Sunday, August 9, 2009

Eating Los Angeles Day 1

Too much of a good thing is a GREAT thing and well...too much of a great thing for me, usually means full belly.

Los Angeles is too often criticized for being a smoggy, disney-fied urban sprawl that, on the surface, lacks real culture of any sort. Known for being either a little too plastic or a little too seedy, it's a city of reinvention. Countless people have moved to LA in hopes of making it big, bringing with them luggage over-flowing with myths of the American Dream. Guns and gangs, big sunglasses and ritzy hotels--LA has got it all. It's noir, it's glamour, it's lies, it's hopes--really, it's whatever you want it to be.

There have been mixed feelings about this autopia. Characterized by it's lack of public transportation and it's abundance of freeways with far too much traffic to tolerate. So many writers have tried to analyze LA and it's effect on people. Los Angeles a city where distopia and utopia cannot be distinguished from one another. It's no metropolis like Chicago, and it's no New York (and I'm sure I'm not the first one to tell you that), it's an urban sprawl, and when you look beyond the less than flattering skyline and beyond the glitz that is Hollywood, you'll find culture. Culture in the form of amazingly authentic and delicious food.

Jonathan Gold did it, and now it's my turn. Time to start eating my way through Los Angeles.

My journey starts here:

--DAY 1--

As I exited the elevator and walked towards the opening to the Grand Central Market in Los Angeles, an over-whelming sense of joy surged through my body. A smile from ear to ear involuntarily plasters itself across my face. An indoors "open-air" market in the heart of downtown LA? Please tell me what could be better?! A sure sign that this city is doing something right: offering its people a haven of damn good food!

To my surprise, Grand Central is incredibly clean! Bright fruit and veggies stacked in neat rows and columns. Aromas from food stands penetrate the air--tacos, tortas, pupusas, and fresh fruit juices galore. Let's get real for a second--I'm not here for the produce, it's offal heaven and it's o so amazing.

The market is predominately Mexican. Catering to predominately Spanish speaking consumers. You will, however, find specks of Korean food stalls, and Greek food stalls--but for the most part, I came for the Mexican food.

Where have you been all my life?

Ava Maria.

The counter was swarming with people! A sure sign that this was a good place to start eating.

There were huge vats of nasty bits (my Anthony Bourdain plug for the day) swimming in the juices they were cooked in. Freshly fried gorditas were so piping hot that even the people making the "sandwiches" blew their hands in pain as they slit a pocket into the thick masa tortilla.

Gordita. Thick tortilla made with masa harina (corn flour), fried, pocketed, and stuffed with any part of the cow, in a stew form, you want--and I mean ANY part of the cow. I got the lengua. Thickly sliced pieces of cow tongue swimming in it's own brown cooking juices, too good to turn down. The piping hot gordita was overflowing with lengua, refried beans, guacamole, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, cilantro, and a creamy white sauce (not sour cream!) and severd with a wedge of lime.

The baggy holding my over sized gordita, which should have been eaten like a sandwich, served absolutely no purpose in my case because there was no way I could have wrapped my mouth around this beast even if I wanted to. Thank goodness they gave me a fork and generous stack of napkins.

The shell is incredibly crispy and nutty in flavor. The lengua was tender and extremely flavorful. The lime and the overflowing condoments made this really heavy sandwich, much more refreshing.

More gorditas please!

FISH STAND! And they serve food! Best corn chip dip ever? Ceviche Pescado. Maria's Fresh Seafood has burritos and tacos filled with extremely fresh seafood. The one thing that caught my eye--ceviche pescado tostata. Ok, so maybe it doesn't LOOK like the most appetizing dish in the world, but you really can't go wrong with chopped up fish, tomatoes, jalapenos, cilantro and onions marinating/ cooked in lime juice served on top of a crispy corn tostada and a side of hot sauce.

Need something to wash all that food down with? I did. I grabbed myself nice cup of Fresa (a strawberry drink) to wash down all that food with. It was a slightly creamy strawberry drink that tasted like melted Hagan Daz strawberry ice cream and had the color of peptobismol. And let me tell you, it was good!

So I couldn't leave this place without trying Chicharon, or pork skin. I've had my fair share of pork skin before, but never in taco form. Stewed in a tomato based sauce, the chicharon was complemented very well by the usual taco toppings: onions, guacamole, tomatoes, and cilantro. If you've never had pork skin before, the texture is quite a trip--it's nothing like you'd expect it to be. If you were to cut a mattress in half and view the cross-section, that's just about what the cross section of chicharon looks like magnified. Hollowed compartments sandwiched between two smooth layers. The hollowed compartments is what makes chicharon so amazingly delicious because it traps all the sauces and juices it was cooked in, so when you bite into it, the chicharon compartments releases all those juices making it incredibly flavorful--like an edible sponge. The texture itself is comparable to a cross between...well...a sponge...and agar. The texture is really unique and difficult to compare to a commonly eaten food product, it's something that I believe you're going to have to experience yourself.

Pupuseria. What is it?

I was planning on leaving after endulging in three different foods at three different food stands, but upo leaving, I noticed a stand that I had walked by twice and didn't notice. And before you ask me, "How do you miss an entire food stand?", I'll give you an explanation--it was because I walked passed the back side of it, so really, there was no way to tell that there was food on the other side!

BUT! I made up for it by trying one!

I had no idea what a pupusa was until this very moment. I literally spent 10 minutes watching the lady behind the counter effortlessly pat out balls of masa, fill them with some sort of white mixure with green flecks in it (it looked like mashed potatoes), which I later discovered was a delicious cheese mixture, patting them into a stuffed pancake and throwing them on the grittle one by one. They had a long list of fillings and sides for your pupusa--queso, jalapenos, chicharon, etc. I would have gotten the chicharon, except for the fact that I had just eaten a chicaron taco just minutes ago. And after starring at the menu for about another 10 mins I decided on the queso and jalapeno filling for my pupusa.

I know, I know, it sounds greasy, rich, and filling right? Wrong! Well it was filling, but to my surprise, it wasn't greasy at all! The cheese was stringy and flavorful, and by no means did they skimp on the pickled jalapenos in the filling. It was incredibly simple but really good. The pupusa was topped with a spicy pickled cabbage, comparable to Chinese/ Taiwanese pickeled cabbage and it was a great crisp complement to the pupusa.

Did I mention that Grand Central Market its right across the street from Angel's Flight? Two birds with one stone! A great way to end the day--sitting on a park bench in Angel's Flight Park looking out at all the LA parking lots and scattered buildings.

(this park bench is from 500 Days of Summer!)