Thursday, April 21, 2011

Cultural Learning with Food Trucks

What a great way to learn about a culture than through food! And what better way to find different kinds of food than through food trucks! They specialize in one or two unique cultural flavor(s), they are portable and come to you, and the food tends to be very tasty!

While the food court at 7+Fig (soon to be Fig at 7th) is being renovated to add in a Target (yeah!), every Monday through Wednesday, gourmet food trucks have been gathering there instead. I was first introduced to food trucks through a Din-din A Go-go at the Alpine Village in Torrance, and now that they are so close to my work, I'm trying them at least twice (if not three times) a week!

The tasting of the various fusion-ized street foods yields interesting results. Most have been tasty, some may have an overpowering of flavor (usually too rich for my tastes), but out of this exploration, came two things.

First, I have found two new favorites: Banh Mi and Tosilog. So,... actually I haven't had Banh Mi yet. I came late to the NomNom Truck and all they had were the tacos - but they were amazing! I loved the pickled carrots and onions mixed in with the cilantro and all the flavors together! After that, I began trying "Banh Mi" at other sandwich shops and have been thoroughly happy with my lunches! Before the food trucks, I would never have known what Banh Mi was and may have passed it by because the descriptions never really did it justice. I think it's the pickling. I first thought it would be a sour pickling, but it was sweet. And not too sweet like sweet pickles. More like bread 'n butter pickles.

As for Tosilog (from the Tapa Boy Truck), I was eating the meat, exploring the flavors with the vinegar sauce, fresh tomatoes and cucumbers, and suddenly I thought,"WOW! These flavors are great together!" I don't think I've ever had Filipino food before. I certainly don't live in an area where I have easy access ot Filipino food, or even know what to order, but the food trucks help make the whole process easier by serving one or two types of food, introduce newcomers with quick and easy explanations and serve a la carte for a great tasting introduction to a new culture. Now, when I'm searching for something to eat, I'll add Filipino or Vietnamese food to my list of choices.

Second, food and culture discussions have popped up at work. I enjoy talking about culture: the differences, the similarities and what makes each culture unique. Our newest discussion: "What makes [insert culture] food so [insert culture]?" or "What type of food represents [insert culture]?" For example What makes Hawaiian food so Hawaiian? (Pineapple, maybe?) What type of food represent the Japanese culture? (Sushi, probably?).

But does pineapple actually represent all Hawaiian food? Probably not! But, that is what makes these discussions so interesting! We begin to understand the misunderstandings, we talk and laugh and aren't afraid to ask silly questions. Of course, things are made easier by having a diverse collective of co-workers, but one can also research on the internet, or for more interactive types of learning, head out to museums, cultural events or visit food trucks!

-Tiina Vuorenmaa, experienceLA staff
(Click here to view more food truck photos!)

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