As many of you know, here in the United States (and in other countries too), the day after Thanksgiving is characterized by shopping frenzies, long store lines, crazy maneuvers in parking lots and, even, overnight camping to get the best deals. Yes, I am referring to the notorious Black Friday (loved by some and hated by others).
Of course, things are changing. Nowadays, it is more like an entire week or month filled with Black Friday deals. Then, you have Cyber Monday and Giving Tuesday.
I have to admit I am not a fan of shopping, malls or sales. Long time ago, I made the decision to use my money in experiential, personal growth, family-oriented and charitable activities.
But, I cannot deny I kept an eye open for discounts related to things I really enjoy. That is how I ended clicking on an Expedia link that took me to a page of heavily discounted tours in many cities of the world.
And guess what? I ended up buying two tickets for a tour I was contemplating for a long time. Guess again. Can you deduct was the tour was about? If you have read this blog for some time, well, then, you know I booked a food tour.
A lot of you may be familiar with Intrepid Travel, a small group adventure travel company that offers hundreds of scheduled itineraries around the world. Turns out the company has a division called Urban Adventures which offers off-the-beaten-path, experiential day tours in more than 80 countries and 100 cities.
I joined the Los Angeles’ Ethnic Neighborhoods Food and Culture tour on a warm and sunny Saturday afternoon. We ended up visiting three neighborhoods in the space of four hours.
The tour meeting point was in front of the Gaylord Apartments in Koreatown. These apartments are famous due to many reasons: it was built in Italian Renaissance Style, it used to be the highest building in Los Angeles (13 stories), it stands directly in front of the place where Robert Kennedy was assassinated and it has served as the living quarters of many famous people (movie stars, politicians, etc.).
The HMS Bounty Pub, a famous watering hole, is located next to the apartments.
A short walk, peppered with many historical facts, took us to our first sampling stop: Ham Ji Park, a popular eatery known for Korean fare.
We were able to enjoy the BBQ pork ribs, banchan (small dishes) and corn tea (made with boiled roasted corn kernels). Is it proper to say that I licked my fingers several times? Oh, those ribs were delicious!
We continued our walk around the neighborhood by walking though the Chapman Market, one of the first markets in the Western U.S. designed for automobiles.
In a matter of minutes, we arrived at Zion Market in City Center.
In there, we were able to try the hodo gwaja walnut cakes. These small cakes (some describe it as a mix of a donut and a pancake) have a walnut shape (obtained by using a cast iron pan) and are filled with different pastes and fresh, roasted almonds. Our version was filled with red bean paste and a walnut.
I do not consider myself a fan of red bean paste but, wow, these are addictive!
In addition, we were able to take a bite of goldfish-shaped sweet buns. Again, the fish shape is obtained using a cast iron mold. The cook places a layer of batter in the mold, followed by the filling and another layer of batter. He then tosses and turns the molds to obtain an even shape. The little pieces of batter that bleed thru the molds are cut off with scissors once the final product is taken off the heat.
We were given time to wander around the store and nibble on some samples.
Well, it was time to spice things up. And, I am not using figurative language in here.
The entire group hopped in a bus and headed to Little Armenia. After our arrival to the neighborhood, we regrouped to learn more about the history of the different migration waves in the area.
We stopped at Sasoun Bakery to try the cheese borek (dough folded into triangles and stuffed with cheese and spices).
The ladies who were running the bakery were taking dozens of lahmajune out of the oven. We couldn’t resist the delicious smell and the scrumptious appearance. We ended up buying two and ate them at the moment, still warm.
After that, it was time for the best Thai soup I have had in a long time. We were served generous servings of khao soi and Thai iced tea in a small, corner establishment. The khao soi is well known for its hand cut noodles (and they are actually prepared in house here), shallots, lime, chilies, coconut milk and crispy noodles on top.
I took a menu to study at home ‘cause I am definitely going back to that place.
It was time to cross into Thai Town, the only of its kind in the United States. I know this is kind of confusing but our first stop in there was an Armenian restaurant called Carousel (yes, we had Thai food in Little Armenia and Armenian food in Thai Town, after all, this is Los Angeles).
We were able to enjoy lulu kebab, hummus, mahamara (ground peppers, ground walnuts, olive oils, garlic, pomegranate and spices), pita chips and pickled turnips.
I was blown away by the flavors of the mahamara.
It was time to say goodbye to our tour mattes and lovely guide. But, before parting ways, we stopped at the Silom Market for some Thai tacos. They are made with a base of rice flour batter. Then, coconut flavor meringue and egg yolk (hardened) are added on top
Back to Koreatown
After all that glorious food, we rode back to Koreatown using the Metro. It was a fun, enriching and delicious experience. I have not been to any of the places featured in the tour. I can say I learned a lot about the different neighborhoods in Los Angeles.
This tour is highly recommended for people who want to learn about the “real” Los Angeles. I couldn’t be happier about the experience.
And, because we are so bad, we stopped by California Donuts once the tour was over. We ate the donuts the next day. I promise!
- Learn more about this and other tours here: http://www.urbanadventures.com/los-angeles-tour-ethnic-neighborhoods-food-culture
- Clarification: As stated initially, I was not compensated in any way to participate or write about this tour.
- Another clarification: the lahmajune were not included in the tour cost. They were only one dollar per piece. The donut stop was made on our own.
What food tour have you taken?