The first part of March was kind of loaded with interesting food news. Like a squirrel, I saved up the good stuff for this “Leftovers” post.
“LA Heat” at the Chinese American Museum in downtown Los Angeles looks like a fabulous exhibit on hot sauce art. Specifically, how Asian Sriracha and Mexican Tapatio has affected Los Angeles. Both are homegrown in LA and now major brands in the United States, rivals to Heinz Ketchup and French’s yellow mustard.
The show curator selected a diversity of artists for the exhibit, including Sandra Low, Daniel Gonzalez (above), and Trinh Mai. The roster of supporters reflects LA too, with folks like my friend Randy Clemens (author of the Sriracha Cookbook) helping to sponsor the exhibit.
Catch the exhibit if you’re in Los Angeles. The museum also has great exhibits on the history of Chinese communities in Los Angeles. The building is cool. Chinese food is within walking distance, as is charming Olvera Street.
“Food Maps” does not require you to go to a physical museum. You can browse the artwork online. Henry Hargreaves and Caitlyn Levin have constructed maps of various countries out of select and appropriate ingredients. For example, noodles for China, shrimp for Australia, seaweed for Japan, spices for India. America is corny.
ASIAN FOOD ASCENDING & BLENDING
My dad read about the Supreme Asian Chefs Culinary Battle in a Vietnamese news story and thought you’d like to know about it. It’s a competition going on – a tournament of sorts in different cities. The East and West Coast events are over but there’s still Las Vegas in April.
The competition is in its second year (I think) and it’s quite a to-do. The contestants are all Asian. The judges are diverse, as are the sponsors, which include Caesar’s Palace, the Korean Daily newspaper and Whole Foods. With lots of drama like with all food competitions, and a tagline of “Cooked or Be Cooked,” the competition sounds like fun. It’s also free to attend and watch. Most importantly, it’s a refreshing cross-cultural take on Asian food in America.
Restaurant reviewer Brett Anderson of the Times Picayune wrote a great piece on the evolution of Vietnamese restaurants in New Orleans. He gives a quick local history and then dives into discussing a new generation of modern Viet establishments: Namese (cubano sandwich with Viet pickles), Mint (Vietnamese-Thai chicken and waffles), MoPho (roast tofu with blackbean mayo banh mi), Ba Chi Canteen (bao crossed with a taco makes “bacos”, Pho Orchid (roast duck tacos).
On a quick scan, these eateries are doing some innovative things but they still produce what we can identify as Viet food. For example, the photo above looks like a beautifully presented Viet bo kho beef stew with carrots and star anise. I imagine that the ambiance and service is not what you’d get at a mom-and-pop spot. Get the lowdown from Brett’s story.
If you're keen on New Orleans, the Southern Foodways Alliance did a story on ya-ka-mein -- a noodle soup concoction that fuzzily blends traditions. Is it Asian, African-American, Southern? The SFA description makes me want to head to NOLA to taste it for myself:
It’s sometimes made with beef, sometimes pork, sometimes chicken, and occasionally seafood; sometimes spaghetti noodles, sometimes linguine, and occasionally udon or ramen. Some people garnish it with catsup, hot sauce, or an extra dousing of soy sauce. What almost all versions have in common is hardboiled egg (cooks fry the eggs at Ralph’s on the Park), freshly sliced green onions, and a salty, spicy broth or “juice” that tastes vaguely Asian, insofar as soy sauce tastes Asian. Ya-ka-mein is a meal and a half. Everyone we interviewed recommended eating it with a fork despite its soup-like nature.
There are 3 oral history interviews related to ya-ka-mien -- from a fancy chef to Linda Green, the Ya-Ka-Mien Lady:
And, Thai-American chef and restaurateur Kris Yenbamroong (I mentioned him in the Thai jeaw sauce recipe) got a nice shoutout last week from the New York Times. He’s self-taught, scrappy and serves some of the best Thai food in America right now at his restaurant Night+Market in Los Angeles. With the opening of his second location, the Times mentioned it online as well as in the Sunday print edition.
Kris’s Night+Market restaurants are outside of the Thai enclave in Los Angeles. For a while, I felt that critics didn’t believe that his food could be authentic because he wasn’t in the ‘ghetto’. I met him a few years ago at an Asian food event and one taste of his Northeastern Thai sausage, accompanied by fresh chile and young ginger, I knew he was the real deal.
It’s rare for a west coast restaurant with little PR dollars to get attention like this but Kris and his crew deserve it. I hope that this signals to other young chefs to produce gutsy, honest Asian food.
If you wonder about where your food comes from, The Meat Racket will make you think twice about Tyson Foods. The review in the Wall Street Journal was riveting. Author Christopher Leonard details the rise of the company, how it has controlled certain aspects of the food chain, and ruined small farmers. Leonard coins the word “chickenizing” to describe it all.
You may be saying, “It’s business. What do you expect?” Well, you’re right. But if this sort of thing makes you wary, there’s the scoop on what's going on in the coop.
I cannot remember when I last bought a Tyson Foods product but I imagine that the company impacts many people’s lives. If it’s possible and affordable, enjoy foods that come from nearby and procured in an economically fair manner.
If you see or read something interest, shoot me an email!