Monday, February 21, 2005


How hard must one try to eat Indian food where Indian people are? Furthermore, where is the elusive South Indian fare so different from the diluted Punjabi fare that constitutes "Indian" food in 99% of restaurants? Prayers are answered on Pioneer Blvd in Artesia, where restaurants bear about as much resemblance to your local Star of India as Panda Express does to 888. A quick trip into the nearest sari store for advice, and we headed for Woodlands, a global South Indian chain, with branches in Madras/Chennai, London and Singapore in addition to Artesia (11833 Artesia Blvd, 562 860 6500) and Chatsworth. We had a large crew and feasted on a stunning meal of hard-to-find specialties. The only substantial complaint was that the food could have been spicier, but this is a fine balance because authentic South Indian food would be incapacitating for almost all regular diners. A guided tour of the menu:

Dahi Vada: Vada are lentil flour donuts, dahi is yoghurt. Awesome, though the yoghurt might have been more sour for the absolute Tamil purist.

Kancheepuram Idly: Idly are rice flour cakes served with the ubiquitous sambar (sour and delicious vegetable-stew gravy) and a coconut-based chutney. The kancheepuram variation is a weekends-only option coloured orange with carrots and topped with cashews. These are delicate and fluffier than most, wonderful.

Uthappam: The fat, pale rice-lentil pancake, here it is frisbee-sized with various vegetable options.

A giant papery crisp pancake exceeding even the size of Oaxacan clayudas, commonly folded around a variety of fillings; most commonly mild potato masala. Onion masala dosa are superb, as are mysore masala dosa. Perhaps the finest are rava dosa made with wheat and rice, which have a lacier texture. All served with sambar and chutney. Dosa at Woodlands are the crispiest and tastiest I have had.

A very special Andhra dosa sometimes made with 100% aggressive moong dal (lentil) flour. At Woodlands, this is adulterated with rice but the crepe is still terrific. If you've had masala dosa before, try this one for a change, it contains nuts and is great dipped in yoghurt.

Channa Bhatura: At VIK Distributors in Berkeley my ignorant friends and I used to call this one "the giant puff". It's a stupendous gravity-defying deep friend bread, Woodlands' version is too large to stay inflated but the piping hot fried taste and dimpled surface are delightful with the lentil curry/channa.

Milakai Podi: Menu description is "A spicy mix of ingredients", but this South Indian secret weapon is a condiment containing chilli, spices, ground dhal and sesame oil. Goes well with anything on the menu, and is considered a diagnostic test for a true South Indian restaurant by the mavens. I loved Woodlands' version but it could have been more chilli-hot.

I'll certainly be returning to Woodlands, it's family-friendly, dirt-cheap and worth a long long drive. A big shout-out to Aravind and Ravi for expert advice!

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Aroma Cafe

Just tried Aroma Cafe, the family-run Bosnian standout in a Westside mini-mall (2350 Overland south of Pico, east side). My friend Julia was once a restaurant critic in Prague – where bad restaurants and money-laundering go hand in hand? - and has actually spent time in Bosnia. I wanted to propagate her expert knowledge, because the meal we had was particularly fine. Some Bosnian classics:

- Burek are charmingly intestine-shaped phyllo pastries with a variety of fillings (shades of cheung fun / “intestine”-like rice noodles at dim sum). Cheese and spinach were flaky and delicious.

- Cevapi [“ch-”] are a delightful firm-textured minced sausage kebab distinguished by their dainty size and charry grilled exterior. Apparently the Bosnian equivalent to streetside tacos, with the same addictive quality – cevapi sandwich on excellent house bread has got to be a winner. Pljeskavica are patty-ized kebabs with a different ratio of grilled exterior : juicy interior. Shish kebab is much like Persian lula kebab but a little drier than say, Raffi’s Platonic ideal.

- Two stupendous housemade dips of note. Kajmak is churny soured cream in which one can stand a spoon, a miracle of controlled spoilage. Ajvar is a bright red paprika, pepper and eggplant concoction. Ask for these!

- Kefir is a yoghurt drink, the native beverage ala Persian dough or Armenian taan, sans mint.

- Stuffed cabbage contains rice and ground meat as usual. This version is substantially tastier than most, not only is it served with a healthy dollop of kajmak but there is a contrast between sour leaf and moist filling that beats the squishy Eastern European stereotype. Stuffed pepper is also exemplary.

- Rotating dessert selection guarantees future visit, as the waitress’ favourite krempita (creamy pastry thing) was unavailable. Baklava is well above average and strudel-style apple pie is fine.

This is just the sort of restaurant I love, it’s priced for the people and the quality is uncompromising.

Taco glossary: extras

aciento = pork fat
aguacate = avocado
al gusto = of your choice
arroz y frijol = rice and beans
chipotle = roasted chilli
con todo = with everything (usually an essential phrase)
encurtido = pickled jalapenos, carrots, onions, often in Baggie
frita = fried
panela = a kind of queso blanco
papalo = strong Mexican coriander
para aqui = for here
para llevar = to go
quesillo = stringy cheese, a Oaxacan favourite
queso blanco = fresh white cheese
rabanos = radishes
salsa roja = red salsa
salsa verde = green salsa

Glossary sections:

Taco glossary: drinks

Aguas frescas = fresh fruit drink
Atole = warm rice or corn drink
Bebidas = drinks
Champpurado = atole with chocolate flavour
Horchata = cold rice milk flavoured with cinnamon
Jamaica = hibiscus (sorrel at the Jamaican restaurant)
Jarritos = fruity soda made with various fruit flavours
Melon = canteloupe
Naranja = orange
Sandia = watermelon
Tamarindo = tamarind

Glossary sections:

Taco glossary: meats

Common meats/Carnes
Al pastor = marinated pork cooked on a vertical spit
Cabeza = cow cheeks, literally “head”
Carne asada/Asada = grilled steak, well done with citrus marinade
Carnitas = roasted pork
Chorizo = loose sausage meat
Lengua = beef tongue
Pollo = chicken

More uncommon meats
Buche = pork stomach meat (not tripe)
Barbacoa = barbecued goat (chivo) or sometimes lamb
Birria = goat stew, often in the Jalisco style
Camaron = shrimp
Chicharron = pork skin
Milanesa = breaded, deep fried steak (pounded flat)
Mollejas = sweetbreads
Pescado = fish
Queso de puerco = pork head cheese
Sesos = cow brains
Suadero = beef rib meat
Tripas = tripe

Glossary sections:

Taco glossary: dishes

Bisteck encebollado = steak and onions [literally “onioned”]

Burrito = large tortilla wrapped around meat and beans (sometimes rice).

Cemita = sandwich from city of Puebla near Mexico City. Sesame seed roll, meat (often milanesa or breaded steak), avocado, chilli (chipotle, ideally), cheese and papalo when in season.

Chile relleno = stuffed chilli peppers

Clayuda = Oaxacan specialty, a giant thin crispy tortilla topped with pork fat and black beans plus meat and condiments.

Memela = Oaxacan dish, a thick tortilla with bean paste, cheese and meat

Quesadilla = two tortillas grilled till crispy with melted cheese and meat inside

Sope = small but thickish soft tortilla topped with meat and extras

Taco = small soft tortilla with meat, onions, cilantro, salsa on top

Tamal/Tamale = Cornmeal (masa) sometimes with filling cooked in corn husk or banana leaf

Tlayuda = clayuda

Torta = sandwich, generally on softish Mexican bread. Often contains beans.

Tostada = hard flat tortilla often topped with seafood, guacamole

Glossary sections:

Taco glossary disclaimer

I made this glossary on request and because I thought it would be useful for the novice taco truck patron. Any Spanish I know has been acquired haphazardly from my sister (who is fluent), from phrasebooks on a trip to Spain, from residence in California, or from visiting Latino restaurants. Furthermore, I am not an authority on Mexican food, merely an enthusiastic amateur. If you find any serious problems with this glossary or have additions to suggest, please leave a comment or contact me.

Happy eating,

Simon aka Low End Theory

back to the glossary

Taco glossary

Disclaimer: I DO NOT SPEAK SPANISH! Click here for a longer disclaimer.

Taco trucks have some of LA's finest Mexican food, but they can be intimidating to the novice eater. Most proprietors speak good English but it is impractical to bombard them with questions. This glossary is designed to help a non-Spanish speaker read the menu at a taco truck and broaden her or his horizons by trying unfamiliar dishes. Please click on the following categories, and don't forget "gracias mi amigo":

Meats (Carnes)
Drinks (Bebidas)
Extras, ingredients and useful words