Every time I find myself in Oakland Chinatown, I cannot help myself from wanting and trying to buy every delicious Asian food from every eatery. I went to Oakland Chinatown today after seeing my doctor to get some lab work done. (I am totally fine. I just managed to pick up a case of bronchitis sometime in the last two weeks! Hmmp!)
Actually, I had dozens of choices of where I could go for lab work but I like the one in Chinatown so I could reward myself with delicious dim sum, Chinese pastries, noodles, etc after going through something as annoying as getting my blood drawn. Food reinforcement always gets me to do chores that I would put off for as long as I can!
It has been a while since I have been to Oakland Chinatown. This Chinatown is across from the Bay Bridge and about half an hour away from San Francisco. San Francisco Chinatown is the oldest Chinatown in North America and the largest outside of Asia. (The oldest Chinatown in the world in is Manila, Philippines.) Oakland Chinatown might not have the romance and popularity of San Francisco’s. It does not have the unique architecture and mysterious alleys that San Francisco has. However, Oakland Chinatown is still a very vibrant neighborhood with a rich cultural history of its own dating back to the mid-1800’s. Many Asian immigrants call these few square blocks in Oakland home. All you need is to bring a good sense of adventure, healthy appetite and willingness to taste unfamiliar food — you are guaranteed a wonderful time during your visit. Here are just three of the samplings that I had today out of the tons of restaurants and stores in this neighborhood:
TIAN JIN DUMPLINGS
I have driven by this little walk up eatery that advertises “dumplings” for at least a couple of years now. I have been wanting to check it out as I can eat dumplings all day. I finally went today and did not see dumplings on the menu except for 4 items: freshly made soy milk, tea eggs, wonton soup and Tianjin crepe. For the first time in my life, I tried Savory Tianjin Crepe which is a Chinese donut with preserved vegetables, green onion, parsley, chili sauce wrapped in a thin egg batter. This is authentic Tianjin food. (Tianjin is a major port in Northeastern China.) It was a truly an experience in gastronomy. The combination of flavors that were salty and umami (due to the pickled veggies) was an adventure in my mouth. I ate half and decided that I am glad that I tried it. It was not bad. Actually it was quite tasty but different.
TAO YUEN PASTRY
Tao Yuen Pastry is my go-to place for dim sum when in Oakland Chinatown. You can really go to town with the dim sum at Tao Yuen. Each dim sum is priced at a $1 and some change. This entire plate (minus the tea egg) only cost me a little over $4! (The tea egg was from Tian Jin Dumplings for $.80.) At least today, the people behind the counter spoke perfect English. In the past, I had to resort to just pointing at whatever I want since I do not speak Chinese. I had to restrain myself from getting more because I had one more stop to make which was…
Napoleon super bakery
I am not sure why this was called super bakery when it is really a small and cramped bakery inside. Pastries are in glass bins. You grab a tray, line it up with paper, grab a tong and start grabbing your pastries. It is hygienic enough because each bin is covered by a glass door that customers open and close. This is another place where my restraint is tested because each pastry is priced from $.90 to $1.10 each. There are full-size cakes and sealed breads as well. I bought a corn and ham, and a scallion pastry. I really wanted to buy the entire bakery. Ha! Ha!
TIPS AND EATS:
As I have mentioned earlier, just bring a sense of adventure and embrace the experience that will test your patience but will be worth it in the end. Stores are packed. Vendors might ignore you and might not speak English fluently. Beware of sprightly little old ladies who will try to cut in line. Either let them or just be politely assertive. And go home with lots of delectable treats because other wise you will wake up in the middle of the night regretting not buying that fried dumpling.
PACIFIC RENAISSANCE PLAZA
Do not attempt to park on the streets. You will be driving in circles. Park at a garage instead.
388 -9th Street Oakland, CA
TIAN JIN DUMPLINGS
989 FRANKLIN STREET (11th Street/10th Street)
TAO YUEN PASTRY
816 Franklin (9th Street & 8th Street)
NAPOLEON SUPER BAKERY
810 Franklin (9th Street & 8th Street)