Serve the People
If you like Chinese food and you don’t buy any other book this year, please buy Serve the People: A Stir-Fried Journey Through China by Jen Lin-Lui. I unreservedly recommend it. (You can purchase it directly through the link above.)
It’s a book I wish I’d written. It is the autobiographical story of a Fulbright fellowship in China by a young Chinese-American, Columbia University graduate from Southern California. During her stay she enrolled in a Beijing cooking school–not a school catering to westerners, but a school for aspiring Beijinger chefs. It’s a great story, simply told, peopled by wonderful personalities. There’s hard times and good times, and authentic recipes.
The author, Jen Lin-Liu, is the food critic for Time Out Beijing, coauthor of Frommer’s Beijing, with articles in Newsweek, NYTimes, Walll Street Journal, Saveur, and Food & Wine. She is founder of Black Sesame Cooking School in Beijing. I feel in love with the book and the people in it.
China Yuan Restaurant
There’s an amusing anecdote in her book about a conversation with a native Beijing food critic when she discovered that for cultural reasons the local critics never pan a restaurant, but, if the food isn’t up to par, they simply restrict themselves to discussing the ambiance! I laughed out loud over that one, because I’ve been guilty of exactly this myself in some of my reports on restaurants. Such is not the case with this report on Tampa’s China Yuan Restaurant (8502 N. Armenia Ave. #1A, Tampa, FL 33604; 813-936-7388). It is my favorite Chinese restaurant in Tampa. Colleagues in the University of South Florida community who come from Hong Kong agree and they frequent China Yuan. The owner has had to, literally, double the size of the restaurant in the past couple years because it is so packed at almost all times. The predominant language you’ll hear spoken by customers is Chinese. China Yuan has it both: ambiance AND first-rate food.
Everyone has their favorite Chinese dishes to order, but, if you’re so inclined, please consider getting their egg drop soup and/or the spicy eggplant with garlic and tofu. The egg drop soup is much thicker and tastier than any I’ve ever had elsewhere. The eggplant is so good I’ve been known to order a serving just to take home for the refrigerator to reheat for a few days. The specialty of the house, however, is fresh seafood…and I do mean fresh! As you can see in the slide show below, there are more than a couple tanks of living fish and crustaceans.
Yesterday, I went to China Yuan with a couple friends for dim sum at lunchtime. One friend, who had worked in China with Project Hope, was familiar with dim sum. The other friend had never had any, but had read my earlier post on dim sum (A Touch of Heart) and was interested in trying some for the first time. He got a good initiation. China Yuan dim sum is all hand made–not just purchased frozen from a market and re-heated. For the three of us, we ordered a round of egg drop soup plus the following dim sum: shrimp dumplings, steamed spare ribs, steamed fish balls, fried shrimp balls (something I’ve never tried before and will definitely order again!), steamed roast pork buns (which we all loved), daikon radish pudding (I’m addicted to that), and sesame balls (steaming hot and very sweet–almost a desert). All that was perfect for three hungry guys, with a smidge left over; it all came to a total of only $28.39, including tax. Hard to beat for such a feast.
After eating at China Yuan, walk to the northwest corner of the U-shaped strip mall that houses the China Yuan. There you will find an Oriental Bakery. I usually wind up buying some almond cookies to take home, plus one sweet bean paste bun to eat on the way! Below is a slide show of some of their pastries.
Din Ho Market
After lunch at China Yuan and some sweets at the Oriental Bakery, waddle to the north leg of the U-shape to the Din Ho Market to pick up some fresh veggies and tropical fruits (dragon fruit is in…you might try that). They also have excellent, very fresh, whole fish. Of course, they have the usual selection of Asian dry goods. Every Asian market I’ve been in has always had items that relate to Buddhist religious traditions. The items available at Din Ho are a cut above most. The Guan Yin home shrine you’ll see in the slide show below is particularly nice.
China Yuan, the Oriental Bakery, and Din Ho Market are all in Evershine Square, 8502 N. Armenia, Tampa, FL 33604. If you check out the picture of the square’s sign below you won’t see the Costa Verde Peruvian Restaurant listed, but it’s also located in the square. I haven’t eaten there yet, but it’s high on my list of places-to-try. The square also hosts an Asian billiard and game room that looks extremely intriguing.
Most images link to larger images.
click on larger image for closeup