2010 was filled with plenty of ups and downs and lessons learned. It was not without its fair share of discoveries, adventures and unforgettable experiences. Whether it was taking my first bite of poutine in Vancouver, taking in the sights and sounds of a grand slam tennis match in New York, or relaxing over a brewski at the end of the day... I cherished it all. 2010 was quite a memorable year.
Discoveries of 2010
My first discovery of the year came with the annual chaos of tax season. Sitting under a pile of 1040s and 540s at work, I began reminiscing about how simple my childhood had been... when the only numbers I could count to were 1, 2, and maaaybe 3. Desperate to bring simplicity back, I went downstairs to the convenience store in the lobby to search for a simple box of Treetop apple juice. While browsing through the various sundries in the store, my heart sunk when I discovered that the only apple juice sold there was organic Treetop apple juice. My simple, green box of childhood apple juice was no more. While I had moved on to the sake, soju, beer, and wine, Treetop moved onto organic apples.
This year was the year that I realized that the times have truly changed. But it was also the year that I realized that many things had stayed the same. Like the classic Bob's Big Boy burger. So even though I had never actually liked the taste of the Bob's Big Boy double decker, I felt relieved when it looked and tasted the way I had remembered as a child. Changing the Big Boy classic may have caused a protest with enough angst to rival the time when Coca Cola changed its classic formula. (I swear I typed 'angst' in my sentence before I found and read the history on the website.) Okay, so Obama really didn't change too much. I'm cool with that... for now.
This year brought on the discovery of new cuisines and interesting dishes that were a fusion of culinary contributions from two different cultures. Jjajangmyeon and jjambbong took a while to grow on me, while gamjatang had me at first slurp.
This year I also discovered that lettuce didn't have to be the main ingredient in a salad. Or the that the star ingredient in a salad could be something other than a vegetable. And that salad didn't necessarily have to be cold, refreshing, or topped with cheese to be good. The raw beef salad from Yummy Yummy, the tea leaf salad from Burma Superstar, and the fig and brie salad from Larchmont Grill were all eye-opening experiences.
The year also marked the first time I was challenged to eat ox penis (it's also the last time I will ever do that), the first time I squeezed lime juice into my Mexican-style Chinese wonton soup, and the first time I tried Afghan cuisine.
There's no way I can forget my discoveries during my visit to our friendly neighbor to the north. The Japadog, an all-American hot dog infused with the rich flavors of traditional Japanese sauces and garnishes, and true Canadian poutine, gloriously golden French fries topped off with cheese curds and then smothered with brown gravy, beckoned me to return to Vancouver in 2011 to have a second taste. Perhaps on my next trip to Vancouver, I could make a pit stop in Seattle to Lola just to have a bite of those delectable doughnuts that I discovered last summer. Those doughnuts blew my mind away.
And I discovered that each of these foods... no matter how it was cooked, no matter what culture created it, no matter what taste it sparked on my tongue... was made even better with a tall glass of ice, cold beer.
Cravings of the year
Those that spend a good amount of time with me know that I get sudden, incredible urges to gorge on certain dishes or cuisines. I started off the year craving Indian food, but as the craving was satisfied, I quickly developed a longing for a cabeza taco from King Taco, a desire for a beef wrap from Happy Kitchen, and any kind of Taiwanese noodle from A&J Restaurant.
My cravings were made evident with my spontaneous text messages throughout the work day to friends who shared the same feeling. My friends of Korean heritage frequently received texts regarding haemul pajeon, and friends who live and work in the Bay Area suffered from my inundation of text messages (usually in all caps) about my drooling over the tiramisu from Cavalli Caffe in San Francisco.
But the one craving I didn't mention much was actually something I only took one bite of. During our trip to Seattle, oolong-milktea and friends waited forever for a delicate Russian pastry called a piroshky... and I sat on the sidewalk of Pike Place Market waiting for them. One bite from my friend's spice-filled beef and cheese piroshky, and I knew I was a sucker. Just as Duke wrote on his Yelp review of Piroshky Piroshky... who knew this thing could be so damn good?
Tears. Anguish. I want one now. I admit I messed up... I should have gotten one. But... perhaps the more I had bitten into that piroshky, the more anguish I would be in right now. And if that were the case, I wouldn't be surprised if I were frantically checking for flights to Seattle right now. Sigh. Piroshky, I should have given you a chance...
Trips in 2010
This year, I made 6 trips out of Southern California. I visited the Bay Area three times and made one trip each to Seattle, Vancouver, and New York. Each trip presented a different experience made unique by the people, the food, and the city itself. The sun shined brightly for me on all three trips to the Bay Area... even when the weatherman said it would rain. In Seattle, the taxi driver tried to swindle us on the way to Sea-Tac Airport. In Vancouver, Amanda's car got towed as we were making our way to the airport. It seemed like something was bound to happen every time I made my way to the airport.
Well, my trip to New York confirmed it. Already on the way to the airport, Jamie remembered that he had left the tennis match tickets at his apartment. He went back for them, which caused him to miss the flight. But thanks to Continental Airlines, the change fee was waived, and CO got him on the first flight out in the morning.
And on the way back to California, Jamie happened to be booked for a flight that had already taken off. What?! No worries, it was solved by a courteous CO agent who even upgraded Jamie up from economy. And even if it hadn't worked out, seeing a grand slam tennis tournament live for the first time made any fiasco worth going through.
None of the trips would have happened without the numerous travel companions, hosts and guides, and service people in the travel industry. Thanks to you, running through airport terminals, getting questioned by Customs and Immigration, and drinking until the wee hours of the morning made for exciting stories that I will remember forever. I talked to kind strangers, yelled at sketchy strangers, and shared one of the last free economy class meals with hungry strangers. None of these experiences would have been the same without you.
I loved traveling to these great cities, and I'm looking forward to even more traveling in the new year. But you know what? Home is where the heart is. And Los Angeles, you are what I call home.
The year's favorites from home
Although I've experienced some great eats while traveling outside of LA, food from home simply can't be beat. The best food from LA comes in all shapes, sizes, and flavors. One of them is a deep fried sphere of mashed potato stuffed with savory ground beef... just slightly larger than a golf ball but still smaller than a tennis ball. It is known simply as the Porto's potato ball.
The best food from home can be something from the local bakery that you get on a weekly basis or something from the Japanese sushi bar you have only on occasion. The spicy tuna, fatty tuna (toro) and sea urchin (uni) from Sushi Gen is some of the best in the Southland.
Just a few blocks over to the north of Sushi Gen is where you can find a classic Philippe French-dipped sandwich. Place it next to a bowl of chili, with or without beans, and glass of 75 cent lemonade you'll get a glimpse into my childhood. You may see me here munching on a roast beef dip and using crackers to spoon chili in... it's the same way I learned to eat when I was in elementary school.
But really, what makes a food your favorite is not whether it's a classic but how it makes you feel. It could be a macaron from Bottega Louie, the beef ribs from Lucille's BBQ, a Spam musubi from King's Hawaiian, the Taiwanese salt and pepper fried oysters from Happy Garden, hand-cut salami from the store, or peeled fruit from your own kitchen. The list could go on and on.
But perhaps the best food from home is really the food from home. Mom's beef noodle soup, dad's corned beef and cabbage, grandma's dumplings (hand-made or frozen) bring the kind of comfort that not even LA classics like Philippe can bring.
Along with some of my newly discovered food, these favorites contributed to the memorable year in delicious food. I can't wait for the food that has yet to be uncovered and the bountiful favorites that will carry over into 2011. I feel very blessed to have been able to relish in food aplenty and to have made it a hobby when there are tons of people around the world that have trouble just finding a bite.
Cheers to the new year. Until the next find, let's all get S.O.F.A.T.
Some pictures from this post have been contributed by oolong-milktea.
ML - 20110204