Category Archives: LA

Corporate Food

The Factory Ship depicts the plight of the Japanese proletariat, through the example of mistreated sailors, fishermen, crewmen, and factory boys on a crab cannery factory ship. The workingmen are constantly mistreated and overworked by their superiors, especially the superintendent and are treated no better than objects. This objectification or “thingification” of the crewmembers onboard the ship is represented by both the food that they consume and through the extended metaphor of the workers as food themselves.

Those on board the factory ship are divided distinctly into two groups: the lazy and mean managerial figures (like the superintendent) and the workers who are abused and overburdened. While the lazy upper class is given good food, the lower classes are basically starved: “Like prisoners, they were obsessed with food” (14). Even when they are given meals, the sailors still do not receive the same luxuries afforded to their superiors.  On one particular occasion, “the fishermen had their usual meal of rice so crumbly that they couldn’t pick up a satisfying mouthful on their chopsticks and salty bean soup with shavings of something or other floating on top of it”, while “the cooks took all kinds of foreign-style food to [the superiors]” (55). Therefore, in The Factory Ship, food serves as a representation of unfair social difference. The crew does not receive the meals that they have earned while the seemingly worthless officers dine on unmerited cuisine. Therefore the crew is not treated as human, but as things with one purpose: to work.

The proletariat crewmembers are also objectified as food throughout the text. They are stuffed into their quarters like rotting food in a storeroom. The storeroom where “several dozen pickle barrels were kept, and the pickles feces-like stench mingled with the other foul odors” is juxtaposed with their quarters, which were “dark and gloomy, and the fishermen were sprawled about like pigs in a pigsty. A foul nauseating smell pervaded the room” (4-5). The conditions in which the men live are almost identical to the conditions of the pickles: foul smelling and cramped. This exemplifies the comparison of the deteriorating men as rotting food. As conditions for the men worsen, the comparisons become darker. They work until “their hands [are] raw and red as crab claws” (11) and the superintendent continues to treat them inhumanely, as if they are merely food; for example, when checking the bunks: “Roughly, as if inspecting pumpkins, he twisted the heads of the sleeping factory hands towards him” (15). These metaphors imply that the men are not considered human beings by the officers and the corporation that employs them, but are only as useful as food is to a person. They serve their purpose and then are consumed or thrown away when no longer useful. The superintendent checks the bunks like one would check a storeroom for inventory, rudely and mechanically. The workers are not important as human beings to the company, but instead, they are fuel or food for the corporate entity. This sad truth is most explicitly exemplified in the idea that, “In Hokkaido, workers were referred to as ‘octopuses’ since, to keep itself alive, the octopus will eat its own tentacles, if it must” (39). Therefore, the text implies that workers must unify and revolt because otherwise they will be objectified as things only useful for providing fuel for the company, then discarded when rotten or sucked dry of all nutrition or worth, like some kind of corporate food.

Expo Line

Service from La Cienega/Jefferson to 7th St/Metro Center begins this Saturday, April 28. Culver City station opening this summer. More info here.

Mike D’s Transmission LA

17 artists, 17 days. From now until May 6 at the Geffen Contemporary at MOCA. Full exhibition details, including a schedule of music events, are available here.

To get from UCLA to the Geffen Contemporary by public transportation, I suggest taking Metro Bus #720 from Wilshire and Westwood. Get off at Wilshire and Western, and take the Metro Purple Line to Civic Center. From there, it’s just five-block walk east on 1st St (into Little Tokyo).

CicLAvia

10 AM – 3 PM
Sunday, April 15

More information is available on the official CicLAvia website. A group from UCLA will meet at the Bruin Bear at 9 AM to bike over together, and they’ve posted an event page on Facebook.

626 Night Market

Battleship Potemkin: A Unification and Solidarity Through Food

Sergei Eisenstein’s silent film, Battleship Potemkin, is a dramatized flashback of the mutiny that took place in the early 1900’s. Eisenstein utilizes the Russian crewmen’s rebellion against the officers of the Tsarist regime to encourage a proletariat revolution against the communist Soviet Union. Throughout the film, Eisenstein uses food as a mechanism to bring together the proletariat and to establish a sense of collectivity and solidarity.

Smimov inspects the maggot-infested meat.

At the opening of the film, the audience discovers the sailors’ frustration towards the superiors as Vakulinkchuk delivers a manifesto that unites the workers to rebel against authority. The crewmen’s frustration from being fed maggot-infested meat provides a commonality between them and thus ignites their unification. While the dissatisfaction of food establishes solidarity, the film also visually depicts the workers as a collective group. In this first screenshot, to correspond to the worker’s heightened anger the orchestral music becomes more dramatic as the superior examines the mass of maggots feeding on the meat. Here, the maggots are clustered together, which parallels the workingmen who are viewed as a uniform group, unlike the distinct superiors in black uniforms.

The crewmen gather on the ship deck. They are seen as a collective mass dressed in all white.

These two screenshots visually depict the similarity between the men and maggots as they are both viewed as a collective: the men aredressed in the same clothing and are hardly distinguishable just as the maggots are viewed as a clustered group rather than individually. As these maggots infest the meat, Eisenstein provides a parallelism to the crewmen’s deepening desire to “infest” the superiors and execute their rebellion. In both shots, the camera angle looks down on the mass of maggots as well as the workingmen. This downward angle illustrates the inferiority the men feel to their superiors and their longing for more equality.

The bubbling and boiling hot soup representing the crewmen's brewing anger.

As an act of defiance the sailors refuse to eat their soup. This screen shot depicts the parallelism between the boiling hot soup and the men’s intensified anger due to the unfair treatment they receive. Eisenstein zooms in on the bubbling and steaming soup with the purpose of visually portraying the men’s discontent. Here, food is utilized to correspond to the men’s brewing emotions as well as their solidarity.

The uneaten and untouched bowls of soup.

Once again, there is a parallel between the soup and the crewmen as the pots in this screenshot are positioned in a group-like, uniform manner. The untouched soup illuminates the sailors’ unity and overall group effort to rebel. These isolated and indistinguishable dishes represent the absent workers who are executing their first act of mutiny. The scene’s emphasis of the pots swinging back and forth relates to a ticking grandfather clock, which demonstrates that it is only a matter of time until the workers execute their greater plan of rebellion.

Intertitle that demonstrates the proletariat unity.

After the crewmen take over the Potemkin, the working class of Odessa supports their rebellion and is inspired to rebel against the upper class. As a variety of people join together to display their reverence to the sailors, this idea of collectivity is present yet again. The people of Odessa unify and bring fresh food to the crewmen as a symbol of their support. Once again, food is utilized to bring together individuals. Although unfamiliar with one another, food unifies the workers on the Potemkin and the people of Odessa into one working class group. Their desire for equal rights and the abandonment of upper-class oppression ignites their unification. The intertile, “Mothers, sisters brothers! Let nothing divide us!” additionally displays and solidifies the proletariat group unity. Similarly, as the screenshot of the rhythmic passing along of food resembles an assembly line, it highlights their joint efforts and overall solidarity.

Working together to bring food on the ship.

Clearly then, Eisenstein’s use of food emphasizes the unity of the working class. Throughout the film, he demonstrates how food creates an unbreakable cohesion between others. This relationship between food and unity illustrates how a powerful bond can ignite a group to revolt and bring about change.

The Art That Draws Humanity Back Together

Food provokes the buds on your tongue to water. It provokes the subtle twitching of your nose. But most rewardingly, food provokes your memories, especially the most nostalgic and seemingly abandoned ones. The film Café Seoul, directed by Takemasa Haru, replants the story of three brothers  (Sang Woo, Sang Hyuk, and Sang Jin) and their family’s traditional Korean confectionary shop trampled among corporation gangsters, while a Japanese journalist attempts to write an article about the shop and ultimately becomes a part of the surrogate family and brotherhood. Café Seoul ultimately reveals food as an art of the senses that draws humanity back together.

One key idea from the film is the notion that food that has integrity is an art of the human senses.

Nostalgia of Nurungji

In this first screenshot, Dong-choon, a past friend of the family and now an elite gangster, recalls the memory of the three brothers’ grandfather, his kindness, and the nostalgia of nurungji. Dong-choon watches and hears the sprinkling of the sugar intently, almost hypnotized by the image of such simplicity. As he takes a bite of the nurungji you can hear the crisp crunchiness of the scorched rice; you could even assume the smell, the subtle nutty scent of yellowed scorched rice. Sang Hyuk then pours hot water in a bowl of smaller pieces of nurungji, creating an aftermeal rice tea. After Dong-choon takes a sip of watered nurungji the atmosphere changes and the memory of the past is fully recovered. Dong-choon bows his head, then turns to the wall of old familiar photographs, and grieves regretfully. In this sense, food not only requires the participation of all the senses, it also serves as an everlasting beacon of light that tugs on the heartstrings of every human being. No matter how distant you drift from your origin, food is a dependable compass (or GPS) that faithfully draws you back to kinship and friendship.

A motif in the film is the use of parallel imagery to illustrate the opposing elements of humanity.

Jun and Sang Hyuk looking at family photos

The first parallel is the similar situations between Jun and Sang Hyuk. Though Jun lost his family he hopes to keep Sang Hyuk’s family from falling apart. In these two screenshots both men (one Japanese, the other Korean) look deeply into their family photographs, which serve as reminders to keep living despite the hardships and the absence of family members.

Flashback of the brothers eating Nurungji

Similarly, the screenshots above depict the relationship between food and family through the use of flashbacks. As stated above, the nostalgia of nurungji brings people back together because of the richness of the past and despite the conflicts of the present.

Clashing societies: urban and rural

The film itself is a paradigm of modernized urbanism versus traditional ruralism and the people that struggle within such societies. Thus the last screenshots above show the opposing communities that live right next to one another. Through the medium of food—the traditional Korean sweets from shops like Morandang—the film is able to draw you back to the importance of human relationships and relegates the recognition of individual achievement.

A World of Food We Have Never Known

Tampopo is fairly easy to follow—a man, Goro helps Tampopo, the widowed owner of a noodle shop, understand the true art of making and selling ramen. However,  in the different short vignettes inserted into this main narrative, Itami Juzo presents food in a bold, inhibited manner that illustrates various roles of food. Itami utilizes certain cinematic techniques such as POV shots, extreme close-ups, and fluid transitions to break down the boundaries of film and reality for the audience to truly experience, see, and almost taste food in unimaginable ways.

From the beginning, it is impossible to view the film objectively as the gangster speaks to us directly—hinting at the basic theater courtesies to our own audience—and dissolves the distinction between our two worlds. The extreme close-up of his face and the mobile camera closes the distance between cinematic reality and ours as we find ourselves becoming part of his theater space.

We instantly become an omniscient, omnipotent character in the film when we are placed in Goro’s perspective before even the credits roll. The POV shots are subtle but crucial as Itami inserts them in moments to almost live vicariously through the characters. For example, after a rather odd sequence of the gangster eating an oyster from a young girl, we are placed quickly in a different story of a man with a toothache whose pain is more relatable to us. Itami takes us one step further when we are actually placed in the dentist chair—in the perspective of the man. We move from empathy to ultimate dread as we revoke our own memories in the dentist office.

When Tampopo’s son requests an omelette, we are invited to see the careful process that the cook undergoes to create such a simple dish. Similar to the concept of the male gaze upon the female body as the object of desire, we gaze upon the close-ups of food and the process of ramen creation with a similar yearning and lust. In all sequences of food, no dialogue is necessary as the food speaks for itself with the camera placed in birds-eye view; Itami wants us to only concentrate on the food and our involuntary reactions toward it. However, he then overturns every conventional view on food by placing the same ingredient in the next sequence. Itami rather foreshadows the reverse version of the egg by the subtle transition as the singing in the previous story is still heard in the background. In a long, unedited shot, the gangster and his girlfriend rallies the yolk of an egg in their mouths. By placing us right in the middle—sometimes right in between the two characters—Itami challenges us to really explore different ways to experience food and not restrict it to mere daily consumption.

Tampopo’s heart-warming story may be the main plot, but it is the short sequences that really express Itami’s intention to depict food as a rather adaptable and universal medium. Although the film may seem rather “random” and erratic, the carefully constructed shots edited together suggest otherwise as viewers walk out of Tampopo with a new perspective on food.

Little Tokyo’s Daikokuya Review by rameniac.

大黒家 Daikokuya: Gold Minders

by rameniac | 17 Dec 2007

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Once upon a time, a budding freelance journalist covered Daikokuya for a Japanese community newspaper. The resulting article, entitled “Black Pork and Blind Love,” naively extolled the gyoza (“the best in town!”), and the nascent ramen shop’s use of Berkshire pork chashu. Back in those days, kurobuta was virtually unheard of in this country, gas was seventy cents a gallon, and modern-day food bloggers were still sucking down six-for-a-dollar packages of Maruchan, college kids with barely the disposable income to afford the parsley sprinkles atop a Michael Cimarusti foam-jaculation.

This aspiring food writer (who shall remain nameless) somehow found himself in a relationship with Daikokuya’s manager, and it should go without saying that when one dates a ramen girl, he pretty much marries into the shop clan: her brother who makes the gyoza, the goateed guy with the tattoos, the part-time recording engineer…

But I digress. The resultant article saw print as a color spread and earned a prominent spot on Daikouya’s shop window. Local rameniacs were happy and all was right with the world. That is, until one Pulitzer-winning food critic ate his way across town, bumped the old review off the display with his own glowing treatise, and turned an entire block of First Street into an outdoor waiting area for Giant Robot subscribers.

Nowadays, it’s nearly impossible to get a seat at Little Tokyo’s most popular ramen shop without an hour-long wait. Downtown office workers monopolize the lunch shift (don’t even think about a quick slurp while on jury duty), and come nights, the place packs in Arts District hipsters like sardines in a tin box.

In the wake of prosperity, Daikokuya’s owner has since opened several more restaurants; ensconced in his trademark Humvee, Koyama-san now surveys a budding empire that includes an izakaya, a karaoke bar, and even a bento shop in the hinterlands of the San Gabriel Valley.

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However, it is the noodle that remains his bread and butter, and night after night, this greasy spoon kitchen on First Street continues to ladle up generous portions of “Daikoku Raumen,” a hybrid shoyu-tonkotsu bowl with a distinct porky aroma and a hint of heady, smoky funk. Foodies occasionally decry the consistency; apparently the chefs began fussing with the recipe in an effort to accommodate the influx of new customers. But on my last few outings (and trust me, I know the place intimately), Daikoku Raumen is more or less the same as I remembered it. Good, hearty, and a bit over hyped given the “Jonathan Gold effect” his recommendations tend to experience.

Staunch supporters of Daikokuya often cite the richness of its kotteri soup (you have to request extra oil) as evidence of its brilliance, but the adventurous few who dare venture into the South Bay (come on, it’s really not all that far) may well prefer the offerings at Santouka and Asa, and even Hakata Shin-Sen-Gumi.

It is Daikokuya’s noodle that I have never quite managed to get behind. Their soup is distinctive and rich, but the actual noodle is generic yellow strand, straight from JFC importers and better suited to a traditional shoyu or shio soup.

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Still, it’s a minor quibble in an otherwise quality dish, a decent alternative to the generic miasma of ramen served in town, and certainly the best option for those unwilling to venture outside of Los Angeles proper. The toppings in a bowl of Daikoku Raumen are generous and luscious; they were one of the few shops around to serve hanjuku half-boiled eggs, until one day the undercooked yolks apparently scared off some less-adventurous diners.

Daikokuya’s side dishes (barring the sushi bowls) are spectacular. Their arabiki sausage is in fact the “best in town,” plump, fatty, and nearly bursting out of their casings. As for the aforementioned gyoza, it is exceedingly flavorful and may arguably be the king of the hill.  In theory it’s certainly a cut above the rest, and if imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Tokyo Café, right around the corner, may well have raided Daikokuya’s dumpster in devising their own rectangular knockoffs. Of note however – my last order came out a bit floury and undercooked. I chalk it up to the rush, and the missteps a small, neighborhood restaurant often experiences when it’s gotten a little too popular for its britches.

But that’s what often happens with success. I give Daikokuya credit for trying, but it’s also why I hope a few of my other usual ramen joints stay a bit under the radar. Unless of course, you read about them here first.

Rameniac’s Rating.

  • Soup  = 6.5. Heady, funky, porky… the shoyu-tonkotsu soup in a bowl of daikoku raumen should be designated a los angeles landmark in the tradition of pink’s hot dogs. Is it the best? No. Is it good? Yes. It was one of the first, and still, there’s not much else like it in town.
  • Noodles = 3. JFC! Maybe they should stop importing fresh ramen noodles altogether. It would force the daikokuya chefs to handmake their own noodles, preferably something in the skinny, al dente hakata tradition.
  • Toppings = 7. Daikokuya makes fine use of kurobuta chashu; with fatter, tender slices of pork, a whole shoyu-marinated egg, and a generous portion of green onions you can’t really go wrong. Also, it’s one of the few ramen shops in town to offer tableside crushed garlic. Big ups for that.
  • Sides =8. Daikokuya’s rectangular-shaped gyoza is distinctive and highly flavorful. Best in town? Perhaps. Their arabiki sausage, however, is definitely the cream of the bulbous, fatty crop. So good they explode with juiciness upon that first bite. I’ll stop now.
  • Ambiance =7. Funky post-war decor, a high energy vibe, and an overall festive atmosphere recalls rural japan in a way rarely seen on these shores. It’s a great place to hang out, provided you can get a table.
  • Intangibles =7. Daikokuya is a pioneer in that it was one of the first ramen shops to serve shoyu-tonkotsu ramen in L.A. In those glory days, it used to stay open til 3am. nNw it closes at midnight, which is still noteworthy in a way. I dated the manager. Come on, can i be entirely neutral here?

Overall = 16.5.

327 E. 1st Street
Los Angeles, CA 90012

(213)626-1680

Jonathan Gold Reviews Guisados

Thursday, September 22, 2011

via LA Weekly

Today’s object of desire: chiles torreados, which is to say chiles, sauteed over a high heat until they blister and char, served in a steaming, fragrant mass that both tinges and overwhelms everything it touches with sustained chile heat.

Chiles torreados aren’t particularly rare — good taquerias tend to have bins of them free for the taking — and, unlike almost everything worth eating, they don’t come from a specific region of Mexico. It’s one of those things, like sliced radishes or chopped cilantro, that goes almost without notice in a Mexican restaurant. A taco truck I like happens to have excellent chiles torreados, collapsing heaps of jalapeños dusted with the barest amount of salt. But when I’m trying to choose between it and an equally good truck up the block, the presence of the chiles is usually less important than a longing for one truck’s lengua in green sauce or for its competitor’s superior cabeza.

But at Guisados, a taqueria in the heart of the old Boyle Heights neighborhood, chiles torreados is less a side dish than a natural phenomenon, superspicy serranos mostly, glistening and pungent, cooked with strands of onion and slyly boosted with a few slivers of what seem to be roasted habanero peppers. You can pay a buck or so and get a little packet of chiles torreados as a side, or you can jump in feet first, getting them not just on a taco but as a taco, wrapped in a thick, freshly made corn tortilla, perhaps moistened with a few drops of Guisados’ liquid habanero chile salsa. It is a taco that could go 15 rounds with Oscar De La Hoya. It is a taco that could play badass trumpet in a mariachi band and sing sweet love songs to your girlfriend. It is a taco that will sneak out of the house in the middle of the night to do things that no taco should ever do, but you will always take it back, because you have tasted the complexity that lies three layers down.

In the year or so it’s been open, Guisados has established itself as the essential restaurant in the neighborhood, a hangout for the doctors from the local hospitals by day and for local families by night, a place where teenagers come in to get just one perfect taco of griddled shrimp with tamarind or diced pork chops in a mellow green sauce. It is also the Eastside restaurant most likely to be visited by folks from the west, partly because the tacos with smoky chicken tinga are pretty hard to resist; partly because a television screen in the corner is hooked up to a surveillance camera in the parking lot.

In the grand tradition of the Eastside, Guisados is a family operation, the building owned by one generation of the De La Torre family, overseen by another and staffed by a third. A brother runs the tortilleria next door. Armando De La Torre and partner Ricardo Diaz also own Cook’s Tortas, the popular sandwich shop in Monterey Park, and the newish Dorados, which specializes in ceviches. Armando is the perpetual presence at Guisados, a jovial former real estate man who always looks as if he’s just stepped off the golf course, and who loves nothing more than giving kids a million samples to taste, as if he were running a gelato shop instead of a taco joint.

You’ll probably try big glasses of the aguas frescas, horchata or jamaica or the great drink made with fresh cantaloupe, and the dense, moist tamales are among the best in town. But the basic units of consumption here are tacos de guisados, thick, warm tortillas folded around a big spoonful or two of the stews resting in the steam table behind the counter.

You don’t get carne asada here; you get floppy scraps of fried pigskin simmered in a chile sauce, or griddled steak in chile-enriched tomato sauce, or a spicy Poblano-style chicken mole given texture with nuts and grains and seeds.

This is one of the few taquerias in Los Angeles where a vegetarian could happily eat — there are tacos of stewed squash with chiles and kernels of sweetcorn; mushrooms sauteed with onion and cilantro; and quesadillas that are less what ordinarily goes by that name than they are slabs of panela cheese sizzled on the flattop and tucked into a tortilla.

The cochinito pibil may not have the insinuating porkiness that you may have tasted at places like Chichen Itza or Flor de Yucatan, but it makes up for it with savage lashings of habanero sauce — Armando will cheerfully turn it up to what he calls 10+, a heat level that came close to defeating Aaron Sanchez when he visited Guisados for his Food Network show.

The day’s taco menu is scrawled on a chalkboard behind the counter, and as diligently as you visit the restaurant, there are always going to be a few that you’re going to miss. I never managed to catch the tacos made with green mole, although I suspect they were pretty good, or the duck, or the border-style birria made with beef.

“Do you make your own tortillas?” I asked one day as I was paying the check.

“Do we make our own tortillas?” Armando asked, with the incredulous look of somebody who had just been asked if he buttoned his own shirt. “Let me show you something.”

He nodded to one of the countermen that he was going to be gone for a couple of minutes, and he led me out of the restaurant and into the bakery next door. He walked toward the back of the shop, then veered into a small, dim industrial kitchen in an offset nook.

“See those big things filled with corn?” he asked, gesturing toward a pair of stainless-steel basins. “That’s nixtamal. My brother makes it fresh every day. He grinds it all day long in that big stone grinder over there. And in the restaurant, our masa is rarely more than a half-hour old. That’s why our tortillas are so good.”

GUISADOS | 2100 E. Cesar Chavez Ave., Boyle Heights | (323) 264-7201 | guisados.co | Mon.-Sat., 10 a.m.-8 p.m.; Sun., 11 a.m.-5 p.m. | MC, V | No alcohol | Lot parking off St. Louis Ave., just south of restaurant | Takeout | Tacos $2.50; tamales $1.50; taco sampler $6.50 | Recommended tacos: chuleta en salsa verdechiles torreadocamarones; quesadilla