Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Giang Nan: Porky Decadence in Monterey Park

I started out looking for the braised pork, a specialty of Eastern Chinese and Shanghai cuisine. For those who don’t know, Eastern China is famous for the richness and complexity of its dishes just as Western China (Sichuan) is known for its heat. Braised pork rump (often mislabeled on menus as “Pork Pump”) is supposed to be one of the most decadent dishes.

I’d heard Green Village Shanghai Restaurant in San Gabriel had the best in the city. But sadly it has closed, a victim of the recession. So I headed instead for Monterey Park and Giang Nan.

Giang Nan lies on Garfield Ave. just a stone’s throw away from the famous Sichuan restaurant, Chung King. Giang Nan is less than a block North of the intersection with Garvey, Chung King is about a block south. I just love that the fiery chili peppers at Chung King lie within walking distance to Giang Nan’s rich, porky goodness. You could cross the whole of China in just those few blocks.

Giang Nan is at the end of a strip mall with a good number of parking spaces. I arrive a little early for dinner. Service at Giang Nan starts at 5 PM sharp. Fortunately there’s plenty to keep me occupied. I do one of my favorite things and visit the local supermarket. In this case Hong Kong Supermarket right across the street from Giang Nan. Inside it’s what I’ve come to expect from Asian markets all over Los Angeles. The meat counter has cuts favored by the Chinese, pork belly and beef tendon are on display. Over at the seafood counter there’s a variety of fresh seafood including live geoduck clams.

Geoduck clams at Hong Kong Market

HK Market Geoduck

Five o’clock rolls around and I make my way back to Giang Nan. I get my seat and I look over the menu. Eastern Chinese is similar to Sichuan in that they have a number of cold appetizers. I pick the Marinated Jelly Pork Zhen Jiang Style. What arrives at my table will be familiar to anyone who loves charcuterie. It’s pork stewed until it falls apart then pressed into block with the cooked pig skin on top then sliced into small squares. It’s exactly like high end headcheese. You eat it with a dash of black vinegar and some slivers of ginger, same as a soup dumpling. The sweetness and acid of the vinegar and the tang of the ginger help to cut through the fatty goodness of the pork. It’s an almost perfect bite of food.

Marinated Jelly Pork Zhen Jiang Style
Giang Nan Jellied Pork

But my porcine fix isn’t satisfied. I came for the braised pork and I’m going to get it. It appears under the House Specials as House Special De-Greased & Braised Pork Knuckle. I order a vegetable dish as well to add some variety. I pick the Black Mushroom with Cabbage Heart.

The braised pork arrives and it is more than what I bargained for. It’s the size of a child’s head. The waiter makes the first few cuts table side. The meat and skin are meltingly tender. I don’t think it’s a knuckle. I don’t spy anything that looks like a joint. This is more of a pork leg! Turns out I didn’t have to worry about the veggies. The pork rests on a bed of sautéed spinach. As for the taste, it was pork heaven. I only wish this was December when a rich, hearty dish like this would really hit the spot. The braising liquid doesn’t seem to be much more than soy sauce and broth but the end result is something amazing, a really great BBQ that uses only a little seasoning rub. It’s the pork flavor and the richness of the meat that really make this dish. Meat, skin, and fat come apart with just the pressure of the spoon or chopsticks. The juice and fat run over everything mingled with the thickened braising liquid giving it even more of a kick. I don’t know how much they “de-greased” this dish but if it were any richer I’d have to call my cardiologist.

House Special De-Greased & Braised Pork Knuckle
Giang Nan Pork Knuckle 3

My vegetable dish turns out to be mushrooms with bok choy instead of cabbage hearts. It’s an excellent side. Several times I mistake a shitake mushroom for a piece of pork. The mushrooms are meaty and perfectly cooked. They go well with the tender bok choy.

Black Mushroom with Cabbage Heart(Bok Choy)
Giang Nan Bok Choy and Mushroom

In the end I had to take home most of this feast. I’ve been living off the scraps for the last few days and couldn’t be happier.

Giang Nan
306 N. Garfield Ave. #A-12
Monterey Park, CA 91754
Price Range: From $3.95 for appetizers to $25 for special entrees

Giang Nan on Urbanspoon

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