Thursday, September 24, 2009

Serb Fest 2009

It's Fall in LA, which only means one thing: ethnic festivals galore. Greek, Japanese, Korean, Asian, Serbian. Serbian? Seeing the banner blowing in the middle of downtown Alhambra, we had to go.

For a festival, it was pretty low key and noncommercial. Held last weekend at the Saint Steven's Serbian Orthodox Cathedral, it was really more like a local parish fund-raising event than a festival. Admission was only $2, which gave you access to a small food tent, a bar, and entertainment. The food was pricey, with dinners around $11, and the only Serbian beer was really from Montenegro, but the food was good and everyone was having a good time (I think we were the only people who didn't know anyone there). The festival also had a separate children's playground with bouncy castle type things -- but the admission was $20!

Here's a picture of one of our favorite items at the festival, a Serbian fruit cake that was a lot like a trifle. I guess Serbians really like their sweets because there was a whole pastry hall with a great selection of desserts from cheese pastries to strudels.

After having our fill of lamb sandwiches and dessert, we headed back down to central Alhambra and had Vietnamese iced coffee at Banh Mi Che Cali (theirs is pretty good -- they also have great French baguettes you can buy like at a bakery). Where else but in LA can you have Serbian food one minute and Vietnamese the next?

Sunday, September 13, 2009


Is LA a Chinese tea mecca? I'm beginning to think so. It certainly benefits from the large, discerning Chinese population. To my delight, more and more sophisticated tea shops are starting to open and here are some of my favorites.

Bird Pick Tea: In the center of Old Pasadena, this is a wonderful place to shop, browse, and drink tea. They have a nice selection of very good quality Chinese teas and very elegant teaware. But more interestingly, along the side window, there are huge glass containers of things like dried lotus flowers, roses, longan, etc. — simply steep in hot water for a healthy, delicious tisane.

The tea is served at a bar where there's a limited menu, from pots of hot tea to iced tea lattes. What I really liked was that you can order a selection of snacks, which includes delicious dried plums. With a large pot of tea, a selection of three is only $2 more.

Bird Pick is actually a chi chi tea outlet of Wing Hop Fung, aimed for the Caucasians. Even the fixtures in the bathroom are ultra chic. One big plus of Bird Pick is that they let you buy as little as an ounce, which is great if you want to try a new tea (or if you haven't been paid in awhile).

Chado Tea Room: In Pasadena and the Fairfax District of LA, Chado is a tea room where you can buy tea. They have an extensive selection of excellent teas at fair prices, but the staff isn't really the friendliest.

Haven't tried the tea room, although the Fairfax room is always tempting.

Ten Ren Tea & Tea Station: I haven't quite figured out Ten Ren. It seems to be the retail tea part of Tea Station, a tea parlor and restaurant. Fantastic teas, but a limited selection. I usually go to the San Gabriel store for a refill of Jasmine tea. Ten Ren has about 9 different kinds, ranging from ~$12.60/lb to ~$100/lb. My favorite is the one for ~$37. Unfortunately, like so many places, the smallest amount you can buy is 4 ounces. Ten Ren also has something called King's tea, a proprietary blend of oolong and ginseng. Can't say I'm that big of a fan of that one.

Tea Station itself is always fun, buzzing with a good crowd of young and old. Great tea shakes and strange concoctions. Who knew tea could be so fun!

Aloha Boba Tea House: Located in a big retail complex in Monrovia, it's one of my favorite places to relax. Order an iced milk tea, sit outside, marvel at the great view of the mountains. You can also buy loose tea, tea sets, sandwiches and ice cream. Great staff.