I've eaten jellyfish my entire life. It's a common dish in Cantonese cuisine, usually thrown into the colorful mix of appetizers preceding full-blown seafood dinners. Taiwanese restaurants will sometimes have it too, served next to the cold cuts of bean curd and curled seaweed tossed with vinegar and a hint of chili. But while it has been a consistent part of my diet, I've never given much thought to it. After all, jellyfish by itself is mostly tasteless.
And then I met Kim and Clement, a couple who actively craves jellyfish on the regular. "You need to go to Earthern Restaurant in Rowland Heights," Kim tells me.
"I think about it all the time," Clement adds. "If I don't have it for a week, I will have cravings. We'll go in just for the jellyfish."
And so I went.
At Earthern, the jellyfish is served cold, heaped over a plate of lightly-pickled cucumbers and marinated evenly with vinegar. It's a darker hue than the light-beige variations that are common in Cantonese places. Earthern, after all, is a Shandong-specialist and the use of black vinegar is a recurring element. They were right -- the jellyfish is amazing there. It's crunchy, balanced, and not overwhelmingly bland. It's a dish that carries itself, a rare accomplishment for an ingredient that is mostly overlooked.
While jellyfish isn't exactly in the diet of the average American, it might be a good idea to start incorporating it into our meals. The creatures are reportedly invading the world's oceans and could soon ruin the ocean's ecosystem. The most common edible variety is called Rhopilema esculenta and it has been a part of the Chinese diet since the Western Jin Dynasty -- more than 1700 years ago. Back in the day, they were eaten after being preserved with wood ash and salt water. The jellyfish soon evolved to become a banquet delicacy and today, more than 900 million pounds of it is netted for human consumption annually.
Where to get it? Here's a guide:
There's Earthern Restaurant and Easy Earthern. Same owner, similar menu. Easy Earthern is the fast-casual version of the former. There, you can get an entire heap of jellyfish covered with minced garlic in a take-out container to eat at home. The jellyfish texture at Earthern is a delightful mix of crunchy and slimy, and the cucumbers tucked underneath add a fresh element to the heavy vinegar dressing. Cilantro is put on top for color. 18303 Colima Road, Rowland Heights, CA 91748.
Tasty Noodle House
The food at Tasty Noodle House is a tribute to the oceanside city of Dalian in the Liaoning Province, and they do jellyfish three ways. I recommend their house special: jellyfish head marinated in vinegar, served cold and lightly tossed with diced ginger, chilies, and carrots. The head is the crunchiest part of the sea creature and Tasty's rendition is most definitely one of the best in town. They also have a warm jellyfish dish -- tentacles served with thinly sliced pork belly and baby bamboo shoots. I prefer the first version. The pork belly with jellyfish just doesn't have same amazing crunch as the jellyfish head. 827 W Las Tunas Dr., San Gabriel, CA 91776.
For those too lazy to make that trek to the San Gabriel Valley, Honda-Ya in Little Tokyo has what you need. They do a cold jellyfish salad served over raw cucumbers. The portion size is small, so this is a great gateway opportunity for those curious for jellyfish but too nervous to commit to a whole platter. The jellyfish is marinated with rice vinegar, sprinkled with sesame seeds, and served cold. 333 Alameda Street, Suite 314, Los Angeles, CA.
For more on regional Chinese food in Los Angeles, click here.