California… a place that is both near and dear to me as well as a place I cringe. When I tell people I was born and raised in Los Angeles, I usually get a “…ooohhh… That must be amazing.” My usual reply is “…meh. It really isn’t.”
Los Angeles is a place of contradictions. It’s a superficial town with Hollywood wannabes lurking. It’s a place were the hippies thrive on healthy and clean living, all while sitting in traffic in their luxury cars. But I digress…
My family lives here, and so, I come back.
I’d decided that in my three year absence, I would make this my LA food tour, complete with my fat pants in tow.
First stop was dim sum. Now, to do dim sum properly, you need people. I would suggest a minimum of four people. Unfortunately, I only had my mother with me. (How dare people go to work on a Tuesday morning!) But we pushed through. Har-gau (steamed shrimp dumplings), siu-mai (open topped steamed pork dumplings) and lo mai gai (glutenous rice wrapped in banana leaves) arrived on the table. And I ate until my stomach cried mercy. It felt good.
In the car after being picked up by the parentals was a discussion on burgers. My traditional Chinese parents who loved Chinese food couldn’t understand my love of In-n-out burgers. “Why don’t you just go to Burger King? They got that everywhere and they all tastes the same,” said my misguided father. Thanks to my dear friend, Ahmed, I found myself in the sacred grounds of the two-crossed palm trees. Ahmed scoffed when I asked for my burger to be protein style (lettuce in place of burger buns) but ordered animal-style fries (fries topped with grilled onions, cheese and their special sauce). It was oh-so-satisfying.
Next stop on Elaine’s eating tour of LA was Philippe’s. This LA institution is found at the edge of Chinatown and home of the French dipped sandwich. Served on cardboard plates, these sandwiches were simple but delicious. It’s soggy so it falls apart quickly, but not in a way that’s disgusting. And add their homemade mustard and you’ve got a sandwich made in heaven. And we had blueberry pie for dessert. I love blueberries.
I have to admit, I’m a Mexican food snob. Having lived in both LA and San Diego, I think I know what proper Mexican food should taste like. A carne asada burrito as big as my head loaded with meat, beans and cheese and topped with Tapatío hot sauce is what brings me joy in my life (and a need to own a permanent pass to the gym). Ok, as I’m writing this, I would like to change something… California-Mexican food. The family ordered food from a local joint just 10 minutes walk from the house. On Yelp, only some reviewers got food poisoning. It was messy and very filling. I also swore off Mexican food for the rest of the trip.
Unlimited Korean BBQ. This was my father’s request for his belated birthday dinner. In Korean BBQ, you just order loads of meat and grilled it at your table until your stomach expands to which you look like you’re nine months pregnant. We stayed there for two hours and ate almost half a cow’s worth of meat. And since I had become a semi-vegetarian in Vietnam, eating this amount of meat in one go was overwhelming.
Besides eating, I also discovered some new things. The Broad is a new museum (to me, at least.) in downtown LA. It showcases contemporary works of art. I know I’m not exactly an art expert, but some things I really liked there. My favorite piece was Jeff Koons’ Tulips. It’s massive but so eye-catching. If I had a big-enough house and copious amounts of money, I would consider getting the piece. But the Infinity Mirrored Room was definitely worth it. Doug had tried to get in to see this room once before and failed. This time we got lucky. We were only allowed to stay in for 45 seconds, but it was pretty amazing. It really did feel like it went on forever.
While waiting for the Infinity Mirrored Room, Doug and I stumbled upon a free audio tour of the Walt Disney Concert Hall located next door to the Broad. I’ve seen the building from the outside, but the inside is just as impressive. Although we didn’t exactly follow the tour (we got lost), it was still fun to wander around the building and hearing the insights of Frank Gehry, the guy who designed the place.
The main objective of the trip was to reconnect with the family again. We didn’t exactly have the closest relationship. Now that I’m older and perhaps a little wiser, I was trying to make up for lost time. The cherry on top was a surprise visit from my long-lost older brother. He’s in Washington state fixing teeth. He heard I was in town and bought a plane ticket down to visit. It was really good to see him again.
And best of all, he got us Thrifty ice cream. Talk about nostalgia!
Alas, a week quickly came and went. I said goodbye to everyone and promised to visit again sooner rather than later.