In April, Squid Ink published a list of 10 Classic Taiwanese Dishes. Controversy immediately ensued over the exclusion of another traditional Taiwanese dish: pork chop rice (pai gu fan). Comments flew from some noted food bloggers, some expressing their incredulity over what they felt was a glaring omission. Our OC Weekly colleague Dave Lieberman going so far as to write: "the single most Taiwanese dish I can think of is pai gu fan." One might simply point out that lists are subjective, as is food in general, and your idea of the Best Thing To Eat On The Planet might differ from that of the person eating across the table from you, like maybe at Liang's Kitchen.
Indeed, walk into seemingly any Taiwanese café anywhere in the San Gabriel Valley and you're bound to spot pork chop rice on the menu. And spend any time in these same places and you're bound to see plates of pai gu fan come out of the kitchen, at times in rapid succession, to wind up on adjacent tables or nearby counter space. WaCowLA, a website and publication covering all things Taiwanese around Los Angeles, did a "Top 5" list of best pork chop rice.
So turn the page for a short discussion of pork chop rice and three places to get it. It's also a dish that should resonate with Americans with roots in the Midwest or the Plains -- after all, we're talking pork chops here.
How is it prepared? Take a pork chop, usually bone-in, marinate with soy sauce, cooking wine, garlic and spices, coat with sweet potato flour, then fry. The crispy result is served either alongside or atop rice, topped with some of the stewed, ground seasoned pork featured in another Taiwanese classic, lou rou fan. A plateful of sides accompanies your chop, most commonly pickled vegetables (usually cabbage and mustard greens in separate small mounds), tofu and a tea egg (another Taiwanese specialty, a hard-boiled egg marinated in tea and spices).
3. Liang's Kitchen:
Rapidly turning into a mini-empire with 12 locations, Liang's Kitchen traces its roots back to Mama Liang cooking at a Nationalist Air Force camp in the late 1940's. In keeping with that theme, photos of Chinese Air Force pilots and their planes appear on the menu and walls, while model airplanes from the era hang suspended over tables at the San Gabriel location. The Taiwan Style Fried Pork Chop Rice at Liang's ranked #2 on the WaCowLA list, but the Special Fried Red Pork is worth checking out. For that version, Liang's eschews the normal sweet potato flour coating in lieu of one made with red yeast. This provides not only a nice reddish hue, but a distinctive flavor.
2. Bobee 5:
A tiny Taiwanese restaurant wedged between a dental office and a Pizza Hut in a Rowland Heights shopping plaza, Bobee 5 is home to the pork chop rice ranked #1 on the WaCowLA list. While Bobee 5 has a Fried Pork Chop and a Pork In Red Grain Sauce on their menu, those aren't what sets them apart or topped the ranking. That honor went to the contradictorily named Bobee Fried Pork Chop W/ Rice, which is actually baked instead of fried. Obviously, it's better for you, it's healthier, etc. Some will miss the traditional crunch, but the coating and flavor are great and baking retains more moisture than frying.
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1. Old Country Café:
We've written before about the merits of this venerable diner, which is the oldest Taiwanese restaurant in the SGV. Mystifyingly, it went unranked on the WaCowLA list, which came as a suprise to those up on their pork chop rice. For someone wanting to try out a classic example of pork chop rice, it's hard to beat the hole-in-the wall Alhambra location.
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