Ratatouille (Confit Byaldi)

Originally a rustic French summer dish of stewed vegetables, ratatouille is perfect for combating the autumn chill.

Soon Dubu Chigae (Korean Soft Tofu Stew)

There's something incredibly homey about a big, earthenware bowl filled with clams, tofu, beef, and broth.

Smoked Cha Shao (Chinese BBQ Pork)

Normally found hanging in the windows of Chinese delicatessens, cha shao is a marinated, slightly sweet, slow roasted pork with a deep crimson color and radiant finish.

Niko Niku Ramen Recipe

A meaty, braised pork ramen in soy broth that puts on smile on everyone's face.

Smoked Salmon Tarragon Pasta

A refreshing pasta of summer herbs and smoked salmon, perfect for staying cool during summer.


Newport Beach Wine & Food Festival This Weekend!

Newport Beach's second annual Wine & Food Festival runs this Friday, October 2nd, through Sunday, October 4th, at the Newport Beach Civic Center. Tickets are still available.

The main event is the Daytime Festival from 1pm to 5pm on Saturday, October 3rd, and Sunday, October 4th. Cooking demonstrations, book signings, and tastings will be hosted by a distinguished lineup of local and celebrity chefs, including Rick Bayless of Red O, Brooke Williamson of Hudson House and the Tripel, Andrew Gruel of Slapfish, and Yvon Goetz of the Winery. Williamson is a personal favorite, as her restaurants are part of my regular lunch rotation.

30 of Orange County's hottest restaurants will be offering tastings throughout the afternoon in the Grand Tasting Pavilions. Different restaurants will be participating on different days, so check the schedule.

Proceeds from the Newport Beach Wine & Food Festival will go to benefit the Project Hope Alliance, which aims to free homeless children from the limitations of their circumstances by assisting with education, transportation, and after school programs.

Tickets are available HERE.
A chefs attending is available HERE.
A list of participating restaurants is available HERE.


Mid-Autumn Festival Dumpling Feast

(Home made dumplings with pork, Napa cabbage, and shrimp.)

Growing up, the Mid-Autumn Festival was a low-key affair for my family. Since it often happened during a school night, my mother would buy mooncakes from a local Chinese bakery and make us a hot pot or dumplings. When my siblings and I were younger, we'd sometimes go out to the backyard to look at the moon while she told us stories about the rabbit who lived there. As we got older and more busy with school, the specialness of the holiday faded. But, we always ate mooncakes and we were always together.

As part of a mixed marriage hundreds of miles from my family, I've gotten used to celebrating many Chinese holidays on my own. My wife, Cat, is always happy to join me and very open to new cultural experiences. Yet, while she intellectually understands our traditions, she feels no more of an emotional connection to them than I do to the Christmas or St. Patrick's day celebrations I participate in with her Scottish-Irish family.

(Kraig's Smoked Beef Short Ribs.
You celebrate the Moon Festival your way, we'll do it ours.)

This year, @losangelesfoodiegirl, @kraigescobar, and I were blessed with an invitation join our friends William & Kelly, and their lovely family, for a home made dumpling feast. William's parents, on a visit from Hangzhou, China, cooked dish after dish of his childhood favorites. Far from my family and their own Mid-Autumn meal, it was indescribably comforting.

(Home made dumplings with pork, chives, and egg.)

The centerpiece of the festivities were dumplings made by William's family. Plump, juicy, and perfectly seasoned, they were served with a little Chinese black vinegar and sliced garlic as accents. Unlike the dumplings made in many restaurant kitchens and factories, which use industrial food processors and mixers, the fillings in William's dumplings were chopped and mixed by hand, resulting in an unmistakeable texture and mouth-feel.

A regional specialty I'd never tried before, and one that William has never seen outside of Hangzhou, a paste of seasoned pork was spread onto gossamer thin "crepes" of fried egg, rolled, steamed, chilled, and sliced. The time intensive preparation yielded a delicate flavor that enveloped the tongue like an edible hug.

Another fine example of Chinese charcuterie, carefully selected cuts of beef containing both meat and tendon were braised in a spiced, soy-based stock, then chilled in to a toothsome, beefy jello. A mainstay of Chinese banquets and feasts, it was served thinly sliced.

A hung over Pitmaster Kraig contributed his signature dish of beef short ribs seasoned simply with salt and pepper, and slow smoked for over eight hours. The flavors were carefully balanced, with gently yielding meat that practically melted away.

The indisputable winner of our feast was a deceptively simple plate of cucumbers marinated in salt, garlic, and sesame oil. Crunchy and light, it helped cleanse our palates of the other rich dishes. The key, according to William, is knowing how to pick the cucumbers. They have to be fresh.

There were an assortment of desserts that most of us were too full to eat, including watermelon, a chilled soup of lotus seed and white fungus, mooncakes, egg tarts, and these cupcakes I picked up from Layer Cake Bakery in Irvine. I cannot repeat enough how thankful we are to William & Kelly for welcoming us into their home and sharing these special dishes with us.

That evening, Cat and I found a spot in our neighborhood to watch the lunar eclipse. I shared with Cat a story I'd heard about the blood moon as a child. That every few decades the wolf who lived in the sky would try to hunt and kill the rabbit that lived on the moon. The moon would turn red, and the people would set off fireworks, bang their pots and pans, and yell to scare the wolf away. We held hands and wished the rabbit luck.

Later, once Cat had been driven inside by the chill night air, I texted my siblings a reminder about the lunar eclipse. My sister texted back that they were going outside to try to spot it. Maybe, for just a moment, we all looked at the same moon from different places under the same sky and remembered the same story.

(Pictures taken with my Canon Rebel XTi and iPhone 5s.)


LA Weekly Burgers & Beer 2015 Buddy Pack

The LA Weekly has been on a tear over the past year with food festivals like Tacolandia, Pancake Breakfast, Sips & Sweets, and the Essentials. This Saturday's Burgers & Beer at the LA Coliseum is shaping up to be amazing, with burgers from headliners like Thomas Keller's Bouchon, the infamous Hawkins House of Burgers, Belcampo, and Vaka Burger. The artisan brewer lineup is equally exciting, with some of my personal favorites, including Beachwood Brewing, the Lagunitas Brewing Company, Eagle Rock Brewery, and Telegraph Brewing. Shout out to the El Segundo Brewing Co!

Tickets are still available, with three options:
  • Burger Only ($55) - Unlimited food samples from over 35 burger vendors and access to the Vendor Village.
  • General Admission ($75) - Unlimited food samples, craft beer samples, and access to the Vendor Village
  • VIP ($100) - Early entry, VIP gift bag, and all General Admission benefits.
For a limited time, LA Weekly's Burgers and Beers is offering a Buddy Pack of 4 General Admission tickets for $199. It's a great way to save some money if you're going with friends.

Get your tickets today!


Savor Santa Ana 2015 VIP Pass Giveaway!

Some exciting news for all you Hungry Pandas! Chubbypanda.com is giving out TWO VIP passes for the Savor Santa Ana food festival in Downtown Santa Ana this Thursday, July 23, 2015.

Each $45 VIP tasting package includes:
  • 10 tasting tickets for food samples from participating restaurants.
  • 2 drink tickets for beer, wine, of liquor at the patio lounge.
  • Access to shorter VIP lines for all booths.
To enter:
  1. Follow us on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.
  2. Take a selfie of yourself looking super hungry and post it to Twitter, Instagram, or our Facebook page with the tags #HungryPandas, #SavorSantaAna, and #Giveaway. Include a link to this giveaway article in your posts and make sure you include @chubbypandablog so that we see your entry.  Each post to Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook gives you an additional chance to win.
  3. Share this article with all your friends!
Submissions for Chubbypanda.com's Savor Santa Ana 2015 VIP Pass Giveaway close at 11:59pm PST on Wednesday, July 22nd, 2015. The winner with the hungriest looking selfie will be announced the morning of Thursday, July 23rd, 2015. Your VIP passes to Savor Santa Ana can be picked up from VIP Check In after 5pm on the day of the event.


Chop Suey, USA!

Of the truly great mentors I met at UC Irvine, Food and Asian American history professor Yong Chen was the most influential on my blogging. An incorrigible foodie, he shared with his students an infectious enthusiasm for food as a tangible form of history, a consumable form of expression, and a traceable social pathway. The first restaurant review I ever wrote, close 16 years ago, was an assignment for one of his seminars. Without Yong Chen's influence, knowledge, and friendship, Chubbypanda.com would never have existed. I would have lacked the ability to write it.

The central themes that ran through each of Yong's classes and helped to shaped my own development as amateur student of all things gastronomic, from the Asian American experience to food as both an expression and definition of self, can be found in his latest work, Chop Suey, USA: The Story of Chinese Food in America. Over a decade in the making, this book serves as part academic diary and part personal roadmap to Yong's own experiences as both an Asian American and a food historian. Throughout, it continually strives to answer a question central to every immigrant's identity, "What does it mean to be an American?", and challenges traditional interpretations of "American" cuisine.

In a country composed almost entirely of immigrants, whose customs and foodways constantly evolve with each new wave of arrivals, there can be no more meaningful topic. I highly recommend it to anyone with an interest.

(Press Release Below)
(Chop Suey, USA: The Story of Chinese Food in America. Columbia University Press, 2014).

The book starts with a question that many Chinese-food lovers have wondered about: Why is Chinese so popular in the United States?

Chinese food has been enormously popular for more than a century. The New York Tribune noted in 1903 that "there is hardly an American city that had not its Chinese restaurants, to which persons of every class like to go." Sun Yat-sen observed similarly in the 1910s that "there is no American town without a Chinese restaurant." By the 1980s, Chinese food had become the most consumed ethnic cuisine in the United States. Many have attributed this phenomenon to Chinese cooking’s gastronomical supremacy, a belief that has been expressed by numerous prominent individuals, including Sun Yat-sen.

Such a gastronomical interpretation, however, cannot sufficiently explain two historical facts: first, mainstream American consumers did not fall in love with Chinese food upon its initial arrival in the New World but rejected but rejected it for about half a century. Second, when American diners started to frequent Chinese restaurants, what they chose were not the exquisite dishes that Chinese epicures had cultivated over the centuries and Western food connoisseurs had widely regarded as best representing Chinese cuisine. Rather, American Chinese restaurant goers preferred the most simple and least trumpeted foods in Chinese cuisine, such as chop suey and chow mein. Clearly, culinary merits alone do not fully explicate the rise of Chinese food in America.

Chop Suey, USA offers the first comprehensive examination of the historical forces and players that turned the food of a despised race into dominant force in the country’s budding restaurant market. It sheds new light on the indispensable yet often overlooked role that Chinese food has played in developing the American way of life and extending American abundance. The multiplying Chinese restaurants helped to democratize America’s food consumption by making dining-out a universally accessible experience, expanding the meaning of American freedom and liberty in the realm of consumption. Their inexpensive, convenient, fast, and tasteful food developed an irresistible appeal to many Bohemians, and rebellious youth, African Americans as well as middle class tourists. Jewish diners too flocked to Chinese restaurants, where they found not only a novel cuisine but also a place to fulfill their desire to join the middle class and become American.

Thus, chop suey, the epitome of America’s Chinese food for decades, was the “Big Mac” in the pre-McDonald’s era. Through analyses of this and other once wildly popular Chinese dishes, the book also tackles the question of "gastronomical" authenticity, namely, whether chop suey or America’s Chinese food is authentically Chinese. The book does so by investigating the metamorphosis of Chinese food in both Chinese history and American society.

Chop Suey, USA also illustrates the vital importance of Chinese food for Chinese America. Economically, Chinese restaurants became an extremely important source of income and jobs for Chinese Americans, especially when Chinese were banned from entering most other occupations. In crowded Chinese communities, in addition, these dining places provided the much needed space for Chinese immigrant men to socialize. Culturally, Chinese food and food businesses became a most prominent feature of the community, visual and olfactory, making the American urban Chinatown virtually a "food town."

Also playing an important role in promoting Chinese food were the Chinese-food cookbooks -- more than 280 such cookbooks were published in the United States between the 1910s and the mid-1980s, written mostly by Chinese Americans. In introducing Chinese cooking to non-Chinese audiences, these cookbook writers made an unprecedentedly comprehensive attempt to define its essence. If the restaurants gave the Chinese a steady source of employment, cookbook writing created a visible and constant platform for Chinese Americans to speak to mainstream audiences. They spoke -- with pride and authority – not only about China’s cooking but also about its culture and history as well as their own experiences.

At a methodological and epistemic level, this book also reminds us of the centrality of food in history and in our own lives. It shows how food connects history and our personal experiences.

Readers interested in cooking Chinese food can find recipes for dishes like pork chop suey and kungpao chicken that American lovers of Chinese food most craved at different times.