How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

From bok choy to daikon: Fresh, affordable produce to suit Asian tastes

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Temple Street in Historic Filipinotown isn't known as the place to go for fresh, quality produce. Rather, it's what Kyle Tsukahira calls a "food desert."

"You just see more liquor stores and more fast food restaurants than you do a farmer’s market, a Trader Joe’s, a Whole Foods," Tsukahira said.

That's why on a recent Sunday Tsukahira set up a makeshift vegetable stand on the sidewalk outside Tribal Cafe. He was surrounded by bags teeming with Asian vegetables.

"This one right here, we have a bundle of baby bok choy," Tsukahira said, rifling through a bag. "The next item we have here is a head of Napa cabbage."

Tsukahira helps to run the Roots C.S.A — short for community-supported agriculture. The goal is to bring affordable, fresh Asian produce to Asian communities around southern California while at the same time, supporting Asian-American farmers.  

Tsukahira pulled out a long root vegetable called daikon grown by Cha Her, a Hmong-American farmer from Fresno.

"It’s basically white radish," Tsukahira said. "Koreans like to use this for kimchi. Japanese like to grate this and put it on things like soba.”

The program is the brainchild of the non-profit Asian and Pacific Islander Obesity Prevention Alliance. Subscriptions - which are open to everybody - are $60 for three months' worth of vegetables to be picked up every other week. The two other pick-up spots are in Garden Grove and Monterey Park.

Tsukahira said Asians are seen as the "model minority" of health, but many struggle with weight-related issues.

Among Asian groups, issues such as high cholesterol and diabetes afflict people at lower weights than other ethnicities.

Filipino-American Moonie Lantion, who was there to pick up his bag of veggies, said the extra pounds were slowing him down .

"And, I’m like, wait," Lantion said. "I can’t be that kind of parent, and I don’t want to be that kind of a husband.”

Joining the CSA was part of his plan to live healthier by cooking with fresh ingredients.

"Filipino dishes – you do a lot of stews – you take up a lot of veggies," said Lantion who's shed 60 lbs. in the last year and a half, thanks in part to home cooking.

He said the bag of produce in his hand would go quickly: "I can knock these out."

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