[Hole in the Wall] Translating Meals at Mami King in Buena Park
As much as I love Filipino cuisine, a visit to their restaurants usually drives my Mexican mind loco. Their bastardization of Spanish! In their cuisine, puto is a spongy rice cake; in Spanish, the word means “faggot.” The Filipino torta is not a Mexican sandwich but more like a beef-and-potatoes omelet. And how did we both end up with tocino as the name for bacon despite the only real similarity among our cuisines being a love of innards?
Such linguistic games stopped me a couple of times while eating at Mami King in Buena Park, the only Orange County outpost of the Filipino chain. I appreciated their menu—the first time I had ever found such a guide for Filipino food in a county dominated by turo-turo (“point-point” in Tagalog, signifying a buffet) joints. Yet mamien español is “mommy,” and the menu was now telling me it actually was a noodle soup. Catholic men are notoriously Oedipal, but this is ridiculous.
I ordered the beef mami, and out came a big bowl of beef chunks bobbing in a dark broth alongside ramen-like noodles, diced green onions and shredded cabbage. It was a divine murkiness—thick, heavy broth redolent of beef, much more potent than its pho cousin. The cabbage was a crispy note to the chewy beef, and I slurped the noodles and bit into them—al dente beauty. Ladies and germs, meet your new pho.
Mami King doesn’t lack for customers, even though it’s in one of the worst dining spots in Orange County: a shopping plaza with a long-under-construction Superior Warehouse, an abandoned store next door, and construction directly in front of its parking spots. Most of the customers order a siopan along with their mami, a type of massive steamed bun; order the balo-balo, a mini-feast that puts a hard-boiled egg, Chinese sausage, pork and veggies inside sweet dough. And those who don’t order either usually nibble on their charbroiled chicken, a moist hen accompanied by a sweet sauce spiked with what I think is plum.
Not everything is great at Mami King. For dessert, I ordered the elote con yelo—corn with ice (close enough to Spanish for me to understand). The nice girl behind the counter handed me a cup with corn on the bottom, ice on the top, all drowned in Vitamin D milk. No flavor. I tossed it, went to a nearby Filipino bakery and chewed hungrily into a delicious puto—and that’s the only time you’ll ever see me write that. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course!
Mami King, 6901 La Palma Ave., Buena Park, (714) 521-0108.
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