Turkish Treasure

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The hard to find cuisine of Turkey has a new roving venue in Kuzine Foods Co., brought to us by Los Angeles and Orange County caterers extraordinaire, Eda Akarsu Smith and Hülya Nigar Aksu.

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The authentic flavors and dishes of their homeland are tastefully presented, allowing those planning parties to set a beautifully hospitable Turkish table.

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The exceptional baking skills of the Kuzine chefs is evident with each mouthwatering bite of the freshly baked traditional Turkish breads.

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Açma sometimes referred to as Turkish bagels, come plain or stuffed with Nutella, an inspired melding of sweet and savory.  Poğaça, often sold by street vendors, are stuffed with cheese, olive or potato as well as served plain wth tea at breakfast or as a snack. Catal, are a slightly sweet and savory pretzel shaped pastry that is also great for breakfast or snacks with tea.

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The Borek of Kuzine is loaded with tender spinach and tangy feta that simply melts in your mouth.  It is our dream snack and honestly we have been having a hard time finding versions this tasty anywhere in Los Angeles.

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Tabouli from Kuzine Foods is a well balanced mix of greens, onion, tomato, dressing and a sprinkling of bulgur, making for a most refreshing salad we could eat all day long.

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Cemen, a spicy red spread, explodes with the famous Turkish red pepper paste, tomato paste, ground walnuts, olive oil, garlic, cumin and bread crumbs.  This famous dish is not to be missed for its traditional taste of Turkey.

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Refreshing salads and starters abound on the vast meze table presented by these talented kitchen enchantresses.

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After salads and appetizers, the Turkish table is famous for its kebab and meatballs.

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Formed patties and skewered meats are available in a variety of styles based on what the host feels will be best for each particular event Kuzine will be catering.

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And of course no meal is complete without a sweet and what better way to finish off a meal than with flakey, butter layers of walnut baklava.

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For a new spin on a dinner party or event, the traditional preparations of the mesmerizing cuisine of Turkey is presented with grace and exceptional skill by the highly recommend Kuzine Foods Co., www.kuzinefoods.com    818-484-0757

 

 

 

Homestyle Azerbaijani Cuisine Has Arrived

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New cuisines light us up, so when Feride Buyuran and Melissa’s Produce teamed up to host a tasting celebrating her new cookbook, Pomegranates & Saffron, A Culinary Journey to Azerbaijan, we jumped at the opportunity. Azerbaijan is surrounded by Iran, Armenia, Turkey, Georgia and Russia, and we found nods to all the neighboring countries in the beautifully prepared dishes.

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Feride’s award winning cookbook features a very accessible cooking style that celebrates Eastern European, Russian and Middle Eastern flavors. Ingredients and spices from the region are presented with a special flare we attribute to Ms. Buyuran’s culinary skills in her adaptation of recipes culled from family and friends.

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Dishes such as tender Meatballs in Sweet and Sour Tomato Sauce (page 71), have pristinely balanced flavors that make them comfort food well suited for a main course as well as a substantial party appetizer guaranteed to keep guests happy from a warming tray perch.

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Ganja-Style Chicken with Eggs (page 98), gives credit to Azerbaijani’s second largest city where this satisfying dish originated. The tender dark meat chicken and egg casserole is ideal for breakfast, brunch, lunch or a new spin on dinner.

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For a serious sampling of the Mediterranean table, the Vegetable Kabab Salad (page 42) is both refreshing and healthy.

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We were also impressed with the abundance of dill that spikes Feride’s perfectly cooked basmati rice, reminding us of the famous, aromatic Persian rice dishes celebrated internationally.

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The final treat that won our hearts and palates was the layer upon layer of pastry dough, not filo, that is the secret to the scrumptious Azerbaijani walnut baklava.  A mild sweetness and loads of crushed nut meats packed between layers of melt in your mouth pastry, is a labor intensive endeavor that is worth every minute put into it.

For those looking for something unique that is easy on the eyes, nose and palate, we strongly recommend purchasing Pomegranates & Saffron, at least until Feride opens her first restaurant.

Ramadan Celebrations

It is with immeasurable sadness and compassion regarding the continued attacks on Turkey, that we send prayers to all those suffering and choose to forge ahead with open hearts and minds. We desire to learn and share our personal experiences during the holy month of Ramadan which ends today, July 5, 2016.

Ramadan each year corresponds as closely as possible to the month Muhammad, the founder of Islam, received the Qu’ran from God. During this most sacred time of year, Muslims all over the world fast during daylight hours, observing with no food or liquids, from sunrise to sunset for the entire month. Ramadan is a time for reflection and prayer, allowing the devout to contemplate their relationship to God and focus on positive attributes of the human experience. It is not only an introspective time, but also quite festive, with Iftar (breaking of the daily fast), welcoming a spirit of celebration among family and friends.

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We were fortunate to partake in an Iftar celebration at Orkide in Gaziantep, Turkey. The restaurant and patisserie is committed to perfecting their craft, as evidenced through a vast array of awe-inspiring fresh pastries, sweets, baklava and colorful puddings.

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Led to beautifully set tables, we could barely control our excitement as we began the memorable experience of a traditional Iftar dinner. A wide variety of meze (appetizers and salads) are laid out and we joyfully united with the Muslim patrons prior to sunset, awaiting the evening prayer call which signals the beginning of the meal just as the sun dips below its horizon.

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The Turkish table, especially in Gaziantep, is renowned for its meze, and we were dazzled by small plates of herb based salads, the freshest vegetables, olives, cheese, pickled dishes, savory stuffed pastries called borek, nuts, dried and stewed fruits, a rich clotted cream called kaymak and some of the freshest breads we have ever tasted.  Orkide is at the top of their game in this arena offering soup, refreshing greens and a full table top of traditional starters to the delight of guests.

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Another uniquely Turkish dish we have fallen deeply in love with is the cig kofte (pictured above), a bulgur, herb and spice mix formed into distinct peaked portions that diners douse with fresh lemon juice and roll in lettuce leaves, before biting into each spicy, refreshing packet.

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The main course changes nightly, but is always hearty and followed by their delectable sweets assortment.

We are huge fans of Orkide for their extensive talents showcasing Turkish cuisine, along with an infinite willingness to open their arms to those of us hungry to learn about their abundant table of delicacies. Thank you to the Turkish people and Orkide for sharing with us the heart of Ramadan celebrations and the true nature and generosity of the religion that encourages the best qualities of mankind through love, hospitality and a spirituality that nourishes in every way.

Orkide Pastanesi – Four locations in Gaziantep, please visit the web site to find the location most easily accessible to you.

The Turkish Temptress: Börek

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Strolling through the streets of Istanbul, it is impossible to miss the warm, buttery aroma and seductive window displays of börek shops strategically tucked into nooks and crannies all over the city. Börek are savory pastries fashioned from flour, water and salt doughs of varying thicknesses, resembling anything from thin filo sheets to thick egg noodles. These light, flakey pies can be found stuffed with meat, cheese, potato, herbs, mixed fillings or nothing at all. The fundamental focus is on the butter slathered layers formed into a myriad of shapes from squares, rounds, crescents, cigars, to whatever a baker can dream up.

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Börek may be boiled, baked, sautéed or fried and half the fun is sampling as many versions as possible to find a favorite.

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At Çağdaş Börek, on a corner across Taxim Square from Istiklal Caddesi, we sampled meat, cheese and potato börek, finding them all light, flakey and just the slightest touch greasy. Our favorites were the beef and potato, both packing a flavor punch of spices we wish the more mellow cheese bundles carried.

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The unfilled börek look like hot crossed buns,

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or big slabs that are cut into long slices with the help of a wooden measuring tool. Both are served with packets of powdered sugar.

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The protocol is to dip the unencumbered, warm layers into a mound of sweet, soft, sugar dust, turning each bite into a habit forming, melt in your mouth, fluff of Ottoman Empire culinary history.

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Börek are usually served for breakfast, but are available all day and late into the evening at a myriad of brightly lit shops all over Istanbul. Don’t hesitate to take the edge off your hunger with this savory or sweet snack regarded as one of the national treasures of Turkey.

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Çağdaş Börek Merkez-Tarlabasi Cd No. 20 A,Taksim-IST(0212) 237 67 41

Çağdaş Börek     Istasyon Cad. No. 7/B,   Yesilkoy/IST   (0212) 663 32 47

Çağdaş Börek     Sipahiglu Cad. No. 5/B   Yesilyurt/IST  (0212) 662 99 69

Çağdaş Börek     Cekmece Cad. No. 4/1     Florya/IST      (0212) 580 80 64

For börek in West Los Angeles try:

Aroma Cafe, 2530 Overland Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90064
Phone – 310-836-2919

Captivating Culinary Tours

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One of the most intriguing facets of Turkish culture is the dedication to stunning presentation alongside a perfected foundation. This trait is eloquently showcased at Istanbul’s most famous baklava emporium, Karaköy Güllüoğlu. Trays of meticulously crafted pastries seduce customers at this bakery established in 1949 in the Karaköy district of Istanbul, by a family that has been honing exemplary baklava in Gaziantep, Turkey since the 1800’s.

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This Turkish sanctuary of multi layered wonders, is known by locals for uncompromising dedication to tradition and quality which oozes from the depths of each morsel.

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We were lovingly guided to Karaköy Güllüoğlu by Turkish gastronomy expert, consultant and writer, Hülya Ekşigil on Context Travel’s Beyond Baklava Tour. Hülya’s expertise and organic streaming of relevant information, storytelling, and joy flowed effortlessly, adding exponential value to our explorations. Insider tips, hidden treasures and historic tidbits poured forth, keeping us spellbound as we savored our way through a tasting walk that covered much more than the title suggested.

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Our journey went far beyond baklava and deep into the heart of smooth milk puddings, gooey Turkish delight, thick fruit jams, almond paste candies, Turkish sesame desserts, to a tiny hole-in-the-wall coffee shop that roasts their own beans and lays claim to the best cup of Turkish coffee in Istanbul. We traversed fascinating, funky, and lively old neighborhoods where historic sweet shops, artisanal bakeries and hip cafes abound.

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Tucked between organic markets and artist studios we explored local cheese shops, traditional bakeries, and small restaurants, sampling unique cheeses, fresh baked breads, and thick rice flour puddings made with chicken. We learned about the history and significance of these diverse culinary gems, and the Ottoman Empire’s mixing of cultures to create a distinct and significant cuisine.

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At our last stop we savored layers of buttery filo, chopped pistachios and a perfect balance of honey while reflecting on the enjoyment of the day. It was difficult to tear away from our little group as Hülya continued to fascinate to the end with animated tales of Turkey, the owners of Güllüoğlu and Istanbul’s growth and transformation over the decades.

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We cannot overemphasize the value of a passionate and knowledgeable guide in a new city. We feel as guests with limited time abroad, we now have a basic understanding of the Turkish people, cuisine and culture that would have taken months if not years to gain on our own. Thank you to Hülya Ekşigil, Context Travel, Karaköy Güllüoğlu and an abundance of small shops and businesses that granted us an overwhelmingly hospitable and luscious peek into the heart of Istanbul. We have fallen deeply in love with Turkey’s culture and cuisine and look forward to returning at the earliest possible opportunity to delve deeper into your warm, creative and inspired soul.

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Karaköy Güllüoğlu Factory and HQ : Karaköy, Mumhane Cad. No: 171 34425 İstanbul / Türkiye        T: +90 212 249 96 80 – F: +90 212 244 71 17

Karaköy Güllüoğlu Shop:Karaköy, Rıhtım Cad. Katlı Otopark Altı No: 3-4 İstanbul / Türkiye   T: +90 212 293 09 10      E-Mail: info@karakoygulluoglu.com

Context Travel offers intimate (six participants or less), local expert led walking seminars in some of the worlds most stunning cultural capitals of Europe, Asia, Australia, North and South America .

 

Learning About Turkish Food In Turkey

We are more than a little surprised at how difficult it is to find Turkish food in Los Angeles, a city we perceive as overflowing with culture and cuisine. So when we were invited to celebrate UNESCO’s embracing of the Turkish city of Gaziantep into its Creative Cities Network, we jumped at the opportunity and a week and a half later found ourselves in Istanbul.

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Having only the most rudimentary knowledge and experience with the cuisine, our goal is to explore from the ground up and share what we find. Starting with street food we will work our way through to the gala celebration dinner so we can all gain an understanding of the Turkish table and how Gaziantep came to be honored for her contributions to Gastronomy.

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Our first exposure to Turkish food came in the streets. On practically every corner and in numerous locations on each square we encountered red and white striped carts selling simit, ring shaped bread piled high and covered in sesame seeds.  These soft, chewy, crisp crusted, pretzel-like baked goods are inexpensive, often eaten as a breakfast or snack on the run, go hand in hand with tea, another Turkish staple, and can be combined with butter, cheese, jam or Nutella for a little extra umph.

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The carts offer a small variety of savory and occasionally sweet breads, but simit has been the Turkish, transport friendly, bread of choice since it came into favor in the 16th century Ottoman royal courts and then trickled down through society.

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No trip to Turkey would be complete without a taste of simit and we have had a blast searching carts and bakeries for our favorite version.

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Acknowledging this as our first trip to Turkey, as well as limited exposure to the cuisine, we welcome feedback, discussion and correction for any mistakes made. Our commitment is to deliver the most accurate information, but as we attempt to travel, learn and share, all at the same time, we are happy to defer to experts, the Turkish people and anyone else with superior knowledge and love of this delightful country and her exciting bounty. Let the discovery begin.

Old School Italian In Burbank

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We can’t seem to get enough of the old classic restaurants. They remind us of a simpler time, firmly rooted in great food, exceptional value, local community and service with a smile. Pinocchio Restaurant in Burbank has been a neighborhood institution since the 60’s. The restaurant is only half the story. The expansive corner establishment also houses the Monte Carlo Deli, which has been providing in house, locally sourced and imported Italian delicacies to an appreciative customer base for over 40 years.

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The restaurant is set up cafeteria style and we hopped in line to view both the menu on the wall, as well as the steam trays overflowing with freshly prepared, enticing dishes.

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Standing in line we also found sides and salads to accompany entrees, pizza and sandwiches.

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We are huge fans of eggplant parmesan and couldn’t resist an order. The hefty slice comes submerged in their garlic heavy marinara which we chose over the meat sauce. The rich and satisfying layers are enhanced by the soul of tomato, herbs and spices blooming in a sauce cooked down to its thick, chunky essence, that can only be achieved by hours bubbling away on the stovetop.

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Prices on entrees, pizza and salad all fall into the exceptionally reasonable category and dishes share easily.

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The homemade Italian sausage is a fennel punctuated, Italian herb and spice heavy blend that is bliss in a casing. We chose ours with grilled onions and peppers, over pasta topped with their house meat sauce.

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Don’t forget to check the specials board at the beginning of the chow line to see if any additional options call.

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Three vintage dining rooms are warm and comfortable, providing plenty of seating in various configurations, accommodating everything from a dinner for two to a family affair.

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Either before or after your meal a visit to the attached Monte Carlo deli is a must.

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Well organized rows of almost everything one could need or want for an Italian feast are displayed.

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Refrigerated cases overflow with an abundance of pepperoni and salami.

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Dried pasta in shapes that grab on to rich sauces and a profusion of olive oil fill the back of the shop.

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We tried some of the imported chocolate and appreciate the flavors and texture of Kinder brand.

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Behind the deli counter, loaves of freshly baked breads are the precise tools for sopping up the sauces or making garlic bread.

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While the counter itself displays a wide variety of deli meats and sausages for those wanting to fill their homes with the smells and flavors of Italy.

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Surprises line every shelf and counter, so give yourself enough time to search for delicious indulgences.

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And of course no Italian meal is complete without a nice bottle of wine and Monte Carlo has a well laid out selection to chose from.

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For a homestyle taste of Southern Italy, inside a space that feels welcoming and hospitable, Pinocchio and Monte Carlo warm the heart and the soul in a way only Italian cuisine can.

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Monte Carlo Deli & Pinocchio’s Restaurant, 3103 West Magnolia Boulevard, Burbank, CA 91505
Phone – 818-845-3516          web site – montecarlodeli.com

Abundant Flavors Of Portugal In Little India

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We were beyond surprised to find Portugal Imports, a Portuguese bakery, in Artesia. But we opened our minds and entered the pristine shop to find a cornucopia of freshly baked and imported goods.

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Cans of tuna, virgin olive oil, beans and dried fruit from sunny Portugal were just the start of the immersion.

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They also carry the famous piri-piri sauce, a spicy mix of African peppers, spices, onion, garlic and lemon, that can now be found all over Portugal. Used as a condiment and marinade for chicken, meat and seafood, it is recommended only to those looking for an incendiary experience.

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Portuguese allspice is a compelling blend of herbs and spices that take sweet and savory dishes to new levels of excitement.

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After a brief tour of the shop we turned our attention to their seductive baked goods.

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A few tables and chairs make grabbing a cup of coffee and some pastries the logical afternoon pick-me-up.

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Queijiada de nata is their signature pastry. Bakers fill a puff pastry shell with creme brûlée-like custard. The pride and joy of Portugal, these creamy, sweet, bites melt away in a smooth rush of pleasure.

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Pastries at Portugal Imports sell for $1.45 each or $15.00 a dozen and there is an explanation for each written on the wall.

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A similarly baked pastry cup called nata de belem, originated in the 1800’s by nuns trying to raise money for their church. These silky creations are spiked with cinnamon and lemon, heavenly indeed.

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The amendoa, stuffs pastry shells with chopped almonds in a sugar glaze for one crunchy, almond extravaganza that permeates the entire sweet.

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Caramelo are toasted toffee tarts that explode with burnt sugar and a chewy consistency.

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Then there are the breads. We highly recommend the corn bread (not sweet like American corn bread) and the sweet bread which is sweet, similar to Kings Hawaiian bread. Don’t miss the crunchy cookie twists which go exceptionally well with a cup of tea.

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And finally for more Portuguese traditions, take a gander in the refrigerated case where bacalhau (salted cod), sausage and cheese celebrate the most well known and loved flavors of Portugal.

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For hidden Portuguese treats, ingredients and staples, a visit to Portugal Imports provides a journey to the edible heart of the country.

Portugal Imports, 11655 Artesia Boulevard, Artesia, CA 90701
Phone – 562-809-7021         web site – portugalimports.net

Koreatown French Bakery

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Deep in the heart of Koreatown is the seductive Paris Baguette, an elegant bakery displaying luscious traditional French pastries, as well as Asian fusion surprises. Originating in Korea, the franchise came to Los Angeles in 2005 and has been expanding ever since.

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The attractive space is well organized with crisp, clean, exceptionally packaging, making the goodies even more enticing.

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Creme filled buns and chocolate covered doughnuts glisten in glass cases.

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A wide selection of French macarons pack some serious punch. We fell hard for the passionfruit version which is a spot on, sweet and tart reflection of the tropical fruit.

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Attention to detail, design and decoration is the focus here, with sweets that are as visually ravishing as they are orally pleasurable.

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An assortment of ready to heat and eat appetizers can also be found on the shelves.

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Adorable mini croissants temp with flakey, puffed, buttery layers.

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Charming packaging makes every corner a joy to explore.

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Sandwiches, unique sausage stuffed pies and cheese tarts are savory options. Individual pastries start at under a dollar and rise to just a few greenbacks which makes us feel a whole lot better about giving in to such attractive and indulgent baked goods.

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For divine splurges that will impress at any party, Paris Baguette is one of our favorite spots to shop.

Paris Baguette, 3470 West 6th Street, Los Angeles, CA 90020
Phone – 213-384-0404          web site – parisbaguetteusa.com

or

Paris Baguette, 125 North Western Avenue, Suite 101, Los Angeles, CA 90004
Phone – 323-467-0404

or

Paris Baguette, 621 South Western Avenue, Suite 105, Los Angeles, CA 90010
Phone – 213-368-0404

Some Of LA’s Best Mexican Baked Goods

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We continue our exploration of East LA with El Gallo Bakery. In business since 1949, they have perfected their craft and the Latin community has come to love and embrace this neighborhood gem. Get ready to explore the amazing world of pan dulce (sweet breads). The sweet Mexican pastries/breads come in a variety of forms and shapes including seashells, animals, flat cookies, round puffs, stuffed crescents, and all manor of classically beautiful baked goods.

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Originating in Spain, pan dulce made its way to Mexico where they are eaten for breakfast, often dipped in hot chocolate or served with coffee. They are also a popular midday snack.

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El Gallo has a reputation as one of the best spots in Los Angeles to get these delectable bakery items. The lines attest to the quality and assure fast turn over, making these some of the freshest treats around.

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The bakery also sells packages to make hot chocolate and inside huge vats are freshly made tamales of pork or cheese.

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Not to mention a small smattering of Mexican candies, sweets and coconut macaroons.

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The proceedure is simple. Take a plastic bag, grab some tamales from the enourmous silver pots near the front door and get in line. When it’s our turn we ask questions and point to the most attractive sweets, which are then piled onto trays and scooted along the counter top to the register.

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A lovely bakery attendant packs the goodies and then we were presented with a small bill, under $10 for a tray full of deliciousness.

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We were barely out the door when we had to sample the pineapple stuffed crescent which is a light, super supple, sweet pastry topped with toasted almonds. Everything melts together on the tongue and we fell hard for these beauties that we could eat all day long.

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Our empanada was filled with extremely sweet squash that tasted like fresh baked yams. We heated this one up at home to bring out the flavors even more.

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El Gallo does a wonderful pan de elote, also known as Mexican corn bread. This bread differs from American corn bread in that it has an almost pudding-like consistency.

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The velvety interior is sweet and creamy against the more sturdy, scorched edged crust with whole pieces of corn dotting the cake. This is the most delectable “bread pudding” we’ve had the privilege of eating.

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The corn masa encased tamales are stuffed with either cheese and mild green pepper that come in a yellow wrapper or

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stewed pork that can be found inside the white wrappers.

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Whatever you choose, El Gallo Bakery will set you up with some of the best Mexican bakery goods that we have in our fair city and that makes them one of our top stops for party treats and other celebratory indulgences.

El Gallo Bakery, 4546 East Cesar E Chavez Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90022
Phone – 323-263-5528          web site – elgallobakery.com