I started out my $20 Project journey last Friday by first finding a nice, crisp $20 bill and entering it on Where’s George.
There are a ton of great places to eat in the San Gabriel Valley, but one of my favorites is a “fast food joint” called Kang Kang Food Court. It’s also known as Shiau Mei (for its name in Mandarin and also what the restaurant used be called when the Garfield Theatre was next door and before the restaurant was expanded and renovated).
They have a big ol’ drink/boba/tea/juice/shaved ice bar here, but I never have that when I come here. I come here for the giant menu (over 150 items) of Taiwanese and Chinese foods, in addition to the cafeteria-style offerings that are fresh, yummy, and piping hot.
And so last Friday, I spent my $20 here with the following:
(Apologies for the crappy photos. I decided to take my food to go and so the food got jostled in the car for the 40 minute trip home before I could open up the boxes and take pictures.)
A three-item combo for $3.70, selected from the food line. Since I got there at the end of breakfast and before their lunch rush, there wasn’t a lot to choose from when I arrived. (I should have waited because by the time I got the rest of my order, there were many, many things to choose from.) I ended up choosing the Taiwan-style chicken, fish filet and vegetables in black bean sauce, and soft tofu. Like I said, not a lot to choose from at the time, otherwise I’d have ordered something with more veggies. The items from the food line do vary and so you have a huge selection to choose from. In addition to the 3 items, you also get a heaping bowl of rice and a bowl or hot soup (mine was soy sprout soup). This is usually enough to be two meals for me, but since it’s ready right away, I usually get a combo to go no matter what. That way I can sit and eat or take what I can’t finish home.
Aside from the combos, there are over 150 items you can order off the menu. The styles of food range from Taiwanese, to various regional Chinese foods (Eastern, Northern, Southern/Hong Kong). If I have time to order off the menu, I have to order a bit of Taiwanese comfort food, a Taiwanese “oyster pancake/omelet” (#21: Pan fried oyster cake with egg) which is my favorite food to have when I visit different night markets in Taiwan. This food always makes me think of my summers in Taiwan with my parents, and trolling the different oyster pancake vendors to taste the different variations that each vendor had. This made-to-order dish took a $4.39 chunk out of my $20.
Another thing I ordered off the menu is #79: Shanghai Pan Fried Small Bao (prounounced Shanghai ShengJianBao/上海生煎包). (A “bao” (short for baozi) is usually a steamed bun or dumpling with some sort of filling wrapped inside.) Although they are known as Shengjian Mantou in Shanghai, and the (Cantonese) Shengjian Bao is actually a different dim sum dish, when you are here, Shiau Mei is known for these pan-fried, pork-filled treats. Served with a vinegar dipping sauce, they are best when freshly pan-fried and still hot. The way you eat them is that you take a little bite off the top to open or make a hole in the bao. Then you carefully suck out the meat juices (soup) from the inside. If you’re a chicken like I am (and scared to be scalded by boiling hot meat soup), I just turn the soup onto a spoon and savor it when it’s less dangerous. If you’ve never been here, I’d say this is a dish that you should definitely try and at $5.31 for eight, it is great to share with friends.
The last thing I ordered was another Shanghai “bao” treat: the well-known #80 Shanghai Steamed Bao (XiaoLongBao/小籠包). Now Shiau Mei is not the only place that makes these, in fact, there are other places that are more famous for doing these exclusively (see Din Tai Fung Dumpling House in Arcadia) but since I was already ordering two things to order, I figured I’d order another one to round out my order. At $5.08 for ten, one of these costs a little over 50 cents.
Even though each of these dishes are best when fresh, these four dishes fed two of us well through most of a weekend. And here was the total:
$3.70 3 item combo
$4.39 Taiwanese oyster omelet
$5.31 Pan fried Shengjian bao
$5.08 XiaoLongBao (steamed bao)
And for exactly $20, it was like a mini-trip to Taiwan and Shanghai via my taste buds.