Southeast Asian Cuisine
For the second day of the crawl, chef and entrepreneur Robert Danhi led attendees on a tour of pork dishes across the region that is his specialty, Southeast Asia.
To get a sense of the range of ingredients used in the many regions of Asian cuisine, from fresh pork blood to fish sauce, one could visit Siêu ThịThuận Phát,or Shun Fat Supermarket. Founded in 1993 in Monterey Park, California, by Hieu Tran, a Chinese-Vietnamese entrepreneur and seafood wholesaler, the market has grown to 15 stores with locations in California, Texas, and Nevada. Stocked items vary by location, and products from Thailand, Vietnam, China, Taiwan, and Japan sit alongside brands from India, Mexico, and the U.S.
Originating in Southern China and developed in Singapore, bak kwa is a jerky popular during Chinese New Year that is made from thin slices of pork that are marinated, dehydrated, smoked, and flame grilled. Los Angeles’ Fragrant Jerky is one of the few shops in the U.S. creating the Singapore-style snack, slicing the meat thinly by hand where it can then be put back together like a pork puzzle.
Fragrant Jerky’s owner, known as Mr. Yap, opened the shop in 2012 as a third-generation bak kwa maker who helped his grandmother prepare it starting when he was 13. Mr. Yap creates several varieties of the salty, smoky, sweet, and slightly spicy delicacy—including original, bacon, and sweet and spicy, which he ships across the country.
Off the west coast of the Malay peninsula lies Penang, a small island known for its street food culture that Danhi considers to have some of the greatest cuisine in the world. This cuisine is the focus at Little Malaysia, where some of the pork-centered dishes include pork satay with peanut sauce, pork fried in tofu sheets or “skin,” and bak kut teh, or pork bone tea, a fragrant, comforting soup made with an array of Chinese medicinal herbs.
For Chef Joan Lam, operating a restaurant wasn’t always her career choice. After immigrating to the U.S. from Myanmar and working in Yoma Myanmar, she eventually took the restaurant over in 2007 and now considers it a calling to introduce customers to the little known Burmese cuisine. Yoma Myanmar offers an expansive menu representing each regional Burmese style, and dishes like the pork curry highlight the many influences of the cuisine including Thai, Chinese, and Indian flavors. Yoma Myanmar’s salads are also popular with guests, including pork ear with preserved eggs and pennywort with roasted nuts.
At Kapistahan Grill, karaoke is as important as the meal. The popular nightlife spot focuses on Filipino dishes, with offerings like sisig—diced pork belly with onion and spices that is cut with the acidity of fresh lemon—and inihaw na lsaw, a Filipino street food made with grilled, marinated pork intestines served with chili-vinegar dip. At Pa-Ord Noodle, the fermenting of sausage provided a nice tang with the richness.
Night + Market Song and Little Sister were the final two stops on the trip and offered modern adaptations in both Southeastern Asian cuisine and decor.
A blend of chopped pork, pork liver, pork blood, and dry spices to create the restaurant’s Larb lanna created a standout among the many Thai street food dishes at Night + Market Song. And the fattiness and saltiness of a grilled pig neck paired perfectly with cold, crisp Thai lagers.
At Little Sister, where Chef Tin Vuong offers up an “East meets West” take on Vietnamese dishes, standouts included a smoked pork jowl balanced by the sharp acidity of a homemade hot mustard and pickled vegetables, coconut braised pork topped with quail eggs, and a grilled pork spring roll with red leaf lettuce, mint, carrot, cucumber, and a house sauce.
Often, regional cuisine can become muddled at restaurants offering “fusion” takes on dishes or attempting to cover a wide swath of area in a single concept. But these Los Angeles restaurants and shops allow diners to taste the food of the many countries of Southeast Asia and states of Mexico, whether it’s Burmese pennywort salad, Singaporean bak kwa, or Yucatecan cochinita pibil. While pork dish after pork dish may seem excessive, each restaurant and cuisine offered different flavors to contrast with the protein, from the acidic lemon and vinegar on sisig to the soothing herbs in bak kut teh.
Although if you do recreate the Pork Crawl, make sure you bring some Fernet.