At Bopomofo cafe in San Gabriel, Irvins salted duck egg chips made its American debut at this boba shop owned by Philip and Eric Wang of YouTube and Wong Fu Productions fame.
The Singaporean snack has been notoriously hard to bring into the US beforehand, with the best option involving smuggling them through customs in the past (not recommended). Those trying to purchase them often have to wait in long lines or go home empty-handed after they’re gone at whatever local pop-ups they’re at, that usually aren’t sponsored by Irvins.
Because Bopomofo is the exclusive US launch partner for Irvins chips, every purchase of their Taiwanese fried chicken sandwich comes with a side of the chips. Naturally we ordered the spicy version of the sandwich along with spicy mapo tofu tots and an orange Wang drink with boba.
Outside on the patio, the table seating was converted to a private media event for the launch of the chips with company reps, leading to a shortage of seating in an already popular place. Once inside seating got worse, where the reps took over one of the largest tables to use it for a promotional display and to sell the chips separate from the rest of the cafe. With nowhere to sit we decided to commandeer some chairs outside of neighboring boba place and-previously-reviewed-on-the-Courier, Labobatory.
Diving into the chips first, the taste of duck flavoring being the most prominent, backed up by the saltiness and a hint of the egg yolks. And that’s about as good as they get from here because the texture nearly ruins this nearly $9 bag of imported chips.
When biting into the chip, the entire chip falls apart in your mouth in a soggy un-fried way that leaves crumbs stuck under your tongue. It’s almost as if the chips were previously left opened out in the sun for three months, resealed, then flown halfway across the world for people to buy at an exorbitant price.
On the other hand, the rest of the food was great. The $12 spicy Taiwanese fried chicken sandwich was fried in a coating rather than traditional batter, making the white chicken meat very tender and lean without that oil bloat that some might experience when eating fried chicken with a high fat content.
The spicy taste was very reminiscent of Nashville style hot chicken, usually made with spices like cayenne pepper, paprika and yellow mustard, leading it to have a burning over time effect rather than instantly hitting you with spiciness.
The Napa cabbage slaw and Thai basil aioli provided a bit of a cooling effect for the heat level and added some refreshingness to the large piece of hot chicken. All of this was sandwiched between two large pineapple buns that rounded out the hot saltiness with a sweet doughy bread.
The $8 spicy mapo tofu tater tots were one of the most unique items on the menu, being an “American Born Chinese” staple in the San Gabriel Valley. Usually in boba cafes, mapo tofu is usually served over a bed of rice, but in this case is served over a bed of tater tots and cheese. This is a concept that forms the basis of Bopomofo’s “ABC” menu. (Bopomofo is also the name of the major Chinese transliteration system for Mandarin Chinese in Taiwan, translating literally to “ABC”).
The tofu was served piping hot, reminiscent of the way it’s cooked in an Asian household, and was about as spicy as the sandwich. Unlike the sandwich though, the heat hits you right away instead of building up with every bite. That in combination with the steaming hot tofu makes for a very hot dish overall that tastes unique and like something that your Ama would make at home.
The $6 orange wang with boba was refreshing with its whole blood orange slice, fresh boba and vanilla cream that basically makes it a melted Asian orange creamsicle. For a small size drink, the price is pretty steep, but the high quality ingredients and familiar taste make this a hit for a hot day in the valley.
While the chips may have been disappointing, the rest of the menu at Bopomofo is sure to delight anyone in the 626 with familiar tastes, unique combinations and high quality ingredients that make Bopomofo one of the best Asian cafes around.