Chinese and Taiwanese food is slowly starting to have a renaissance movement in the United States. This is clear from the prevalence of renowned dim sum chains like Din Tai Fung, the emergence of hot pot, and the proliferation of boba shops across the country.
Despite all of this, the most popular Chinese dishes in the USA are still Chinese-American, rather than Chinese. General Tso's Chicken and orange chicken dominate the palates, all because Chinese food in the US was engineered around Western palates first, making the food sweeter and less authentic to what you can get in China and Taiwan.
In Los Angeles, restaurants are starting to open up that push back against that concept. Instead of engineering Chinese food to work for American tastes, they're twisting up beloved American dishes to work with the traditional flavors of China and Taiwan. While you might expect to find this through the lens of fine dining, one of the pioneers of this movement is a small boba shop and cafe in the heart of LA's San Gabriel Valley.
The spot is called Bopomofo Cafe, a modern take on boba and American-born Chinese food. Bopomofo, which is named after the first four letters of the Taiwanese Mandarin alphabet, is co-owned by Philip Wang, one of the main creative forces behind Asian-American YouTube and digital media powerhouse Wong Fu Productions. Wang, together with his co-owner Eric Wang and chef Andrew Park, have put together a revolutionary menu that fuses Chinese, Taiwanese, and American together, but not catering to the "American runs on sweet" mantra.
"We always thought that there's new American food," Wang told Foodbeast, "but there's no new real Asian-American food, and that's kind of how we saw our menu."
As a result, you get dishes that explode with equal, stunning amounts of creativity and flavor. The gold standard at Bopomofo is the Ma Po Tofu Tater Tots, which swaps out the Sichuan classic in a modern rendition of chili cheese tots. Since mapo tofu is typically served over rice, the crunch and fattiness of the tots is an unexpected yet welcome contrast that elevates both dishes this one is inspired by.
Other such innovative items on Bopomofo's menu include a Walnut Shrimp Burger, nachos made from Chinese scallion pancakes and topped with braised pork belly, a fried chicken sandwich modeled on Taiwanese flavors and cooking techniques, and a "MOFO Club" inspired by Wang's travels to Taiwan.
Bopomofo keeps that creativity going in their drink selection as well. Whether it's a beet-colored Taro Milk or a dreamsicle-like take on Orange Bang! (called Orange Wang), you get nostalgia yet novelty in every sip and bite of the cuisine served up here.
With that creativity, Wang and his team are pushing the envelope of what it can mean to combine American, Chinese, and Taiwanese flavors. By staying true to core Chinese and Taiwanese flavors, but still using ingredients familiar to Americans, the food here becomes a potential pathway to explore authentic Chinese and Taiwanese tastes through an American lens.
To learn more about Bopomofo, watch the above episode of Foodbeast's News Bites that features the cafe.