A Traitor at the Dinner Table

My Taste in Foods Is Positively Un-American

It all started with Hungarian food. That’s what I was raised on, good Magyar chow cooked by my mother and my great-grandmother Lidia Toth. Along the way, I also started to like American food, particularly hamburgers and hot dogs.

But then something happened when I came out to Southern California. It started with Mexican food. When I lived in Santa Monica, there was a Mexican buffet around Wilshire and 12th Street called Castillo’s. One of the girls behind the steam table was quite cute, and I remember eating there and ogling her.

That was only the beginning. Then I moved to Mississippi Avenue between Sawtelle and Corinth, which was in the middle of a small Japanese neighborhood. I dined regularly at the Osho Restaurant and the Futaba Cafe. When my miso soup has tofu in it, I naively thought they were cut-up shark fins. Before long, I was eating sushi—despite the fact that, while I lived in Cleveland, I saw fish only as dead things that floated on the surface of polluted Lake Erie.

When I worked at Urban Decision Systems at Santa Monica Blvd and Barrington Avenue, we frequently ate Chinese food at the Sun Kwong Restaurant, which was a very high quality Cantonese place. But then Szechuan cuisine invaded, plus I became a chili-head whereas before I went for bland foods. My tastes kept developing to such an extent that my parents—God rest their souls!—thought that I had betrayed my Hungarian heritage.

Well, it’s still with me, along with a whole lot of other cuisines. I drive poor Martine crazy with the weird spices and condiments I introduce into my cooking. At the same time, I try to make sure she gets plenty of the foods she particularly favors. These can usually be described as bland American food.

So it goes.




Exterior of Chinatown’s Hong Kong BBQ at Night

This being Thursday, I visited the Central Library at 5th and Flower Streets, then took the Dash B bus to Chinatown. The last several times I’ve been downtown, I headed to Chinatown and dined at the Hong Kong BBQ Restaurant. Their Spicy Fish Filet with Black Bean Sauce and their Spicy Eggplant with Fish Fillet make for a great lunch. So great that I wasn’t able to finish my dinner.

L.A.’s Chinatown actually shares billing with Vietnamese and Thai restaurants. I always look for the little old lady sitting on the sidewalk who sells a bag of fresh limes for a dollar. There are numerous shops selling Chinese lacquerware, statuary, jewelry, clothing, and other goods.

I used to cook Chinese more frequently than I do now. It’s not great to eat white rice on a regular basis if one is diabetic. So I splurge occasionally and hope the damage is minimal. Maybe the fish fillet makes up for the carbs in the rice.

Things have not always run smoothly with the Chinese population in L.A. In 1871, there was a race riot directed at the Chinese in which about twenty Chinese were hanged from lampposts by a mob of some 500 Angelenos. Not one of the members of the mob lost their lives or served time for their misdeeds. It was probably the ugliest race incident in Southern California’s history, except, of course, what we did to the Indians.



Could You Spare a Crust of Bread for a Hungry Peacock?

Where’s His Cardboard Sign?

Today I took Martine to the Los Angeles Arboretum. There we ate at the Peacock Café, where various peacock moochers attempted to cadge some treats from us. Martine was good (the Arboretum doesn’t want visitors to feed their wildlife), but I couldn’t help leaving a few crumbs of bread on the side of the table, which were voraciously accepted.

Martine and I are going through a difficult period. She still wants to leave Los Angeles. Not being married, I could not stop her. All I could do is keep the welcome mat out for her at all times. If she left, she would probably go back to Sacramento, where pretty much the only people she knows are in the cemetery. I feel sometimes as if I were treading barefoot on broken glass. Still, the way things are, I prefer being with her than without her. We have been together for almost thirty years, and I like being with her, even during difficult times.

Martine at the L.A. Arboretum

No, I am not interested in looking for someone else at this point so that I can celebrate Martine’s attempts to live alone without friends or funds. Some people are difficult, but if they are at the same time gentle and kind, they are worth their weight in gold.

Afterwards, we went to the China Islamic Restaurant in Rosemead, where I ordered lamb chow mein with fresh dough-cut noodles and sesame green onion bread.

Politics and Food

Sesame Green Onion Bread

Sesame Green Onion Bread

This last week, Martine watched a replay of an old Huell Howser visit to the China Islamic Restaurant in Rosemead. Now I used to go there some twenty years ago, but for some reason I thought the restaurant had gone out of business. A quick Internet check showed me that, no, it was still there.

Today, we drove out to Rosemead and I was able to indulge in what I used to eat there: sesame green onion bread (pictured above) and dough slice chow mein with lamb. I was in seventh heaven. I suspect, however, that my glucose reading this evening will be a tad on the high side, so I’ll have to compensate. Then again, I was waiting for twenty years to relive those flavors. So it goes.

Although I am not Muslim and do not find myself drawn to Islamic beliefs, I think that politics and religion have zero effect on my tastes in food. Even Martine, who is considerably to the right of me, loves hummus and chicken kebabs.

Afterwards, we drove to the 99 Ranch Market in San Gabriel for supplies to cook my own chow mein during the week. I was low on Kimlan Soy Sauce (my favorite), corn starch, bean sprouts, and Nanka Seimen chow mein noodles. The 99 Ranch Market is a huge Chinese supermarket with great prices for fruit and vegetables. The pork I bought there for the chow mein was also a good deal.

Martine was a bit put out by the crowds at the market, but I knew why the crowds were there.