Hubei is a province in central China, dotted with thousands of lakes and known affectionately as the "Land of Fish and Rice." Internationally, the region is most well-known for its Three Gorges Dam -- the largest operating hydroelectric facility in the world.
Water seems to be a recurring theme in its food. Because of its central location and proximity to a series of waterways, Hubei is a champion of freshwater dishes. The cuisine also skews to the spicy side; after all, its neighbors are Sichuan and Hunan, areas with cuisines that are synonymous with spice.
In the Los Angeles area, there are three restaurants with Hubei influences: Qiwei Kitchen (Rowland Heights), Tasty Dining, and Happy Tasty (both in San Gabriel). The former two have the same owner, while the latter is not affiliated with them, yet the menus are strikingly similar at all three restaurants. The main attraction are the dry pots, a specialty of Sichuan. While the foods they serve have a mixture of Hubei, Hunan, and Sichuan influences, all of the owners hail from Wuhan -- the capital of Hubei.
Here are four dishes from Hubei that can be found in the greater Los Angeles area:
Wuhan Doughnuts, or Mian Wo ??
China has doughnuts too; it's believed that a local baker named Chang Ziren started baking them during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). These doughnuts are savory, stuffed with scallions and mixed together with soy and rice milk, flour, and a sprinkling of sesame seeds. We prefer the version at Happy Tasty: they're crispier than the doughnuts from the other two eateries.
Sticky Rice Shaomai, ç???
Among Chinese food connoisseurs, the word shaomai usually evokes images of dim sum and pork dumplings wrapped in yellow skin with a touch of roe on top. The shaomai varieties from Wuhan are different: they are stuffed with sticky rice with a mix of raisins, rock candy, peanut, osmanthus flower, orange peel, and shredded carrot. Unfortunately, at these San Gabriel Valley restaurants, shiitake mushroom and minced pork is about as elaborate as it gets.
Hot dry noodles, or Re Gan Mian ç?±??
Hot dry noodles are one of the most iconic snacks from Wuhan. They're akin to Sichuan's dan dan noodle, but with a stronger focus on the sesame paste. The dryness comes from the sesame, and the heat comes from the chilies and pickled vegetables. It's commonly consumed for breakfast in Wuhan.
Bean Curd Skin Rolls With Pork Belly, or San Xian Dou Pi ä¸??è±?ç?®
This Wuhan dish was invented in a restaurant founded in 1931. Bean curd is wrapped around a mixture of sticky rice with chopped pork belly. Call it a bean curd cake, if you will. The cake is gently pan-fried on both sides and scallions are thrown on top for color.
Lotus Soup, or Lian Ou Tang è?®è???
Hubei is well-known for its abundance of lotus roots -- a delicacy farmed and picked at Honghu Lake. Unique to Happy Tasty is its lotus root soup. It's cooked with spare ribs and is wonderfully comforting on a cold L.A. evening. The root is said to improve immunity and according to Li Shizhen's ancient book on Chinese medicine, Compendium of Materia Medica, it promotes happiness when consumed regularly.
Happy Tasty: 140 W Valley Blvd, Ste 209, San Gabriel, CA 91776
Tasty Dining: 301 West Valley Blvd, San Gabriel, CA 91776
Qiwei Kitchen: 1741 Fullerton Rd, Rowland Heights, CA 91748