While walking down the hill towards Shalom Market in Los Angeles which is situated right across the street from Rock n’ Roll Ralph’s, I caught myself reminiscing about all the smells and images of my previous ethnic excursions as I refer to them, in the most respectful of demeanor. During this olfactory slide show I also considered the growing demand for ethnic foods not only in Los Angeles but across the United States as well. I wondered what were some of the similarities between an ethnic market and my market?
I cross boundaries all the time. My market, which is not a market in any ethnic sense charges over 274% markup for their cloned, gene-spliced and irradiated vegetables. and this is my market? So I buy only what’s on sale, with my coupons at the ready, and you will always find me in line on double days but not for vegetables!
In my culinary crossovers, I have found that while ethnic foods have been popular for years, an emerging consumer interest in the true historical flavors of traditional ethnic foods is fueling this cultural crossover, such as the simple act of adding Thai chilies to cold oil in a wok and then removing them before introducing your meat and produce to enhance the dish . To satisfy consumer demand for authenticity, I believe the food industry is learning how such ethnic dishes should taste and be presented. In particular, they are researching centuries old flavors, ingredients, preparation styles, even the cultures of ethnic groups whose timelines are rooted in antiquity.
During the Missionization of California, certain ethnic pallets were not capable of transfer to other Peoples. With the population increase of the Southwest because of the gold rush, the employment boom, and new defense contracts in the late 1940’s, 70% of Californian’s resided in Los Angeles and Metropolitan San Francisco. Major ethnic groups differ not only from one another in their culinary requirements but also within sub tribal, religious and cultural differences existed. This diversity is based on country of origin and cultural adaptation to the United States. For example, Latin cuisine includes Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban and Dominican, but also Spanish-speaking communities from the Caribbean Islands, Central and South America, and Spain.
With the rise in ethnic populations and projections for even more dramatic growth for the future, Los Angeles had increased exposure of Angelinos to other cultures, foods and flavors. In addition, with increased travel and enhanced trade our understanding of other cultures and their culinary cuisine and their history has improved. Turning to the subject of grains and in noticing what chains carry to that of smaller ethnic retail establishments, there tends to be parallels in this area, as all retailers tend to carry the same items, even though they were geographically produced in differing regions. Prices of produce tends to be lower in the smaller retailers naturally. For example, Cranberries which contain liver rebuilding enzymes, were only ninety-nine cents in the ethnic market, compared to almost three dollars in a major chain store.
I have found one notion to be true of all food retailers, which is that they put a lot of effort into research and developing in creating successfully authentic ethnic products for their specific marketplace. They have to know their customers and their specific needs. The foundation for creating authenticity for their increasingly diverse population is understanding the true nature of the individual culture.
As the title smacks of promises of cultural enlightenment and of culinary crossovers it was the desire of this writer only to speak to how the city of Los Angeles came to viewed in culinary terms such as a ‘melting pot,’ a salad, or my favorite, a stew of a majority of the world’s cultures. It was also the writer’s desire to stand witness to the fact that the road to understanding may be just as simple as being knowledgable of at least being cognizant of another’s cuisine. While having no culinary experience and of the little I know of international similarities is that rice is mostly universal and is a staple to many Asian countries. Typical types of Rice are common to various regions such as short grain is found in Japan, while long grain rice is mostly prepared in China. Basmati rice is translated as “queen of fragrance or the perfumed one” has been grown at the base of the Himalayas for eons and can be found in many curry dishes, Jasmine is found across Southeast Asia.
“Cuisines of the Axis of Evil and Other Irritating States: A Dinner Party Approach to International Relations,” in which ‘Chris Fair of Evil Cuisines dot com suggests that a dinner party with the “Axis of Evil,” ‘and other irritating states’ with “Cuisines of the World” be hosted as an ‘Approach to International Relations.” Certainly understanding another’s cuisine may give insight into a country’s policies and future possible scenarios. “The Undiscovered Country” (Star Trek movie) might end up bloodless and a quite tasty affair after all. Los Angeles City College, has an upper division English class (critical thought) that uses the City of Los Angeles as a canvas in which the students absorb themselves into once a week in a particular ethnicity’s history, culture, ethnicity and cuisine. In experiencing each community, direct witness I believe plays a major part in dispelling ones irrational fears and prejudices based in ignorance.
Indeed there are those among us progressing towards and searching for what ingredients make a just and peaceful society in the global 21st century goal for world peace through understanding and tolerance. Albeit, we continue to be a warring society, as our present headlines continue to paste the airways and news with “war on terror,” ‘our continuing war on drugs,’ ‘war on poverty’ ‘war on Cancer,’ war on terrorism,’ and the ever popular ‘war on Christmas.’ I submit you for your consideration: ‘War on Cultural Ignorance through the Culinary Arts.’
In closing, it is the author’s belief that Los Angeles is 72 cultures in search of a culinary Diaspora, and like the song says, ‘we are all looking for something.’ For some it may be a five star experience in an upscale dinner house for others it may be just as simple as a ‘culinary quickie’ parked in an alley at a local contemporary food truck. Speaking of which, are no becoming all the culinary speciality rage. On a closing thought, I read something that is very worthy of note in how a country may show its true political colors or outlook towards another country, and that is by looking at what their most inexpensive and economical ethnic fare (cheap food) is in a certain country, and that will give you a basis of the country’s leanings towards that country. Hey hermano, give me a Taco de Lengua. Pues si vato, soy una Mojado(1) en mi propia Pais (I am a wetback in my own country). Peace! It’s Food for thought.
” What is food to one man may be fierce poison to others.”
-Lucretius c. 99 B.C.-c. 55 B.C.
(1) Mohado: (cultural expletive used with the most of respect and demeanor)