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Finding real Chinese food from Beijing to the Valley

Sometimes it takes a trip across the world to appreciate what's just down the street.

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My travels took me to Xi'an and Beijing where I didn't have the luxury of time to seek out specific places or dishes. But I did find a huge variety of establishments to sample different foods, from the ultra-touristy to authentic: Cathay Pacific's airport lounges, hotel restaurants with English translations and pictures on the menu, a local's home, a Mongolian hot pot dive, a Chinese mall food court, and an upscale banquet.

Although pigs' feet and sheep testicles did show up on more than one menu, I remained mostly unadventurous on this trip. Unlike in Guangzhou, the Cantonese capital of the Guangdong Province where the  locals eat "anything with four legs except the table and anything with wings except an airplane," even the most cautious diners can do well in Xi'an and Beijing.

Dumplings and noodles of all shapes and textures became staples in this carb-lover's diet, and coming home, I found myself craving more.

I've lived around the corner from a 99 Ranch Market, the Chinese supermarket chain, for more than two years and had only stepped foot inside a couple of times.

This time, I went in search of dumpling wrappers and once I wandered through the aisles, I was hooked. I'm sure there are even more authentic Chinese markets here in Los Angeles, but this chain is an unintimidating space to explore Asian-style ingredients.

From the exotic (beef blood, pork uterus) to the inspiring (live crabs, whole fish, enormous jackfruit) to the downright delicious (ready-made pork buns, shrimp paste, mochi ice cream), there's an entire world of items for experimenting and experiencing.

The potsticker venture in the kitchen was a success, at least flavor-wise if not visually. For reference I used Jen Lin Liu's culinary memoir with recipes, Serve the People: A Stir-Fried Journey Through China, a recipe and step-by-step breakdown from Jennifer Yu's Use Real Butter, and's "How to Fold Dumplings" video.

Stay tuned for recipes. In the meantime, check out the slideshow below for a culinary journey through China.

99 Ranch Market locations:
6450 N. Sepulveda Boulevard, Van Nuys
771 W. Garvey Avenue, Monterey Park
140 W. Valley Boulevard, San Gabriel

Related links:
Fun with food in Shenzhen, China (slideshow)
Fun with food in Guangzhou, China (slideshow)
Seafood market in Guangzhou, China (slideshow)
Sushi etiquette 101 (slideshow and tips)
Where is the Kogi truck?