Monday, April 19, 2010

Chuan Yu Noodle Town, Alhambra - The Chongqing Sichuan Sauce Lady

Chuan Yu Noodle Town, Alhambra

I saw this place a while back and was immediately attracted to the word "noodle town". I don't know why, but I have an affinity towards establishments that incorporate "town", "village", "city" and even catchy names like Pizza Pit, Burger Barn and especially, my dream restaurant... Taco Town. "Pizza, now that's what I call a Taco," says Adam Samberg.

So with "Noodle Town" in the name I had a feeling it would be worth checking out. This restaurant was previously Dai Ho, not to be confused with the Taiwanese Noodle Nazi in Temple City, and it served some really solid beef noodle soup before it closed down. Bad location/feng shui obscurity due to too much focus on an unknown Chinese cuisine... who knows. Contrary to the name, this place is literally a shack. I was greeted by a very sweet woman. Mrs. Ho is the chef and it seemed as though she was the only person working in the whole restaurant that seats no more than 20 people. Small restaurant, glass display case filled with Chinese deli snacks, pictures of their food adorning the wall and a one-person operation - this is my kind of restaurant.

I've never been to the Sichuan province but for any one into Chinese cuisine, know that they along with the Hunan and Yunnan provinces are notorious for using copious amounts of chili and red peppercorns in their dishes - like they were trying to rid the world of it. The red peppercorns, also known in powder form as prickly ash powder, when cooked with chilis and garlic, produce a numbing taste (ma la) that is delicious with virtually all meats and fish. It was so aromatic that it was said to have drug-like effects. I have a harder time eating spicy Thai and Korean food, but for some reason, I can handle Sichuan food just fine. I love this food and if you haven't tried it, now is a good time to try all the Sichuan, Hunan and Yunnan restaurants popping up all over the San Gabriel Valley. I don't even call that area SGV anymore, to me it's simply China.

Mrs. Ho comes from the city of Chongqing, which according to Wikipedia, has separated from the province of Sichuan. It is now a municipality under Beijing and roughly the size of Austria with 30 million people. Chongqing is also written as "Chung King" for Westernization and you may know of the dearly loved Chung King Szechuan restaurant in San Gabriel Valley. I also learned that Chinese hot pot is originally from the city of Chongqing. But with the influx of Mainlander immigrants to Los Angeles, there's so much to choose from now. As neighbors, it is obvious that there will be major similarities in both Chongqing and Sichuan cuisine. But with all that red peppercorn usage, I have a hard time identifying the provenance of their dishes. Here's what I had - I asked for smaller portions so I could try more food.

Chuan Yu Noodle Town, Alhambra

Sichuan Goulash Soup Noodles (Sichuan Hong Sao Niu Rou Mian)
Goulash? That is the first time I've ever seen the word "goulash" used in describing Chinese food. But then again, I'm also puzzled by the people that do or don't do the proofreading for many of the restaurants menus in SGV. It's often hilarious and basically "engrish". In SGV, there is beef noodle soup everywhere and I've given up trying to find the perfect beef noodle soup outside of Taiwan or China. I just make it at home instead. At a Mexican restaurant that serves tacos, you can gauge the quality and experience of the chef by the popular items, like carne asada. I sometimes apply the same test on the beef noodle soup, which is one of the most common, peasant foods of China. Because of that, some restaurants just put little effort into it and make it to have it on the menu but others really take pride in their champion bowl. And I wasn't disappointed by Chef Ho's bowl at all - I really enjoyed it. Since it is Sichuan-style, there was a heavy aroma of red peppercorns. Contrary to Taiwan, the Sichuanese do not use as much of the hot chili bean paste, tomatoes or sometimes papaya to form the soup base. The soup was slightly salty but I fixed that simply by adding some hot water. I'm not like a lot of people that will run around kicking and screaming because something isn't done right so just try adding water. The chef asked me if it was too salty and I told her the truth. Also, if you like cloves, there's a heavy dosage of it in here and I found it be very aromatic. The addition of roasted peanuts and bamboo shoots maybe unfamiliar to most but it didn't bother me at all. I'd eat this again because the aroma and taste is there.

Chuan Yu Noodle Town, Alhambra

Steam Pork Belly with Ground Sticky Rice
I asked Mrs. Ho for some recommendations and she showed me a lot of dishes I wasn't familiar with. And I knew that the beef noodle soup probably wasn't her bread and butter. She pointed me in the direction of this dish which is basically pork belly slices sauteed with a very heavy meat/rice sauce. This was definitely heavy and more than I expected but I thought it tasted pretty good with the peppercorn chili sauce. I would share this if you're a fan of pork belly.

Chuan Yu Noodle Town, Alhambra

Chuan Yu Noodle Town, Alhambra

Pork Stomach & Beef Shank Chili Oil Mix
Another thing to look for in Sichuan, Hunan and Yunnan restaurants is their cold deli dishes. A true chef has to make those dishes good because like Korean food, you eat your main courses with small side dishes. I loved this. Great texture, tasty meat and a great chili oil sauce.

Chuan Yu Noodle Town, Alhambra

Chongqing Spicy and Sour Stick (Chuan Bei Liang Fen)
The Koreans have their cold noodles (naeng myun), the Mainland Chinese have their own cold noodle dish for hot summers. "Liang fen" literally means "cold powder" and it's made with a starch jelly much like the Korean acorn jelly used for mook. This is served cold with a standard chili sauce. But I have to say, Mrs. Ho sauce on here is awesome. This dish is flavorful, spicy and fun to eat.

Chuan Yu Noodle Town, Alhambra

Hot Sauce Cross Bridge Wontons (Hong You Guo Chiao Chao Shou)
You may be familiar with the Shanghai-style chili oil wontons in which wontons are boiled and served with chili oil sauce. But this goes backwards. Chef Ho says that the Chongqing/Sichuan style entails serving the wontons in soup with the chili oil sauce on the side. She explains that you dip the wontons in the sauce rather than adding sauce on top. But I threw in sauce into the bowl for purposes of shooting the food. This was delicious, and by far, my favorite dish here. She offers the ubiquitous soupy pork dumplings (xiao long bao), but I think this is probably her most popular. The filling consists of ground pork, dried shrimp, scallops, chives and grated ginger. In addition the sauce is awesome too... chili oil, sesame paste, chicken bouillon powder and soy sauce. Add some vinegar in here or in the soup to take this dish to another level. She also sells frozen wontons at 50 for $12. I'm going to get some next time for sure. Facking derishus.

Chuan Yu Noodle Town, Alhambra

Chuan Yu Noodle Town, Alhambra

I was amazed that she did all this cooking on her own. I have to say she is definitely a sauce master and a very warm person. You would be too if this is what you started doing when you were 16, the age she started cooking. I asked her to show me her chili sauce and she brought the bowl up to me. My god. There were so many things going on. Chili, sesame oil, peppercorns, salt, soy sauce, pickled vegetables, dried shrimp to name a few. And here's the best thing, you can buy this sauce to go for only $5 for a plastic container. I'll be using that for my beef noodle soup and will report back with it soon. There are at least 8 other things that seem like they are worth trying and I can't wait to come back for more.

Aside from the aforementioned, I would recommend the following:
- #7 Steamed Juicy Dumplings (xiao long bao)
- #19 Sliced Boiled Pork Belly with Tasty Garlic Sauce
- #20 Sliced Tender Beef in Chili Oil Sauce
- #25 Twice Cooked Pork (Basically it's fried slices of smoked? pork belly)
- #26 Stew Beef in Sichhuan Garlic & Chili Sauce (MUST)
- #27 Fish & Jellied Tofu in Sichuan Garlic & Chili Sauce (Sounds good)

Thanks for reading.

Chuan Yu Noodle Town
525 W. Valley Blvd. #B
Alhambra, CA 91803
(626) 289-8966


Protocol Snow said...

Who's the Taiwanese Noodle Nazi you refer to? Do you mean Mandarin Noodle Deli? Apparently it has undergone new management / previous owner sold it.

e d b m said...

P. Snow, here you go. I heard it was like $10+ for a bowl of beef noodle soup. outrageous.

S.J.L. said...

Your photography is gorgeous. I live in Alhambra and rarely explore the culinary options here, but your post has me thinking I've got to look around home more. Thanks!

weezermonkey said...

Only you could make the comfort food of my people actually look pretty!

Confession: My husband and I often say "facking derishus" thanks to you.

Mr. Pineapple Man said...

everything looks so good! especially the wontons~~yum...

nods said...

funny i was just outside checking the menu yesterday during lunch break. now i have to go in next time for sure. thanks. great pics as usual.

e d b m said...

SJL, you're sitting on a wealth of food. the chances of having bad food in SGV is quite slim IMO. Thanks for visiting.

Weezer, i've thought about changing my blog name to 'facking derishus'.

Mr. Pineapple man, let me know what you think.

Nods, you like how it's a shack and not literally a town?

Daily Gluttony said...

ohmahfackinggawd, this looks right up my alley. and down the street too. perfect.

my husband the hot sauce whore will also be pleased that we can buy chili sauce from here. yay!

Oishii Eats said...

Facking derishus!

Exile Kiss said...

Hi E D B M,

Nice find! I'm going to give my SGV Hounds some grief for not taking me here. :)

All the dishes you tried looks delicious. Can't wait. I'm guessing Cash Only? :)

burumun said...

These all look so good. I hope I've trained my tongue enough to eat spicy Sichuan food, otherwise I'll have to stick with just pork belly. Actually, that doesn't sound too bad.

e d b m said...

DG, the chili oil isn't that crazy. but you can definitely ask her to make things spicy and do some S&M on your tongue.

O. Eats, what language is that?

ExileK, don't kill them just yet. I think this place is rather new. Most mainland chinese restaurants are CASH only. And Engrish only.

Burumun, I've only had the noodles, and not the other dishes that have a crapload of chili on it. So i'm hoping i don't go through some chili boot camp either.

SinoSoul said...

So strange, the couple times I've visited it's always been the hub-hub in the kitchen. Then he started going on and on, in Chinese proverbs, about his cooking, and all the explanations of "his" cuisine, which is also posted all over the walls (as well as the menu)....

Great to know both the husband/wife cooks tho. And only you+J can make gloppy noodles look so darn good.

Elana said...

Those wontons look amazing. I have been experimenting with soup since i went shopping on KaTom, a restaurant equipment store with baking supplies, and I love the ideas here. I think your photography is really nice and I am so impressed by your site. Keep up the good work.

Elana said...

Those wontons look amazing. I have been experimenting with soup since i went shopping on KaTom, a restaurant equipment store with baking supplies, and I love the ideas here. I think your photography is really nice and I am so impressed by your site. Keep up the good work.

e d b m said...

Tony, thanks. I've only seen this place recently. Maybe her husband had the day off - she said she did the cooking though. Regardless, there's a solid $5 chili sauce for sale there.

Elana, thank you for stopping by.

Food GPS said...

That's a funny image, cooks from Sichuan, Yunnan and Hunan trying to rid the world of chilies through cooking. At some point I'd think there would be diminishing returns from all those chilies, but maybe not. Good find.

e d b m said...

Josh, the people of Hunan/Szechuan/Yunnan are like Orkin on termites and pests. There seems to be an endless supply of chiles and I think they've found a great way of getting rid of them.

Will said...

Tried it this afternoon. I think that, based on the meatless version at both places at least, the dan dan mian stacks up well against the one at #1 Noodle House in Rowland Heights (which is my favorite). I like #1 a tiny bit better, but maybe not enough to drive so much farther.

Between being vegetarian and allergic to shellfish, I was a little nervous about the possibility of having xia mi in the chili oil (because of the comments in this post); the waitress and the male boss assured me that there isn't, and I couldn't find any obvious evidence that there was.

The gf tried their hongyou chaoshou, and thought they were pretty good.

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