Some weeks ago, for the first time, I had the opportunity to join a food tour.
I joined Six Taste’s Little Tokyo Tour.
Six Taste was launched in 2009 by two young USC grads. Since then, the company has grown faster than grass. It is also one of the most innovative companies in Southern California. Most of the guides are young and have other jobs. They plan special events to invite former tour participants. They send you cool e-mails highlighting events and places to eat in L.A. Plus, they have the craziest “corporate” picture I have seen. In other words, this is not an ordinary company. And I am saying this in a good sense.
In general, the tour was great. I learned a lot of interesting facts, met new people and tasted some fresh flavors. Our guide Betsy was phenomenal. She was funny, approachable and very knowledgeable.
Let’s get into the details. I am sure you are interested in knowing what we ate.
Before that, let me get some things straight.
This is not a Japanese food tour. This is a tour about the Little Tokyo neighborhood in Los Angeles. The tour is designed to learn more about this area. I think this is something that needs to be clear in order to fully enjoy the tour (you know, right expectations).
The weather on tour day was nasty. It was rainy and cold.
Our guide, Betsy, knew how to defocus our minds from the weather. She showed up with some hot and delicious buns from Yamazaki Bakery. She offered two flavors: pork and curried chicken. My husband chose one flavor and I chose the other one. We interchanged after the initial bites. Delicious!! I could have devoured two or three more.
Once I entered this elegant café and retailer, I felt like in a different world. They literality sell hundreds of tea variations. We smelled and tasted about six types. After this, I have to admit I am a tea neophyte. This experience taught me how we cannot judge a product that has a long history and tradition (and so many varieties). Most of the tea sold in well known retailers has nothing to do with what I experienced in this store. The green tea we tried was so good. Nothing similar to the bitter stuff we brew from tea bags. And then every type of tea has a different brewing time. If you don’t do it right, you affect the overall flavor of the drink.
My favorite was the Podrea (black tea). Buy Evening Comfort if you suffer allergies (eucalyptus based) and Mauritius if you want to avoid coffee (high in caffeine). In this store, you buy by the ounce and the staff writes in the bags the brewing time.
After dragging ourselves outside the tea room (I really wanted to stay), we stopped by Wakasaya, home of the bikkuri don challenge. The challenge consists in eating a pound of rice, a pound of raw fish and a soup in 15 minutes. The meal is free if you make it. If not, well you would have to pay the entire $50. Only a few have been able to finish on time (My husband wants to try it).
In Wakasaya, we had an udon soup and negitoro (tuna belly) don tasting.
In Mitsuru Sushi and Grill, we had a sushi platter. In here, we learned all about the beginnings of the famous California Roll. By the way, it was invented in Little Tokyo. Apparently, fish sellers used to throw away the bottom part of the tuna (belly or toro). Some sushi chefs looking to make a profit from cheap eats, started to ask for the unwanted parts. They created tuna rolls with them. They were a big hit at that time. Later, the price of the tuna belly started to increase (no more freebies). As a consequence, chefs started to think about creating another cheap roll. They put together cheap crab (or imitation) and avocado (to resemble the tuna fattiness). Whammm. The California Roll rose to fame.
It was time for some sweet morsels. Fugetsu Do is famous for preparing fresh mochi. This is a Japanese rice cake made of glutinous rice pounded into paste and molded into shape. Some additional flavors (fruit, chocolate, peanut butter) are sometimes added. This was my first taste of fresh mocha and I have to say it was pretty good. I mean, it had to be good since I have a problem with certain textures but I found these particularly tasty.
The tour included a stop at Four Leaf. This place is owned by a Taiwanese lady who specializes in crepes and fruit teas (popular in Taiwan). This is was the only non Japanese stop. Like I said, the objective is to make you aware of good places to eat in the neighborhood.
We had a chicken and gruyere crepe and a tea with small pieces of fruit.
At Mitsuru Café, we tried the Imagawayaki. This is kind of a flat rice bun filled with red bean paste (other fillings are available).
To end, we went to Mikawaya to eat mocha ice cream and mochilato (mochi plus gelato). I had the almond mochilato. My husband had the coconut one. Super, super good!!!!
Ok, this is a little summary of what we had. How I would rate the overall experience?
- Little walking
- Great guide
- Exciting (information presented in a fun way)
- Variety of tasting
- Lots of restaurant recommendations in the area (the ones we didn’t visit)
- Each tour is different. They don’t always go to the same places.
- You are really learning from a local
- Got information on events, festivals and interesting stores in the area.
- The tour meets its purpose (know better the neighborhood)
Room for improvement
- Found portions small (could have eaten more)
- Found the savory dishes (except the buns) average. Nothing spectacular.
Will I join another Six Taste in the future? Definitely. I have to say I enjoyed my first food tour experience to the maximum.
Tip: You don’t have to pay full price for the tour. I bought it at half price thru Living Social (similar to Groupon). You can also search the web for sites offering discounts.
Have you been on a food tour? How do you rate the experience? Let me know in the comments section below.
Note: I paid for our spots in the tour. This is NOT a sponsored post.