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Apr 10, 2007 04:01 PM

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

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:

          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.