So much of Asian culture is rooted in food. The birth of a child, the marriage of a blissful couple, the death of a loved one … all commemorated over treasured family recipes, passed down through generations.

To showcase this family nuance, Danielle Chang, founder and CEO of LuckyRice, the annual festival offering a smorgasbord of Asian tastings, decided the theme for this ninth year would be “Breaking Bao: Intergenerational Asian Culinary Experience.”

“The idea of breaking bread, where we sit down at a meal together — there’s nothing more Asian than that! ‘Breaking Bao’ was one of my favorite ideas, because I think intergenerational cooking and family secret recipes are core to many Asian cultures. In fact, one of the greatest compliments you can receive as an Asian chef is to cook like an Asian granny!“ quips Chang, who also hosts the PBS series Lucky Chow.

“Angelenos have such a sophisticated food palate — especially when it comes to Asian fare. That’s why I thought it would be fun for some of the chefs to share off-the-menu items, dishes that they serve to their families. It’s a unique way for guests to experience some of their favorite restaurants in a different light,” Chang notes.

L.A. Weekly talked to Asian chefs at LuckyRice, held Thursday, July 26, at Vibiana, about their family cooking stories.

Hinoki & the Bird, 10 W. Century Drive, Century City

Brandon Kida, executive chef at Hinoki & the Bird, has participated many times at the New York LuckyRice events over the years, but this was his first time at the Los Angeles festival.

“I enjoy celebrating my culture and cuisine. Not too long ago being Japanese-American wasn’t as cool as it is today,” he says. “it’s important to acknowledge growth and change.”

One of Kida's very first food memories was making dumplings with his mother, which is why for this event the chef created gyoza with heirloom tomato relish and chili oil.

“We would sit at the dining room table and set up a dumpling-making station. A large bowl of dumpling filling, small bowl of water, small spoons and dumpling skins. There are very few experiences more satisfying than creating something with your hands. through this process,” he says.

“I learned at an early age being able to nourish, love, show compassion and excite another human being is a gift.”

Bling Bling Dumplings paid tribute to family at its booth.; Credit: Jesse Hsu

Bling Bling Dumplings paid tribute to family at its booth.; Credit: Jesse Hsu

Bling Bling Dumplings (pop-up)

In the four years that Bling Bling has participated in LuckyRice, chefs Cindy Pao and Pei-Yen Chen always get creative with their dishes.

“The theme with each year always inspires and excites us,” notes Chen. “Because it’s all about the family, we put several family photos up by our booth, so people could get a sense of who we are, and where we are from.”

Chen loved the idea of breaking bread. “While we don’t actually break bao in our culture, I love how [Danielle] Chang came up with this Asian twist. We have such a strong connection with our families, coming together to eat traditional dishes.”

While Bling Bling is known for its terrific dumplings, the pop-up served a traditional Taiwanese-style pork belly bao. “This is what we grew up eating in Taipei,” Chen says. “It’s a hard dish to cook, as it takes six to eight hours to create. We wanted to get the consistency just right.”

Kimchi pancake tacos from Park's BBQ; Credit: Susan Hornik

Kimchi pancake tacos from Park's BBQ; Credit: Susan Hornik

Park’s BBQ, 955 S. Vermont Ave., Koreatown

Jenee Kim, chef-owner of Park’s BBQ, has always been inspired by her father and his cooking.

“When I close my eyes, I can still see my father in the kitchen, telling me stories about his childhood while describing to me the warmth and familiarity of my grandmother’s cooking,” she says.

“Cooking was more than just a process; it was a way for us to connect. Seeing the happiness on people’s faces as they ate my food only grew my passion more,” she says.

“Together, my dad and I could bring together entire communities under our roof to enjoy the food.”

At LuckyRice, Kim served kimchi pancake tacos with bulgogi and shrimp. The pancakes were pan-fried and used as the tortilla. The bulgogi was marinated in soy sauce and the shrimp in garlic and scallions.

Nguyen Tran in his banana costume; Credit: Susan Hornik

Nguyen Tran in his banana costume; Credit: Susan Hornik

Team Starry Kitchen at Button Mash, 1391 Sunset Blvd., Echo Park

Having participated for five years, Starry Kitchen’s Nguyen Tran loves the diverse quality of restaurants selected for LuckyRice events.

“They pick the best and brightest concepts with incredible potential, which run the gamut of high-end places to incredible mom-and-pop shops in one beautiful place, all to prop up Asian culture and food,” he says.

For LuckyRice attendees, Tran made bánh bèo, a steamed Vietnamese rice crepe, which his parents made when he was a kid. “I wanted to pay homage, to show people how many ‘peasant foods’ can seem simple but be far more complex, and exhibit my pride in my culture, family and upbringing.”

He adds: “Because I'm so fond of these memories of those communal and familial Vietnamese immigrant gatherings, I chose to make this dish. The amount of ingredients and consideration of them (sweet, acid, aromatic, three different savory elements, crunch, lightly rich) is really something.”

Tatang, 10829 Oxnard St., North Hollywood

In Tatang’s logo, there are 16 leaves, representing the 16 children of chef Jamby Roi “JR” Martin’s maternal grandparents. “My mother is the first-born. I grew up cooking with my mother for the family,” he says proudly.

As co-owner and head chef of his restaurant, Martin felt it was imperative to participate in an Asian food mecca like LuckyRice.

‘It is very important to assist in representing Filipino-American food, especially because it's still in the beginnings of breaking into the mainstream public across the United States.”

Martin served “Lon-Ga-Nisa” meatball, made from pork, shrimp, sugar, garlic, soy sauce, beet powder and oregano, with banana BBQ sauce and crispy garlic.

“This is an updated version of the common longganisa sausage link, which I grew up eating with the entire family,” he says. “Everything offered on the menu at the restaurant is a modified version of a traditional recipe. I thought long and hard about ensuring I was able to incorporate Los Angeles culinary influences without straying too far away from the traditional dishes.”

Turning Off Japanese collab with Mama Musubi (pop-up)

Chef Tomoko Imade Dyen and Mama Musubi’s Carol Kwan collaborated at LuckyRice this year to make rice ball ochazuke, which Dyen describes as a Japanese rice dish and a “hangover” meal.

“This is a simple light dish: a bowl of rice with a few savory ingredients on it, then hot tea or dashi broth poured over. It’s kind of like cereal with milk, but instead of cereal, it's rice, and in the place of milk, there’s tea or dashi broth,” Dyen explains. “As someone pointed out last night, it’s like Japanese matzo ball soup!”

Dyen’s father was a typical Japanese businessman. ”I remember him asking my mother to make ochazuke in the middle of the night. My mother made all food she didn’t want to eat (she hates rice — imagine that, a Japanese mom prefers peanut butter over rice!), and my late father liked to eat everything delicious. So to honor them, I chose to create rice ball ochazuke.”

Bone Kettle, 67 N. Raymond Ave., Pasadena

Bone Kettle’s Eric Tjahyadi firmly believes in LuckyRice's mission for highlighting underrepresented Asian cuisines, rising star chefs in the Asian food category and undiscovered gems that we all should take note of.

“We love the community that LuckyRice has assembled over the years,” he says. “It's almost like a reunion every year where we celebrate each other — all of our peers and fellow Asian restaurant business owners. It truly is an amazing showcase, a rare platform and one that we are so lucky to be a part of.”

Now in its second year, Bone Kettle served garlic krupuk and minced hangar steak tartare at LuckyRice.

“This fried chip is a staple in any Indonesian household and a favorite snack of chef Erwin's (my brother) mom. When you come in to any Indonesian home, you will most likely smell that beautiful fried chip scent in the kitchen because it's a daily part of most Indo family meals,” Tjahyadi says. “It completes a meal and it is the perfect conduit for finger food at a dinner party.”

LA Weekly