Sunday, April 26, 2009

Childhood Memories of Wonton Noodles

I recently went back home to the Bay Area for the weekend. A quick trip true, but I managed to get most of the hometown eats that I crave whenever I return. My mom greeted me with steamed cod my first night in town. The next morning I got dim sum at East Ocean Seafood Restaurant, a mediocre place, but one that I've been going to for as long as I can remember. It's nice to go back to a restaurant where you can identify various points of your life with memories dining there. All Chinese Alamedans know East Ocean.

The day I drove out to Oakland Chinatown and got four banh mi at my favorite Vietnamese sandwich place BC Deli to bring on the plane. But the best food I had while I was back at home was a bowl of wonton and fish ball egg noodles with a side of roast duck and char-siu at Gum Wah Restaurant in Oakland Chinatown.


During the years I toiled at Saturday Chinese school, I was always bitter about missing the cartoons in the mornings. But after class, my dad would take me to one of two places for lunch--McDonald's or Gum Wah. While our repertoire surely wasn't limited to the two, all my memories are of these places. I always ordered the same thing, the aforementioned bowl of noodles. This last time I went back and had the same thing. Phenomenal. Usually it's the case where something is never as good as you remember it, but this bowl of wonton noodles had all the savory, MSG-laden, deliciousness that I fondly recalled. I'd also recommend the roast duck and char-siu over rice.

It got me to think about the "last meal scenario." Inmates on death row invariably pick something that reminds them of home. Few people really choose a decadent last meal like Francois Mitterrand. Instead, they tend to default to their mom's fried chicken or Thanksgiving mashed potatoes. While I wouldn't choose Gum Wah wonton noodles for my last meal, it would certainly be in the running. Sometimes in this hobby, it's easy to become too focused on what's universally good. The real focus should be on what makes you feel good.

Gum Wah
345 8th Street
Oakland, 94607
(510) 834-3103



KennyT said...


Wandering Chopsticks said...

I used to eat at East Ocean when I lived in the the Bay too. Can't beat the view.

Aaron said...

WC: Hmm, I wonder if it's the same restaurant. Definitely no view at East Ocean...

Kung Food Panda said...

I think WC is thinking of the East Ocean in Emeryville ( There's definitely a view here as a few of my cousins held their wedding banquet here.

You're right about one thing Aaron, no matter what we ate as a kid, we'll already remember what made us feel good.

Aaron said...

I think you're right. I've definitely been there for dinner a few times too. It's nice to drive out onto that peninsula for Chinese

Anonymous said...

aaron, I love this post. its so funny, I was thinking about writing about something like this as I was driving today.

its crazy how simple foods from our childhood can evoke so many memories and bring us so much joy even as adults. sometimes I feel like as adults we can search and search for the grandest, most over the top meal and still be left so unsatisfied. its ironic that after all that sometimes its the most simple comfort foods from our childhood that bring us so much happiness. if u look at my yelp profile, my last meal would be korean soup and rice (made by my mom or grandma, of course)

p.s. I feel u on the missing saturday morning cartoons. I went to korean school everyday saturday k-10th-freakin-grade. hence, why Im not a big fan of donuts.

mattatouille said...

very good memoir..sometimes it is those simple comfort foods that trump 3-star michelins. mine would be a bowl of rice and some bulgogi with kimchi, or maybe spinach soup my mom still makes. spicy korean beef soup is up there too.

Daily Gluttony said...

OK, i know i am a little late in commenting, but i love this post! i'm from the bay area too and i also have many fond memories of gum wah!!! i don't know how many meals we stopped to have here while doing our weekend oakland chinatown shopping trips. this was also my dad's place of choice for char-siu, duck, etc. i also love the curry squid that they make. :)

we also celebrated my son's and my niece's red egg & ginger parties at east ocean, so that restaurant is special to us too.

btw, where in the bay area are you from?

Aaron said...

Choisauce: Insightful. That's exactly the kind of feelings that I think we overlook too often. You went to Korean school much more than I went to Chinese school. And I heard that Korean was easy!

Matt: I was hoping you'd mention some homestyle Korean. To me, it seems that Korean is generally about hearty, heart-warming food. It never seems too concerned with elegance like some Japanese or Chinese food.

DG: I didn't know you were a Bay native either. If you're going to East Ocean and Gum Wah, you were probably near me. Hometown Alameda, born and raised.