Wenzhou Style Chinese Food Comes To Los Angeles

As with the case with migrants from Fujian province, most people coming from Wenzhou to the US go directly to New York, and very few make their way to California, though there apparently are enough of them locally for there to be a Wenzhou Chamber of Commerce in El Monte. I first became aware of the Wenzhou population in New York a dozen years ago when I read about how they dominated the pirated DVD business back there, and how a couple of Wenzhou restaurants had opened in Flushing. And when I was in Spain last year, I learned that almost all the Chinese in Spain are from Wenzhou and they specialize in importing low cost knockoff products. The one Wenzhou dish from Flushing which stuck in my mind was something called variously fish dumpling or fish paste, served in soup with noodles optionally added. I’m not exactly sure if dumpling or paste is a fair description, since there is no dumpling wrapper, and it was much firmer than cooked fish paste. (I would hazard to guess that minced fish might be a better description.) Anyway, while TonyC seems to have disappeared as a source of written information on Chinese food, he still has his finger on the pulse, and recently posted a picture from a Wenzhou style restaurant in El Monte.

After a couple of false starts I finally ended up at Masterbee Express, in the space right in the front in the Tito’s Market shopping center at 9814 E. Garvey Bl., in El Monte. But even upon arriving there, there was nothing to indicate anything other than a typical gringo Chinese fast food place. The proprietor who spoke almost no English appeared to indicate that his colorful little menu including fried rice, chow mein, chow fun and jalapeno chicken was all he had, but then he seemed to ask what I was looking for. I tried saying “fish noodle” but that didn’t get anywhere. But then he whipped out some hand held translation device and motioned for me to speak into it. When I said fish noodle, the machine spit something out and he smiled and said “fish balls” and brought out a Chinese language menu with a dozen items on it. There still was some confusion because the fish balls (which by no stretch of the imagination do not look like balls) came either with or without noodles, but an English speaking customer came over and straightened that out. Then when I said “Wenzhou” the owner smiled broadly and I knew we were on the same page.

The Wenzhou fish ball noodle soup was quite pricey–$15.99 for a normal sized bowl of noodle soup. But if you hadn’t tried that dish or any Wenzhou cuisine before, or if you had and liked it the way I did, it’s worth it. This version wasn’t as good as what I had in Flushing, but that’s to be expected given the disparity in the local Wenzhou population between New York and LA.

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at delicious food corner, i recall them offering a soup featuring fish paste as an alternative to wontons. they were quite good. IIRC the flavoring included orange peel & cliantro, but the texture rivaled any shrimp filling i’ve ever had. (corn starch maybe?)

do these look anything like what you had?

Delicious Food Corner calls their dish fish cake and I had it there in a vegetable hotpot. Wenzhou variety is meatier albeit visually fluffy, too.

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Apparently it’s grouper beaten to a pulp but not as thoroughly as you see in the stores.

or as it’s spelled in cantonese menus: “garoupa” which prompts me to speculate that words are not misspelled in chinese menus as much as they are a cantonese pin yin as to how the words are pronounced by native cantonese speakers: roast pok, sea cucumba, etc. (NOTE: i can make this observation and not be a bigot.)

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I finally got there when they were actually open. They don’t seem to have an English menu yet for the wenzhou specialties, but if you can speak Mandarin and don’t read like me, the family is happy to help you order.

There are 2 types of “fishball” noodles. There’s the regular type (circled in green) ($11.49) and the premium one (circled in red) ($15.99). You can get it with either wheat noodles or rice noodles. I prefer the rice noodles so that’s what I got.

When I was there, there was a table of Shanghainese uncles and aunties that seemed to have ordered all of the specials: fish cake, pig oil cake (sorry, don’t know what to call it in English), and stewed meat on rice.

You can tell that they do the premium fishballs in house because it’s not as broken down and have pieces of minced ginger incorporated in it.

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What is the name of this place? It it in the MasterBee Express’s location? Is there a non-Chinese ‘other’ menu?

Yes it is Masterbee Express. There’s a Chinese menu on the wall.