Frugal traveler (what a job!) Seth Kugel hit the mark when he filed a brief report from Los Angeles on a recent layover. His subject? The delicious and bewildering ethnic markets of Los Angeles, an article that makes for a welcome departure from the usual knee-jerk tropes of Los Angeles. For a person who isn’t timid about asking workers or customers at these stores, many pleasures are to be had, from unfamiliar cuts of meat to affordable and delicious morsels. Kugel missed some of the more vibrant markets in town; sadly, there’s nothing on the list from Koreatown and no mention of Super King, which straddles enough ethnic categories as to render the idea of ethnic as moot. As Kugel finds out, though, the best part about shopping in these largely noncorporate markets is getting insight into the many varied relationships Angelenos have with food.
So I asked a woman who had just ordered what the difference was between the two large flatbreads in her bag. “They’re the same. Same flavor, different shape” she said, to the vigorous objections of the woman behind the counter.
“So why did you buy both?” I asked.
“My mother loves this one,” she said, pulling out the matnakash. “My husband loves this one,” she said, pointing at the barbari. (Note to the husband: she bought two matnakash and one barbari.) I went for a matnakash, but also scored by ordering a beef lula sandwich, a seasoned, molded log-shaped kebab, wrapped in fresh bread that was thicker than a tortilla but thinner than pita, for $5.99.
Korean food gets prominent mention in both the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times this week. Longtime Korean food fan Mark Bittman (he re-visits his over-the-top comment describing Korean food as “Japanese food with guts” in the article) creates a menu for summer grilling:
In looking to create a menu for an early-season barbecue that would appeal to everyone — meat lovers, vegetarians, culinary thrill-seekers and whoever else might show up — I realized that such a menu already exists. It’s just that it isn’t what we think of as “American food.”
I like his emphasis on the many vegetables available in Korean cuisine, which has long been a selling point for me. And Koreans do eat a lot of vegetables—up to 73 percent more than Americans!
And cookbook author Cecilia Hae-Jin Lee describes Korean drinking culture in an article about anju, the food usually served with alcohol. Too bad she didn’t offer some local anju specialists.
Round one (il-cha) starts with dinner and usually soju. Round two (i-cha) may be at a bar for someanju, like fried chicken, and some beer or whisky. Round three (sam-cha) is usually just another bar for more beer or soju. Round four (sa-cha) is usually at a noraebang (private karaoke “singing” room). Round five (o-cha) wraps up the evening at a nightclub or disco for a few more libations andanju with some dancing, for those who are still standing.
Koreans believe that eating something spicy or salty, or both, helps absorb some of the alcohol. I’m not sure if that’s the case, but drinking on an empty stomach is never a good idea, especially if you’ve jumped on the Korean o-cha train.