Thursday, May 8, 2014

Hannah Eats Everything moves to its own domain!

As of today, all new writing will appear at http://www.hannah-eats-everything.com!  Please update your bookmarks and RSS feeds!

It is time for a professional makeover for this site.  Having just begun a new job and overcome a months-long mystery illness, I now have the time, stomach, mental space, and overall wherewithal to put more energy into eating - and writing about it.

The new site, in addition to having a shorter name, also looks a little more organized and the categories are less scattered.  It also includes all previous entries from this blog, writings from my brief stint at Examiner, a few essays I wrote for myself, food-related musings from my 2006 trip to Indonesia, and selected, mildly edited Yelp reviews that I think fall in line with the tone of the site.

See you there!

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

It's loquat season in L.A.!

I'm 6 years old and being held aloft by my rib cage, just under my arms.  Just beneath me is a black, slightly spiked metal fence, its points just grazing my knees as I stretch, stretch, str-e-e-e-e-tch towards a tantalizingly out-of-reach cluster of fruit on the neighbor's tree.


My parents and I are stealing loquats.  I am complicit in an act of fruit thievery.

Even though I grew up in Chicago, my family would spend its spring breaks here, in Echo Park, Los Angeles, and spring break was loquat season (late March to late May).  Chicago during that season was a wasteland of slush and icy dirt, occasionally punctured by prematurely hopeful crocuses.  To fly off to a different land and steal fresh, juicy, tangy fruit directly off trees while all my friends at home shivered and ate out-of-season red apples was a source of great joy.

My memory may fail me here, as my memory has a tendency to invent dramatic additions to childhood experiences, but it tells me I'd fill my sweatshirt pockets with handfuls of the strawberry-sized loquats before my mom or dad or I would hear some noise, some gate slamming, some dog barking, and they'd hastily hustle me back over, my clothes snagging on the fence, and we'd sprint back down the hill, loquats jiggling out of my pockets and leaving a telltale trail.

As an adult, living on the same street as the former site of my crime, the trees look eminently (and disappointingly) reachable. I barely have to stand on tiptoe.   The tree behind the spiky fence is gone.  The new nearest tree, only two houses away, is owned by an amiable man who relaxes in his deck chair and watches me gather them.  His dog presses herself against the fence for a scratch, and that's all they ask in return.  A few more trees, further down the hill, hang over the sidewalk as if to say, "Here I am.  Look how easy this is.  Your days of excitement and petty theft are over."

Strangely enough, even the loquats coat backyard trees all over the city, most people I meet don't know what loquats are, and if they do know what they are, they don't know that they're edible.  This is changing, slowly - I've occasionally seen bunches of loquats on sale in markets, and there have been a few blog posts about them in recent years.  But when I was a child, no one I knew was eating them.  They felt like a family secret.

We'd run into the house with our smuggled booty and empty it out onto the living room table.  The fruit would roll all over the table like soft marbles as we grabbed paper towels from the kitchen.  Then, whoever had the best thumbnails would pierce the skin at the steam and start peeling.



Loquats taste like a cross between an apricot, a grape, and a pear.  They range from tart to sticky-sweet, yellow to orange, and oblong to spherical.  They're one of those labor intensive fruits with a low flesh to skin/seed ratio (see also: pomegranate, coconut, mango, rambutan, pineapple, mangosteen...), but note that those types of fruits are usually insanely delicious, otherwise people wouldn't bother.  Loquats are no exception.

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So.  How can YOU find some loquats for yourself before the short loquat season is up?  There are two ways: the lazy way and the right way.

Lazy Way: Go to a market.  Try your local farmers market or any Middle Eastern, Eastern European, or West Asian grocery.  Wholesome Choice or Super King are probably good bets.  But I hope you're OK with paying out the nose for something you can probably pluck off a tree right on your block.

Right Way: Take a walk.  Keep your eyes peeled.

Look for this.
You will see them.  By blog-law I am probably required to advise you to ask your neighbors before gathering their fruit, so consider yourself advised.  Also consider the dubious source of this advisement.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Traveling through Thai Town

Thai Town and Little Armenia are squished right up close to one another in the grid of East Hollywood, sometimes overlapping, their mingling tendrils making for some very strange-looking blocks indeed.  There have been times when I've been devouring a soujouk sandwich or dissecting a new box of almond cookies on the curb in front of some Armenian grocery when the scent of basil, turmeric and chilies comes wafting out of the restaurant next door, making me hungry all over again in a wholly new way.

I haven't yet explored the Armenian corners as much as I would like, but I've thoroughly ravaged Thai Town.  This is not to say, of course, that it's been ravaged enough.  Nothing ever has.

I've never been to Thailand.  I've glimpsed it in the Thai corners of Ruili and Phnom Penh, eaten countless plates of pad kee mow in the basement of a food court in Boulder, and that's about it.  I welcome its influence in Burmese, Khmer, and Vietnamese cuisine, and bow down to its ability to make me cry from spiciness.  But, like other Southeast Asian cuisines, it always soothes the fire it wrought with coconut juice immediately afterwards.  So I forgive it.

Although it's not in Thai Town proper, I find myself most often at Watdongmoonlek Noodle.  This used to be a microscopic place with 12 seats, no bathroom, and these uncomfortable wobbly stool-like chairs that left my long legs dangling like a child's.  They'd always fall asleep by the end of the meal, since I'd linger so long sipping their bizarre smoothie concoctions.

Its food has always been magical, and recently they renovated, expanding into the space next door.  Now they have a bakery AND a bathroom.  That's awesome in and of itself, but why else does Watdongmoonlek get my vote?

1. It's right smack between Silver Lake and Los Feliz and is affordable and doesn't suck, which is a miracle in and of itself.  (Aw, come on, 'Eastsiders' [and that nomenclature is another can of worms, I know], I'm sorry, but I wish one of you would successfully prove me wrong about this generalization.)

2. It does 'street Thai' and 'fancy restaurant Thai' equally well.  Want a plateful of sweetly charred pad see ew, and also perhaps an artfully arranged rambutan salad with swirls of coconut milk and precisely placed clusters of peanuts?  You don't have to go to two different restaurants anymore!

3. When it renovated, it left its low prices alone.

4. It's the first restaurant that picky me and my equally, but polar oppositely, picky uncle have ever agreed is delicious (with the possible exception of Western Doma Noodle).

5. It has lychee mint slushies.  It has pickled plum slushies.  It has pineapple basil slushies.  It has watermelon ginger slushies.  Mountains of icy slush topped with chilly fresh fruit.



Here's a slushy story: my ex-boyfriend was (and is) a vegetarian.  I tried in vain for years to get him to fall in love with food, but his perpetually stuffy nose, refusal to compromise his morals regarding animal flesh, and inordinate love for food like cereal, mashed potatoes, and steamed broccoli made this difficult, if not impossible.

However, he gamely tried his best, and we were a competitive pair, so whenever we'd go to places like Watdongmoonlek, or, say, Mil Jugos in Santa Ana - anywhere with an extensive and crazy drink menu - he'd quickly claim the craziest drink for himself, looking at me slyly as if to say 'who's the adventurous one now?'  At Mil Jugos, he ended up with something called a lulo, which tasted like someone took a lime and a jicama and spliced it with a cherry tomato.  At Watdongmoonlek, he ended up with the pineapple basil slushy.  (I had to take second place with my pickled plum slushy.)

And I've ordered just that slushy almost every time I've been back.  Even if I order basil-heavy dishes like the jungle fried rice.  You can't have too much basil!

Watdongmoonlek is delicious and reliable, and occasionally surprising, but when I want something that will force into existence whole new colonies of tastebuds on my tongue, I go to Jitlada.  I've written extensively on Jitlada before, so I won't reinvent the wheel by finding new ways to gush about it, but their dishes are so carefully and precisely balanced, with handfuls of perfectly complementary mystery herbs and spices, that each bite feels like a stop on a journey through a wildly exotic land.  Whenever I think I'm plateauing, that most of the tastes available to human beings have already touched my tongue, Jitlada disabuses me of that notion.

While fascinating and adventurous, Jitlada is also pricey, maddeningly crowded, glacially slow, and totally lacking in parking.  More often than not, I just want a quick bite, packed with flavor, for under $10, no pretensions.

For noodles - soup noodles and dry noodles, respectively - I have two go-to places.  For soup noodles, my pick is Rodded Restaurant for their excellent duck noodle soup.  It's dark-brothed, with duck textured as though it came right off a grill or out of a broiler.  It's tender, the fat is practically liquid, and very silky, and it still has its color.

For dry noodles, I go to Hoy-Ka Thai Noodles, which packs its namesake bowl with ground pork, pork liver, BBQ pork, pork meatballs, fish cake, and herbs and allows me to shoplift it from them for the ridiculously low price of $3.99.  Even though 90% of the bowl consists of different types of pork, each slice, ball, and chunk tastes unique.

For rice, Ruen Pair does a mean Cha-Po combination - its duck, pork belly, and BBQ pork are all cooked to their respective levels of perfection - and Pa Ord's crispy pork with holy basil is tooth-crackingly, greasily wonderful, with a spice chart so elevated that all but the most hardened diners should stop at 'medium'.  The deadly little pepper circles that look so innocuous blending into your basil are not innocuous at all, so treat them with respect.

In a category all its own is Spicy BBQ Restaurant, south of the meat of Thai Town, a place smaller than even the old Watdongmoonlek, with a sweet, friendly owner and a menu that starts out pedestrian but slowly morphs into mouthwatering at the Northern Thai end.  Its Northern special pork patties inspired me to go home and try to make a Thai fusion hamburger (this did not work, but the pork patties come close enough), and the spicy jackfruit has a back-of-the-throat kick that that distracts you from the oddly meat-like texture of the fruit.  The pork and the jackfruit are so indistinguishable that were I a terrible person, I could have easily fooled my vegetarian ex into eating this dish.

However, Spicy BBQ's Northern Thai Noodles did tempt a dining companion into taking her very first bite of blood cubes!  Usually, when someone points to the burgundy square and says 'what's that?' and I oh-so-casually say 'oh, you know, it's just blood cubes', they wince or reel back.  This dish looked so inviting that she merely shrugged and popped one in.