Tag Archives: cuisine

Have A Bowl of Crossing-the-bridge Rice Noodles Before Exams

By Qianhui Ni

Edited by Natalie Grace Sipula

[4.5 minute read]

What do you normally do before an important exam? In some cultures, people will pray to the god of wisdom, or avoid washing their hair because it is believed to wash the knowledge out of the brain. Some tend to wear clothes with lucky colors. For me, my pre-exam ritual is to have a bowl of crossing-the-bridge rice noodles.

Crossing-the-bridge Rice Noodles from Ludingji at San Gabriel

In Yunnan, China, the local people’s diet holds rice noodles to an equal status as rice. Different from rice noodles from other provinces, the traditional Yunnan rice noodles are made of fermented and milled rice. Thus, they have a very slightly sour taste due to the longer fermentation time in the production process. Crossing-the-bridge rice noodles are the most famous cooking method of these noodles. The soup base is stewed with pork ribs, fresh chicken, fresh duck, and Yunnan ham. After simple seasoning, the thick soup must stay boiling and be put into a large, insulated bowl. You can then add fresh fish slices, fresh tenderloin slices, mung bean sprouts, and mushroom slices to the soup individually. My favorite ingredient to add are fresh raw quail eggs. As the raw quail egg touches the soup, the color of the egg white and yolk changes even before they start changing shape in the broth. This is how we magically make a soft boiled egg in a fully intact shape. When I was a little kid, I always wanted to complete this part by myself but was stopped by my parents since the temperature of the soup was too high. 

You are probably wondering why this dish is named “crossing-the-bridge” and why it is connected to pre-exam rituals. One well-accepted version of its origin story goes like this: in the Qing Dynasty, a scholar living in southern Yunnan used to go study at a pavilion in the middle of a lake to prepare for the imperial examination. To support him, his wife often made his favorite rice noodles and brought them to the pavilion. Every time she got there, the rice noodles had already become cold. One day, she accidentally found out that the thick layer of chicken fat covering the soup helped it stay at a high temperature. The rice noodles, the meat, and the vegetables actually tasted more refreshing if they were put in right before eating. Since then, she always stewed the soup with chicken and other meat first, and waited until she arrived at the pavilion before putting in the extra thinly sliced ingredients and rice noodles. With her support, the scholar eventually got the highest exam score. Because every time the scholar’s wife needed to walk across a bridge to reach the pavilion, people named this cooking method “crossing-the-bridge rice noodles” in order to commemorate this talented woman. Since then, having a bowl of crossing-the-bridge rice noodles has become a popular pre-exam ritual for many local people. 

Spicy Rice Noodles from Ludingji at City of Industry

As part of the cultural heritage of Yunnan, China, crossing-the-bridge rice noodles have become a top cuisine that no visitor to the region should miss out on. Before I went to college, I used to take it for granted because there are so many restaurants that sell it in my hometown. I did not realize how hard it is to find authentic crossing-the-bridge rice noodles until I started my life in another country. However, after visiting almost all the Yunnan restaurants in LA, I found two good ones where you can get a taste of this traditional cuisine: 

Yunnan Restaurant:

You can find two Yunnan Restaurants in LA: one is located in San Gabriel, and the other one is in Monterey Park. Here, when ordering crossing-the-bridge rice noodles, you will have the chance to add all of the ingredients to the boiling soup yourself. Apart from the rice noodles, don’t miss the amazing Chinese Salad with different cold meats or vegetables in spicy sauce. 

Casserole Rice Noodles from Yunnan Garden in Hacienda Heights

Yunnan Garden:

Located in Hacienda Heights, Yunnan Garden has a more spacious dining area. The crossing-the-bridge rice noodles here are put in a big bowl in which the cook has already put in all the ingredients and rice noodles. The soup base is great and I’m sure you will love it. 

If you want to try a new pre-exam ritual before a major exam, try the crossing-the-bridge rice noodles and remember the story of the scholar and the talented wife, and hopefully it will bring you good luck.

Featured Image by Frank Zhang on Unsplash

Qianhui is a doctoral student majoring in Psychology. She received a B.S. in Psychology from East China Normal University in 2019. She is interested in how children learn about social agents and the social world. When she isn’t working in the lab, Qianhui enjoys traveling, reading novels, watching movies, and cooking.  

Soy Sauce spaghetti and Butterfly Migration: Growing Up as a Second Generation American

By Jacqueline Tran

Edited by Natalie Grace Sipula

[3.5 minute read]

My Grandpa, or “goong goong” – the Cantonese phrase for Grandfather – was a chef and grew up in Hong Kong. He obtained citizenship and immigrated with his family to the United States because of his cooking abilities, which makes me a second generation American. As a result, my family traditions have always been a unique blend of classic Asian dishes and holidays mixed with American traditions. One of these traditions is a soy sauce spaghetti dish my grandfather made all the time when I was younger. The ingredients include green onions, tomatoes, mushrooms, spaghetti noodles, chicken base, ketchup, salt, oil, sugar, soy sauce, and dark soy sauce. My sisters and I loved it, and it satisfied my other second generation cousins’ tastes too. Thinking about this dish makes me aware that my taste is made up of not only my ethnicity, personality, and family, but also the generation that I was born in.

Photo by National Cancer Institute on Unsplash

Being a second generation American has allowed me to live as an American while hearing first hand accounts of growing up in another culture from both of my parents. I’ve heard stories about what it was like in Vietnam to eat raw mangoes with fish sauce- before they got ripe, so the animals wouldn’t get to them first- and what it was like to grow up there during the Vietnam war. I’ve heard what it was like for my Chinese grandparents to immigrate from China, with uncertainty and the drive to create more opportunities for their children.

There is a poet and artist named Morgan Harper Nichols, who writes: “Lessons from Monarch Butterfly Migration…Because the lifespan of the monarch butterfly is only a few weeks, it actually takes multiple generations to finally make it back to the north…The monarch butterfly is a reminder of what it means to pave the way. To carry on on a journey that you might not actually live to see the end of.” After reading this, I wondered what events would happen in the future because of the way I live my life now-at school, at work, or with friends. I recognized that I am like the monarch butterfly who makes it to the north (or in this case America) to live the American dream. I attend a university in the United States and get to study for opportunities that weren’t available to the generations before me. I’m a student at USC because of what my grandparents and parents have worked for. I am living the life I am because of ancestors I’ll never know.

Continue reading Soy Sauce spaghetti and Butterfly Migration: Growing Up as a Second Generation American

Restaurants to Try in LA

By Sarah Selke

Edited by Natalie Grace Sipula

[4 minute read]

Los Angeles is home to some of the most diverse cuisines in the world. From Italian to Chinese to Mexican to Thai food, this city offers a wide variety of foods that would be hard to find in such abundance in other American or even international cities. Despite the pandemic’s limitations on indoor and some outdoor dining, many restaurants still offer takeout or delivery services. Not only do these services help keep small businesses afloat, but they can also provide a much-needed alternative to cooking at home all of the time. Here are a few restaurants in the LA area that are beloved by many of the city’s residents.

Ji Rong Peking Duck

Located in Rosemead, Ji Rong Peking Duck is an upscale Chinese restaurant specializing in Peking duck. While it is about a 20 minute drive from USC, it is considered by many customers to have the best Peking duck in LA. This famous dish requires ordering an hour in advance. Some of their other popular items include lamb skewers, crispy walnut shrimp, stewed pork belly, beef rolls, meat pies, and green bean jelly. They are now offering both delivery and takeout.

Photo by Fabien Maurin on Unsplash

Tender Greens

Located in several places in LA County, Tender Greens offers modern American food that is relatively health-conscious. They are known for their hot plates, salads, and sandwiches. The plates are easily customizable, giving you a choice of protein, greens, and a side. Recently, they have also added a brunch and family meals section to their menu. During the pandemic, they have begun to offer outdoor dining and pickup.

Chichen Itza

Close to USC’s campus, Chichen Itza is a family-owned Mexican restaurant specializing in Yucatecan food. They are known for serving many traditional dishes such as Cochinita Pibil, Tamales, and Panuchos. The establishment has frequently made L.A. Weekly’s list of top 99 restaurants in Los Angeles, and customers continue to come back for their delicious dishes. Currently, they offer outdoor dining, delivery, and takeout.

Urth Caffe

Urth Caffe is a popular European-style breakfast/brunch spot with multiple locations in LA County. Focused on sustainability and local ingredients, the establishment roasts its own organic coffee and blends its own teas. They offer a wide variety of menu items, including sandwiches, paninis, pizzas, salads, omelets, and desserts. One of my favorite dishes is their Mediterranean platter, which is a sampler plate of hummus, pearl couscous tabouli, roasted peppers, feta cheese, and dolma. They are currently open for outdoor dining, delivery, and takeout.

Photo by Petr Sevcovic on Unsplash

Zui Xiang Yuan

A small hole-in-the-wall restaurant in Alhambra, Zui Xiang Yuan has a nice variety of relatively simple Chinese dishes. Famous for their dumplings and noodles, the establishment offers beef noodle soup, dan dan noodles, meat pies, pan-fried buns, and steamed buns. Compared to other restaurants with similar menus in the San Gabriel Valley, Zui Xiang Yuan stands out for its delicious and authentic take on southern Chinese food. Currently, they are open for takeout.

Oh My Pan Bakery & Café

Oh My Pan is an Asian-style bakery in San Gabriel that offers a variety of drinks, breads, and cakes. They offer many types of tea, milk tea, slush, and frosted milk with syrups made of fresh fruit. Their breads are made of Japanese flour, resulting in a soft and fluffy texture. Some of my favorite items are the taro with buttercream bun and the matcha mochi with buttercream bun. They are open for pickup.

Hopefully, some of these restaurants sounded appealing to you and you will go and try them for yourself! If you have any other LA restaurant recommendations that you simply can’t stop raving about, consider sending in a blog post submission to the American Language Institute describing your experience. You can submit a blog post or get more information on submitting a post by emailing jungheim@usc.edu.

Featured Image by Jermaine Ee on Unsplash

Sarah is a recent graduate who majored in English with an emphasis in Creative Writing. She was born in the Los Angeles area and has lived there much of her life. In addition to English, she has some background in Mandarin Chinese, French, and basic German. In her free time, she likes reading, listening to music, photography, and cooking. Sarah went to Beijing last summer and experienced having one-on-one conversations with other local students learning English. She hopes to continue improving her Chinese and French and is interested in teaching English as a foreign language someday.