Asia is the largest continent in the world, with over 40 sovereign states and territories. The boundaries between the European and Asian continents are not so easily defined. Many countries have cuisines and methods of cooking that go back centuries. There are overlaps and contrasts in certain types of food and their origins, with heated discussions about who makes something best. All I can add is yum for those of us on the sidelines.
Around the world in L.A.
I cannot claim to have eaten my way through the foods of all those countries and regions. It is a pleasurable job in progress. As a native Angeleno, living in a city that is a cross-section of the world, and having traveled a little, I have food memories from some of those places, eaten mostly in L.A. Let’s begin with a few first-timers: an eight-course dinner celebrating the Chinese New Year; a student pot-luck Filipino dinner; dim sim ordered by Chinese friends, who ordered unadorned chicken feet; special foods eaten at an end-of-the-day fast for Ramadan; Korean glass noodles made by a Librarian, who worried about too much garlic, never enough; stuffed grape leaves, Armenian recipe, as a take-along food on a road trip, and returning home to make them; shopping at Bangkok Market, closed last year, at Melrose & Olympic to buy curry paste for pad thai; Brashov Restaurant, Romanian Armenian, closed long ago, at Vermont & Franklin for mititei; Chinese jook or zook, a cure-all soup like its counterpart, chicken noodle soup; recently, Armenian eech; Armenian Food Fair & Festival last May at Holy Cross Armenian Apostolic Cathedral; hummus made by a colleague, who has secret touches that make it the best ever.
Iranian Feasts in L.A.
Southern California has the largest Iranian community outside of Iran. Food memories: a raw egg yolk tossed into a hot stew, (khoresh), quickly stirred to make everything rich and creamy; doogh yogurt drink; the great variety of khoresh (stews); pickled vegetables fragrant with fenugreek; Persian cucumber, planted with seeds from Iran in a garden in Santa Monica, picked warm from the vine, and eaten with crystals of coarse salt; a snack of dried wheat berries; fighting over tahdig made from rice or potatoes; bamieh; rosewater and saffron used in ways never imagined by me. So many more memories of meals, the very best kind, cooked and served at someone’s home, where it was an honor to be a guest, and to be on the receiving end of abundant food and even more hospitality.
In Istanbul and other parts of Turkey: crispy simit; kunefe; grilled mackerel sandwiches fresh off a grill on a boat in the Golden Horn; fresh lemon squeezed on any bowl of the numerous lentil soups; burek; a plate of crispy fried anchovies; gozleme; in the Spice Bazaar in Izmir, a Turkish friend sharing a childhood treat—a slice of pickle in a small paper cup with the pickling juice; Turkish breakfasts; sour cherry jam in real yogurt; kumpir; freshly squeezed pomegranate juice; mezze is a meal in itself, and so much better; an array of candies, not just Turkish delight, mixes of seasoned roasted nuts and seeds sold in stalls in a Spice Bazaar; in the old part of Ankara, hospitality offered in a street market, where a man put out his hand, palm up, I offered to shake it, he waved me off with a smile, and dumped a fistful of warm roasted pumpkin seeds into my hand; on a cold damp evening, the smell of coffee roasting in Istanbul’s Spice Bazaar. As with Persian food, the best meals were at someone’s home, where hospitality reigned supreme. We feed ourselves to live, and we eat to live. On special occasions, we feed ourselves and others to celebrate. Every culture, country, religion, ethnic group has different types of foods they like to cook and eat. If you are not part of that group, then openly accept an invitation to a festival, a wedding, a religious event, and any seasonal celebration. Be part of the rituals, the foods, and their significance, the unique foods as prepared by someone’s elderly relative from a secret recipe handed down generation to generation, and have a wonderful time. As a guest, do not forget to bring a gift, and find out ahead of time what is appropriate.
The library’s cookbook collection is legendary, as are the Culinary Historians of Southern California. This list of cookbooks does not even begin to scratch the surface off an eggplant as to what our library can offer.