The Taste of Tomorrow

Hollywood = food.

Lots of foodie-types will pick San Francisco or NYC. Cases can be made for Chicago or Montreal. We’ve enthused about the virtues of DC (see earlier post in “African cuisines”)

But when the ToT staffers picked our favorite food city in North America, it was unanimous, a no-brainer.

Here is part 1 of why when we think Hollywood we think food.

 1.Farmers Markets To Die For.

SoCal has, of course, a really big advantage – the world’s best climate (pretty much). You can get locally grown lettuces and locally grown eggplants and locally grown peaches and locally grown almonds – in January or July. It also has another natural resource – a population filled with  food nerds that support the growing of obscure varieties and risky heirlooms.

You may have heard about the farmers markets in Santa Monica or Hollywood or Downtown LA.

But it’s the mediocre LA farmers markets that blow our minds. Your no-big deal LA farmers market might have 10 different types of heirloom lettuce, and 10 different varieties of mushrooms, a citrus bar with seven kinds of oranges,  a nut vendor, a berry specialist, not to mention a bunch of ethnic and artisanal options – in January.  An LA-area farmers market is where you probably have your best chance of crossing paths with an Australian finger lime or a Turkmen melon.  In short, if you’re the type of person who wants every trip to the farmers market to hold the potential of a rapturous food encounter – LA.

Check out this slightly dated guide to the Best of LA’s farmers markets.

2. The LA Times Farmers Market Beat Reporter  — The Fruit Detective

The Woodward & Bernstein of the LA farmers market scene.

If you are an LA Times food section reader,  or if you read one of the ToT’s favorite books, Adam Leith-Gollner’s The Fruit Hunters, you may know of David Karp.  He is the Woodward & Bernstein of the LA farmers market scene.

Karp, aka “The Fruit Detective,” is most renowned for his unparalleled knowledge – and obsessive interest – in obscure and exotic fruit.  (For more on Karp, see The Fruit Hunters
or an excellent New Yorker piece by John Seabrook).

The Fruit Detective is the chronicler of the LA farmers market scene, writing weekly dispatches for the Times food section. In the past few months alone,  Karp has introduced readers to African scarlet eggplant, Indian blood firestone peaches, green almonds, Red Brussels sprouts, the possibilities of Italian lemons, the melons of Turkmenistan.

If you’re interested to learn about the 43 varieties of figs – and how and when they taste different, and who the best fig growers are, Karp will amaze you.  If you want to know where to find Australian finger limes, how to select the best grapefruits, how to grow matusake mushrooms in a trailer, consult Karp. The ToT loves him because his passions could foreshadow what could be The Next Big Thing in Produce.  Please savor this classic piece of Fruit Detective work on the varieties of cactus pears beginning to appear at LA markets:

 3. Central Vietnamese.

North of pho and banh mi, there is bun bo Hue and jackfruit noodle salad.   We know this because, like Randy Newman, we love Los Angeles.

In LA, it’s not just Vietnamese, it’s  Central VietnameseIt’s not just Thai; it’s Isaan Thai.  LA has Chinatown and Japantown, it also has Little Cambodia and Little Laos and Little Saigon Westminster.

Yes –there are multiple Little Vietnams.  LA has a whole 100,000-person plus suburb that’s mostly Armenian.   There are suburbs chock full of Islamic Chinese food. The only place in the US that rivals it, in terms of luscious, hyper-diversity, is Western Queens (Jackson Heights, Corona, Elmhurst).  What’s so mind-bending about LA’s diversity is the limitless ethnic chowing to be done in the suburbs of the San Gabriel Valley. In brief, LA, birthplace of the Korean taco, is an ethnic food amusement park.

 4. The David Karp of the San Gabriel Valley Ethnoburbs – Jonathan Gold.   

The Man (for LA chow hound-types)

Jonathan Gold, the LA Weekly’s food writer, is no secret.  They finally gave him a Pulitzer Prize. The New Yorker called him “the high low priest of LA food” that readers look to for advice on “where to get crickets, boiled silkworms, cocoons and fried grasshoppers” and where to get the best Isaan Thai (That’s northeastern Thai). Gold is your man if you’re going to Long Beach’s Little Cambodia, or looking for some authentic central Vietnamese food.  Ditto you’re looking for the best Peruvian or Nicaraguan on Pico Boulevard. (Like scaling Everest, pre-planning is essential to approaching the vast LA ethnic smorgasbord)

Gold also happens to be incredibly entertaining.  If you want a taste, he dispense his weekly restaurant and other advice  on the LA-based food show, Good Food, hosted by Evan Kleiman.

More on why we love LA next month…

Meantime, one non-LA note: great piece by Mark Bittman in the NYT travel section on Indian restaurants in London.

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