Drop What You're Doing and Order These Dishes at Village North
San Diego may finally have quality Chinese food in this spot on Convoy
Pickled Cabbage and Pork Hot Pot at Village North
San Diego has long has a very specific problem when it comes to Chinese culture. Namely, we have an inexplicable lack of good Chinese food. You want quality Thai? We got a surplus. Top-shelf Vietnamese? Here's a map. But our Chinese food has always lagged behind in quantity and quality. I thought maybe it was something in the water, like when New Yorkers say you can't make real bagels here because San Diego doesn't have the right metals and minerals in its taps.
So I was skeptical of Village North in the Convoy Area. Convoy is where most of San Diego's Asian food culture happens, but still. The owner, Steven Ji, a graduate of UCSD, had never even opened a restaurant before. He got a business degree. While business is incredibly important for running a restaurant (many great chefs fail at all this because they're terrible at business), a newbie college grad with no industry experience sounded like a good way to spell failure.
And then I tasted it. Well, OK, college grad. I've been a little presumptuous. Much as I enjoy Spicy City, Village North is the best tasting Chinese food I've had in San Diego. Ji hired two chefs. One specializes in northern Chinese food, and one in Southern Chinese. Both chefs are focused on the medicinal value of Chinese cooking, from herbs used in traditional medicine to the fermenting of foods for absurd amounts of time to maximize their nutritional value.
A few dishes missed. But the ones that hit, really, really hit. Here they are. I asked for further recipe description, and I didn't get much. Holding it close to the vest, I see.
Pickled Cabbage and Pork Hot Pot
Hot pots are all about the broth. With bone broth all the rage, the quality of broth has gone up. Consumers are no longer satisfied with that thin, salty, vaguely meat-ish water that's been sold as broth in the stores since the 1970s. And this broth is intoxicating, like one of the most delicious bowls of pho you've ever had. The pickled cabbage is the perfect foil. The cabbage is fermented for 30 days to develop its flavor, which is zesty and tart, a perfect foil for the deep notes of the porky soup.
Yes, pigs' feet. Most cultures in the world eat the entire animal. Despite efforts from sustainable and responsible food experts, Americans are still shy, which is a shame. First, because it means we waste edible, nutritious parts of our food animals. And second, because pig feet are delicious. They contain more collagen than other cuts, which, when stewed, turn into a silky bomb of pork flavor. And the broth, once again on this dish, is phenomenal.
Taro Root Dessert
Taro root is one of the oldest cultivated plants in the world. It's like a potato, but nuttier, more interesting flavor-wise. For this dessert, taro is steamed until it's soft, tender and piping hot. Then sugar is liquefied, caramelized, and poured over pieces of the taro. You remove a piece from the plate, dip it in room-temp water, and the sugar crystallizes into sheet glass. It crunches on the bite, revealing the soft, warm taro root inside.