2013 K-Food Fair: A Summary and Some Fun Korean Food Facts

Photo of Korean Food Fair

 

 

So last year, a handful of LA foodbloggers were chosen to go out and do some primary research for this epic 200-page Koreatown food guide organized by Hansik, though we were told we were working for “the Korean government;” it was published earlier by this year. I was one of those bloggers and it was one of my best gigs ever. I was basically hired to eat at several restaurants and give a thorough report of each of them. I suppose the top ranking restaurants from all of us were then chosen to be featured in the book. I really got to connect with Korean food at  a deep level during this assignment. At times, I ate Korean food every day straight for weeks, and I loved it every single time. It was weird, since I tend to get bored of flavors and textures pretty fast.

To this day, it remains one of my favorite cuisines. Which made the fact that I couldn’t attend the first ever Los Angeles Korean Food Fair  all the more suckier. The event was sponsored by Korea’s Ministry of Agriculture and Korea Agro-Fisheries and Food Trade Corporation, it was a two-day event and was used as marketing event for the Korean companies seeking distributors to carry their stuff. This meant that there was lots and lots of Korea’s pungent dishes. One company’s black garlic truffles even got some love from LA Weekly.

The event’s organizers called in chef Bernard Guillas to have a panel on Korean food, Guillas. According to my fellow foodblogger friend Fiona Chandra of Gourmet Pigs who was able to attend the event, the accomplished chef from San Diego even put the chewy Korean rice cake favorites on one of his menus. I hear he also made a couple of fusion-y dishes like a lobster and bulgogi (sweet and savory grilled beef) on a pizza. But again, I missed out on this too.

Seaweed on Crackers! (photo by Fiona Chandra)
Seaweed on Crackers! (photo by Fiona Chandra)I

It turns out that Korea’s largest export is take a wild guess…seaweed! In snack form usually and in flavors like green tea, olive oil, sesame oil and peppery sesame (perilla) leaf. Though, I love snacking on the seaweed on their own. A clever company at the event thought of stacking the umami-intensive seaweed with a piece of cracker to make a slightly more substantial snack. I hear it was good. Other major Korean exports food items (in order) are prepared foods, drinks, fish, ramen, gelatin, cookies, oysters and noodles. I once bought a $17 container of seasoned Korean fermented soybean paste so bring it on, the more the merrier!

Hundreds of other foods and teas and snacks were featured at the event, way too many to list all here at least. Can this be a sign? Will 2014 be the official year that Korean food culture takes over the US? As you slurp your next bowl of hand cut noodles and silky tofu soondobu, it just might be. Heads up to American food distributors! Check out the event’s page to find out more and stay tuned for next year’s event.

DISCLAIMER: This is a sponsored post!

Paris on Glendale Boulevard: Canelé

 

*Originally published on Pasadena Magazine.

(photo courtesy of Annie Kikuchi Yoshimura)

Standing the test of time is particularly difficult in the restaurant industry. There is a certain art to keeping dishes consistently solid and alluring beyond any current food trend, especially in the passionate L.A. foodie kingdom. That being noted, we now happily direct you to the Atwater Village standout Canelé, which just turned seven years old. It’s a reliable favorite on the ever-changing Eastside culinary scene for its simple yet sophisticated French-meets-Cali menu, focusing entirely on the best possible farmers’ market produce, meats and fish whose freshness you’ll notice at first bite. Stop in and have a seat at the communal table right by the front window, where comforting dishes like brandade–a hearty dip of sorts made from shredded salted cod and silky potatoes served with toasted bread to smear it on–and a bitter dandelion salad will be heavenly with a glass of Garnacha and a good date. If you make it in during the weekday happy hour, these two items and all the other equally appealing appetizers and wines are half off. Stay for dinner and have some of the ultra-fresh seared market fish, caught locally by a Canelé customer-turned-fishmonger, and then you might as well do dessert: housemade salted caramel ice cream with flourless chocolate cake. No matter what, make sure you save a tiny bit of space for the complimentary namesake canelé custardy cookie given to you on your way out.

Micheladas: A Primer and Recipe

michelada

*Originally published for KCET. 

Micheladas have taken United States beer drinkers by storm, with macro breweries like Anheuser-Busch (“Chelada”), Miller Brewing (“Miller Chill”) and Heineken (Tecate’s “Michelada”) launching ready-to-drink renditions of Mexico’s famous savory beer cocktail. Some companies like Don Chelada and Beerchelok have came up with a just-add-beer concept, where a styrofoam cup comes with a packet of chile and spice michelada powder to add to any beer you want. Not to mention, an innovative pocket-sized portable michelada concentrate bottle that has been developed by Los Angeles’ very own Guelaguetza.

For the uninitiated, a michelada is a Mexican spicy beer cocktail typically made with Worcestershire sauce, hot sauce, Maggi sauce, lime juice; the glass is rimmed with salt and chile powder. But this is just a base flavor, since there are regional ingredient differences all around Mexico. For example, you can find huge michelada-filled frosty mugs spiked with a handful of plump shrimp or oysters in Puerto Vallarta, and one with chilled beef stock in Guadalajara; to even one made with fruit-flavored syrups and gummi bears in some Mexico City bars. To clarify, a michelada is different than a chelada in the sense that the latter only has lime and salt added, no spices. Also, though L.A.’s appropriation of the michelada has somehow involved adding tomato cocktail to the drink as well, that is not a very common ingredient in Mexico.

Since most Mexican beers are very light and neutrally flavored, a michelada comes naturally. If most Mexican food is spicy and highly seasoned, why not have your beer spicy, savory, and highly seasoned too? As you can imagine, micheladas pair amazingly with dishes like tacos, tortas, and ceviche. It is traditionally drunk throughout the day … but more often it is the drink of choice on the morning after a long night of drinking.

Here is a precise recipe to get you started, courtesy of Cesár de La Torre, a native of Puerto Vallarta who takes his micheladas very, very seriously. Since the measurements for each ingredient is minuscule, he’s developed a time-based recipe — read on to find out more.

“Awesome” Time-Based Michelada Recipe

According to de La Torre, “the magic of this recipe is that the amount of most of the ingredients are not counted in specific grams or teaspoons, but in seconds. With time, you’ll learn to ‘feel it,’ to the point where you know exactly how much to use. However you will have to try it a couple of times (yeah!) and come up with your own measurements that better suit your taste buds.”

Makes one

Salt
Tajin Mexican Chile Powder (ground chile peppers and dehydrated lime juice)
Worcestershire Sauce (preferably Lea & Perrins)
Huichol Mexican Hot Sauce (can be replaced with Valentina or another similar liquid chili sauce)
Tabasco Sauce
3 Limes
Maggi Seasoning Sauce
Soy Sauce
Your favorite lager or pilsener beer (also works with dark Mexican beers like Negra Modelo and Indio)

Frost a beer mug or any glass with salt. Then, start with the dry ingredients. Pour salt from a shaker for approximately seven seconds. The salt should create a thin layer at the bottom of the glass — thin enough that if you shake it you can see the bottom of the glass. If it is too dense, then you used too much. Do the same with the Chile Tajin for 10 seconds — the layer of Tajin should be thicker than the salt.

Now follow with the liquids. Start with the Huichol hot sauce, followed by Tabasco. You should spend approximately 7 seconds shaking each bottle into the cup. Then pour some Maggi sauce for about 10 seconds. Follow with the Worcestershire sauce for 7 seconds. Add soy sauce to taste. The amount of soy sauce should never be greater than the Worcestershire sauce. And last but not least, add the juice of three limes.

Mix the ingredients around until a sauce-like mixture is achieved. Otherwise, the dry salt will create a lot of foam, and we don’t want that. Pour your chilled beer at a 45° angle, lightly mix and enjoy.

Mexico Bans GMO Corn, I Recommend Two Corn Tortillas

*Originally published for KCET.

Mexico has officially banned GMO corn. A judge there placed an indefinite ban on genetically engineered corn last week, citing “risk of imminent harm to the environment.” This means that pro-GMO companies like Monsanto and DuPont/Pioneer are no longer allowed to plant or sell their corn within the country’s borders. And Mexico has over 20,000 varieties of corn that are grown and eaten through out the country — we’re talking huge amounts of corn.

This court action fell within days of the international March Against Monsanto, which was well-attended in Los Angeles.

Los Angeles and Mexico may have a disdain for GMOs in common, but there’s an even bigger cultural connector between the two: tortillas.

Tortillas are a way of life in Mexico. This ban should come as no surprise to anyone who has eaten a corn tortilla in Mexico, and experienced how seriously Mexico takes its prized whole grain staple. Tortillas are made freshly throughout the day, and eaten during breakfast (chilaquiles, tacos), lunch (tostadas, tacos), dinner (enchiladas, pozole), and dessert (nicuatole, polvoron de maiz), and in snacks (flavored corn chips) and even drinks (tejuino, champurrado). Maize was first cultivated in Mexico, after all.

 

Anti-GMO signs in Spanish

Anti-GMO signs in Spanish

 

The use of GMO corn in American-made tortillas is a tricky topic. A lot of mainstream companies aren’t so open about it, and not much information can be found online, even in Spanish. But I did manage to call and confirm that two local tortilla brands use non-GMO corn in their products. The first one is Diana’s, a family-owned company based in Norwalk that distributes to many Mexican supermarkets around Los Angeles, Ralphs, and Food 4 Less. I prefer their yellow tortillas over their white ones, since they taste more of pure corn and are a little thicker and chewier, more like handmade. (The confirmation call went this like: “Usan maíz transgénicos en sus productos?” The proud, almost insulted reply: “No, nosotros no usamos eso.”)

The second confirmed non-GMO tortilla company is La Fe in San Marcos. I’ve only seen their tortillas at Sprouts, and their tortillas are thinner and won’t fill you up too much, but the flavor is consistently amazing.

Maybe more American tortillerias can learn a thing or two from these two companies. Because, no matter how delicious taco fillings and toppings are, it’s all about the tortilla.

 

Tortillas brought from Mexico, made with only corn, lime and water

Tortillas brought from Mexico, made with only corn, lime and water

 

 

Is your taco made with GMO tortillas?

Is your taco made with GMO tortillas?

 

 

5 Good Soft Serve Cones in Los Angeles

*Originally published on LA Times. 

It may be officially fall in Los Angeles, but like every good Angeleno or visitor of this sunshine city may know, the heat never really goes away. The nights might get nippier, but it will never be too cold to enjoy the simple pleasure of good soft-serve ice cream.

Soft-serve ice cream was forgotten somewhere between frozen yogurt trends and the new wave of ingredient-driven ice cream shops popping up in Los Angeles recently. But the smooth and soft aerated ice cream that got its start in the 1940s never really went away to begin with. Here is a list to catch up with everyone’s favorite nostalgic frozen treat, including traditional and some new-school chef interpretations too.

Chef David Lefevre takes a hyper-seasonal approach to his soft-serve, changing his flavor as often as once every two to three weeks. On one visit, his salty butter pecan soft-serve with crumbly rosemary cookies and bourbon glazed toasted pecans left us swooning. But on another, his orange creamsicle flavor with guava jelly and coconut cookies did the exact same. Seeing how it’s officially pumpkin season, don’t be too surprised if you find a spiced pumpkin soft-serve with toasted marshmallow cream and buttery graham cracker streusel on your next visit.

1142 Manhattan Ave., Manhattan Beach, (310) 545-5405, eatmbpost.com

The Spice Table

Leave it to chef Bryant Ng to elevate the humble soft-serve with the musky and floral flavors of a Thai iced tea. Though this soft-serve tastes way better than any Thai iced tea you’ve ever had thanks to the layers of flavoring that Ng applies to it. He grinds two different types of black tea leaves and steeps it in Strauss Organic Family Creamery cream. Then he strains the tea  but leaves some of it in the mix for texture and a slightly tannic flavor that cuts through the cream nicely. If you think you taste some hints of pandan and lemongrass in there, it’s because he adds a little of that too. The final product is aromatic and not too sweet.

114 S. Central Ave., Los Angeles, (213) 620-1840, thespicetable.com.

Bob’s Freeze

Bob’s Freeze is an East Los Angeles soft-serve institution. Specifically to the students of the neighboring Garfield High School and their parents, and the parents of their parents; it’s been open since 1946. Current owner Sook Oh has seen three generations of her customers grow up. She purchased Bob’s Freeze in 1986 but didn’t change it much. You can still find Bob’s signature banana sundae and “Suicide” ice slushes (a crushed ice slush where a squirt of each available flavor is mixed into one cup). You can’t go wrong with one of Bob’s chocolate-dipped cones, a vanilla-flavored soft-serve ice cream swirled high in a cake cone that is then dipped in melted chocolate that quickly turns solidly crisp.

5144 E. Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, (323) 263-6659.

Hugo’s Tacos

The vegan soft-serve “frozato” is a sleeper hit at this Atwater Village taco house catering to eaters of all belief systems. Their house-made base for it is soy and nuts, making it both exceptionally rich and creamy to rival some of the best full-fat dairy swirls in town. It is available in both a bean-flecked vanilla flavor, bitter chocolate flavor or a swirl of the two; we recommend the latter, and in the flaky sugar cone.

3300 Glendale Blvd., Atwater Village, (323) 664-9400, www.hugostacos.com.

Hamada Ya Bread Bar & Coffee

Consider this a public announcement to the few, the proud, the lovers of green-tea flavored sweets: Hamada Ya in the West L.A. Mitsuwa Marketplace food court serves a noteworthy floral green tea soft-serve ice cream, and you can get it topped with a scoop of sweetened red beans and chewy chopped rice mochi pieces. To replicate the crunch of an ice cream cone, the staff curiously adds a handful of Golden Grahams to the plastic boat before swirling your Japanese American soft-serve high. It makes an excellent dessert if dining on supermarket sushi or a perfect pre-shopping snack as you shop for your ponzu, Japanese rice and any other obscure ingredients.

3760 S. Centinela Ave., Los Angeles.  

Food Tour: 8 Must-Try Restaurants in Southeast L.A. County

 *Originally published on KCET. 

No matter how hip L.A.’s thriving upscale dining scene may be, it would not be anything without the legions of regional ethnic restaurants and holes in the wall found in its bordering neighborhoods. Most, like the southeast Los Angeles neighborhoods of Bell, Bell Gardens, and Downey, are just a 10-15 minute drive from downtown.

 

You won’t find many double-digit-priced small plate establishments or cronut copycats at any of these Southeast communities; just straight up gimmick-free amazing dishes at prices that reflect the working class, first-generation Mexican residents with families nearby. Most remained largely untouched by any kind of mainstream restaurant fads and prices.

Here is a list of just a handful of the notable establishments to make a fun day trip out of everything. It includes amazing coffee, breakfast, lunch, snack, craft beer, dinner, cocktails and even a place to get the best corn masa in town (to make amazing Mexican-grandma-quality handmade tortillas at home later). In this overly glamorous food town of ours, this itinerary will keep you rooted.

 

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Horchata Latte and Tres Leches muffin at Tierra Mia | Javier Cabra

Horchata Latte and Tres Leches muffin at Tierra Mia | Javier Cabra

Horchata Latte at Tierra Mia Coffee
Ulysses Romero was onto something really big when he decided to open up Tierra Mia Coffeein 2008: an independent coffee roaster in South Gate making precisely brewed cups of artisan coffee way before it was trendy to do so. This is his flagship coffee shop, with seven current locations around Los Angeles and one in San Francisco. He uses beans sourced from Latin America to make unpretentious drinks geared toward his Southeast clientele. Until Tierra Mia came around, most of his customers only had access to Starbucks if they craved any kind of local premium coffee experiences. But after they had a sip of Tierra Mia’s creations like their Horchata Lattes and signature Tres Leches muffin, the rest was history. If not into sweetened coffee drinks, their espresso or drip coffee is good enough to stand on its own too. Tip: Tierra Mia makes an excellent pit stop if you’re headed to Long Beach or coming back from a trip there. 

 

Chilaquiles at Las Casita Mexicana | Javier Cabral

Chilaquiles at Las Casita Mexicana | Javier Cabral

Breakfast at La Casita Mexicana
The Chilaquiles Divorciados breakfast dish at La Casita Mexicana is capable of turning even the sleepiest of humans into a chirpy morning person. It’s inspired something of a cult for those who are already in the know: once you taste it, you’ll understand why. It’s a comfort for breakfast concept: freshly fried tortilla chips half delicately folded in a peppery red chile salsa and the other half in a tart tomatillo salsa. They got the name “divorced” because they are separated by a delicious border of thick Mexican sour cream. They are traditionally served with refried beans, and La Casita makes an exceptional batch of this too, using milky “Peruano” (Canary beans) beans as the base instead of the more pasty usual pinto bean. La Casita also goes the extra mile and serves them with a cutesy quesadilla made with their fluffy handmade tortillas flavored with dried chile powder too. 

 

Ceviche at El Coraloense | Javier Cabral

Ceviche at El Coraloense | Javier Cabral

Ceviche at El Coraloense
You probably won’t be too hungry after such a hearty and satisfying breakfast, which makes the pristine refreshing ceviches at El Coraloense all the more enjoyable. Mama Curie is from Sinaloa, while her husband Leo Curie is from Nayarit. Put these Mexican coast-raised individuals together and you get some of the best traditional Mexican ceviche in Los Angeles. Opt for their Ceviche Sampler, which includes a whopping five different ceviches made with tender shrimp and halibut and mixed with things like marinated shredded carrot, fruit, and house made aiolis for only $10.99. To wash it down, a tall cup filled with their naturally dairy-free coconut milk horchata will do the job. If you’re still hungry, order a plate of their “Fish Wings,” their coastal take on American chicken wings using swordfish in a cornmeal batter doused in a buffalo-style Mexican “a la Diabla” spicy sauce, and served with a Sriracha remoulade. 

The Best Masa and Tortillas in Los Angeles at Amapola Market
At this point in your day trip, your appreciation for fine Mexican food should be at an all-time high and you’ll probably want to recreate some of it at home later on. Like any other great cuisine, you’ll have to start off with the basics first. Which in Mexican food means starting with a good tortilla. As you develop your Mexican food palate, you should start to be extra particular about your tortillas. You’ll be surprised at how many crappy chemical-laden metallic corn pucks there are in this city. Luckily for you, you are within miles of the best masa and tortillas in town, hands down. The masa and pre-made tortillas at Amapola contain nothing more than corn, water and lime. Just the way it’s been made for the last hundreds of years. The result is a buttery, delightful, slightly fermented sour taste. Take home a bag or four of tortillas; if you have a tortilla maker at home, take home a bag of their freshly ground warm masa and voila, you can have an unforgettable taco regardless of the filling every single day.

 

Tap list at Uncle Henry's Deli | Javier Cabral

Tap list at Uncle Henry’s Deli | Javier Cabral

A Couple of Amazing Craft Beers on Tap at Uncle Henry’s Deli
If you start to get thirsty while shopping for the best tortillas in town, walk over to the neighboring Uncle Henry’s Deli right next to Amapola market in the same plaza. Their slogan, “put something exciting in your mouth,” comes alive with their selection of 30 + rotating taps. All served without a side of beer snobbery, which is always appreciated. 

 

Tortas Bravas | Javier Cabral

Tortas Bravas | Javier Cabral

Buzzed Munchies at Tortas Bravas
After having a few frosty pints of Uncle Henry’s best local suds, you’ll unfailingly get pretty buzzed and the beer munchies will come a knockin’. And when they come, you’ll be ready with the convenience of a spicy Torta Ahogada de Carnitas at Tortas Bravas. It’s stumbling distance, right across the same strip mall actually. Their signature torta stuffed with caramelized pork carnitas on the chewy crusty baguette-like bread is drowned in a fiery, tomato chile de arbol salsa. It’s beer food, Mexican style, and it will sober you up just enough to realize: it’s dinner time. 

 

Pan con Chompipe at at Corazón y Miel | Javier Cabral

Pan con Chompipe at at Corazón y Miel | Javier Cabral

Cocktails and Light Dinner at Corazón y Miel
If you’re a trooper, you’ll stick around in the Southeast until dinner and check out Corazón y Miel while you’re out here. You’ll be greatly rewarded. It’s undoubtedly the hottest Pan-Latin restaurant in town at the moment, spearheaded by 27-year-old chef and owner Eddie Ruiz (previously of Animal restaurant). Grab a seat at the bar and enjoy a “Paleta En Su Jugo” cocktail which is exactly what the title infers: a Mexican ice pop in a glass full of rum, coconut, tequila, lime and citrus zest. To accompany it, a Diver Scallop BLT with a whole seared scallop, saffron aioli, bacon, capers, and anchovy salsa on a brioche bun. If it’s not on the menu the night you’re there, you’ll be set with his burrata salad — served with a Mexican pulpy salsa de Molcajete — and his slightly Asian take on octopus and shrimp ceviche, served with burnt peanuts, soy sauce and lots of homemade crunchy tostadas to scoop it up with. Mind you, these are just some of the many noteworthy dishes available at this unassuming Southeast L.A. restaurant: you’ll end the day with a happy mouth. 

Tierra Mia Coffee
4914 Firestone Blvd. South Gate, CA 90280
(Multiple locations)

La Casita Mexicana
4030 Gage Ave, Bell, CA 90201

El Coraloense
6600 Florence Ave, Bell Gardens, CA 90201

Amapola Deli and Market
7420 Florence Ave, Downey, CA 90240

Uncle Henry’s Deli
7400 Florence Ave, Downey, CA 90240

Tortas Bravas
7414 Florence Ave, Downey, CA 90240

Corazón y Miel
6626 Atlantic Avenue, Bell, CA 90201

Trip Out, The Glutster on “The State of L.A.’s Plate” November 18th – 7 p.m. – Petersen Auto Museum

Photo courtesy of Zocalo Public Square
Photo courtesy of Zocalo Public Square

I don’t know why, but the kinds folks over at Zocalo Public Square have asked me to be on a panel discussing “The State of L.A.’s Plate” coming up on  November 18th, at the Petersen Auto Museum. It will be moderated by Evan Kleiman and will also feature editor Barbara Fairchild and Alex Ortega, an epidemiologist.

Anyways, it’s free and it should a be VERY interesting experience. Here is the link to reserve your tickets. Like every other Zocalo panel, I’m sure it’ll fill up fast, so get reserve your seats as soon as you can. Come out and support if you’re down.