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Wild Times in Mexico – An Interview with Michael Taing of Cha & Café | Projekt NewSpeak
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Posted: 2010-12-09
Categories: Projekt NewSpeak

The Mexi-Asian Perspective: A Mexican’s Guide to All Things Latin, Asian, or Both by David A. Romero

I have had my fair share of crazy nights in Mexico. It’s something about the food, the clubs, the beaches, and the booze that brings me back time and time again.

Restaurant owner Michael Taing not only survived his wild times in Mexico, but left that country with a hearty plate of inspiration and the motivation to open his own place, Cha & Café – Tea, Coffee and Tapas.

Like some restaurants in Mexico, Cha & Café stays open late, serving up Latin flavors to patrons who may have just left a bar or a club. Unlike restaurants in Mexico, Taing’s restaurant in El Monte mixes these flavors with the delectable tastes of Asian cuisine.

Over fantastic dishes such as the Chorizo Wontons and the Crispy Kalbi Beef Tacos at Cha & Café, Taing regaled me with his tales of Mexico and humorous opinions on life and eating in the US.

I’ve heard that you spent a lot of time in Guadalajara and Michoacán, Mexico, could you please share some of your experiences south of the border?

I went on a trip with some friends to good old Mexico and had a culinary blast.  The trip really was about eating from street vendors and lots of tequila.  I actually went there with an ulcer and was barely able to eat anything spicy, but all the chile and tequila actually fixed it (go figure).  So here are some of my fondest memories…

There was a little hole in the wall place in Morelia and they had the best tacos al pastor.  All the meat was on rotating spits and they used long swords to cut little slivers of pork goodness onto the tortillas with cheese and a thin slice of pineapple.  It was heaven in my mouth.

We stayed at my friend’s uncle’s house in Morelia and he was the former governor of the state of Michoacán and for breakfast one morning he made the best chorizo and eggs I’ve ever had.  The chorizo was crispy the eggs were soft and best of all the salsa and tortillas were homemade.  He also made fresh squeezed orange juice to wash it all down.  To commemorate that Sunday morning Mexican breakfast I created the Chorizo Wontons.  Nowhere near as good as Uncle Jamie, but the best I can do.

My friends and I were seriously wasted after clubbing in Morelia and the cousins took us to this random street corner and there was a hamburger stand with the best GODDAMN burgers I’ve ever had.  There was a really long line at 3:00 am and I remember it took forever.  I snuck down the street to take a leak on a tree by myself and everyone chased after me and yelled at me to not leave the group or else I might get kidnapped.  They said [Mexicans] snatch Asians because they think [Asians] have money (how wrong they would have been).  But that burger was great, the meat was slightly charred and the bun toasted with butter.  Something about the ketchup and mayo from there, it doesn’t taste like ours, it’s slightly sweater.  I slept well that night and mosquitoes made a great meal out of me as well.

What inspired you to make Asian Latin fusion food?

It’s just the way I eat.  When I lived alone in Vegas and was hung over off my ass all the time I got really good at reheating whatever was left in my fridge so I didn’t have to leave my pad.  Usually $.99 tacos from Tacos Mexico, lots of rice and random meat from Thai BBQ take out.  So most of my meals at home were already ethnically mixed and it seemed very natural to me.  I don’t even think of them as mixed. I just see it all as food…..Tasty food!

Where are you from? Was there a strong Latin influence there?

I grew up in Monterey Park in Southern Cali.  On my way home from school there was Armando’s Mexican restaurant and I loved that place I would save up my lunch money so I could eat there after school and get a wet burrito.

My family has a donut shop in Huntington Park and that place is known for its highly dense Mexican population.  I worked there on the weekends ever since I was a little kid.  I could talk fluently in Spanish to sell donuts and talk about the weather.

What is your nationality, if you don’t mind me asking? Do you have lots of Latin friends or family?

I am “Cambodian Ethnic Chinese Asian American.”   I have lots of Latin friends most of them are Argentinean Flair Bartenders that live in Vegas.  I love calling them Mexicans, they hate that.

What’s your favorite item on the menu?

I love the Chinese Quesadillas and the Kalbi Chimi.  Both are full of flavor and a little spicy.  They use our house sauce which is “Sriracha Aioli;” definitely a “must try.”

What’s the most popular item on the menu?

The most popular right now has got to be the Kalbi Chimi.  It’s pretty cold right now and people want some comfort food.  Some girl yesterday asked for it with chicken; it was pretty good.

Do you get any negative responses to making Asian Latin fusion food? Does anyone say anything racist about either culture? How do you deal with that as an owner?

Never had a negative remark about mixing the cultures.  Some confusion, some people just don’t get it.  Overall, it’s been all good.

Do you think Asian Latin fusion food is just a trend, or the future?

Not really a trend but an evolution.  Just like our communities they’re just going to get more mixed.  So there will be Indian/San Salvadorian food someday.  One of my favorite places to eat is Sushi Samba and that is Japanese Peruvian cuisine, I was surprised to learn that there is a big Japanese population in Peru.

Who is your favorite Latin celebrity, historical figure, or fictional character?

Shakira, Shikira, Shikira!!!!! Mi amore, Shikira.

Would you rather date an Asian or someone of Latin descent?

I’m an equal opportunity dater.  The first girl I ever kissed was Mexican.  I’m currently dating Chinese, but who knows, maybe I’ll be hungry in 30 min. J/K

Any last words or shout outs?

Thanks to everyone who is part of Cha & Café and working hard to bring great food to our little corner of El Monte.  I hope to see you there soon.

P.S. we have of first official live music event Sunday Dec. 19th from 5pm-8pm check it out.

Michael Taing

Cha & Café

General Manager

(626) 575-1861

Cell (702) 290-9246



David A. Romero is a cheese enchilada-making spoken word artist who knows something about Mexicans. A lover of boba and a citizen of Diamond Bar, CA, he also knows a thing or two about Asians. http://www.davidaromero.com/
Have any ideas for the blog? Questions? Comments? Hit me up below! Or email me: davidaromero@projektnewspeak.org

4 Responses:
  1. Lalo says:

    great read!

    i wonder if this donut shop he speaks of is the one on Florence/State 😀

  2. James Banh says:

    This place is Great! Michael is the nicest guy you could ever meet, he’ll occasionally come out & say hi & tell you about the food you’re having & what you should try the next time you visit. Not to mention the girls the work there are super sweet <3 When you're there it's like hanging out with old friends. Every one should come out & try the food! You'll have dreams about it! =D