How To Tell Your Friends They Suck, and Other Things I Learned on the Six Taste Delicious Dumplings Tour
I’m not sure where I’ve been, but I hadn’t heard this term until now. It makes sense that “food tourism” is a thing, since food is such an integral part of travel – what better way to immerse yourself in a new culture than by sampling the food of the region and the cultures you are visiting? I suppose I never separated food as a tourist attraction from the attractions themselves.
But now, I’ve seen the light, and that light was shown to me by a tour guide from Six Taste. Last month I joined him and a handful of bloggers on Six Taste‘s Delicious Dumplings tour in Arcadia, which is just northeast of Los Angeles, past Pasadena. The Los Angeles Arboretum is there, and so is the Santa Anita racetrack. Other than those two attractions, there is a giant mall that has served as a location for an emergency pit stop for our kids, but I have had no reason to visit fair Arcadia before. And not even all of Arcadia – this tour took us to several eateries within just one block of the city.
And it was a delicious block, let me tell you.
I’m not famous for my eclectic choices of cuisine. I’m happy with some chocolate, a hamburger, and a glass of passable Merlot. But after I started this blog I became a lot more adventurous, willing to try things I might have turned away from in the past. And so, not knowing anything about dumplings or Taiwanese culture in general, I happily joined this tour.
Our guide was young Michael Lin, who is of Taiwanese, Japanese, and Chinese descent and knew all of the relevant languages for every place we visited. He ordered all the food for us at each location, and explained the customs behind the way people dine, what their favorites are, and a thumbnail version of Taiwanese history. And all this took place in the space of 4 hours.
This is Michael, with an armload of delectable items at J&J Bakery. The secret to Taiwanese bread is the “Q” or the elasticity of the bread. As I ate a croissant, he explained that it’s best to pull it apart, piece by piece, and feel how stretchy the bread is. The more, the better.
Not pictured: the tiny, moist, and unbelievably delicious mochi fruit puffs I brought home for the kids. One was filled with mango jelly and cream, one with strawberry. The kids didn’t like them. I win!
At Din Tai Fung I had my first true dumpling experience.
These soup dumplings, above, are filled with pork and crab meat, and cooked in a crab broth. The way to eat a dumpling, I learned, is to grab one out of the dish with your chopsticks and place it on your spoon. Then you either bite or tear a hole in the bottom of the dumpling and tip it so that the broth runs out into the spoon. Then with your chopsticks, dip the dumpling into some sauce and eat it. Then slurp the broth from the spoon.
Above, Michael demonstrates the intricate art of drinking tea. You must never pour your own tea. That insinuates that the people seated to either side of you are rude assholes who are so insensitive to your needs that they forgot to pour you some tea. By pouring your own tea, you are telling your friends that they suck.
You also must not refuse the tea. If you don’t want to drink it, just don’t drink it, but don’t put your hand over the cup as if you are a coffee drinker in Mel’s Diner and say “None for me, thanks.” Rather than considered wasteful to have a glass of tea sit there untouched, it is considered rude to turn it down.
In addition to the dumplings and tea, we also sampled sauteed green beans, fried pork and fried rice, and Shanghai rice cakes with noodles. The rice cakes looked like sliced water chestnuts, but they were doughy and delicious.
After the bakery stop, our visit to Din Tai Fung would have been enough for me, but we actually had four other places to go!
We did not stop here at Bun Bun Tea House, but there were several storefronts that looked just like that. I couldn’t tell the difference from one ot the other, so having a tour guide open my eyes to the wonders inside these places was priceless. I might have the balls to enter an eatery like this in the future, where I would not have before because everything seemed so foreign. Now I realize that their foreignness is part of the adventure.
Our next stop was Sin Ba La restaurant, famous for its sausages. In Taiwan, sausage is a snack that you can eat in many different ways with a seemingly endless array of toppings. We tried many of them. My favorite was the mango. There was also a tasty snack called Fried Radish Cake. Without Michael’s introduction, I would have run away from this dish, quickly. But let me tell you: it was amazing. It tasted like fried sticky dough but light and steamy. There was nothing radish-y about it.
At Tea Bar Starry, beverages were the highlights. We started with a blend of jasmine tea that had jellied aloe balls at the bottom. Not for my taste – I found it to be like drinking soap, and eating jellied balls of soap – but there are so many different flavor combinations and choices for the chewing item that I would have liked to try more.
At Bin Bin Konjac, the friendly proprietor (above) let us taste samples of his dried candies and snacks.
I did not taste the “finger chips’ which I think is okra, but I did sample the dried mushrooms (salty) and dried mango (salty and sweet).
And the big finish was dessert: shaved ice over ice cream and mango chunks, with cubes of jellied konjac. Konjac is a root that is ground into powder and made into this chewable jelly stuff. It was delicious!
I delighted and impressed by this Six Taste tour for 4 main reasons:
-The personality and knowledge base of the tour guide. Having grown up in this culture and eaten this way his entire life, Michael knew the stories behind all of the food. It made eating the food a richer experience.
-The fact that HE ordered everything for us. Never in a million years would I have thought to try the dishes I tasted that day. It was so easy to walk in, watch him greet the host in their native language, sit down, and have the food come to me.
-The food. The Taiwanese cuisine we tasted that day (which is actually made up of Chinese and Japanese food, too) may not be for everyone, but I really liked it. It was a great introduction to the idea of a food tour.
-The cost. While my tour that day was complimentary, I noted ahead of time that a ticket would have cost me $55. That seems more than reasonable for the amount of food I ate and for the crash course in culture and food that I received.