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An plea for the Taiwanese rice-roll (or "fahn-tuan")

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One of the most odd food items a person can eat for breakfast is probably the Taiwanese rice-roll, or "fahn-tuan" (excuse the poor ping-ying).

There's nothing exotic, or even complex, about this item. But when you take it in your hands and observe it carefully, you realize this is really Franken-food. It's sort of a quixotic mix of different cultures and eating styles. It sort of has the faux lineage of a tamale, but the makeup and appearance of a Japanese sushi roll (sans nori).

When it's done right, a rice roll can be a titillating experience. Place your order and you'll observe the chef scoop out a pile of cooked sticky rice, drops it onto a sheet of plastic wrap, pound the rice into a rectangular sheet, then proceed to build layers of filling with spoonfuls of pickled cucumbers (or mustard greens), fried and dehydrated ground pork, and perhaps other goodies, all before the equivalent of the marchiano cherry is placed into the center stack -- the Chinese cruller (or "yiou-tiao").

Then with deft of hand and nimble fingers, the chef will roll it into a tubular shape, twist the ends of the plastic and wrap, and, voila! ... a rice-roll is born.

But, alas, here in SGV, I have yet to find a good place for rice rolls. Most are pre-made, left to bake under a heat lamp in the kitchen. It seems I've tried them all, from Ding's to Yi Mei to Yung Ho Tou Chiang, and all are lacking.

There used to be a place a long, long time ago in the Di Ho Market shopping center on Atlantic Blvd. in Monterey Park that used to make rice rolls on the spot (they also had great salty soybean milk for breakfast too, but I digress), but that place has perished with the rest of that plaza.

So I ask, more like beg, of all chowhounds out there ... is there someplace that serves a decent rice roll???

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  1. yung ho in goldworld plaza at valley/walnut grove in san gabriel. good chinese breakfast items but make sure you go during peak times to get everything fresh.

    1. Four Sea in Hacienda Heights.

      I'm like a broken record.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Pei

        ditto! This has got to be the BEST place to go for Chinese breakfast! yum!!!

      2. I must admit-I like the rice rolls they have at 99 Ranch but I'm sure that's not what you're looking for. There's a noodle house in Arcadia that serves a decent Chinese breakfast. I haven't had their rice rolls but it might be worth checking out. It's in the 99 Cents Store plaza on Duarte and First. If you spend $5 or more there they'll give you a Chinese newspaper for free.

        3 Replies
        1. re: crystaw

          I think you are referring to the one Jonathan Gold reviewed:

          http://www.laweekly.com/eat+drink/cou...

          They do have rice roll on the menu, but I haven't sample. Pretty sure they fried the crullers to order though (had it in the Tianjin pancakes - very crispy). At worst, if you don't like the rice roll you can always check out the fabulous baos - we can't seem to get away from ordering those.

          1. re: notmartha

            Actually, crystaw is referring to the small "noodle house"-type restaurant in the 99 Cent Store Mall. The "Noodle House" you are referring to is on the corner of Las Tunas and Baldwin. And you're right: the baos are really good there.

            1. re: raytamsgv

              Yes you are right. Forgot about the 99 cents store location clue.

              The bao dough is really different than others I had that's panfried - it almost reminds me of the very best biscuit doughs. Wish I can find something else on the menu that's just as good though.

        2. Everytime I've gone to Yi Mei (in the mornings) they've made it fresh. Their regular fahn-tuan is nothing special, so order the vegetarian one (su fan tuan) and you might be pleasantly surprised. The filling they have for that one is cruncy, salty, and satisfying. Great dipped in some chili oil and vinegar, or just dou jiang.

          1. I've had fantuan at both Xiao Mei and Ding Pangzi in Monterey Park... I know that Xiao Mei's fantuan are pre-made and seeing them under the heat lamps discourage me a little.
            However, Ding Pangzi's are made fresh... I watched the Hispanic chef (w/pretty good Chinese skills!) working like mad in the back and brought out my fantuan between hollers for danbing and youtiao. I thought it was quite good though uneven w/the spread of ingredients (but of course). But I take it you didn't enjoy it as you mentioned Ding as being lacking... I'll be on the lookout for fantuan now. ;)

            1 Reply
            1. re: gsmoose

              It's not just that they are premade, but even the ones that are made (sort of) on the spot, are made with crullers that have been sitting around for while -- and the crullers become rubbery, not crunchy and flakey like freshly made ones.

            2. The BF and I went to Yung Ho on Valley and New this weekend to try out their breakfast goods. We had savory veggie fahn tuan, a savory veggie dou fu hua, steamed veggie bun, and green onion pancake.

              veggie fahn tuan - This was different from what I was used to at Yi Mei. This one had dried pickled radish, cilantro, and nori/seaweed on the inside. I preferred Yi Mei's.

              savory veggie doufu hua - This was too complicated for breakfast. The doufu was decent, but it was in a thick brown broth with shiitake mushrooms and some chopped carrots. This tasted more like a soup that I would have for dinner than a simple savory doufu hua.

              green onion pancake - crispy, oily, delicious, and came out pretty damn hot (temperature)

              veggie steamed bun - the filling was some type of green with just a little bit of shiitake mushrooms. Pretty good. Better than Yi Mei's veggie steamed bun.

              The food was decent, but I think I'll stick with Yi Mei because I prefer just a simple savory doufu hua and fahn tuan.

              8 Replies
              1. re: PandanExpress

                I get the feeling Yung Ho was bought out by non-Taiwanese who are trying to add things to the traditional breakfast dishes (mushrooms and carrots in the savory tofu?! Nori in the fan tuan? Blasphemy!) This is not the Yung Ho of my youth. Last time I went (a month or two ago) the noodle dishes were better than the breakfast items, one of which was downright inedible (sao bing).

                Can anyone confirm that Yung Ho has really changed over the years?

                I'll be at Four Sea in Rowland if anyone needs me...
                http://www.chezpei.com/2007/04/four-s...

                1. re: Pei

                  hmmm, I thought I noticed a difference at Yun Ho the last time we visited. The service was lame and the cruller thingees were cold and the waitresses were all different [ie no one there who recognized my pups] Did you ever find anything out?

                  1. re: Pei

                    i went to yung ho a few weeks back on a saturday morn and the service was simply atrocious. we were seated and no one came by to take our order for at least 15mins.......i had physically get up and stop a waitress on the fly and order our food.

                    however, the food arrived quickly and tasted jsut fine. then again, all we ordered were the yiou tia (cruller), shao bing (baked sesame bread), dou jiang (soy milk) and stinky tofu. can't really mess any of those items up imo.

                    1. re: wilafur

                      Trust me, one CAN mess up stinky tofu ...

                      1. re: ipsedixit

                        how? not stinky enough? =)

                        1. re: wilafur

                          Sometimes the brine is not right, and the birining process is also messed up.

                          Other times the tofu is deep-fried incorrectly ... end up getting something that resembles chicken nuggets.

                      2. re: wilafur

                        Those are common items but they all can be easily messed up. =) If they couldn't, then I wouldn't have so many bad versions of those things here in LA.

                        1. re: wilafur

                          That was pretty much our experience, service wise, plus the service was pretty unfriendly. In the end, some food didn't show up even though I went through the menu and pointed to every single darned item. I felt pretty frustrated by the whole thing as that was a favorite breakfast spot for the pups.

                    2. I would have to say "No." I have since given up on a decent "fan tuan" in the US; I save my gorging of this delightful breakfast item for my trips back to Taiwan.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: mstinawu

                        Ditto that sentiment.

                        Maybe it's like NY-style pizza, perhaps it has something to do with the water ...

                        Next time you're there, bring me back one. :-)

                      2. OK - tried the Noodle House (Baldwin and Las Tunas one) for breakfast this weekend, as we have to be at Pasadena for a piano exam in the morning.

                        The rice roll was definitely made to order, and the sign for the cruller in chinese said that they fry the dough to order as well. So we had to order one just to see how it is. Overall pretty good, but it's a bit smaller than the Yei Mei one (about 2/3 size of Yei Mei), the cruller is definitely crunchy, not chewy, and the roll has maybe a bit too much rice for my taste. Not sure why but the rice is more yellowish than I remembered from the Yei Mei ones or the ones my Mom homemaded. The rice was perfectly cooked though - soft but still chewy. Anyway, rice rolls are not my favorite thing to order, so if the description fits what you considered to be good, give it a try.

                        Anyway, as usual the star of the show were still the panfried buns. They have beef roll on the menu so we had to order it as well. This one was made with scallion pancake. I don't know how authentic it is with the scallion pancake (101 Noodle is a much thinner one w/o scallion in the bread), but this one is definitely tastier, and with just 1 roll it's actually pretty easy to polish off by the 2 of us. The scallion pancake was crispy yet fluffy in the center, and the beef is much more flavorful than the 101 version.

                        So in sum I think we've found a new chinese breakfast spot that's overall much better than my local Yei Mei.. Still have to try the Four Seas.

                        This time they kept the door open, so that took care of the greasy smell that bothered me during our first visit.

                        1. Finally made it to Four Sea at Hacienda Heights and can report back on the rice roll (actually not only taiwanese) and other chinese breakfast items there.

                          Well, unhappy to report that the cruller in their rice roll is not crispy. It's chewy and I have to say the only place that had it right was Noodle House so far.

                          Also had the turnip cake, the salty soy, the sweet soy, XLB, onion pancakes and the turnip pastry. Yei Mi has better turnip cake, and the XLB was not very good. The radish pastry was flaky, but not much turnip taste - mostly white pepper. Onion pancake was better at Noodle House and Earthern.

                          So in sum, we will continue to go to Noodle House for the best chinese breakfast around.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: notmartha

                            Thanks for the reports on Noodle House and Four Sea.

                            I like Noodle House, but not for the rice roll or even the fried boas. I think the best thing there is the green chive pies. Very well done, not greasy at all.