Tag Archives: food

Beans on shaved ice and chile on fruit

Shaved Ice + Azuki Beans

Sometimes I feel like when I moved to LA, I actually moved to a different country. Several countries, actually. Good thing I’m not running for President because at this point I am completely out of touch with middle America, at least culinarily speaking. I eat “meat and potatoes” literally once a year – when my boyfriend and I commemorate St. Patrick’s day with a special meal (note that neither of us are of Irish descent).

I’ve always been a California girl – I literally do not remember a time in my life when tacos, pad thai and sushi weren’t part of my basic diet. Since moving to LA, my eating has only gotten more adventurous.

I’m referring, of course, to dessert. This is where it becomes evident that people from different cultures don’t just eat different food; we actually have different palates.

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Filed under Food, Los Angeles, Uncategorized

Reflections on my very first trip to Italy + What is the point of traveling anywhere anyway?

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“Italy is incredible! I love Italy!” This pretty well sums up every conversation I’d ever had about Italy before going there this spring. Americans are inordinately fond of Italy. The food! The culture! The art! The fashion! The Renaissance! Tuscany! We both put it on a European pedestal and then boast about how we’re a quarter Italian.

I’m a bit contrarian so if everyone loves something, I’ll immediately find fault. So naturally in college I chose to study abroad in Cuba rather than Europe. Though I studied history, I focused on American and Latin American history and indeed only managed to take one European history class in my four years.  Then I moved to Mexico, something that puzzled pretty much everyone I met on either side of the border.

I told myself I’d make it over to Europe once I was established and fabulously wealthy and tired of weathering travel in developing countries. It was partially a way to blunt the pain of prohibitive cost and partially a rejection of European cultural hegemony. I’m a native Californian – I reject East Coast cultural hegemony, much less people putting on airs from across the Atlantic.

This May, I went to visit friends who have been living in Pozzuoli, near Naples, Italy. I knew so little about the country, I couldn’t have pointed at Naples on a map (or Rome or Florence or this fabled Tuscany place). And I had no idea what I was expected to see.

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I have a culture!

Voila! Catherine reveals the perfectly roasted turkey at "American Thanksgiving in Mexico" - no small feat!

Voila! Catherine reveals the perfectly roasted turkey at "American Thanksgiving in Mexico" - no small feat!

I grew up in an America where it was cool to be ethnic. College was one long succession of cultural appreciation events from Passover to Kwanzaa to the annual luau. Everybody got a chance to share their beautiful traditions and it was great – something to celebrate every week.

I remember in 5th grade when we spent months learning about Ellis Island and how people immigrated to America, bringing their traditions with them. What could be cooler than being a hyphenated American? Two cultures is better than one, no?

The thing is, I’m just plain American. I’m not African-American, Mexican-American, Italian-American or Native American. I figured I was probably descended from all those Ellis Island folks, a European mutt like most of my friends, but while home on vacation, I picked up a copy of my dad’s family history and the myth was shattered. Apparently some distant aunt got a bee in her bonnet about joining the Daughters of the American Revolution and she’d done it – she’d proven that we had at least one relative who was here before our country was even a country and who fought to make it one. I’ve heard about east coasters that are very name-centric and who are all about how they were descended from the Mayflower (don’t ask me how that comes up in casual conversation), but I’m a west coaster. Somehow, finding out how deep my roots go on this continent actually made me feel like less of an American than the newcomers who had to risk life and limb to get here, learn English and actually pass the citizenship exam.

A traditional American breakfast: biscuits and gravy. Mmmmmm... (Sidenote: In Cuba, the culinary academy's main courses were "Comida Criolla (Traditional Cuban cuisine)" and... "Desayuno Americano (American breakfast)"

A traditional American breakfast: biscuits and gravy. Mmmmmm... (Sidenote: In Cuba, the culinary academy's main courses were "Comida Criolla (Traditional Cuban cuisine)" and... "Desayuno Americano (American breakfast)"

Somehow, I felt like I didn’t have any culture. It’s not like you can really own being the mainstream. We celebrate Thanksgiving – booyah! We eat chocolate chip cookies and hamburgers! And we play volleyball!

Well, thanks to my travels abroad and my boyfriend (who has never celebrated Thanksgiving), I have realized I actually DO have a culture. He constantly points out to me weird things that I do. Now I can just tell him that they are cultural. Things like drinking tap water, going hiking and composting my kitchen scraps. And about 95% of the stuff on the Stuff White People Like Blog (My boyfriend likes about 40% of the things mentioned and perhaps 10% of the list elicited “Why would anyone ever do that?”).

These cultural differences were hit home by my inability to find certain foodstuffs at the supermarket by my house (El Super). It is an extremely Mexican market which is generally great since it has fresh-made tortillas, a huge produce section and outrageously low prices. However, sometimes you just have to go out of your way to get authentic products from the homeland. In my case, that special place is Ralph’s.

This is my shopping list:

Hummus

Pumpkin pie filling

Brown sugar

Cream of tartar (for making the traditional snickerdoodle cookie)

Cranberry sauce

Stuffing

French bread or any other kind of fancy bread with lots of seeds

Goat cheese or bleu cheese

Shallots

Lemons

Edamame

Asian sauces and sushi-making fixes

Rice for risotto

Fancy mushrooms

Pudding mix

Frozen pie crust

Lousiana hot sausage

Cajun spice mix

Couscous

Canned clams

Worchestershire sauce (For making my favorite: Chex mix)

Graham crackers and normal-flavored marshmallows (For s’mores)

Balsamic vinegar

Sesame oil

Imported beer or microbrews

Perhaps my shopping list kind of borrows heavily from the cuisines of other world cultures, but what can I say? I’m American.

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Filed under Getting personal

Bigger is better, except if it’s not authentic

This weekend, I finally decided to walk a couple blocks from my house and eat at the fabled El Tepeyac Cafe on Evergreen. It had been recommended to me by an LA-native before I even left the wine country and the guy who turned on my gas also gave it the thumbs up. Two sources plus my independent reconnaissance which revealed an almost constant line in front = Worth trying at least once.
I’m sorry to say I probably won’t go back. Not because it wasn’t tasty – it just simply wasn’t tasty enough nor was the ambience so compelling that I’ll shell out $9 for a burrito (even if it did weigh about 4 lbs).
The experience did get me thinking about authenticity however – especially after I scrolled through some of the online reviews on Yelp.
The amateur food reviewers split into one of two categories: enthusiastic eaters wowed by the biggest burritos this side of the Mississippi and haters who complain that the place is no good because it’s not “authentic.” A representative sampling of the tenor of the conversation:

Richard D.

Manny’s Special, that is all you need to know…I never seen this in my life.  I couldn’t finish it on my own; so I split it with a friend.  If you plan to take on this beast alone, make sure to fast two days in advance.  Got to love Mexican food.

Saul S.

Let me get this straight: “HUGE portions” merit the authenticity-stamp for Mexican joints?? *sigh*This place is as “authentic” as Knott’s Berry Farm’s Montezuma’s Revenge snack-bar. Maybe I’m spoiled by the regional Piasa joints that don’t cater to LA nostalgia but I don’t trust any Mexican restaurant that doesn’t serve Carne Asada or Pastor meat. 
After all the hype from my newly extended East-Los familia and fellow die-hard Dodger fans, Its safe to say I was disappointed by TepeWac’s condensed, portion-friendly menu. 
I agree, not ALL “authentic” Mexican joints serve the same type of food, but they DO serve a protein other than thawed-out chicken strips and Shredded beef(Machaca) 
No trolling. Soon after I ate here, I discovered this place is a joke among un chingo de Mexicanos besides this serote from Long Beach.

Then we have Robert A. who passes on the posturing:

I know that you could either hate it or love it but if you come with the mentality of eating REAL MEXICAN food, you might as well go to Mexico as I have never found any of those places here in L.A. Even in Mexico. We all have different taste and preference so what’s Mexican?

True that, Robert. Saul. I hear you, but you’re too cool for school and it’s bastante obnoxious.
Authenticity is for coins and stamps if you ask me. It implies that there is a single gold standard, a single correct way of preparing any given cuisine and that any divergence from the norm immediately merits the use of either “fusion” or “nouveau.”
I grew up on “authentic” California cuisine. My homecooking repertoire includes recipes from my mom’s Oklahoma family like fried okra, Fantastic (a layered pudding and cool whip extravaganza) and blackberry wine cake (which includes both Jello mix and blackberry flavored Manischewitz wine). My other specialties include Vietnamese salad rolls, pad thai, spaghetti, stir fry, tortilla soup and tamales. Garnished with a smattering of recipes from Sunset magazine like snickerdoodle cookies and chili egg puff. Buen provecho.
Robert hits another nail on the head – I’ve never had “REAL” Mexican food in Los Angeles or anywhere in California. The tacos al pastor on the streets of DF were genuinely otherworldly, the slice of pineapple lopped off the top of the spit sending them into another realm entirely. Besides being tasty, they’re also a perfect example of the dubious nature of authenticity. Like mariachi music, they’re a relatively new thing. Furthermore, they were introduced to Mexico by Lebanese immigrants, not born from the country’s Aztec or Mayan soul. King Taco just doesn’t cut it. Not to mention that an “authentic” quesadilla in Mexico City doesn’t have any cheese which everyone but the chilangos and the lactose-intolerant agrees is completely stupid.
While we’re whining, horchata made from the mix is simply nowhere near as good as the stuff with condensed milk, there is not enough mole up here and please send along recommendations for good places with comida yucateca, pozole and tortas.
However, the point of this blog post is: Who cares? There is only one measure that counts and that is delicious-ness. My boyfriend introduced me to sprinkling Kraft parmesan on his mom’s tostadas. Authentic? No. Delicioso? You bet!
The quality of Mexican food generally drops off with each mile you travel from the border, mainly because the competition decreases. However, the move away from the mythical homeland can also be liberating and I’ve had lots of good American-Mexican-Latino, etc. food from throughout California. I’ll be honest – i like it just as much as the incredible traditional dishes concocted from more exotic ingredients like pumpkin seeds, squash flowers and goat meat that I loved eating in Mexico.
In fact, the singular dish that I have found unchanged by its migration from the southland across the border doesn’t usually get mentioned in the Mexican culinary pantheon. However, it is a point of pride that it was indeed invented in Mexico. That dish would be none other than the Caesar salad.

Here’s some food photos from my personal collection, just for fun.

If they aren’t authentic enough for ya, take a walk with me through Mercado San Juan.

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Filed under DF AKA Mexico City, Los Angeles