Taiwanese Breakfast on the Four Seas

by James Boo on January 26, 2011 · 6 comments

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I grew up knowing that I was on the very edge of Los Angeles. My proof was Colima Road, a stretch of smoggy two-way lanes dominated by Mandarin and Korean print, save the occassional taco truck and L.A.’s easternmost branch of Tommy’s. As the years have gone by, this and other satellites of Southern California’s original “Little Taipei” have only grown, making international eats in these ethnically rich suburbs more accessible than ever.

You Tiao - Four Sea Restaurant - Hacienda Heights, CA
That said, it would be impossible for me to pay a visit to my hometown in San Gabriel Valley without indulging in its edible bounties, and I could think of no better destination than the Taiwanese breakfast table. While I’ve written about Shanghainese/Taiwanese breakfast in New York, the weekend trips that my Taiwanese American friends would make to places like Four Sea Restaurant were not etched into my appetite until now.

Fan Tuan - Four Sea Restaurant - Hacienda Heights, CA
The mascot of this meal, you tiao, was done right here; our crisp, fluffy, dog-bone-shaped doughnuts lacked the slick of grease that comes with a regrettable plate of fried dough. Their true potential, though, was fulfilled in Four Sea’s fan tuan. Tender, chewy grains of sticky rice, scrunched, crispy-not-oily you tiao, and strongly flavored shreds of dried pork that moisten like meat-based cotton candy hit the elusive balance that makes any food greater than the sum of its parts – a good case for “perfect food” if I’ve ever tasted one. A dessert option, substituting powdered sugar for pork floss, was also available, though not quite as divine.

Radish Cake - Four Sea Restaurant - Hacienda Heights, CA
Savory lou bo gao (steamed and stir-fried radish cake), could have been a dense, starchy letdown, but Four Sea’s cooks delivered these cakes to us entirely crisp on the edges and just thick enough for us to enjoy their creamy consistency without chewing through a mouthful of radish paste.

Sou Bing With Beef - Four Sea Restaurant - Hacienda Heights, CA Steamed Bun With Meat and Vegetable - Four Sea Restaurant - Hacienda Heights, CA
Salty Soy Milk - Four Sea Restaurant - Hacienda Heights, CA Dan Bing - Four Sea Restaurant - Hacienda Heights, CA
Other staples of the Taiwanese breakfast menu were more of a mixed bag. Beef-filled shao bing (pancakes) were downright decadent in their flakiness, much more of a puff pastry than the more flat-bread-like renditions I’ve come to expect. The joint’s dan bing, even given a sloppy spatula flip that left the pancake-to-egg ratio severely lopsided, was a solid choice. Meat-and-veg-stuffed baozi (steamed buns) were comparatively lackluster, as was Four Sea’s xian dou jiang, a sloppy take on salty soy milk that muddled delicate flavors and textures into a mainly soggy soup.

Fried Meat Filled Pancake - Four Sea Restaurant - Hacienda Heights, CA
The surprise hit of our breakfast feast was Four Sea’s “fried meat filled” pancake, a pork-and-chive pastry with impeccably alternating layers of crispy, chewy and tender dough. I admittedly have limited experience with the world of daikon-based hash brown patties, double-starch sandwiches and all-encompassing breakfast miracles like this pancake, but I can only dream of a world where morning meals get any better than this.

I suppose that world is Taipei, but until I can afford a flight to the hungry island, San Gabriel Valley will do just fine.

Four Sea Restaurant
2020 South Hacienda Boulevard
Hacienda Heights, CA 91745
626.330.3088

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Comments

The Examiner January 26, 2011 at 12:16 am

I propose that Colima and its adjoining ethnicity be called “The Silk Road”

K. Kim January 26, 2011 at 9:31 am

I need to try some Taiwanese food. (not chinese food)

hungry January 26, 2011 at 2:43 pm

I have never seen nor tried those fan tuan before. However, in the last couple of months, I’ve read about it other people’s blog. However, now that you mention it being Taiwanese, I understand. I didn’t grow up eating much Taiwanese food. But I should now! Looks good.

Mai February 7, 2011 at 2:50 pm

I first had chive pancakes at a Chinese vegan restaurant, so I thought it was a Chinese dish. Then I see jeons, which are similar to but much better than the Chinese pancakes, are pretty much a staple in Korean banchans and even a main popular dish at Korean restaurants, as much as bibimbap. So do you know where it originally comes from? My guess would be it’s a Korean dish first.

James Boo February 7, 2011 at 5:00 pm

This issue has come up in previous conversations about Taiwanese food — since so much of the cuisine is migratory, it’s hard to say that much of what I’ve eaten is fundamentally Taiwanese — I mostly think of it as the food my friends always rush to eat when they visit friends and family in Taiwan these days. As you’ve pointed out, the savory pancake is pan-East-Asian at the very least… but without looking into it in-depth I would guess that mainland China has a lock on its origins. To the Amazon wish list for answers :P

SinoSoul June 14, 2011 at 11:49 am

To guess anything gustatory (with exceptions being post WW2 US-coerced dishes ala budae jigae, spam, etc.) originated from Korea would be naive. The Koreans never influenced Taiwanese cuisine, though Japan (obviously) did. NB: Chinese do not use chives in pancakes, only in pockets, and the piquant greens in pancakes are onions.

Nearly every Korean dish, even kimchi, can be traced in some form back to Chinese food, again, save for those invented during/post Migook saram occupation.

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