Sunday, June 14, 2009

Champion Food Co. - Irvine


I'm already well into my thirties, but I'm still drinking boba milk tea. Well, not all the time, but for some reason, I'm always keenly aware of myself when I do.

I consider boba drinks funnier than anything that has a cocktail umbrella in it. It's because of those oversized straws, the plastic sealed-on tops with the cartoon characters, and the milk tea itself -- a chocolate-milk liquid more apt to be seen in a toddler's sippy cup than in a grown man's beverage.

Anthony Bourdain had a boba drink in a not-so-recent episode of No Reservations and he looked damned silly sucking on one -- the culinary equivalent of John Wayne riding on top of a coin-operated mechanical horsey and going "Wheee!"

And the capper, of course, are those tapioca marbles. These are the nuclei of the frivolity: Dark-colored, sticky, starchy balls that settle on the bottom of the cup like prayer beads, but serve no purpose other than to be chewed and act as a potential choking hazard.

The adult in me can really do without them. These are empty calories I can better allocate to more substantial foods. Also, it's usually the drink that I'm after. But the Asian in me compels my brain to always ask for it. Plus, it's tradition. Back in college (damn, that was a long time ago) my friends and I used to drive to Monterey Park from Irvine just to get a boba drink.

Ah, the folly of youth.

Nowadays when I hanker for a throwback to those simpler, stupider times, I go to Champion Food Co. in Irvine where they still go through the trouble of assembling the drinks to order.

Other purveyors premake the milk tea and ladle it out like soup from a refrigerated trough. The folks at Champion? They're stirring, mixing, doing actual measurements. A squirt of sweetened condensed milk here. A spoonful of simple syrup there. And also, they use crushed ice, not cubes. This makes all the difference. Ice cubes become obstacles, an impedance for your straw to get at that final boba ball.

For snacks, Champion offers tea eggs and other things to go with your carb-ladened drink. This time, I ordered something I hadn't seen there before: squid balls.

When I did, the gal walked over to the fridge, took out a plastic ziplock bag with five or so golf-ball sized orbs, deposited them to a fryer basket, and then sealed them shut behind the door of a small metal box that had a countdown clock on the front (no, it wasn't a microwave or an oven).

What came out of it about a minute later was golden brown, hot, crispy, and presumably not fried, although it sure tasted like it was.

The texture was as springy and resilient as an actual squid, except even more so. It seemed hellbent to exact revenge against Nemo (the Captain, not the fish). And on that front it was successful: Each ball was caked in spicy powder, some of which I accidently inhaled through my nostrils (painful).

Ah, the folly of adulthood.

Champion Food Co.
(949) 857-6686
14775 Jeffrey Rd # L
Irvine, CA 92618

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17 Comments:

At 7:40 AM, Blogger Loving Annie said...

I love tapioca, and no matter how old I get, I'd still love sucking them through a straw !

In London, at Yauatcha, we had a passion fruit iced tea that was SO good, because you sucked the passionfruit through a straw - yummm !

Squid balls sound disgusting though, Elmo - ick !

 
At 7:59 AM, Blogger Juliet said...

I love boba drinks so much! And I can get away with drinking them, too, since I am a petite woman who looks young for her age.

 
At 5:12 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Annie,

Chunks of passion fruit in a drink! Now why don't we see that here? That one I'd drink in an instant. Hmm. I can see this being done with Mango and Kiwi too!

Squid and balls. Two words that ought not be brought together. But it ain't bad! Really!

Juliet,

Well, I can say that I also enjoy boba drinks because they are still cheaper than Starbucks!

 
At 9:56 PM, Blogger EatTravelEat said...

Freshly fixed for you milk tea? Wow. I never knew Champion did that! There is only one place where I know they make it right in front of your face is at Snack Pop in San Gabriel, where you even pick between different sweeteners and such, and then they shake the milk tea in a motorized shaking machine. Unfortunately their milk tea now isn't as good as it used to be- same for the boba.

 
At 10:16 PM, Blogger edjusted said...

I love tea eggs and I always get them at Champion. Their boba milk tea is good too. But skip the "watermelon juice." They use a powder and it ends up tasting more like a Jolly Ranchers drink.

 
At 11:17 PM, Blogger chiara said...

Oooh... Champion also has great shaved ice... They'll double your fillings too! And there's a seating area around the "lake" nearby :D Perfect timing for summer :D

 
At 5:43 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...

EatTravelEat,

Like you, I tend to gravitate to the places that still make it to order. Not that there's anything wrong with Lollicup or Tapioca Express, but the extra effort seems to make the drink taste better.

edjusted,

Boo on using watermelon powder! I was tempted to get a tea egg there. I remember them being very, very good.

chiara,

Agreed! That sitting area around the "lake" is also good for when you have some Yogurtland. Except sometimes, it's a little too stagnant!

 
At 10:27 AM, Blogger Christine D. said...

Oooh, my favorite milk tea boba!! I love how it's "chocolately." Mmm!

Check out the "milk tea" boba drinks I've had over here... lol

Gross
Uh...

 
At 12:35 PM, Blogger Bill said...

My wife's favorite milk tea pudding boba. I drink hers never order it myself.

 
At 7:42 PM, Blogger Stanielsan said...

I did not know squid had balls? Anyways, I wish they made a "diet" version of boba drinks. Unfortunately, I have to watch my sugar intake and thus cannot have my favorite drink, boba thai iced tea. What a bummer.

 
At 6:55 AM, Blogger joanh said...

LOL. I just had one today. I loved the way you described it in your post- I never thought of it as an adult "chocolate milk" but it sort of is. There are a few shops that now sweeten the boba (boil it in brown sugar) and put it in fresh milk (and that's it, no tea)... that is even more literal of an adult chocolate milk.

 
At 12:55 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Christine,

Egads! That. Looks. Awful! I feel for ya! I'd hate to see what they do to actual Chinese food there.

Bill,

I actually prefer pudding milk tea (no boba). Tapioca Express, ironically, has the best one of those. Especially the taro one!

Stanielsan,

Yeah these puppies are all starch and sugar...mostly starch...and then there's the fat in the milk. For me, it's not a drink, it's a meal substitute!

joanh,

WHOA! REALLY?! This is in Taiwan right? I bet it'll take years before we see it stateside. That's my one complaint about boba: it's good with the texture, but it needs more flavor!

 
At 3:58 PM, Blogger Melissa said...

Squid and balls. Two words that ought not be brought together.

Yeah, it's a ridiculous thing to come out of one's mouth. But perhaps not to put in it. I like fish balls, so hey, why not?

As for the boba drinks hehe. You know I don't drink anything but water really. So I have only tasted a boba drink once. It was in 2002 when I moved up here to OC from north SD County. Now, in SD, I didn't go out much. I wasn't a "foodie" back then and I wasn't exposed to any kind of variety in cuisines.

But here in OC... all of a sudden... ASIANS EVERYWHERE. ;) Never knew what a blessing that would turn out to be for me... Anyway, a friend of ours brought one over to our place one day and I was like what the EFF is THAT? What are those BALLS in the bottom?? O_o Haha.

So yeah, it was good, but like I said, you know I only drink water, so I've never had another one.

 
At 9:40 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Melissa,

Since you got me all nostalgic, I'll share the first time I had boba. I was introduced to it, appropriately enough by my Chinese college friends. Boba meant "boob" in Mandarin, they'd snicker.

It was 1996 and the Star Wars prequels was a fabled thing to look forward to. The Internet was accessed through this thing called NSCA Mosaic. "Lewinski" was not yet an instant one-liner.

And this drink...this "chunky" drink as everyone called it, was the freakiest thing I'd ever seen. And damn addictive. Smoothies was just falling out of fashion and at $3-$4, cost a fortune. Boba was a buck-fifty! Affordable even for a penniless student on financial aid!

 
At 10:56 PM, Blogger Melissa said...

Thanks for sharing haha. And since you brought up Star Wars... Boba Fett! Why did I never think of that before? :P

 
At 9:11 PM, Blogger joanh said...

yeah.. in Taiwan.. it's so good. definitely makes the boba more worth downing.. http://hungryintaipei.blogspot.com/2008/10/teacoffee-i-strongly-recommend-genki-q.html

 
At 12:18 AM, Blogger Jenny said...

Love champions! I've been here for as long as they've opened. Yes, I too was guilty of spending $$$ on boba drinks. But I really love this place.

I'm supposed to be off of sugar, and as long as I bring my own sugar substitute (xylitol), they let me put how much I want in it when they make my drink. Isn't that awesome? They can also make your drinks completely without sugar if you want (but that makes it like drinking straight strong tea like in Taiwan, which some people may find it very strong).

I love all their drinks, especially strawberry, papaya shakes, watermelon juice where they use real fruit. You can ask which ones are fruit, which are powder and they'll tell you.

Love the spicy crispy chicken, wish their fried basil stays on the chicken more, and the fried squid balls, and marble tea eggs.

One of my favorite snack places. Simply cuz I can eat the food without any allergic reactions, unlike some other places where I hive out from fake sugars or preservatives.

 

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