A few years back, a man named Noah Galutin, based in LA, ran a great blog titled manbitesworld. He set himself the task of eating in a restaurant featuring the food of a different county, every single day, no days off allowed. He made it to a 103, which is very impressive of course, but in LA I could believe it might have been more. Last week for example, without really trying, I eat the cuisine of three very different countries.
Monday found me in Kagura in Little Tokyo (137 Japanese Village Plaza, Los Angeles, CA 90012). In the picture below you see tuna sashimi, yakisoba and shrimp tempura bowl, all of which seem remarkably “unexotic” these days.
What I didn't know (till I poked around), yakisoba noodles, I gather, are technically a form of chow mein, and therefore demonstrate Chinese influence. And soba in Japanese means buckwheat, which might suggest that these are noodles made with buckwheat flour, but the Japanese just use wheat. Go figure. Mine came with fried cabbage and onion and bean sprouts
Something I really liked about the experience: the physical menu which looked, like this:
It was big, clear, floppy thing. You could have used it as a fan. You could see what you were going to get (the depictions were pretty accurate) and you picked two or three dishes, and you got what you were expecting. Why does that seem so unusual in a restaurant?
Wednesday I went to Seong Buk Dong in Koreatown (3303 W 6th, LA, Ca 90020), and I had Galbi Jjim which generally translates as steamed beef short rib, though the Korean notion of steaming doesn’t seem to bear much resemblance to yours and mine: we’d call it braised). I gather that Galb jjim is one of those dishes capable of infinite variation, every Korean chef having his own version, and putting in different ingredients. I couldn’t swear what was in this one but certainly soy sauce and onion and garlic of course some very visible sesame seeds. Other versions have been known to contain red wine, I understand, which sounds like a good idea, though it would would have made it something very different.
An interesting thing about the experience: the restaurant is set in a mini-mall, shared with a bigger, and I gather at night much livelier, place called Dang Sun Sa – which has various images painted on it, including this one of Kim Jong-il and (I’m reasonably sure) Kim Dae-Jung coming together in the name of North-South Korean friendship.
Also in the mini-mall: Dick’s Liquor – stop sniggering there at the back.
Friday saw me at Los Balcones, (1316, Vince Street, LA, CA 90028) which used to be called Los Balcones del Peru, and it was always good, if slightly rough at the edges. But now it has a new incarnation and things have been smoothed off and spruced up, as you see.
The menu has been zested up a bit too, and in the interests of ordering what I’ve never ordered before, I went with the “Carapulcra: pork spare rib, stewed peruvian potatoes, huacatay, chimichurri.”
Pork spare rib, of course I’d had, but I’d definitely never had huacatay, also known as Peruvian black mint, and some kin of the marigold. And as for Peruvian potatoes, well one thing we know is that Peruvian potatoes come in an astonishing number of varieties.
But as I look up carapulcra I discover that these are REHYDRATED potatoes, that have previously been freeze dried. Oh my – a version of the spud I’d never had before. It gets better. This, I discover, is chuño, a traditionally process, (taking 50 days according to enperublog.com, just 5 days according to Wikipedia – I know who I’m going to believe) that involves freezing potatoes in the night air of the Andes, then drying them out in the sunlight the next day. They also get washed in a river, in a mesh cage, which in itself can take 30 days – that’s some clean potatoes, then they get frozen again. And barefoot stomping is also involved. I knew none of this and it made me feel I’d led a very sheltered culinary life.
And just to round out the week, on Saturday I was at Dargan’s Irish restaurant in Ventura and had “Mary Bridget's Irish Stew: Liam’s Mother’s recipe, made with the best of lamb, carrots, celery, potatoes & onions.”
I don’t know who Mary Bridget or Liam are, but the stew was heavy on potatoes (not freeze-dried I’m pretty sure) and it did remind me, just a little, of my somewhat Irish grandmother’s extremely untraditional Lancashire hotpot.