The city of Wenzhou may not be known for their cuisine like other parts of China, but I was still excited to learn about a restaurant which supposedly has dishes from Wenzhou. Ding’s Garden is also known as Savory Garden and also known as 大合卤味 — it all depends on which sign and menu you look at. The restaurant is incredibly small with just a handful of small tables and a glass display case which holds various cold appetizer plates and brined duck.
Of the appetizers, I’ve had the pickled cabbage, kao fu, tofu sheets with pickled snow cabbage, and braised thin-sliced pig ears. Their pickled cabbage, one of the best renditions of this dish, was crisp, sour, and a little spicy. The kao fu was even better because it was soft, slightly sweet, slightly salty, and without any of that canned food taste. The tofu sheets were also a good choice, especially after having such a bad experience with them at another restaurant. Finally, the thin-sliced pig ears were fantastic — salty, spicy, soft and slightly crispy with cartilage. If you’re a fan of pig ear, definitely try these.
My first time here, I wanted a traditional Wenzhou dish, which I heard involved fish balls. They may not sound too appetizing, but they’re harmless; they’re just like meatballs but made out of fish instead of beef or pork. I ordered the fish balls in noodle soup. The fish were less ball shaped and more rustic, like small strips of fish. Each bite contained the cooked fish batter which was both soft and chewy with chopped ginger mixed in. While the fish was new to me and interesting, the star of the dish was the noodles, which were wide but thin — kind of like wider, thinner fettuccine. Even though these were wheat noodles, they had that slippery mouth-feel that rice noodles like the ones in chow fun had. This was the first time I’ve had wheat noodles like this and I really enjoyed them.
The BF also wanted to try the noodles, so the lady working there was nice enough to offer us off-menu a vegetarian noodle soup with just pickled snow cabbage, water, salt, and noodles. The dish was simple and a great way to highlight the noodles. Next time he orders this, we’re going to ask for some pickled mai gan cai which’ll probably add another layer of depth to the soup thanks to its slightly earthy flavor.
When I visited Ding’s Garden a second time, I tried another specialty of theirs: large wontons in soup. The wontons were casually squeezed in large, thin wrappers and then cooked in a simple soup with seaweed, strips of thin omelet, and ground pork. It may not look like much, but this bowl of soup and wonton was so warming and comforting that I don’t know how I’ll force myself to try something new next time I return. Even though there are no noodles in this soup, rest assured that it’s more than enough to eat thanks to the large wrappers and the amount of wontons.
Maybe not for novices, but Ding’s Garden also has decent stinky tofu. It’s stinky, but not blow-your-socks-off stinky. The braised tofu with chili oil is savory and salty inside, maybe a bit too firm, and pairs perfectly with a bite of the pickled vegetables. Don’t be scared away with the redness of this dish. Its bark is worse than its bite.
Ding’s Garden may not look like much, but most of the food I’ve had here was solid and tasted like no-frills, good, Chinese food. The lady who works there is friendly, the noodles are good, and the prices are low. It may be too small for large groups, but it’s perfect for a quick, casual lunch when I’m in the mood for simple Chinese food.
Ding’s Garden (大合卤味)
534 E Valley Blvd
San Gabriel, CA 91776