It seems every large city the world over possesses its own Chinatown – even Bologna, where I grew up, has a sizable Chinese community that either assimilated very well, or else doesn’t trust Italian palates, as every Chinese restaurant in town is simply awful. Los Angeles’ Chinatown might not be as picturesque or as large as New York’s or San Francisco’s, but it serves the city well. Many Chinese still live around it and if it’s good food, produce, herbs, medications, teas or acupuncture you are looking for, you will not be disappointed (for Dim Sum and more varietal Chinese food, it’s a trip to the San Gabriel Valley).
Inspired by Sasha of Liberty London Girl, who brought me back to when sofagirl and I used to scour London’s Chinatown for cheap meals (for some reason, our favourite restaurant was underground), I took a trip on a sunny and windy Spring day, to LA’s Chinatown and loaded up on Asian produce and other bits and bobs. I love entering Chinese markets and check out the boxes of mostly unrecognizable foods. Wing Hop Fun on Spring Street has drum upon drum of different types of ginseng and I even uncovered a bin of deer tendons I considered buying for the dogs (do humans really eat them?).
It’s true that Santa Monica Farmers’ Market has a couple of reliable stands of Asian produce but they don’t come exactly cheap. Queuing up behind old Chinese ladies and plump Latino mamas, I entered one of the small markets where you help yourself to what you need – or explore the back for the fresher mushrooms, like I did – and a bunch of tiny baby bok choy, a few cups of Chinese spinach and a bag of mushrooms set me back $2.48. They might not be organic but still. I passed on the long, thin Chinese green beans but if you have never tried them, don’t hesitate: like the spinach, they are more pungent and fragrant than what you are used to.
Lastly, on the back of the only shopping mall on Spring Street, you will find the Oriental Palace, a restaurant supply store with everything kitchen related you could ever want, at 1/3 of the price of Sur La Table or Williams Sonoma. I finally got a restaurant size cutting board (i.e. gigantic) for a mere $25.00
Because I get bored with salads and stews, when I need to up my intake of vegetables it’s soups I resort to. Winter is over, California is enjoying a gorgeous spring but the evenings are still chilly and, if you are sitting anywhere in Europe you are probably still freezing your butts off. And our friends in the Southern hemisphere are galloping into mid Autumn, so everyone has an excuse to keep a pot of soup on the stove.
This recipe was inspired by Liberty London Girl (for the original read here) . It’s far from authentic Chinese fare but it is comforting, delicious and quick. And the closest I get to packaged food.
INGREDIENTS – serve 6
3 sachets of instant Miso Soup (or enough to yield 6 cups of broth – I used Trader Joe’s)
6 C of water
a bunch each of bok choy and Chinese spinach (or any greens of your choice)
2 C of mixed mushrooms, sliced
1 C of marinated or fried tofu (whatever tofu you use, make sure it’s extra firm), cubed
2 C of cooked long grain rice or rice noodles (I used some wheat noodles I had left over from a stir-fry)
a splash or Sriracha sauce (optional – for spice)
1. Dissolve the instant miso in hot water inside a soup pot. Bring to a gentle boil.
2. Add all the vegetables and cook for 5 to 7 minutes.
3. Add the tofu and your starch and let heat for another couple of minutes. Add some sriracha if you want to add some spice.
4. Server steaming hot.