Welcome to Bite Sized World

I begin with an ending.

My mother and I are leaving Los Angeles. She's heading off to Bulgaria to write, enjoy life, and do whatever she damn well pleases, thank you very much. And I'm transplanting myself to New York for law school and a distinguished career as a something-or-other (I haven't quite figured out what just yet). Technically, I moved there nine months ago, but my mind never quite caught up with my body - so long as I had a base in L.A., I felt like a little part of me remained there. Now, with my mom a month away from her departure, we're both faced with the difficult task of saying goodbye to a home that we both grew to love, one that has given us some of our happiest memories. So I'm back in L.A. for a week to pack up the last of my things, spend some quality time with my mom and the City of Angels, and finally close off one chapter of my life.

Our home for the past twelve years has been a single-story duplex in Miracle Mile, one of those charming little "bungalows" built in the late 1920's, replete with white stucco walls, enormous arched front windows, and a pitched red tile roof. On a good day - which most days in Southern California are - we open all of the windows to let in the crisp morning light, and in the evenings, the setting sun blazes across the front porch and back yard, igniting the rose-colored hyacinths and casting the palm tree fronds' long shadows across the walls.

The house sits on a quiet, tree-lined street, but just a few blocks away you’ll find one of L.A.’s best walking neighborhoods, stretching across Third Street, between Robertson Boulevard and Fairfax Avenue. The neighborhood holds a slew of delectable restaurants, cafes, and bars – in fact, if you’re looking for a casual night out, you won’t even have to drive to get from dinner to drinks (not driving is a rare indulgence in L.A.): try the soup and salad combo at Doughboys (my personal favorite is the French onion soup with the warm portabella mushroom and pancetta salad), or the PBC&B – a peanut butter, chocolate and banana sandwich that will satisfy your sweet tooth and then some. Doughboys’ menu is a mélange of French and Italian cuisine and standard diner fare, all with a delicious twist. Take the rice crispy pancakes for example, or the almond crusted strawberry French toast – really, everything you try in Doughboys will soothe your soul (though it may not always go over so well with your arteries). After dinner, stand up from your seat, take a few steps to the side, and enter El Carmen, one of L.A.’s oldest bars. You’ll find a nice mix of people and a spirited atmosphere (think Lucha Libre masks and stuffed bulls’ heads mounted on the walls), plus a few hundred varieties of tequila. Don’t be afraid to try a mescal – its smoky flavor may be an acquired taste, but there’s nothing quite like it to warm you up on those oh-so-cold L.A. nights. One thing to note about El Carmen, however, is that the music tends to be fairly loud, so it’s not the ideal setting for a quiet conversation or a first date… not that I would know.

One of L.A.’s best features is the variety of food it has to offer, and each time I visit I do my best to sample as much as I can. Hungry for a bowl of ramen? Then look no further than Daikokuya in the Little Tokyo district of Downtown L.A., and don’t let its unassuming façade fool you – behind those blue curtains lies the best ramen in the city. (Ok, ok, a disclaimer is in order: this is not a scientifically verified observation, as I have not sampled every bowl of ramen in Los Angeles, but I’ve had quite a few and this tops my list).

There are only seven or eight small tables plus a few bar stools, so sometimes the wait can be a bit long – but it’s well worth it. As you walk in, thick steam rises from two giant cauldrons in the open-faced kitchen located directly behind the bar. Pots and pans clang constantly, the wait staff hollers across the restaurant, and an occasional ball of fire erupts from the stovetop – and voilà, you’re served with a heaping bowl of reduced pork ramen, thick and deliciously salty. It’s not just a soup, it’s a life force. Try it as part of a combination plate, such as the salmon roe and rice bowl, and you’ll be doubly happy. Note: the soup doesn’t carry over very well as a leftover, so you may want to share one between two people if you don’t want to take it home.

Los Angeles is a strange place. It doesn’t have the vibrant, fast-paced big city feel of New York, yet it’s always thrumming with a nervous energy. Something is always waiting to happen. You feel it particularly on those hot summer days, when traffic grinds to a halt in the late afternoon and the smog descends like a rusty blanket over the horizon. The city pulses with a hidden life, inviting you to wind your way through its gridlocked streets in search of the next experience. Because L.A. is not obvious like more metropolitan cities – you would expect great restaurants, jam-packed nightclubs and hidden gems in places like New York, Paris, Rome, where just setting foot outside your doorstep puts you face to face with city life. By contrast, you have to search out those experiences in Los Angeles, and you have to keep an open mind. What may seem like a ramshackle Downtown area is host to Olvera Street, the “birthplace” of L.A., where you can eat homemade menudo and drink rich, sweet horchata. And though the drive may take a while, catching a glimpse of the city from one of the lookout points on Mulholland Drive is breathtaking. You feel yourself swimming helplessly in The Matrix even as you admire its colossal beauty – especially if you go at the full moon.

I’ll miss Los Angeles. I’ll miss this house. When you spend enough time living in one city, you grow into it – or maybe it grows into you. Your body beats with that particular rhythm of life, you see the world through the lens of the local culture, and your taste buds become accustomed to a particular culinary range. As for the home, we have a primal connection to the place where we rest our heads, perhaps a remnant of thousands of years of uncertain living in a precarious world. Home is sacred, it’s something we yearn for and die for, a simple concept that sparks wars and yet is nothing more than four walls in which we house our lives.

If home is where the heart is, then my heart belongs to the world for now. As a student, your life requires a certain degree of mobility: leaving home to attend school, leaving school for summer internships, and so on. The lack of permanence can be unnerving, but if you open yourself up to it, the world awaits. I look forward to enjoying many more cities, eating great food, and soaking in life with all of my senses. Join me on this journey. Go on. Take a bite.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Beautifully written Radina! I loved your thoughts about "home". "If home is where the heart is, then my heart belongs to the world for now." Wow, very cool. : )