Thursday, June 11, 2009

On LA

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I spent some time in LA last week and it's difficult for me to know where to begin. It's kind of a large place (snark), my visit lasted a matter of days, and to be honest, I was on something of a vacation. Maybe this is a lager problem about simply visiting a place and trying to make sensible observations outside of the merely superficial. While it took an outsider, the Frenchman Alexis DeToqueville, to offer some very astute observations about American society, how can a pleasure tourist really offer much of anything after a few days?

I've long had harsh words for the city of Los Angeles and maybe people who take issue with that have a point. My friend's great uncle, an octogenarian professor emeritus, who I was lucky to have shared breakfast with said it best: LA is a great place to live, a terrible place to visit. Maybe he's onto something.

So let's cut to the chase: visiting ain't the same as living. Seeing must see sights, iconic locales, and ogling the exotic population just doesn't get to the heart of a place like the commitment of living in a place until these tokenistic sense experiences no longer titillate. It takes time, effort, and even frustration to begin to see a place for what it really is. A visit full of fancy dining, foofey drinks, and simply consuming offers questionable rewards to the consumer and to the reader. Just so we're clear: what follows is pictures of my food and drink in LA, and not a lot else. And I'm comfortable with that.

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The only way to cover Los Angeles is by car and that is why I have included the above photo from the front seat of a private vehicle. It seems like many people see most of their city in this fashion. I was doing it just like the locals! Really quite an authentic experience!

I will compliment Los Angeles on something: there's a little bit of something for everyone. In the state of California you have huge and diverse communities providing what they do best. LA is a great example of this: There is the largest populations of Koreans outside of Korea, and a large population of Armenians for example. In LA there's certainly lots to see and do. I could just do without all the driving.

Knowing what you do about this blog, it's probably no surprise that I tracked down a taco truck near the place I was staying. Actually it was more like a trailer, but who's counting?
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There are great blogs dedicated to finding the best tacos in far-flung regions of Los Angeles, but going for what was close made the most sense. We walked and were met with the usual suspects.
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As usual, I made a familiar order of tripas. A Mexican coke does in fact taste better that it's American cousin. Real sugar tastes better than corn syrup. If you don't agree get a new mouth.
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I got to dress my own tacos so went a little crazy with the radishes, and was mid taco before the limes made their appearance.
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Now I could have eaten every meal at taco trucks, but I already eat at taco trucks at home so we branched out. Some meals captured, some only placed into the unreliable memory banks.

There was a years in the making trip to Korea town for some soon-dubu.
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The banchan was a tad lackluster, but the stew was nice. This was a branch of the international BCD chain. I reckon you get the same stew here, or in Incheon. Or not.

BCD Tofu House
3575 Wilshire Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90010
http://www.bcdtofu.com/

We ventured to the divey and somewhat depressing Canters. My friend and former Canters employee sure was stoked to be there again. My extended family of the Jewish tradition hails from Southern California, so visiting these delicatessens has always been one of my associations with the area, thus it's hard for me to pass up.
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I got a hot corned beef that made me queasy after the first couple of bites. Seeing how the first few bites were my weekly allotment of animal fats, you can probably understand. I'm never sure if I should recommend a sandwich like this to anyone. It was great though.
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Canter's Delicatessen
419 N Fairfax Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90036
(323) 651-2030
www.cantersdeli.com

After leaving Canters we were treated to a celebrity sighting. Seeing Andy Dick made it feel like I was really in LA. If you aren't familiar with Andy Dick, his name says it all.

A visit to the excellent Museum of Jurassic Technology was followed up with some nice samosasas and masala chai down the street. We sat outside and watched the cars go back and forth.
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A trip to Japan town provided me with silly snacks and trip food. A pop into a mochi shop and I was presented with a couple of lovely birds. They were filled with bean paste and looked even cuter after biting off the heads.
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For my trip further south, I grabbed a lunch box at a Japanese grocery store. As you know, I love train rides and train snacks! While I waited in line for my train a Japanese woman kept trying to get a look in my bag. She held a hot dog in one hand, her suitcase in the other. She finally asked me where I had been shopping so I showed her my lunch. I almost offered to share it with her.
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I enjoyed a nice lunch as I headed further south to visit my extended family.

I spent years telling people that I didn't like Los Angeles. "Oh, you just need to get to know the neighborhoods," they would gasp. They have a point. There are some nice neighborhoods with nice density of places to frequent. I daresay more so than where I live. But my opinions about LA haven't changed that much. Yeah, it's a fascinating city with a large and diverse population with a little something for everyone. It could certainly never be called boring. But it is a sprawling shambolic mess wholly reliant on one of my great foes, the automobile. In my daily life I walk, ride my bicycle, and when I need to, take public transit. I have lived like this for years and don't plan on changing anytime soon. While you could live like this in the Los Angeles area, the cards are certainly stacked against you.
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I had a lovely time with my good friends and if you have friends or someone to show you around, I definitely recommend a visit. I'll probably be back soon. However I still hope Los Angeles, and a lot of California for that matter, would just fall into the ocean already.

PS: I love you J and A.

3 comments:

Robyn said...

There's supposed to be a truly wonderful southern Thai spot in LA - did you go? I guess not.

This is interesting - I think what you're saying is that you have to live in LA to really appreciate it? I would say the same about KL (which a friend has compared to LA in other ways incl being a spread-out car town).

The opposite for Saigon, in my experience. Visitors go ga-ga for it but it takes living there to appreciate what non-liveable city it is.

a said...

Robyn

No, I didn't visit the thai place. Maybe next time...

While many people may visit LA for a weekend and rave about it, others may do the same and hate it. Who's right? Well, both are I guess. This isn't an assault on personal taste, but I'm thinking about matters of perspective here. Visiting for a weekend full of tourist traps and or a weekend where one avoids them still isn't the same as simply living there. Your experiences in Saigon are a good example of this.

What I mean is: visiting usually only involves surface deep experiences. Friends and members of my family often ask "where are you traveling next?" to which I respond "Nowhere." I'm only being half serious for the reasons mentioned in the post. Love a place or hate it, there's only so far you can go with a visit, and over time have gotten less and less interested in showing up in strange places for no other reasons than pleasure.

As a person interested in food, I like to go further than to just taste exotic things from exotic lands. I like to immerse myself in a new diet made up of the things that are available in the place I reside. At one time Laad Naa and Som Tam were staples for me, while pizza was a special occasion. Now it's the other way around and that makes a lot of sense.

While It is exhilarating to try something new once or twice, there's nothing more satisfying than to get intimately familiar with cuisine from the inside. I guess I feel the same way about places.

Robyn said...

A - we're definately on the same page here. (She wrote from Penang, on her umpteenth visit.)