By Ivan Yeh
As a college student in Chicago whose parents live in Taiwan, family reunions are few and far between. Logistically speaking, it would involve one party flying 8,000 miles across an ocean and nine time zones to even begin to make things work.
But families find a way to do it. Whenever my parents are able to make a trip halfway around the world to visit the U.S., they enthusiastically sample traditional American dishes as well as the local cuisines of the cities they’re touring. Despite their willingness to embark on culinary adventures, there inevitably comes a time when they begin to miss the taste of Asian food. Since my parents see it as a waste to fly across the Pacific Ocean just to eat Chinese food, we usually compromise and take the middle road: pan-Asian fusion cuisine.
Ever since I was a kid, my folks and I would visit the U.S. almost every year. And because of that, we have tried many fusion restaurants, most memorably the California Pizza Kitchen.
As a Los Angeles-based chain that prides itself on innovation, it comes with no surprise that CPK’s menu features several Asian-inspired creations to go alongside its signature pizza offerings. But despite its huge selection of fusion entrees, our eyes would always gravitate toward just one dish: the Kung Pao spaghetti.
Living in Asia, we have seen our fair share of Kung Pao dishes. Chicken, shrimp, sea bass, frog, calamari, cuttlefish, you name it. But never spaghetti. To be perfectly honest, we were doubtful the first time we saw the name of the dish. But curiosity got the better of us, and we ordered one plate of Kung Pao spaghetti with a pizza, just to be safe, and boy, were we glad we tried it.
The pasta was so delicious that it was completely devoured before we even thought about picking up a slice of the always-tasty BBQ chicken pizza. The thick Kung Pao sauce provided the dish with a unique texture. Almost honey-like in terms of consistency, the spicy and garlicky sauce gave the spaghetti a bold flavor accentuated by long cuts of green onions and some whole dried red chilies. And to top it all off, the traditional addition of toasted peanuts gave the dish just the right amount of crunch.
The Kung Pao spaghetti works perfectly both as a light lunch or a filling dinner with the addition of chicken or shrimp.
When my parents next visit me in the U.S., we will definitely be visiting CPK, wherever we may be. And we will be getting three orders of the Kung Pao spaghetti. Heck, maybe CPK is the real reason they’re visiting?
California Pizza Kitchen
52 E. Ohio St.