Monday, November 15, 2010

Mama Liang’s House

Recently, I had a chance to pay a visit to Mama Liang’s House.  The chinese translation for this restaurant name is Mama Liang’s House.  The English names differ slightly depending on each location, but all contain the name “Liang.”  The particular one I went to was called “Liang’s Village Cuisine.”  Mama Liang’s is a small chain of restaurants, with four locations in the LA area and two locations in the Bay Area.  The symbol of the restaurant is a picture of Mama Liang’s face.

I had never heard of Mama Liang’s until recently.  While talking to my parents on the phone, they informed me that a Mama Liang’s had opened in their area. They said the chain originated in LA and had several locations there.  I had never even heard of Mama Liang’s, and I was surprised I hadn’t, with all road trips to LA for chinese food and constant research of chinese restaurants in the LA area.

I then proceeded to look up Mama Liang’s and saw rave reviews on yelp.  On my last trip home, with both my parents working, BF and I went out for lunch and we decided to try Mama Liang’s.

One of the things I have enjoyed most about writing this food blog is learning so much about the history, culture and stories behind the different foods I eat.  I’ve particularly enjoyed learning a lot more about my own culture and the food I have grown up eating, but really knew nothing about.

My posts and food experiences have triggered wonderful stories from my parents.  While getting ready for lunch, my dad mentioned that Mama Liang’s was advertising “Juan” cuisine.  Juan?  I had never heard of Juan.

So then my dad proceeded to tell me all about it.  As you may recall, in 1949, Chiang Kai Shek’s army, the Kuomintang, fled to Taiwan after being defeated by the Communist Party.  The military people then took up temporary housing camps owned by the government.  At the time, they thought the situation was temporary, and so there was no reason to get permanent housing.

These small military villages, known as Juan Cun, were made up of the military and their families. These small villages began to develop their own unique culture.  The kids played together, went to school together.  My dad was one of these children that grew up in  Juan Cun.  The people in the military villages became very close, and as a result it was very common to call people “Mama Liang” or “Mama Lee,” etc.  Because these military families came from all different parts of China, they also brought to Taiwan the foods from their own areas in China.  One woman might begin making food from her area, and others would hear about how “Mama X” made a great bowl of noodle soup, and people would go over to try it.  From there, little restaurant shops would be set up.

Recently, a movie in Taiwan was released about the Juan Cun culture and how it is slowly disappearing. This has caused a waive of nostalgia for the people who grew up in these military camps and a lot of restaurants have started popping up, advertising that they serve Juan cuisine.

When we arrived at MaMa Liang’s, the place was packed.  Mama Liang’s specializes in a beef noodle soup, and a green onion beef rolled pancake.  The menu is pretty sparse. There are a few noodle dishes, some pork chop rice dishes, and many small dishes that are meant to be eaten with your meal.

BF and I both ordered the beef noodle soup and an order of the green onion beef rolled pancake.  Mama Liang’s also specializes in its wide, hand pulled noodles, so of course we had to get that with our beef noodle soup.

Our food arrived in metal bowls, which I thought was a peculiar way of plating the food, but I guess it is more akin to how food might have been served back in the Juan village.

I love hand pulled noodles.  It takes a lot of skill and effort to make hand pulled noodles.  But when it is made right, the noodles have a wonderful chewy texture. The hand pulled noodles here were very well made.  They were wide and thin, and had a bouncy, chewy texture to them.   Speaking of hand made noodles, I recently read a great post by a blogger, Tiny Urban Kitchen, who did a whole video tutorial on making hand made noodles! You can view her entry here.

The broth of the beef noodles was pretty good.  The broth was rich enough that you could tell that the beef bones and beef had stewed and simmered in the kitchen.  Overall, though I enjoyed my beef noodle soup, I didn’t think it was as good as all the hype made it seem.  I was surprised that this place has managed to become so famous and popular with this dish and has been able to open so many restaurants.

Of course, a lot of it is in context.  If a location were to open up in San Diego, I would be there in a heartbeat.  But since all the locations are nestled in communities full of restaurants serving  beef noodle soup, I didn’t think Mama Liang’s version really stood out from amongst others I’ve sampled.

The beef rolled green onion pancake:

I thought this was slightly pricey ($6.75 for an order).  The beef slices are marinated and are often served as a chinese appetizer dish.  I can see the appeal of this dish since it has a lot more flavor than just a regular green onion pancake. I’ve never been a fan of these beef slices though because of the tendon portion, and I rarely eat it when my parents order it or when my mom makes it at home, so I didn’t particularly like this dish.  I think what makes this dish so popular is  the nostalgia factor.  I brought home some leftovers for my parents and my dad said the dish reminded him a lot like one he used to eat growing up.

Below is the menu:

Mama Liang’s was just alright for me. I would go back to dine again for the hand pulled noodles, but I didn’t completely fall in love with this place.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Steamed Pumpkin Mochi

I finally did it! The past few weeks I’ve been working on trying to create individual pumpkin mochis. I’ve made pumpkin mochi cake several times and it is a staple every year at the Thanksgiving table, but I wanted to see if I could make a non-cake pumpkin mochi.

First I attempted making it with the microwave, using similar recipes to the ones I used to make microwave mochi. However, the dough kept sagging when I tried to make it into balls and it was extremely sticky and hard to work with.

Then I tried boiling the balls. The pumpkin balls ended up being too light in color and lacked flavor.

Finally, I attempted making a steamed version. And success! The balls weren’t too sticky and maintained it’s dark orange color.  They also held up their shape and I was even able to make them look like mini pumpkins.

I carved some knife incisions to make the balls look like pumpkins. Then I stuck a tiny piece of parsley on top to resemble a leaf.  I was really pleased with how these turned out.  My mochi balls are only flavored with pumpkin. You can add cinnamon and nutmeg or some pumpkin spice for a more Autumn flavor. You can also fill the center with something.

Steamed Pumpkin Mochi

2 cups glutinous rice flour
3/4 cup pumpkin puree
3/4 cup sugar
(optional spices: 1 tsp cinnamon, or 1 tsp pumpkin spice)

1. Pour all the ingredients into a bowl and mix until thoroughly combined. You may need to add some water to the dough if it is too dry. The dough should be sticky, but if you touch it, it should not stick to your hands. Add water, or more glutinous rice flour until the dough comes together and doesn’t stick to your hands.
2. Take small chunks of dough and roll them to form balls and place them on a steamer, about 1 inch apart. The balls will not really expand when steamed, so use portions similar to what you want your serving size to be.
3. Using a sharp knife, draw indents into the balls, so that they resemble pumpkins. I found that the best technique was to start at the bottom of the dough and slice upward and curved at an angle.
4. Steam for approximately 10- 15 minutes. Make sure a cover is put over the steamer.
5. Let the balls cool completely. When they are completely cooled, they should be easy to pick up to serve. You can garnish with something green for decoration. I put tiny parsley leaves on top.
6. It is best to serve these balls the same day or the next day. After that they will lose their chewy texture.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Cinnamon Sugar Pumpkin Donut Muffins

I’ve made variations of the sugar donut muffins that have been popular on food blogs. (Sugar donut muffins are mini muffins that taste like cake donuts.) I realized that while I’ve made several versions of the donut muffins, I haven’t tried the original version that I found: just regular mini donut muffins rolled in some sugar.

I thought about making the original version, but then at the last minute I decided to make a pumpkin version instead. There’s only 15 days left until Thanksgiving and I have a lot more pumpkin, sweet potato, persimmon and other fall recipes to try out.  So I made a pumpkin version, but I dipped them in a cinnamon sugar mixture.

I haven’t had much time for baking since I spent the weekend in San Francisco. I’ll have to catch up these next two weeks. These muffins are quite tasty. The pumpkin puree makes them so moist and I love the bright yellow hue of the donut muffins.

Mini pumpkin donut muffins (adapted from The Craving Chronicles)

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/8 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/8 tsp ground cloves
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup canned pumpkin puree
1/2 cup fat free milk


1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, melted
2/3 cup sugar
2 tsp ground cinnamon

1. Preheat oven 350°F. Spray  mini muffin tin with baking spray that contains flour.

2. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, salt and spices .

3. In a large bowl whisk together oil, brown sugar, egg, vanilla, pumpkin and milk until smooth. Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients and mix until just combined!

4. Spoon batter into muffin cups about 2/3 full.  Bake for 10-12 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.

5. Let donuts cool completely. Then melt 1/4 cup butter in a small glass bowl. In another small bowl, combine 2/3 cup white sugar and 2 tsp cinnamon.  Dip top of donuts in melted butter and then dip in the sugar mixture.