Ok, so I kind of lied in my last Cultural Nights post, “Cultural Nights 2015“. The three mentioned were not the only ones the Geography Student Association (GSA) attended in 2015. I forgot about two more that occurred later that year. So here are three more Cultural Nights, two from 2015 and one from 2016.
In September 2015, the GSA went to Los Compadres, a Mexican restaurant located in Long Beach. This restaurant is a favorite in Long Beach and fills up quickly during the dinner hour. The wait can be over an hour and it’s almost impossible to find parking. Many times people have to park in nearby residential areas and then walk back to the restaurant. You know that is a sign that the food is good. Los Compadres serves traditional Mexican food as well as specialty margaritas in flavors like lime, mango and strawberry. The lollipops they hand out at the end of the meal are also said to be amazing with unique flavors.
These days Mexican food can be found almost everywhere in America but the history of its spread throughout the country is long and complex and of course directly tied to the immigration of Mexicans into America. Because of the length and complexity of Mexican food history, I can’t explain it all here but you can read more about it in this NPR article, “The California Taco Trail: ‘How Mexican Food Conquered America”. I also highly recommend the book “Planet Taco: A Global History of Mexican Food” to learn about its spread all around the world.
In October 2015, the GSA went to Gen Korean BBQ House, which has several locations throughout Southern California. Like Los Compadres, Gen (which means “the beginning”) is a wildly popular restaurant with hard to find parking and long wait times. The specialty of Gen is the fact that you get to cook your own food on a grill built into the table. You get to order various cuts of thinly sliced meats or seafood and then place them on the grill to cook for as long as you desire. You can also get vegetables for grilling and tasty sauces (sesame/soy sauce/horse radish, etc.) for dipping the meat into.
Korean BBQ, called gogigui (meat roasting) traditionally involves roasting various types of meat (beef, pork or chicken). The most commonly know form of this is bulgogi, which consists of thinly sliced and marinated beef sirloin or tenderloin. The marination usually consists of soy sauce, sugar, sesame oil, garlic and pepper. Another form includes galbi (marinated short ribs). The meat can also be unmarinated as well, such as in the use of steak, pork belly (samgyeopsal) or brisket (chadolbegi). In Korea, pork belly consists of thick slices and is more popular because of the lower price. Brisket on the other hand is so thinly sliced that it cooks almost instantly. A popular side dish for gogigui is a green onion salad (pajeori). This salad is mixed with lettuce, cucumbers and peppers.
In 2016, the GSA had a Cultural Night in February, but I was sick with what felt like the plague, so I didn’t attend. Unfortunately I don’t remember if the GSA had a Cultural Night in March; I was still pretty sick and also stressed with school. In April though I was finally able to attend Cultural Night and we went to Roscoe’s House of Chicken and Waffles in Long Beach. They have several locations throughout Southern California. I should probably start off by saying that President Obama (as well as other celebrities) have eaten here so you know the place has good food.
Roscoe’s serves delicious Southern soul food, including of course deep fried chicken, biscuits and gravy, amazing waffles, sweet cornbread and even grits, a Southern favorite of mine! If you’re from the South (like me) and missing the food or just really like Southern food, this is the place to go. Since I love grits and they are not very well known outside of the South, I’ll discuss a little of the history of them here.
Grits are similar to cornmeal but go through a certain process. They are properly known as hominy grits and are made from corn treated with an alkali process called nixtamalization (dried, soaked and cooked in a solution of lye, slaked lime or wood ash then washed and ground). The origin of grits is actually Native American. It is similar to other maize-based porridges, such as polenta (boiled cornmeal). The word “grits” though comes from “grytt” (Old English), meaning course meal. Just as there is a “rust belt” or a “bible belt”, so too there is a “grits belt,” which goes from Texas to Virginia and makes up about 3/4 of the sale of grits in the US. Grits are even the official prepared food in Georgia.
One of the best things about grits is the simplicity yet deliciousness of them. I consider them my comfort food; an alternative to chicken noodle soup. They can be eaten with just salt and butter (my preferred way) or with a variety of foods, such as eggs, bacon, fried catfish, ham and so on. Shrimp and grits is a specialty along coastal Southern locations. There is even a version which uses milk instead of water, giving it a creamy texture. These are called “Charleston-style grits”.
This concludes my final three Cultural Nights. I hope this encourages you to go out and experience other cultures through their food as well as learn the history behind the food you eat. You never know where a certain dish may have originated and sometimes it could surprise you. Plus it could be delicious!