Forgotten Cuisines of America, Part 3


Silicon Valley is a hotbed of up-to-the-minute Chinese restaurants, usually found in grandiose shopping malls around Cupertino, Sunnyvale, and Milpitas. Among the bubble tea counters, Hong Kong buffets, pho parlors, and Hunan-Sichuan restaurants is the Islamic-Chinese Darda Seafood, located in a Milpitas shopping center anchored by giant Chinese supermarket 99 Ranch.


Darda, which mainly offers the halal cooking of northern China, is decorated with a big photo of Mecca during the haj, and a few live-fish tanks, which are characteristic of Cantonese and Hong Kong places. Since Tung Lai Shun, a similar place in L.A.’s San Gabriel Valley, closed, says my informant Jonathan Gold, Darda may be the only restaurant of its kind in the United States. (For Gold’s story on Silicon Valley, see Gourmet March 2002.)

The influence of the Middle East transmitted over the centuries on the Silk Road is readily apparent. First, there is no pork, and a decided predilection for lamb. In one excellent dish, chunks of well-browned baby sheep cavort with rubbery bean curd skin in a pungent, free-flowing gravy. In another, strips of lamb intertwine with shreds of pickled Chinese cabbage in a hot pot—called on Darda’s menu a warm pot.


Another characteristic of this food is that wheat-based breads are more important than rice. A plump loaf, paved with sesame seeds and stuffed with bright green scallions, is pride of the house. The scallion pancakes that are a staple of every neighborhood Chinese restaurant in America are here rendered so cleanly and delicately that you may swear never again to eat one elsewhere. Similarly, wheat noodles are preferred to rice noodles. Darda devotes an entire section of its menu to handmade noodles, which are freshly made and irregularly cut, and used in a series of dishes confusingly called chow meins.


Why Darda specializes in seafood is a mystery. But its steamed black cod is the equal of any fish in the South Bay—thick skin-on slabs strewn with a crunchy topping that might be mistaken for Grape Nuts. If Grape Nuts tasted like scallions, that is.

Darda Seafood Restaurant 266 Barber Court, Milpitas, CA (408-433-5199)

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