Saturday, March 10, 2012

Dim Sum and Mt. Everest

My dear friend and Chinese doctor, Joy Jin, took me to Monterey Park in Los Angeles on Wednesday morning to roam the food markets and herb stores and then finally to sit down in the most enormous restaurant I've ever been in to eat dim sum. I was literally the only non-Chinese person in there, I think -- and there were hundreds of people eating. Hundreds and hundreds of elderly men and women, young couples, small toddlers, babies, businessmen and women -- it was exactly what I'd imagined.

That's tripe right there in the middle -- or stomach -- and I took one bite and politely swallowed it, holding my nose in my mind, which didn't really work. I think I might have then said, again politely (raised in the south), I don't really care for it, but it's interesting. Don't tell Dr. Jin. I'm a bit of a squeamish eater.

It's a terrible photo, but this was my favorite dish: grilled taro root. It tasted sort of like mashed potatoes but had a better consistency and more flavor.

The herb stores were fascinating. I'd been in similar ones in San Francisco's Chinatown -- and if you've never experienced the heady odor of the stores, you should. There are bins and bins of the strangest substances, roots and herbs and bones and bugs and skeletons of sea creatures. In the this photo, the black Brillo-stuff was some sort of seaweed used in teas for medical purposes.

This herb store had the most pungent smell and the coolest displays, but Dr. Jin maintained it was too much money. When we went into another one, there were huge mushrooms in glass apothecary jars that were $580/lb.

This is a giant black mushroom. When I asked Dr. Jin what it was for, she said, Cancer.

I was amused by the grocery store aisle signs and snapped this photo to show Oliver. Imagine a whole aisle of gummy candies!

Again, I'm a squeamish eater. These poor quail looked like they'd been plucked and fried into oblivion or some kind of prehensile state.

Why is it that anything named something ball is hilarious?

You know how everything is labeled Made in China? Well, this row of food was labelled Made in Mexico.

The grocery, just like the restaurant, was entirely Chinese. I didn't see a single black, white or Hispanic person in there, a rare thing in the City of Angels. There were rows and rows of giant rice bags and bizarre produce. I find it fascinating that people of certain cultures congregate and live their entire lives in a microcosm of their native country. I feel privileged to live in such a vibrant city with so much variety, but I wonder why we still live in a sort of tribal way. 

In the meat department, Dr. Jin bought a bag of tendons. She told me that she boiled them and made soup, that it would help her to run in the marathon in two weeks. Did I tell you that Dr. Jin came in first in her age group in the LA Marathon last year? She's 58 and runs, I believe a 3 hour marathon, or something outrageous like that. She came in 17th overall of the women. Over lunch she told fascinating stories of her young life in China -- she's from the northern, cold part near Mongolia, (and her parents marched with Mao) -- where she was a star triathlete and ran in international contests with her then-husband. Her first husband was a Chinese hero and the first Chinese man to reach the peak of Everest solo. He died on the descent. And now she's sitting in a Chinese dim sum palace with one of her patients in Monterey Park, Los Angeles. You can't make that shit up, right? 

I love Dr. Jin and am so grateful for everything she does for me, even though she made me eat a bite of stomach lining.


  1. Been reading your blog for about two years now and this was the coolest one yet! I could visualize exactly what you were seeing.

  2. Fascinating post. I marvel sometimes at the many different phases of a life. Dr Jin's has been rich and eventful indeed. This also had resonance for me this morning because I am in need of the kind of healing those herbs, or more likely, Dr Jin's mindset, might offer. Thank you.

  3. Even here in little ol' North Florida we have these oriental markets with the most exotic things in them. I am astounded at the parts of animals and reptiles which humans eat and use and of which many of us are totally ignorant about.
    Also, plants.
    I remember feeling smug last year when I had so many yard-long beans in my garden and saw how much they cost at the oriental market. I bought new seeds today to plant more.
    This was a beautiful post, Elizabeth.
    But like you, I do not want to eat tripe.

  4. That was so fun to read, Elizabeth. I go to my Asian market here to buy all sorts of things, which are much cheaper there than in the regular markets and to just step into another world. Sometimes there is no one there who can answer or understand my questions, but the more I go the more I know.
    My favorite thing to buy there is young, fresh pea shoots. A delicacy elsewhere, but cheap and plentiful at this market.

    You're so right about how "tribal" we are, but it's amazing how welcoming they are when you do step into that world. It was so fun to see all that today....the restaurant...WOW !

  5. What a terrific journey. I've never eaten dim sum though I eat a lot of veggie sushi. And seaweed. Oh god you would love the Duck Blood store. It looks a bit like this in certain aisles. If you ever come to Seattle I'll tell you how to get there.

    wv: artinue

  6. There you are having an experience with Asia without having to leave LA while I traveled half way across the world to have this particular experience with Vietnam. The wonders of the modern world.

    The flip side of the tribal tendency is true of Americans, British, Australians, they/we also tend to cling together in foreign countries, even if they move there because they are attracted to the other culture and living conditions.

    So glad you had this day out with your friendly doctor. Hugs from Ho Chi Minh. N2

  7. Oh boy. Like you, I am an occasionally squeamish eater. No tripe for me, thanks.

    It is interesting that we're so "tribal," as you put it. I suppose it's natural that we seek out people like ourselves. I'm glad to see you're breaking those boundaries!

  8. What a great way to see Chinatown! Go with someone who can tell you stuff you never knew. I love going to SF's Chinatown. I'm glad we have a Dim Sum Restaurant out where we live that is just as good as going all the way to the city. I like the round balls with sesame seeds on the outside and the bean paste on the inside...I know they are for dessert but I just really like those. Pork buns of course and also I am wimpy with many of the dishes too.

    If one ever has not been to a big Chinatown, by all means they should go for that unique experience!

  9. Dr. Jin needs to write a memoir!!!

  10. I miss Asia so much! Being absorbed by a sweet-scented culture and eating all the way. Sounds like a very inspiring lady and how brave of you to eat tripe!

  11. Next time you mention living in Switzerland, I'll remind you of this amazing experience, post, and place you live in. :)



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