Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Vignettes from a Los Angeles afternoon

Yesterday was my drive friends around for errands day. Took Em to the body shop to get his car fixed, and then took Suze to the airport at midnight to receive her boyfriend. The poor fellow's arrival got delayed by several hours due to some airline glitches (yes he did arrive after all). So today, I decided to explore the garment district a bit, hunting cheap sunglasses and clothes. The Los Angeles Garment District (sometimes parts are called Fashion District) covers a huge swathe of the city's downtown, reflecting the importance of the garment indsutry in the city's economy. A lot of the small scale garment manufacture still takes place in LA, notwithstanding the avalanche of Made in China in the malls. And this is where a number of major fashion institutes and wholesale marts are located and every merchandiser worth her COH jeans has to come here to browse samples. Which actually makes for a very interesting mix, where stores selling very expensive, distressed chic clothing jostle for space with $5 T-shirt stores and knock-off sunglasses.

So in the midst of all the Hispanic and Iranian storeowners, and mostly Hispanic store employees, you see these very tall, thin women, almost too delicately poised on stilettos, wearing trends that would probably appear in next month's Vogue. Some are fashion students, some aspiring models. Some of their outfits looked like they took hours and several shopping expeditions to put together. The place has a very lively, busy feel to it, and Em thinks of it as a slice of Third World in the midst of LA, and certainly the area would not be out of place in a busy shopping district anywhere in South Asia.

For me what's very striking is the sheer number of Iranian immigrant store owners. Farsi is the language you hear the most after Spanish in this area. The very delectable fall-out of such an arrangement is that one of the best Iranian kebab joints, Downtown Kebab is located smack in the midst of the Garment District. The kebabs are better than anything that even the poshest Iranian restaurant in LA serves up (yes, they are even better than Shehrzad), but the place flies under the radar of the LA food critics, so not too many people outside the Garment district know about it. It is wildly popular with the storeowners though, and we've had to wait almost 30 minutes for food in the past.

The parking gods were keeping an eye out for me today, because I found a broken parking metre and parked next to it. Parking in downtown LA is usually very expensive (rivalling San Francisco downtown), and it is almost impossible to get a free spot. I walked around, picked up a few things and generally enjoyed browsing the stores. As I was going back towards the car, I stopped at a cafe, because they were advertsing Illy coffee, a brand I like, though not my all-time favourite (that's Palombini, a brand native to Rome and almost impossible to find in the US). I walked in, and asked for a n espresso. The boy at the counter was so utterly beautiful, I had a hard time keeping my eyes off him. He was obviously mixed, perhaps some Japanese genes mixed with Caucasian, had glowing skin the the most perfect nose and jawline. As I told him I wanted milk and sugar with my espresso, he smiled and said, "What kind of sugar do you want hon, brown, white, pink?" Oh dear, gay, gay, gay. How strange, shouldn't make a difference to me right, I was just indulging in some aesthetic appreciation, am not in the market for a man, and yet...Darn, a woman's mind is strange.

After the Garment District I went over to the Korean grocery store at Koreatown Galleria to pick up some groceries. LA has a very large Korean population, and a substantial number live in the Koreatown area. Now, because a Korean grocery can have a substantial customer base, they can afford organization on as large a scale as a regular grocery chain like Ralphs, Albertsons etc. And hence the Koreatown Galleria store is huge has a very wide selection of vegetables, meat and seafood at very reasonable prices. Many speciality food items like portabella mushrooms, Japanese eggplant and beansprouts are much cheaper. This also applies to the Iranian grocery store Elat Market on Pico Blvd, patronised by the Iranian Jews in the neighbourhood, and providing vegetables and fruits at very reasonable prices and better variety than regular grocery stores. In fact, I only go to a regular store like Ralphs for household essentials like cleaners and kitchen towels, preferring to shop all perishables at Iranian, Korean or Armenian markets. The added advantage of Koreatown Galleria is that a lot of seafood that is impossible to get at a regular grocery store is very good quality, cheap and plentiful here. Pomfret fish, octopus, whole shrimp(with the heads, thank you!), etc. The next best alternative, a Chinese Vietnamese massive fish market, is almost an 8 mile drive.

So there I was dodging the Korean grandmas fixing stares at brown me, walking past incredibly well-dressed Korean housewives, and counters offering fancy rice cake and watermelon samples. Usually it is possible to see a few non-Korean significant others of second-generation Koreans, expertly making their way through the aisles or wheeling their baby strollers. Today I seemed like the only non-Korean shopper in the store (although more than half the employees are non-Korean). The produce is of excellent quality and reasonable, and the Korean fascination with greens leafy vegetables (namul?) is manifested in more than a dozen kind on display. There are fresh lychees, rare outside Chinese stores, but after buying them enthusiastically on my last visit, I discovered that they had thinner flesh and a bigger seed than Indian lychees.

Just finished cooking some of the pre-marinated galbi I picked up at the store, and S said that it was the best he's had. Well, we should drive down for some more!


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