If you’re familiar with the San Gabriel Valley, you realize the great joys of experiencing authentic food from many Chinese provinces and cities. One of these regional cuisines is Wuhan-style food, which is well-represented in the SGV. Wuhan is the capital city of Hubei province (hubei means "north of the lake"), which is located in the eastern portion of central China and counts Sichuan and Hunan provinces among its neighbors.
But what exactly is Wuhan-style food and where can you find it?
Dry pots are popular in Wuhan. They're just like hot pots — that cauldron of broth, meat and veggies — minus the broth. As with hot pots, you choose flavor (spicy, hot & sour, spice & hot or garlic), how spicy (medium is plenty hot for an average person) and size. Small, which can safely feed a few folks, is available only at lunch. Potatoes, dried and pickled peppers, celery and cauliflower are included with some oil, all placed over a can of Sterno, where it pops and bubbles away. A wide range of meat, vegetable and additional choices are available options.
Many provinces and cities in China have their own regional take on noodles and Wuhan is no different. Wuhan hot dry noodles, re gan mian, is considered one of China’s 10 great noodle dishes. Soy sauce, sesame paste, pickled vegetables, chopped garlic chives and chili oil are included in a bowl full of oiled noodles that have been dried and then rehydrated.
Wuhan also has its own traditional snacks/appetizers. A savory small doughnut, mian wo, is made with rice flour and soy milk with chopped scallions inside. Think of a hushpuppy with the texture and creaminess of a cruller. Then there’s the bean curd skin rolls (dou pi), a crispy tofu skin pouch filled with eggs, rice, meat (beef or pork belly), chopped mushrooms and a few bits of chopped shrimp. There’s also Wuhan shao-mai filled with seasoned sticky rice, mushrooms, small pieces of diced pork and scallions.
Currently, three restaurants in the SGV feature Wuhan-style cuisine: 2-year-old Tasty Dining and recently opened Happy Tasty in San Gabriel, and Qiwei Kitchen, a sister restaurant to Tasty Dining, in Rowland Heights.
Dry pots (listed as "griddle-cooked foods") and Wuhan-style snacks and appetizers (under "local delicacies") are the focus at Tasty Dining and Qiwei Kitchen, with dry pots featuring 22 meat choices ranging from offal to bullfrog or rabbit or combos (either from a few set combos or your own two choices) and 33 vegetable choices, plus items ranging from pork blood cubes and assorted seafood cakes to luncheon meat to round out your options.
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Happy Tasty, on the upstairs level of Focus Plaza, has a wider menu featuring more Wuhan-style entrees. There’s steamed ribs coated in rice flour, a dish you might be familiar with from Sichuan-style restaurants, but one that actually originated in Hubei province. Another item is one we haven’t seen before in the SGV: Shrimp with spicy fried dough twist. Soup is a big thing in Wuhan, and Happy Tasty features a soup of the day, five of which involve spare ribs.
About the menu at Happy Tasty. It’s in Chinese save for the section names. So, for now, you’ll have to either read Chinese, take a friend who does or cheat and use an app like Waygo. While the waitresses know some English and you should be able to order which type of meat you’d like in a dish, I can’t guarantee there won’t be communication issues.
Ask for a to-go menu and order from it. The regional specialties appear with photos on the to-go menu under "Traditional Food" (where they appear clockwise from top left: re gan mian, mian wo, dou pi, shau may). Dry pots are under "Hanging Pot" and the shrimp cruller dish is on the other side of the menu, lower right under "Specials Sauteed Dish." Or simply say dou pi ("dough p"), re gan mian ("ray gun me-in") or mian wo ("me-in woe"). You’re welcome and good luck.
Happy Tasty: 140 W. Valley Blvd., #209, San Gabriel 91776; (626) 348-3885.
Qiwei Kitchen: 1741 Fullerton Rd., Rowland Heights 91748; (626) 581-4888.
Tasty Dining (CLOSED): 301 W. Valley Blvd., Suite 101, San Gabriel 91776; (626) 570-1234.