Sunday, April 26, 2009

Foodbuzz 24, 24, 24: Filipino Food Beyond Lumpia - CLOSED

When it comes to Filipino food, most non-Filipinos can't seem to get past lumpia (egg rolls) and pansit (noodles). I think there are a few reasons why this is the case. First, Filipino food still hasn't really stepped into the mainstream simply because Filipino food is such a fusion and mish mash of influences from other countries that it's hard to pinpoint what Filipino food actually is.

Second, when non-Filipinos do encounter Filipino food, it's either through a potluck or they're invited to a Filipino house party. In a potluck scenario, lumpia and pansit are the usual choices because the flavors would be more appealing to the non-Filipino palate and these dishes also have a recognition factor since both dishes are similar to what is seen in Chinese cooking. When it comes to a house party, lumpia and pansit are definitely present as well as dishes that don't always require a lot of prep time aka a lot of fried dishes.

For me, what I love about Filipino food is that it truly is a global cuisine and it's because of the Southeast Asian, Latin and even American influences that truly give Filipino food its vibrancy. So for my Foodbuzz 24, 24, 24 proposal, I was going to plan a meal that would accomplish two things. One goal would be to introduce a cuisine that's very much under represented to a group of friends who truly haven't experienced Filipino food beyond lumpia and the second goal would be to introduce some dishes to them that would reflect a particular cultural influence. To set up this meal and to also give you some more information, I want to first give you some background about Philippines and how in a sense, our food tells our history as a country.

First, Philippines is a country that has a tropical climate divided into rainy and dry seasons with an archipelago with 7,000 islands. In fact, there are over 80 dialects in the Philippines with Tagalog being main language that allows the lines of communication to flow regardless of what province you hail from. The geography of the isles contains everything from mountains to central plains to coral reefs with seas touching the world’s longest discontinuous coastline along with a multitude of lakes, rivers, springs and brooks. When it comes to the population, there are over 120 different ethnic groups, all of whom live their lives, build houses, tell and write stories and most of all, prepare food in a lush tropical environment.

Chinese trade started in the Philippines in the 11th century, with many Chinese traders who ended up living in the Philippines and taking Filipino wives. This development resulted in Filipinos having Chinese origins, bloodlines and of course, resulted in major Chinese input into Filipino cuisine. This Filipino-Chinese cooking would use ingredients native to the Philippines, have Filipino names, but be cooked using Chinese techniques. Dishes like pansit are simply noodles, lumpia are fried eggs rolls and siopao are like the Chinese steamed filled buns called cha su bao. Most of these dishes were adopted across many different parts of the Philippines, but adapted based on what ingredients were locally available. For example, Pansit Malabon has oysters and squid since Malabon is a fishing city while Pansit Marilao is topped with rice crisps because Marilao is a city within the Luzon rice bowl.

The arrival of the Spaniards brought with them both Spanish and Mexican food influences, since a Viceroy from Mexico City was appointed by Spain to govern the Philippines and with him came Mexican workers. Various Viceroys ruled until 1821 when Mexico and Central America were able to achieve their independence from Spanish rule. Spain's rule lasted for 333 years and during this time period, it meant the production of food for an elite, nonfood-producing class, and a cuisine for which many ingredients were not locally available and had to be shipped into the Philippines

Filipino-Hispanic food now included new flavors and ingredients like olive oil, paprika, saffron, ham, cheese, cured sausages—and new names. Just as with Filipino-Chinese cooking, Spanish and Mexican and dishes were adapted and eventually became a part of modern day Filipino cuisine. For example, Spain has a custom of stuffing young roosters and turkeys for Christmas called Relleno. Filipinos adapted Relleno and applied it to chickens, and even to bangus, the silvery milkfish. Even the Mexican corn tamal turned Filipino, becoming rice-based tamales wrapped in banana leaves.

By the very virtue of the Philippines being part of Southeast Asia and that it shares similarities in climate, topography and geography with neighboring countries like Indonesia, Malayasia and Vietnam, it's easy to see that all these countries would breed similar cuisines and dishes. For example, the use of chili and coconut milk in dishes can be found in Indonesia, Malaysia and specifically, the Bicol region of the Philippines. Many Philippine desserts, particularly those made of rice and coconut are similar to those of Indonesia and Malaysia. Among these are biko and suman, sticky rice cooked with coconut milk and sugar and wrapped in banana or pandan leaves, bibinka, puto and kutsinta which are different types of rice cakes. Patis and bagoong, fermented fish or shrimp sauce, similar to those produced by Vietnamese and Thais, are used to flavor food when cooking and are served as sauces for a variety of dishes such as kare-kare or appetizers such as chopped green mangoes.

When the US took over the governing of the Philippines, the American influence consisted of Filipinos learning the ways of convenience, which included pressure-cooking, freezing, pre-cooking, sandwiches and salads, hamburgers, fried chicken and steaks and most of all, cooking with canned goods. Canned goods like Spam, corned beef and fruit cocktail started appearing in the Filipino kitchen, but even then we put our own spin on this convenient cuisine. For example, Spam would be sliced, fried and eaten with eggs for breakfast. Corned beef would sauteed with onions and garlic while our version of fruit cocktail would include jackfruit (langka), coconut (buko) and palm nuts (kaong). Even hot dogs were sliced and added to spaghetti.

Add to the above other cuisines found in the country along with other global influences: French, Italian, Middle Eastern, Japanese, Filipino food today really tells the story of Philippine history. So given all these outside influences, it's sometimes difficult to ascertain what Filipino food really is. On the one hand, Filipino cuisine is simply food that comes from the land, sea, field and forest, but it also includes dishes and culinary techniques learned from countries like China, Spain, Mexico, the US and more. What makes this food uniquely Filipino? Simply, it's because of the Filipino's openness to new foods, their ability to re-work these new dishes using local ingredients as well adapting them to fit the Filipino palate and finally, being able to accept and absorb them into our food culture.

So for my Foodbuzz 24, 24, 24 meal, a group of 11 of us feasted on 15 dishes, which included steamed rice and garlic fried rice plus there were a selection of 3 different Filipino beverages to choose from at Barrio Fiesta in Eagle Rock, CA. By the way, as you read the descriptions of the foods and beverages we dined on, I'll try to link the menu item name to an online recipe so that you can try the dish out for yourself at home.

Let's talk beverages first. As mentioned, there were 3 choices. I was the only one who ordered the Gulaman At Sago drink. It's a drink that sometimes listed under the dessert section on Filipino restaurant menus, but it's not so sweet that you can't have it as part of your meal. It's a popular drink, especially during the hot summer months in the Philippines and its ingredients are simply water, sugar, gulaman (agar-agar) and sago (tapioca pearls). It's similar to a Japanese boba drink, but its flavor will remind you of brown sugar.

Buco is basically young coconut juice which is drunk on its own or poured into a glass with young coconut pieces. Coconut juice (or water) is prevalent in most Southeast Asian as well as Latin American and South American countries, so there's nothing uniquely Filipino about it, but still it's a refreshing drink.

The third drink was similar to a lemonade, but made using Calamansi, a small citrus fruit that is considered native to the Philippines, but also grown in other parts of Southeast Asia. Calamansi looks like a small tiny orange, but tastes like a combination of orange and lime. Basically, it's sweet and tart at the same time. Calamansi is a staple in the Filipino food culture. It's used for making marinades, mixed with soy sauce or fish sauce and used as a dipping sauce or made into a drink and generally speaking, could be a substitute for lemon or lime in most recipes.

For our appetizers, we shared Lumpia Shanghai and Sisig. Lumpia Shanghai as I already mentioned is a Chinese-inspired dish. Sisig means "to snack on something sour." In some cases, it refers to fruit that's dipped in vinegar and salt and in other instances, it refers to a certain way that meat and fish is prepared. Usually, the meat is marinated in a sour liquid like lemon juice or vinegar than seasoned with salt, pepper and other spices. In the past, Sisig was usually made from parts of the pig's head, liver or generally whatever is leftover from the pig. This is still done as home cooking or at more traditional Filipino restaurants. Modern Filipino restaurant versions of sisig is usually crunchy and chock-full of chicharon (pork rind) bits and sometimes seasoned with varying doses of chili peppers and calamansi juice. This was the version which we had at Barrio Fiesta. Another thing to note is that it's usually considered bar food and the fattiness of the pork goes really well with a bottle of beer (or two).

Next came our entrees. The first two entrees definitely showed a Malaysian and even a Thai influence in their use of coconut milk and even in spice factor. The spice factor is a bit unusual because Filipino food isn't considered a spicy cuisine. However, coconut milk inspired dishes like Bicol Express and the Laing sa Gata (taro leaves) can actually pack some heat due to the addition of chili peppers, depending on the cook. Both these dishes are part of Bicolano cuisine (from the area of Bicol in the Philippines) which is famous for its rich and spicy dishes that are mostly cooked using coconut milk called gata and spiced with a very hot, local variety of chili called siling labuyo. Bicol Express can be a pork or a mixed seafood dish that can include anything from fish to squid to mussels. The Barrio Fiesta version actually wasn't that spicy, but I've had it at other Filipino restaurants where it was.

When the Laing sa Gata came out, this was the first time any of my friends ever saw taro leaves prepared in this fashion. Actually, I think this was the first time any of them had ever eaten taro leaves. Just like the Bicol Express, this dish could have been spicier, but no one seemed to miss it. Quite a few commented on how it was very similar to an Indian dish known as spinach saag minus the spinach and the coconut milk. When it comes to this dish, my Mom had mentioned to me that if it's not prepared correctly, it'll actually make your mouth and throat itch. Thankfully, it was prepared well.

Two other dishes in our menu represented two different adaptations of Relleno, the Spanish tradition of stuffing young roosters and turkeys. One of the dishes was called Rellenong Talong, which is eggplant stuffed with ground pork and than wrapped inside an omelette. I also chose this particular dish to show different uses of eggplant, which is a popular vegetable in Filipino cuisine. When it comes to eggplant, we'll cut it and fry it or sometimes, we'll dip it in egg and than fry it. As a part of a recipe, you'll see it in Filipino dishes like Kare Kare and Pinkabet, both of which I'll talk about later on. Rellenong Talong is usually eaten with banana ketchup or regular ketchup.

The next Relleno dish was the Inihaw na Bangus or Stuffed Bangus. Bangus is a silvery milkfish that is very much a staple in the Filipino diet. One of the favorite ways to prepare it is to chop tomatoes and onions, squeeze calamansi over it and than stuff it in the bangus before grilling it. Similar to Vietnamese dining, it was accompanied by different dipping sauces that included soy sauce and a lemon, onion and carrot mixture where you can decide how much or how little to add to the fish for additional flavoring.

Another Chinese inspired dish was the Pansit Malabon, but this is unlike any Chinese noodle dish you may have ever encountered. Taking inspiration from the city of Malabon, which is a fish trading town, the basic ingredients for Pansit Malabon include hard boiled eggs, green onions, shrimp and fried pork skin. The basic ingredients for the sauce is made of shrimp juice, flour for thickening and atchuete oil. A definite Filipino twist on Chinese noodles.

Kare Kare is one of my favorite comfort foods and no matter how many versions I've tried at other Filipino restaurants, Mom's is always the best. The reason I included Kare Kare on the menu is that first, it's a very popular dish with Filipinos, but to also show that we have our own version of stews. Most people think of Filipino food as mostly fried foods, but there are actually quite a lot of dishes that are stews or have some kind of sabao. Sabao refers to the liquid in the dish that is spooned over your rice.

The ingredients that are in Kare Kare are primarily oxtail and assorted vegetables like green beans, eggplant and pechay (a Filipino cabbage) and cooked in a peanut butter sauce. There's a little bit of the Thai influence because of the use of peanuts as a sauce and at our meal, there was a comment on how Kare Kare reminded someone of an African Groundnut Stew. Kare Kare is also served with bagoong, which is a sauteed salted shrimp paste, similar to what's produced for Vietnamese and Thai cuisine.

Speaking of bagoong, while most bagoong is made up of shrimp paste, in other parts of the Philippines, the bagoong is more anchovy-based. Bagoong is used as an additional flavoring that you can add to already cooked dishes and in some cases, various fruits. I grew up eating bagoong smeared on mango slices.

Bagoong can also be a component in a recipe as in Pinakbet. Pinakbet can either be just vegetables or vegetables and pork. At Barrio Fiesta, it was served with pork and it's a dish not hard to miss since you actually see the bagoong flecks on the vegetables as well as both the sabao and the pork taking on bagoong's pink coloring. Pinakbet might not be the dish for you, if you're not into strong, pungent shrimp flavoring.

Another dish that was on the menu was Sariwang Lumpia (or Fresh Lumpia). It's a dish that harkens to Vietnamese cuisine where rice wrappers are used to wrap various meats and herbs, dipped in sauce and than eaten, but uses uncooked fresh lumpia wrappers that are thicker and crepe-like. Fillings are generally vegetarian, but can include ground pork or other meats while the sauce is usually made up of soy sauce, garlic, water, cornstarch and sugar.

One of the dishes that got the most love from the group was the bad, but good for you Crispy Pata. It's simply a pork knuckle or hind leg that is deep fried to golden goodness and comes with a dipping sauce that includes soy sauce, vinegar and garlic. Of course, the best part is the crackling skin, but the pork meat can also be juicy and tender. If you didn't know already, we Filipinos love our pork and the Crispy Pata is definitely a dish you'll generally see ordered at Filipino restaurants.

With 15 dishes, including two types of rice, it was definitely time for dessert. One was Halo-Halo, a Filipino shaved ice dessert, of which there are variations in practically every Southeast Asian country. The word "halo" means mix, so Halo-Halo means mix mix and that definitely describes this dessert. Halo Halo is a mixture of shaved ice and milk (anything from regular milk to evaporated milk to even coconut milk) to which are added various sweet beans, fruits and jellies and served cold in a tall glass or bowl. Sometimes, it's topped with ice cream and even a slice of leche plan (a Filipino version of Spanish/Mexican flan). Generally, you can either eat the ice cream first or mix it all the ingredients together and than use spoon and straw to finish the whole thing off. The Barrio Fiesta version had a scoop of ube ice cream and also a sprinkling of the Filipino version of rice krispies.

The last dessert was the Ube Halaya or purple yam pudding. Ube is a purple yam that is quite prevelant in Filipino desserts from ice cream to cake to rice cakes, etc. This dessert got more of a reaction than the Halo Halo because it was something that most of my friends haven't tried before plus the flavor of the ube was much more concentrated. Unlike a regular pudding, this dessert is actually more paste-like than creamy and is actually quite rich. There's only about 5 ingredients needed for this dish, which includes the ube, coconut milk, evaporated milk, sugar and butter.

So in this one meal, we were able to touch on Spanish, Chinese, Malaysian, Thai and Vietnamese and perhaps, even Indian and African influences and not only that, I was able to showcase Filipino food to those who haven't really been indoctrinated in my cuisine before. I have to say that some of the best comments I heard all night was "I've never seen that before" or "What is that?" The lumpia was easily the most recognized food of the entire evening and even the Pansit Malabon, which is inspired by Chinese noodles, was met with a question mark. Overall, the evening was really about taking those in attendance on a culinary journey and hopefully, that journey has given them a better and deeper appreciation of Filipino Cuisine, but also a willingness to go beyond lumpia and explore what else Filipino food has to offer.

To see pics, go to:

Barrio Fiesta
4420 Eagle Rock Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90041
(323) 259-5826

Friday, April 24, 2009

Chocolate Afternoon Tea at the Langham Hotel

One evening I was online, not doing anything in particular, until across my twitter feed, I saw a tweet from @tarametblog flash by about a Chocolate Afternoon Tea that she experienced at the Langham Hotel in Pasadena. I was soon scrolling down until I came to her message and it included a link to her blog write-up. Upon reading it, I was hooked and thanks to Tara and the Langham, my guest and I were hosted for this wonderful chocolate experience.

Before we even got to the Lobby Lounge where the afternoon teas are held, it was hard not to go through the hotel lobby and the courtyard garden without taking photos. The courtyard had a really pretty setting flanked by trees along two paths that split on either side of a fountain pool. Soon our chocolate cravings were calling to us, so we stopped lingering and finally stepped through the doors.

Walking through the Lobby Lounge, there were assorted couches with tables and tea settings. On both sides of the room, there were chocolate sculptures that were done by the in-house pastry chefs. We almost stopped when we saw the chocolate fountain with the assorted fruits and other treats, because it looked mighty tempting, but we weren't quite ready to dive in just yet.

After we were seated, we were given the menu so that we knew what to look forward to and after perusing a selection of teas, I opted for the Mayan Truffle Tea while my friend went for the Chocolate Mint Truffle. While we were waiting for our sandwiches to arrive, we were each offered a complimentary glass of champagne.

Soon after, 3 tiers of tastiness arrived and those 3 tiers included the scones and sandwiches. Where were the sweets you may ask? I'll get to those later, trust me.

I always start with the scones and we had two different kinds, a chocolate chip scone and a marble chocolate chip scone, which actually tasted the same to me. The only difference is that one had marbling and the other one didn't. I did like both of them though. I've had scones in the past that were like hockey pucks, but these scones were just right. Firm on the outside, but flaky and a little moist in the inside. As for the scone accompaniments, the wild blueberry jam was wonderful, the Devonshire cream was light and fluffy, but the Lemon Curd didn't quite do it for me. It did have a nice fresh consistency, but it was either too tangy or too sweet or maybe too much of both? Regardless, I didn't go for seconds.

Then I started to make my way through the sandwiches. One thing to mention is that each sandwich had an essence of chocolate. It was all about subtlety and not big flavors. First, there was the Smoked Salmon, Roasted Fennel and Cocoa Nib Mousse. I'm not exactly sure what fennel is supposed to taste like, but I did get a tiny hint of bitterness from the cocoa nib mouse that paired well with the smoked salmon.

Next was the White Chocolate and Avocado Mousse with Vanilla Marinated Shrimp. Technically, white chocolate isn't actually chocolate, but still it went nicely with the avocado mousse and both really went well with the shrimp. My one issue with shrimp was that it was overcooked, which made it dry and a little chewy.

The Foie Gras Mousse Profiterole with Chocolate Dust was actually my favorite of all the sandwiches. I liked how the profiterole was light and airy and that the chocolate dust cut into the sweetness of the foie gras mousse so that everything tasted in synch.

After the Profiterole came the Cucumber, White Chocolate Mint Mousse and Grapefruit sandwich round. This was actually my least favorite of all the sandwiches. The cucumber was too thick plus I think that the mint part of the mousse was too subtle and the grapefruit was lacking in tartness.

The savory portion of this tea ended with the Serrano Ham, Burrata Mousse with Chocolate Caviar. That ham was tasty. I could have easily just eaten more of the ham by itself without anything else, but I liked how the burrata mousse and the chocolate caviar balanced the saltiness of the cured ham.

After our sandwiches, it was time for dessert. Our server actually took us on a tour of the dessert station and the fondue station and basically explained what the various offerings were. There was also an angel statue where you could sample both Earl Grey truffles and Cardamom truffles.

We started with the chocolate fondue station. The dipping options included marble cake, nougat, lemon marshmallows, peppermint marshmallows and assorted fresh-cut fruit. First, in regards to the chocolate fondue itself, it was decadently rich and I loved the flavor. The one thing I would change is to make it a teeny thinner. It was a bit too thick which made the food kind of glop on the plate after we coated them. My choice of dippees or is it dippers included one juicy strawberry and one of each of the marshmallows. I liked how both the lemon and peppermint marshmallows were subtle in flavor so as to not clash with the richness of the chocolate.

I was actually feeling really stuffed, but somehow my friend and I rallied and headed to the dessert station where there were 14 different chocolate inspired desserts. We ended up sharing 9 of them, although we only took little bites (so I tell myself anyway). My favorite was the White Chocolate Green Tea Panna Cotta. The panna cotta was rich and creamy and it was nice how the white chocolate cut into the bitterness of the green tea to make it well balanced in flavors.

Both the Milk Chocolate Orange Gateau and Chocolate Raspberry Gateau were also excellent. I do think that the orange could have been brought out more, but the raspberry had a lovely sweet tartness to it and both cakes were rich and moist.

The Chocolate Madeleine and the Orange Black Tea Madeleine were disappointing. Both of them were dry, which is too bad, because the flavors were spot on for the Orange Black Tea Madeleine.

I'm usually not much into macaroons, but the Chocolate Macaroons were little bites of heaven. That chocolate cream filling was just delicious and the cookie was light and airy.

The Chocolate Coated Candied Orange Sticks were pretty good, although a tad too sweet. However, when you bit into one of those sticks, it tasted juicy, like biting into a real orange and that was a tasty surprise.

I liked the presentation of the chocolate brulee in a serving spoon and I enjoyed the intense caramelization coming from its surface. I also think that I tasted coconut, although there was no mention of coconut as being part of the ingredients.

The final, but not the least, dessert was the Chocolate Cream Fruit Tart. I gotta say that anything to do with chocolate cream, the Langham does superbly. That chocolate cream was rich and creamy and matched well with the tart berries.

So you think we'd be done by now, right? Nope, there was one last item. Basically, the end of the whole experience comes in a cup of liquid chocolate. You had your choice of 3 different kinds. I went for the Spicy Chocolate and my friend went for the Hazelnut Chocolate. I got to sample the Hazelnut Chocolate and found it too sweet, but I really enjoyed my Spicy Chocolate. The one thng I'd adjust and maybe, it's just a preference thing, is the temperature. Both of the liquid chocolates weren't hot enough. They seemed a little bit lukewarm. I'm not sure if that's the way they are supposed to be served, but I would have enjoyed mine even more if it was a little hotter, temperature wise.

Overall, it was a wonderfully, relaxing and sweet way to spend a Sunday. The ambiance was wonderful and our service was excellent and except for a few little things, I absolutely enjoyed this chocolate-themed foodie activity and if you're a chocolate lover, then this Chocolate Afternoon Tea is definitely for you!

By the way, the Chocolate Afternoon Tea is $59 per person and served Sundays from 12:00 pm to 3:00 pm. For reservations, please dial (626) 585-6218

To see pics, go to:

The Langham Hotel and Spa
1401 South Oak Knoll Avenue
Pasadena,, CA 91106
(626) 568-3900

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Street Food: Oaxacan Quesadillas and Churros

Do you know what's one of the best things about having foodie friends? Simply, as one person there's no way you could possibly know about all the great eats in the city, but if you have many friends who share your culinary passions, you're always bound to hear about some new dining experience that's just too fantastic to pass up. Well, my friend Robert, heard about and eventually checked out a street cart where a woman makes Oaxacan quesadillas using blue corn tortillas and usually towards the later afternoon, a churro truck will also park within a hop away from this cart. Oaxacan quesadillas and churros? How can one pass that up? I certainly didn't and Robert led the way.

So last Sunday, off we went. When we arrived, our group of 5 crowded around the cart and after talking to the lady, we found out that we had an option of 6 different fillings: chicarrones, squash blossoms, chicken, frijoles, chorizo and potato and huitlacoche. We decided to order one of each, except for the frijoles and just share them. She was even nice enough to cut the quesadillas in 4 to 5 sections for easier eating.

The whole process was simple. First, she would get a ball of blue corn masa that was in a plastic bag next to her.

Then she'd pat it between her hands and than start patting it flat on the stove's surface. I can't even imagine how hot that surface was, but it didn't seem to phase her.

Afterwards, she'd add a handful of mozarella cheese and the filling of your choice and let it lay flat for a while before folding it in half. Sometimes it was ready to go and other times, she'd let it still cook for a little while before putting on a paper plate and handing it to you.

Once you got your quesadilla, she had some additional ingredients that you could either top your quesadilla with or put inside of it. There was a mixture of nopales, red onions and cilantro in one container. You could also add a sprinkle of cotija cheese or a spoonful of a really hot salsa or a milder green salsa.

As mentioned, our group sampled 5 of the various fillings. First, we had the chicken quesadilla, but before I talk about that, I do have to say that I really liked the blue corn tortillas. It had a nice medium-thick texture and there was a nuttiness to the masa that I also really enjoyed. What was nice about the chicken was that it wasn't dry and it had a nice flavor to the marinade.

Our second quesadilla had a huitlacoche filling, sometimes referred to as corn smut or Mexican truffles depending on who you talk to, but basically it's a fungus. Huitlacoche is actually quite delicate, but can add a smoky, earthy and pungency to dishes like tamales, stews and in this case, quesadillas. I actually thought the huitlacoche in this case had a mild smokiness to it and I liked how the corn gave it a hit of sweetness.

Third on the rotation was the chorizo and potato quesadilla. This was actually my least favorite of the 5. The filling was mushy. I would have preferred actual chorizo sausages that were cut and grilled and than put in the quesadilla. That would been a big improvement.

Our fourth quesadilla was a vegetarian option that consisted of squash blossoms, corn and onions. If this was the only option available, I wouldn't have missed the meat at all.

Finally, my favorite was the chicarron quesadilla. Come on, it's fried pork. What's not to love?

By this time, all our sharing amounted to about one quesadilla and a quarter for each of us. This type of family-style sharing worked perfectly because we all got to sample a little bit of each filling and when it was time for us to order a full size one, we already knew what we liked. By the way, we did each filling individually because we wanted to taste them on their own, but you can choose more than one ingredient for your quesadilla. I went for the squash blossom and chicarrones combination, which was absolutely delicious.

What a great find! The quesadillas ran $3.00 each and she had also different drinks ranging from $1 to $2. The way you pay is pretty much on the honor system. Once you're done eating and ready to leave, that's when you pay her. What's nice is that whenever she collects money, she always puts on gloves and that's definitely smart on her part. Now this is street food worth driving for.

Sometimes parked down the street from the quesadilla lady, you'll find Salina's Churro Truck. Apparently, it used to be a pushcart so to move up to a truck speaks well for their churros.

Inside the truck, they have a funnel which pushed out the dough and immediately went into a deep fryer. Once they're fried up, the churros were coated with sugar and put into a brown bag ready to be consumed at will.

8 for $3.00 is a heck of a bargain. I found them to be a little doughy for my taste. I would have preferred that they were fried a little bit longer, but I appreciated their golden crispiness.

Overall, it was a wonderful eating day. Delicious quesadillas, golden and crispy churros and all for under $10? Not only is this affordable dining, it's also a fun culinary experience and one of the things that really makes LA a great eating town.

To see pics, go to:

Note: When I checked out both the street cart and the churro truck, it was a Sunday. When I got there at 12:30 PM, the quesadilla street cart was already there. I actually left around 2:30 pm, but when I came back at around 5:00, she was already gone. I'm not sure as to how long she stayed or which other days she's at her spot. Apparently, the churro truck arrives between 3 and 4 pm. Both are situated on Echo Park Boulevard just around the corner from Sunset Boulevard.