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An open letter to fellow 'hounds who recommended Canton Kitchen as providing egg rolls comparable to those found in the New York metro area

Dear fellow Chowhounds,

I know you meant well.

I've come to seek your advice, fellow hounds, on many occasions and truly, I've had countless food successes thanks to your help over the years. My Chinese food world has expanded well beyond my childhood experiences. In fact now that I've been to China, I can now appreciate how lucky we are to have such diverse, delicious and authentic variety in Chinese food here in Southern California.

This time, however, it just didn't work out.

I'm one of those back-easters (born in Lakewood, New Jersey) who is always looking for the occasional bit of culinary nostalgia from my youth. For me, this means great red sauce italian (Baked ziti, anyone?), the quintessential slice (if you need to ask what this means, don't worry about it), and of course the ultimate egg roll. My god, I miss those egg rolls.

I'd heard rumors at one point that decent ones could be had at Manhattan Wonton before they went out of business (they were on Doheny, south of Wilshire), however I never tried their version. Needless to say, I'm always on the lookout.

To date, the closest I've found have been the ones at Genghis Cohen (which are actually billed on the menu as "New York Style Egg Rolls". While they are unspectacular, the do the trick as they have those difficult-to-find-qualities that are the hallmark of a good New York egg roll... the thick, brown, chewy skin (as opposed to the flaky spring roll type skin you find everywhere else in America, including Panda Express... *shudder*). They're also a great deal thicker and longer than spring rolls... sort of like a mini Chinese deep fried burrito. They have a shredded cabbage interior, with bits of flavorful pork and/or tiny shrimp inside. The exterior layer of skin is crispy which the underlayer is chewy. The cabbage is crunchy and the bbq pork is soft and juicy, salty and sweet. Necessary condiments are little packets of sinus-blasting Chinese mustard and "duck sauce", a sweet and sour sauce which is branded as "Saucy Susan" nationally (you can find it in some supermarkets here.) Note to those who grew up in LA: duck sauce is NOTHING like ketchup!

Eggrolls from New York are a perfect melange of junk food greatness, and even the cheapest random dives in New York can crank out a decent egg roll, usually for no more than 99 cents. So why, praytell, is a decent eggroll of that variety so hard to find here?

Today a visit to the fashion district to purchase $7.00 sneakers turned into an improptu chow hunt (as it often does in my world.) My Lovely Tasting Assistant (LTA) and I started by grubbing on a Tijuana dog (those street vendor griddle dogs wrapped in bacon, topped with grilled onions and peppers... yum! $2.00 from a lady on the south end of the Maple mall in front of guys selling copied DVDs). This deliciousness sparked our mutual chow-dar to seek out other munchies in the area and it was not long before we found ourselves in the venerable Canto-American Paul's Kitchen on San Pedro, south of Olympic. We popped in for the basics... wonton soup (you can keep your wor) and eggrolls. The wonton soup was fantastic... a real throwback to Chinese flavors of my youth, with tender, favorful chunks of juicy bbq pork (though back east they would not be chunks, but shredded-- though this is an incidental detail), some crunchy bok choy, a flavorful broth brimming with tasty MSG and nice full, chewy, meaty wontons. It was a little pricey at about $5.50 for a medium sized bowl, since we're used to getting a giant bowl of dough sliced noodle lamb soup at China Islamic for about $6.50, and that's enough to fill 1-2 people. The wonton soup, while delicious, was thin and left us still hungry. We decided to press our luck and ordered an order of eggrolls... 2 for $3.50. I crossed my fingers, and hoped for the best.

Strike one. These were spring rolls, not eggrolls. Flaky skin, flled with bland cabbage, and not a hint of that succulent bbq pork we had in the soup. Too bad.

My LTA saw the spark in my eye. She could tell that we were on the verge of a new chowventure.

"So, where are we going now?"
"Mar Vista, my dear. Mar Vista."

We leaped on the traffic-free 10 freeway and sped westward. In about 15 minutes we found ourselves at the doorstep of the divey take-out joint called "Canton Kitchen". I'd been meaning to try this place for a while. Jackie Chan filmed a scene from Rush Hour there, with photos and his autograph on the wall to prove it. Very nice.

I ordered 2 eggrolls, $3.50. We sat down in their waiting chairs and opened a 6 month old issue of Time magazine.

About 10 minutes later I was handed a small paper bag. "Eggrolls!" the man behind the counter announced. My heart skipped a beat. We went back to the car and I anxiously opened the bag. The first thing I saw were two packets... the first yellow packet was labelled "Chinese hot mustard". Very promising! The second packet was labelled... KETCHUP. My heart took a nose dive.

I parted the crinkled wax paper and took a peek. I saw a dark brown, bubbly skin. This was promising... my heartrate sped back up a bit. I exposed the entire eggroll and saw... what did I see? What the hell was this? This was a square, not a roll. This was an eggcube. I couldn't quite figure out what I was looking at. It was dense, deep brown and bubbly on the outside. It sort of looked like a New York eggroll's retarded cousin. No matter, I took a bite.

First impressions:
Extremely crispy exterior, but very thin, not thick and chewy. The underlayer didn't quite seem like it was cooked at all, as if it were just warmed eggroll dough from the shelf of Ranch 99. The interior? Totally weird. Whereas most out-of-NY eggrolls are spring roll type ventures filled with flavorless cabbage, this was the opposite... it was one solid pork mass with little bits of cabbage inside to augment it.

So imagine, first bite:
Ultra light, flaky crust
Soft, doughy, uncooked layer
Chewy pork meatball interior

This turned out to be more like a sort of bizarre deep fried shweijiao than anything like an eggroll I had ever experienced anywhere in this country, or in China for that matter.

Now don't get me wrong. It did not taste bad, it's just nothing (nothing at all, in fact) like the yummy nostalgia that so many of us east coast hounds are seeking here in Los Angeles.

Please do consider my plea in future before recommending Canton Kitchen as an alternative for those homesick hounds looking for a taste of their childhood.

With great respect and appreciation,

Mr Taster

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  1. Unless you open your own place and fly in cooks from NYC, you will never find what you're looking for. San Francisco is the only place nearby with anything that tastes like NY - and I can't speak for the eggrolls. Sadly, I've been looking for 10 yrs.

    Perhaps a friend can freeze and overnight those tasty treats, or Jet Blue now goes direct from Burbank to JFK!

    1 Reply
    1. re: Food Good

      You may not be far off the mark. No, I don't expect anybody to send me frozen eggrolls from NYC. But, if there are hundreds of places producing similar eggrolls in NY, perhaps somebody is producing them commercially and selling them frozen in the L.A. area. Seems to me there almost certainly should be. I like to visit a giant Asian market called LAX-C, about a mile east of Chinatown. It's sort of like a Smart & Final, only the size of an airplane hangar and Asian food oriented. It has one of the most authentic -and cheapest- Thai restaurants in the city. They may carry "New York style" egg rolls, I'll have to check.

      Perhaps our Bi (-coastal) friend Dave Feldman will chime in. I'm sure he knows from NYC eggrolls.

    2. Try NEW MOON in Montrose. They are also billed as 'New York Style Egg Rolls' on the menu. I went thru a similar search and I like them.

      1. I am totally trying New Moon -- they got the eggy thing and the filling right at Sun Palace (around the corner from New Moon) but the wrapper was crunchy and flat.

        I'll let you know.

        1. I'm from New York and as you can see from the following post I spend most of my time there in an Arthurian (and hopefully not Quixotic) quest for the holy grail of the perfect Chinese meal.

          http://www.chowhound.com/topics/342344

          But I have never eaten an egg roll in New York, nor do I ever want to. In fact, I wouldn't know where to get one in NY. But as for Los Angeles, three suggestions. Try Vietnamese spring rolls. Try Westwood Thai Cafe. Or try any of these places:

          http://www.chowhound.com/topics/347244

          7 Replies
          1. re: Brian S

            After moving here from NYC a mere 4 months ago, i have discovered that it is a waste of time trying to capture those 'occasional bits of culinary nostalgia from our youth'. It was one dissapointment after another. I too was filling the hole in my heart, reserved for my family and friends back home, with nyc-esque foods that would make me feel like i had conquered LA by making it my new NYC. Now I know...LET IT GO! This is a new world, no better and no worse then the Tri-State area we grew up in. Let's discover the new - Chili Rellenos, Japanese Curry, countless hamburger places- that this sprawling, crazy new place life has taken us to! I say save the eggrolls, the bagels and whitefish and the good pizza for when we visit our loved ones back home and embrace the new culinary delights just waiting for us here.

            1. re: NYCnowLA

              sorry, first time posting...it wasnt directly for Brian S it was for everyone in this topic. Pardon me, I will learn!!

              1. re: NYCnowLA

                LA has a lot of great stuff... and I am a champion of LA food, especially because when it comes to ethnic eating, there is NOPLACE like LA. Having lived here seven years, I can't imagine not having the choice of 30 different ethnic cuisines within half an hour of me. But now and then, I'll be sitting here enjoying the 70-degree December weather, and all of a sudden, my stomach will go into action.

                .oO( ...egg rolls. )

                "You don't need egg rolls."

                .oO( EGG ROLLS. )

                "Have some nice cha gio instead, mmm, tasty. Egg rolls are a holdover from when Chinese food was bad, we have Monterey Park just a half hour away."

                .oO( EGG. ROLLS. New York style. Give me egg rolls or I'll make your pants ride down in yoga class. )

                "You wouldn't dare!"

                .oO( Try me, bucko. )

                And thus, I search for egg rolls. It's not like pizza, where you really might NOT be able to make New York pizza in LA (water, ovens, fat sweaty Italian guys, I don't know)... the ingredients aren't any different here.

                I do get egg rolls, by the way, every time I head out East, but given the Security Dance of the Placid Sheep required to get through the airports, I don't do it very often... thus the search.

                  1. re: Das Ubergeek

                    So I've read all these posts and now for the first time in my life I want an egg roll! Actually if someone opened up a tiny place serving good NY egg rolls there would be more fancy cars parked outside than in a Lamborghini showroom. New York will trade you one egg roll chef for one chef from Oaxaca.

                    1. re: Brian S

                      DONE!
                      a idea of diplomatic genius, Mr S

                      but it's got to be a commercially produced product
                      'cause the chefs move around and the egg rolls remain the same

                  2. re: NYCnowLA

                    Das Ubergeek hit the nail on the head. I've been living in LA for 10 years (and have been living outside the tristate area for nearly 15). In addition to what I cook at home, my daily diet generally consists of some combination of fantastic Thai food, Chinese food, Mexican Food, Korean food, Japanese food, Ethiopian food and Vietnamese food. I have wholeheartedly embraced the best that LA has to offer. And yet every so often...

                    .oO ( EGGROLLS. )

                    You've only been here 4 months. Give it some time... you can only pretend it doesn't bother you for so long, I promise.

                    Mr Taster

                1. LOL. I feel your pain.

                  Please try this place in Venice/Marina Del Rey - I do know what the correct New York eggroll is like and these are the closest I've found. I like them better than the ones at Ghengish Cohen. This is just a buffet/steam table place and there is no reason they should be the only place in town with the right egg rolls so try them and tell me if I'm crazy:

                  Magic Wok Express, 515 Washington Blvd. in the same strip mall with Killer Shrimp and Pradeeps. Not to be confused with Wacky Wok a block away and sometimes recommended here, but not by me since I never found it very good.

                  3 Replies
                    1. re: LycheeNut

                      Hey LycheeNut

                      Since I went out to the new Santouku on Venice for ramen today, I figured why not check out the eggrolls at Magic Wok Express which was basically down the road.

                      It is, as you said, a steam table place so the eggrolls were sitting under a heat lamp, not made to order. I must say, they looked good, with the dark brown, bubbly wrapper. The guy asked me if I wanted pork or vegetable eggroll... (why mutually exclusive?) so I said "pork". He then takes a SPRING ROLL which was hiding below the beautiful golden eggrolls. I said "I don't want a spring roll, I want an eggroll" and he said "this is pork eggroll."

                      *sigh*

                      I decided to take one of each-- the proper looking eggroll (with only veggies) and the spring roll looking "pork roll".

                      OK, first the veggie egg roll. Texture and crispiness of the wrapper was right, very good. Filling was... :( Some sort of greasy curried cabbage thing. It was made slightly better when dipped in the sweet & sour sauce (definitely not duck sauce as this was translucent red) and hot mustard was not on offer.

                      On to the pork filled spring roll. As you already know, the wrapper on this one was all wrong. The interior? Much like Canton Kitchen's version, the spring roll wrapper was filled with one solid hunk of pork meatball, augmented with a shred of cabbage here and there. This "deep fried meatball" style seems to be a recurring theme in LA eggrolls.

                      At least the price of the eggrolls was right... each was $1.00.

                      Moving on to the next!

                      Mr Taster

                      1. re: LycheeNut

                        Lychee Nut, Sorry for the bad news..i drove right over to Magic Wok on Washington after reading your comment..The magic is gone! The veg egg rolls looked like a shrunken cousin to the real deal, the NY style egg roll. And it was greasy too..The only good news is that its just down the block from me so I didnt waste too much time or money..Just more disappointment...Woe is we in search of our long lost tastes and smells..