighting antioxidants in the lemon, and ginger's antiseptic properties, heat to soothe congestion, but the coke (coca cola)...? Not sure, maybe just to help kids drink it all down - but we always unquestioningly drank these as kids to help with colds.

The other thing I loved about these sick food places in SGV - and I may be biased / receive different treatment as a Cantonese speaker - the waitresses here sort of automatically transform into stand-in asian moms, caring enough to ask about my condition and helping me navigate the menu to find the type of congee/food that will best make me feel better, and sending me off with well wishes to get better soon.  For a transplant with my family all in other time zones / countries - it's definitely nice to experience the kindness of strangers embracing me 'family style' in the SGV.

I should also note for those who might be homesick / wondering where all the Cantonese people are in the SGV - at Noodle Boy / DFC both you will hear a comforting cacophony of Cantonese all around you - almost feels like you're in a neighborhood joint in HK (or warning to those who don't speak, it might be irritating).


In any case, the next time I'm feeling under the weather in LA, I have two new go-tos, that I know will help get me back to functional in no time!

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Noodle Boy
8518 E Valley Blvd Ste. #B108, Rosemead, CA 91770
Ph: 626.280.8963

Cash only

Parking: free in attached strip mall open air lot

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Delicious Food Corner
2327 S. Garfield Ave. Monterey Park, CA 91754
Ph: 323.726.0788
Website: deliciousfoodcorner.com
Cash only
Parking: free in attached open air lot
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Noodle Boy on UrbanspoonDelicious Food Corner on Urbanspoon

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