Thursday, February 28, 2013

Get me a bubble tea, pronto!

Anatomy of bubble tea. (Illustration:

As transplants from Southern California, where Asian food is plentiful in variety (Korean, Chinese, Taiwanese, Japanese, Indian, Thai, Vietnamese, Filipino, Malaysian, Singaporean, Cambodian -- you get the idea), quality (eat in Los Angeles or Orange County and it's like you never left your mother country), and innovation (LA is the birthplace of Kogi Korean BBQ, for example), I'm having a hard time satisfying my appetite here in Cleveland. Finding an Asian joint that parallels what's readily at hand in OC is nearly impossible. Oh Sam Woo, where are you when I need you?

Xiao long bao, soup-filled dumplings hailing from Shanghai, are highly addictive. Eating them is practically an
art form (tip: bite off the top, let the steam escape, then slurp the soup before you devour the meaty filling). 

These days, my cravings are pretty specific: rare steak pho in Little Saigon, shoyu ramen with vegetables from Mentatsu, Taiwanese tea-flavored pork at Tea Station, xiao long bao (Shanghainese steamed soup dumplings), pad thai and tom kah gai (Thai soup with coconut milk and lemongrass), beef rolls wrapped in green onion pancakes from 101 Noodle Express, and of course my mom's spicy kimchi soon tofu and mouth-watering kalbi (Korean beef short ribs). Geez, I'm getting hungry just writing about it.

You don't know what you'll miss until you can't have it anymore.

But perhaps what I'm hankering most is boba -- also known as "bubble tea," "pearl milk tea" or "boba milk tea." For those of you who don't know (you're still in the Dark Ages), boba is a tea-based drink invented in Taiwanese tea shops in the 80s. These delicious, creamy drinks usually come in two distinct types: fruit-flavored teas or milk-based teas. You can get your bubble tea with chewy tapioca balls, ice blended, and even add exotic flavors like taro, lychee, lavender or jackfruit. My personal favorite is the green milk tea (with or without boba) from TenRen's Tea Time.           

TenRen's Tea Time in New York's Chinatown. You can bet I'll be a regular here! (Photo:

My colleagues at the last place I worked thought I was crazy for liking these peculiar beverages with the weird fat straw. They affectionately called my after-lunch refreshment the "drink with snot balls." But of course, these were friends who considered Flame Broiler's teriyaki chicken "authentic Asian-style food" and didn't realize the culinary treasure that was the food court at Mitsuwa marketplace (just a few blocks from where we worked). I was, however, able to triumphantly convert one of my co-workers into a bubble tea connoisseur. For that, I am thankful. 

In the meantime, while we wait for opportunities to open up in New York City (our final destination), I will channel my inner-Indiana Jones in search of an authentic boba milk tea in Cleveland. Will report back with my findings.     

Wish me luck!