You Could Show L.A.'s Diversity By Mapping Its Desserts
Check out our annual restaurant issue, which this year celebrates desserts, out this Thursday, Aug. 8.
You could follow a road map to get around Los Angeles -- or you could simply trust your nose. From the tantalizing aroma of roast duck in the San Gabriel Valley to bacon-wrapped hot dogs outside Staples Center, this is a town that has as many signature dishes as it has neighborhoods.
Even as we can chart Los Angeles by its savory eats, there is much to be gained from a sweets view of the Southland. At the center of the map, there'd be sikhye, like the one at Hwa Sun Ji in Koreatown -- the sweet, malted rice refreshment is believed to soothe stomach troubles. There's mochi ice cream in the heart of Little Tokyo and fresh fruit carts dotting Echo Park.
Consider our list a cartography project with desserts as icons, tracing the cultural layout of a city connected in spirit more by its food than its roadways.
Mochi Ice Cream in Little Tokyo
Anne Fishbein mochi at Mikawaya
In 1994, the nearly 102-year-old Little Tokyo shop Mikawaya introduced Los Angeles to mochi ice cream, a postmodern update of the round Japanese rice cake that's traditionally filled with sweet bean paste. While it was neither first in invention (credit goes to Japanese snack brand Lotte) nor the first to sell the stuff in the States (that'd be Hawaii), the confection nevertheless belongs to L.A.
The legend goes that Mikawaya's then-owner, Frances Hashimoto, who died in November, encouraged her husband, Joel Friedman, to explore his idea of using ice cream as a mochi filling. The shop eventually went on to package and distribute mochi ice cream on a national scale, becoming synonymous with the treat even after imitators arrived on the scene. Now, 19 years after its introduction, Angelenos can stop by one of three Mikawaya shops, including the one located at the juncture of the L-shaped Japanese Village Plaza Mall, for flavors you can't find in grocery stores. In recent years, they've added mochilato -- mochi plus gelato -- for variety.
Flickr/Kirti Poddar Jalebi
Jalebi in Artesia
Any Indian snack shop worth mentioning in Artesia has semi-neat stacks of jalebi: deep-fried pastries shaped like coils and immersed in so much sugar syrup, accented with orange food coloring, that they glisten golden from a few feet away. Inquire about jalebi at, say Surati Farsan Mart on 186th Street or at Jay Bharat, around the corner on Pioneer, and you'll more than likely be offered a sample of the chewy pastries before you'd even think to ask.
Typically sold by the pound, jalebi can be an edible litmus test: Your enjoyment of this treat directly correlates to your appreciation for sugar itself. These aren't pastries for those who prefer subtle tastes -- or texture, for that matter. There are hints of saffron, cardamom and rosewater, but sugar leads as a primary note.
Facebook/Blockheads Shavery Co. Snow ice
Snow Ice in San Gabriel
Consider snow ice the 2.0 version of Taiwanese shave ice -- the latter is a large dish of popular sweets like grass jelly, red beans or barley, topped by shave ice and then drizzled with condensed milk. Making good on its name, snow ice (sometimes known as shaved snow) is a twist on the classic, with a texture that's soft and almost fluffy from a shave made extra-fine. A milk-and-water base provides the creaminess that shaved ice lacks.
Shaved ice drew crowds, for a time, to Shau May at its now-closed Alhambra location. A version of Shau May in Monterey Park still offers the traditional slush, but these days you're more likely to hear buzz over its successor at tea shops and quick-lunch spots throughout San Gabriel and the surrounding neighborhoods. It can be capped with liberal portions of seasonal fruit, usually either fresh mango or strawberries, or paired with scoops of ice cream and diced fruit.
118 Japanese Village Plaza Mall, Los Angeles, CA