How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

Want to cook your favorite ethnic cuisine? Have an immigrant teach you

Photo by syvwlch/Flickr (Creative Commons)

The makings of flan, September 2010

Here's a novel idea: With foodie interest in ethnic cuisines at an all-time high, why not bring together said foodies who want to learn how to cook with the people who know how to make these dishes best?

Jennifer Lopez (not the celebrity) and Abby Sturges, a pair of Stanford University design students, have launched a Bay Area cooking school called Culture Kitchen in which the teachers are immigrants trained in their own family kitchens, rather than professionally-trained chefs.

The idea came from the two women's study trips to Myanmar and Kenya, where they spent time in the kitchens of local women as they prepared meals, Fast Company reports. Lopez, who is Mexican American, also counts time around the dinner table with her immigrant parents as "some of her fondest memories of childhood," she writes on the Culture Kitchen SF website.

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American snapshot: Echo Park

Photo by Leslie Berestein Rojas/KPCC

The Costa Alegre restaurant, a long established fixture on Sunset Boulevard, advertises its new vegetarian menu - yet another sign of changing times in Echo Park.

The neighborhood bucked the national trend in the 2010 Census, with its Latino population shrinking over the last decade, and its non-Latino white population growing.

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'What makes a restaurant authentic?'

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Should it matter if Cajun food is prepared by a chef from Iran, sushi by a chef from Mexico?

In a land where your sushi chef might be from Mexico, they guy who makes your pizza might be from El Salvador, and the owner of your favorite Cajun joint might be from Iran, how relevant is "authenticity" to a restaurant if the food is good? And what constitutes authenticity, anyway?

Elahe Izadi of WAMU's DCentric blog in Washington, D.C. poses these questions in an interesting post today, talking to the chefs and patrons of eateries operated by people whose ethnicity is different from that of the cuisine served.

Among those she interviews is Bardia Ferdowski, an Iranian immigrant who moved to Louisiana, working in Cajun restaurants and eventually opening his own Cajun kitchen in D.C. She also talks to Jose De Velasquez, an immigrant from El Salvador whose pizzeria, the Italian-sounding Moroni & Brothers, also serves Salvadoran and Mexican food. From the piece:

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Southern California must-trys: Filipino tacos and 'flan icing'

Photo by Ariel Edwards-Levy for KPCC

White Rabbit's red velvet flan: Filipino-style flan on top, the world's trendiest cake on the bottom

KPCC intern Ariel Edwards-Levy is on a mission to find some of the more intriguing tastes to come out of Southern California's cultural stew. We could call it fusion, but we won't. Let's just call it what comes naturally in a place like this.

Ariel's first entry involves a combination as Californian as the Beach Boys, the blending of Filipino and Mexican cuisines. Immigrants from both countries and their descendants have a long and intertwined history in the West that dates back generations. So the offerings of White Rabbit, a gourmet Filipino-Mexican food truck (and its newish brick-and-mortar Canoga Park cafe, housed in what looks like a former Taco Bell), are a naturally-occuring So Cal phenomenon. Hit it, Ariel:

The concept: Filipino-style meats and flavors fused with Mexican-style influences

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The new American barbecue: Carne asada, galbi, lula kebab y más

Photo by Sifu Renka/Flickr (Creative Commons)


In Los Angeles, the aroma that wafts from backyard barbecues on the Fourth of July varies slightly depending on the neighborhood one finds oneself in.

In large swaths of the city, from the Eastside to South L.A. to the southeastern suburbs, the smell of cumin and garlic from Mexican carne asada beckons. Drive north toward Glendale and you'll catch a whiff of the distinctive smell of grilled lamb from Armenian kebab. Head east into Downey and you'll find more garlic in the air, rising from the Cuban mojo smothered on pork chops.

Smelling one's way through neighborhoods is one thing, but eating the offerings is better. If you haven't been invited to one of these backyard feasts, the solution is simple - make one yourself.

A few recipes:

Carne Asada

There are few better backyard meals than tacos made with a good carne asada, grilled flank or skirt steak that has been marinated in a blend of spices that includes chiles, garlic, cumin, lime and orange juice. This comprehensive recipe lists not only the marinate and prep details for this grilled Mexican staple, but the necessary fixings to accompany it.

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