White Americans have really diversified their diets in the last 50 years. Now, many eat Thai noodles, Indian curries, and Chinese stir-fries regularly. Even nigiri and sashimi are becoming everyday foods. Many are now more comfortable than ever trying flavors outside of the status quo. But one culinary hurdle remains: texture.
I have many non-Asian friends who eagerly slurp Sichuan-style noodles and love the funky shrimp paste in Thai curries, but quake in fear faced with a bouncy piece of raw octopus dangling from chopsticks or a portion of slimy natto glistening in the middle of a nori roll.
The following is a list of some of the best gelatinous, chewy, springy, and slimy foods available in the East Bay that might push you out of your textural comfort zone, regardless of your cultural background.
Signature Icy Grass Jelly from Meet Fresh
Meet Fresh is a global chain that specializes in Taiwanese drinks and desserts, with a location in Oakland Chinatown. Taiwanese take texture seriously, especially a texture known as “Q” or “QQ,” pronounced like the name of the letter. Q is soft, springy, and chewy, a satisfying texture found in good boba, fish cakes, and Japanese mochi.
Texture is a clear focus at Meet Fresh, and the icy grass jelly is a textural masterpiece. It consists of dense, chewy, Q taro and sweet potato balls, jiggly, slippery grass jelly, and finely ground ice, flavored with brown sugar. The impressive bowl of dessert comes with a side of coffee creamer, meant to be poured on top.
Besides the diverse textures, the grass jelly, made from the Chinese mesona plant, has a slightly bitter, smoky flavor that perfectly balances the sweetness in the ice and creamer. 356 Eighth St., Unit C, 510-250-9438, MeetFresh.us/en.
Beef Tendon With Chili Oil From Huangcheng Noodle House
Huang Cheng Noodle House in Oakland Chinatown is known for its Shanxi knife-cut noodles, made in house, which have slightly doughy Q texture. But the restaurant serves many other textural delights, like its beef tendon with chili sauce.
To make the dish, cooks boil beef tendons until they’re tender and crush them into a block. Then they cut the block into slices and douse them in chili and Sichuan peppercorn oil. The lighter, translucent parts of the tendon are rubbery and chewy, in the way that liquorice candy might be, or softer and more gelatinous depending on the piece. Some slices also have pieces of melt-in the mouth fat and sections of regular meat.
If you want to try beef tendon and noodles, order the beef tendon noodle soup. 734 Webster St., 702-481-3124, HuangchengNoodle.com.
Liangfen Spicy Mung Bean Noodles From Spices 3
“Spices 3” is written in red letters on a dirty plastic yellow sign outside a restaurant in Oakland Chinatown. Inside, you can some seriously good liangfen and other Sichuan specialties.
Liangfen, sometimes called bean jelly noodles, is a cold dish made with a mung bean starch jelly cut into thin, rectangular pieces. The jelly has a bouncy, slippery texture, which can be softer or denser depending on the cook.
Spices 3’s version is on the dense side. The noodles are covered in chili and Sichuan peppercorn oil and Chinese black vinegar and garnished with minced raw garlic and fried peanuts. The slight sweetness and acidity from the vinegar pair well with the spice. And the crunchy peanuts are a nice textural counterpoint to the Q jelly. 370 12th St., 510-625-8889, Spices3Oakland.com.
Double Skin From Great China
Great China Restaurant in downtown Berkeley is a large, elegant eatery. It serves Northern Chinese cuisine featuring rare ingredients.
Owner James Yu said that double skin is a dish that Chinese who immigrated to Korea, like his grandfather, served to appeal to Korean culinary sensibilities. It’s often found at Chinese restaurants in Korea, but it’s a little harder to find in the United States.
Great China’s double skin is a texturally decadent combination of mung bean noodles, sea cucumber, shrimp, squid, wood ear mushrooms, sliced omelet, cucumber carrot, pork and onion, tossed with soy sauce, vinegar, and Chinese hot mustard.
The mung bean noodles are the star of dish – they’re made to order from scratch and are wonderfully slippery and soft. 2190 Bancroft Way, 510-843-7996, GreatChinaBerkeley.com.
Tostada de Pata From Los Carnalitos
Los Carnalitos is a gem in a strip mall in Hayward that serves Mexico City specialties, like tostada de pata. The name of the dish roughly translates to “foot tostada.” The particular foot in this dish is that of the cow, pickled and chopped into pieces.
Tostadas de pata are popular “antojitos,” literally “little cravings,” the delicious bites that you buy from street stalls and markets in the morning and evening in Mexico City when you’re not having your formal midday meal.
To prepare the cow feet, cooks at Los Carnalitos boil them and pickle them with vinegar, onions, bay leaves, and oregano. Then they chop them into pieces and put them on top of a tostada with shredded lettuce, pickled jalapeño, and queso fresco.
The cow foot is gelatinous, springy, and chewy. The tanginess from the dish is refreshing and pairs well with the earthy flavor of the Mexican oregano. 30200 Industrial Pkwy. S.W., 510-324-8125.
Ogbono Soup From Ruth’s Buka
Ruth’s Buka serves traditional Nigerian cuisine on Foothill Boulevard in the Fairfax Business neighborhood in Oakland.
It serves various rice dishes, as well as soups with of fufu, a Nigerian staple made with pounded cassava and green plantain flour. At the restaurant, you can order traditional fufu, or versions made with boiled pounded yams, dried yam flour, wheat flour or cassava starch.
Fufu has doughy, elastic texture. It’s meant to be eaten, like most Nigerian food, with your hands — pinched into bite size balls and dipped in soup. At Ruth’s Buka, you are served a bowl of water with your meal to clean your hands with as you eat. You have to ask if you want a fork or spoon.
Try eating fufu with the ogbono soup, a mucilaginous, slimy sauce with greens and your choice of fish or goat meat. The dried ground ogbono seeds give the soup a wonderful sliminess. The flavor of chilies in palm oil in the sauce infusing fish or meat makes the dish deeply satiating. 5250 Foothill Blvd., 510-479-1238, RuthsBuka.com.