Istanbul & Beyond Champions Uncharted Turkish Delights

Stunning, slice-of-Turkish-life photos by David Hagerman and recipes from remote regions of Turkey, are the focus of Robyn Eckhardt’s latest cookbook, Istanbul & Beyond. The two spent 18 months digging deep into “one of the most gastronomically complex countries anywhere”, as Robyn so eloquently states it. The diverse terrains combined with interactions with neighboring countries has produced a richness that can only evolve through centuries of experimentation with local ingredients.

The breath of the book is expansive and no single recipe defines the cuisine. We found it best to follow our whims through the dense contents. The purple basil cooler is a great place to start with its anise back-notes and cool, sweet refreshment. Robyn tips us off to the fact that alcohol enhancement produces a wonderful cocktail.

Turkish red pepper paste and flakes can be found piled high at almost every market in Turkey.  The liberal use of this important element of Turkish cooking requires chefs to decide on a preferred flavor profile from deep and smokey to fruity spicy and every combination in between. Red pepper flakes elevate the Spicy Egg Salad on page 260 to a dish that complements every meal or snack served throughout the day.

Do not miss Robyn’s green olive salad with pomegranate molasses, a pomegranate reduction, which can be found in middle eastern stores. The recipe is from Hatay in southeastern Turkey, which was just honored by UNESCO for its exceptional cuisine, and after tasting this salad we know why.

Frangrant Orange Cookies from page 75 are just that, and so addicting we are actually afraid to make a batch for fear of not being able to stop at just a few.

Istanbul and Beyond delightfully champions hidden treasure dishes that have made Gaziantep and Antakya cities of noteworthy gastronomy according to the United Nations Creative Cities Network. You are unlikely to find these gems in your local Turkish restaurants. So thank you Robyn for sharing these recipes that we hope to have the good fortune of tasting in Turkey, but until then we’re covered.

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

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

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

Ça?da? 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

The Power Of The Pomegranate

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Street vendors all over Istanbul soothe parched pedestrians with freshly squeezed orange and pomegranate juice. The orange is delightful, but it’s the red, juicy, ancient (dating back to 4000 BC) nar (Turkish for pomegranate) nectar that has us dropping Turkish lire all over the city.

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We are told that autum is prime season for the power packed fruit, but we have found the most vibrant, ruby red seeds are still exploding with the sweetest juice in early March.  Even the sweet, slightly tart cups we encounter have us singing the praises of this enchantress.

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It takes just moments for our juice barista to halve and squeeze two or three globes, place them in the sturdy manual juicer and extract the liquid ambrosia.

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Small servings set us back about .50 cents with larger cups ranging from a dollar to two depending on size and vendor location. At this price we indulge daily, taking advantage of the benefits of this Turkish delight.

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Celebrated for its high antioxidant content and inflammation reducing properties, we find it one of the most restorative beverages we’ve encountered. Ordering large glasses after long days exploring the vast treasures of Istanbul we feel instantly revitalized and up for more adventures.

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Fresh pomegranite kiosks and stands are located throughout Istanbul.  Every pedestrian and tourist area we have explored offers abundant opportunities to experience these glasses of pure refreshment. Don’t miss this charming tradition.

 

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.

Mid-City Tacos Al Pastor

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Taco trucks are nothing new in Los Angeles, but we want to give a shout out to one of the old timers, Leo’s Tacos Truck, which is still located in the 76 gas station on the corner of La Brea and Venice. We stopped by on Friday evening around 9 PM and found the crowds lined up for the well loved tacos. The queue moves quickly, especially for those ordering tacos al pastor which are pulled together fast as lighting.

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The al pastor stack of seasoned pork is enormous and rotates over flames thrown from a vertical spit. Watching the maestro work his knife, slicing off thin shavings of meat is entertainment in itself. He works at breakneck speed, wielding the long blade like a samurai and finalizing each taco with a sliver of sweet pineapple.

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The salsa bar overflows with lime wedges, a chopped onion and cilantro mix, smokey red salsa, zesty green salsa (our favorite), a thin avocado sauce and a spicy onion and carrot slaw. To go cups for salsas and plastic baggies for vegetables make it easy for guests to pack their condiments to go.

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They do have other items on the menu, but we are in love with the flavors pulled out of the al pastor tacos. Chared thin cuts of juicy, spice infused pork are enhanced delectably by the addition of sweet pineapple found a top the rotating mountain of roasting pork.

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We find a nice squirt of lime, chopped onion and cilantro, and a final chaser of green salsa to be our optimal design for tacos al pastor.

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Leo’s pulls out the big daddy of al pastor on weekend evenings and does a smaller, in the truck, version the rest of the time. These wonders set us back one dollar per taco, just the right price in our book. They have become so popular they now run 4 trucks in locations around the city with varying hours. Be sure to check times before you visit so you don’t miss the joy delivered by Leo.

Leo’s Tacos Truck, 1515 South La Brea Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90019
Phone – 323-346-2001           web site – leostacostruck.com

or

Leo’s Tacos Truck, 1533 Vermont Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90006
Phone – 323-346-2001

or

Leo’s Tacos Truck, 2400 West Pico Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90019
Phone – 323-346-2001

or

Leo’s Tacos Truck, 415 Glendale Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90026
Phone – 323-346-2001

Indian And Californian Blending Well

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Indian Kitchen in West Hollywood seems to us the perfect marriage of Indian and California culture and cuisine. The menu is Northern Indian all the way, but the dishes have been altered to suit a Los Angeles clientele. Beef, an option not usually found on Indian menus, shows up as a protein choice and sauces are lightened with coconut milk replacing 75% of the heavy cream normally found.

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They also embrace vegan and vegetarian options, happily supporting those whose lifestyles require few or no animal products.

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We noticed some unique drinks and ordered the ginger iced and ginger hot tea. Both have a serious ginger bite and come unsweetened. Sugar packets on the table can be added for those prefering a sweet and spicy ginger experience. Iced chai and spiced iced tea are also available for warm Southern California days.

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We like to start with papadum, lentil and garbanzo flour, folded, flat, crisp breads that go well with chutney.

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Mint chutney, spiced with green chili and cilantro is an herb based, savory dipping sauce while the tamarind chutney is a well balanced sweet and sour contrasting encounter. Either can be spooned onto appetizers or salads for enhanced oomph.

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The mixed vegetable pakora appetizer starts with freshly shredded vegetables and dips them into a garbanzo batter laden with spices before frying them up. They remind us of the Jewish flavors of both falafel and potato pancakes, as if they were unified in one dish.

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A chana chat salad takes Indian street food and transforms it into a refreshing starter of garbanzo beans, spiced potato, cucumber, tomato and raw onion, mellowed by yogurt and chutney for a tongue teasing melange of flavors.

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We were informed that the secret to Indian cooking is the fresh whole and ground spices imported from India. Nutmeg, mace, turmeric, curry powder mixes, cumin, coriander and garam masala (a combination of Indian bay leaves, cloves and cardamom) are some of the spices responsible for the flavor profile.

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Most dishes can be ordered with guests choice of chicken, lamb, beef, fish, shrimp or tofu.

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Ginger chicken, presented on a sizzling platter, has a sharp snap of the fragrant root which permeates the tender, white meat poultry in addition to the infusion of smokey flavor from the tandoor oven.

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The chicken and lamb shish kabob are an interesting mix that are beautifully enhanced by the sweet grilled onions abounding on the hot skillet.

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Each biryani we taste is a new adventure and we were particularly taken with Indian Kitchen’s lamb biryani. A dry, non-greasy, yet exceptionally moist, well spiced and saturated bed of rice and peas conceals soft chunks of roasted lamb topped with crunchy fried onions. Each bite is a journey along the spice trail and we were seduced by the savory cinnamon accents.

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Our chicken pasanda was a fragrant green curry, combining pistachio nuts, herbs and a special spice blend that retains a nut crunch and texture in the creamy, tangy, lemon kissed dish.

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A coconut cream, lightened version of chicken korma carries the full savoriness of the rich sauce and is topped with raisins and cashew nuts. We are thankful that it doesn’t weight us down with gobs of heavy cream.

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The classic chicken tikka masala also gets a reinvigoration of coconut cream in place of most of the heavy whipping cream, resulting in a delightful Indian spiced tomato sauce.

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Those looking for healthy alternatives have a lot to choose from including the jalfrezi or zalfraze. This light dish, no matter how you spell it, is a tumble of vegetable chunks and the protein of customers choice resulting in a dry, stir fry, cauliflower, bell pepper, tomato and onion melange.

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We like it hot and if you do too, check out the volcano, one of the chef’s secret recipes. We managed to pry out that it is based in hot red chili powder, crushed red chili flakes and ghost peppers. Our lamb volcano also incorporates a blend of turmeric, curry powder, bay leaf, curry leaves, coriander, paprika, nutmeg and black pepper. We requested ours medium which left a nice tingle trail over the tongue and down the throat.

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The staff at Indian Kitchen are well aware of the dietary restrictions that abound in our fair city and are happy to accommodate guests.

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From the vegetable menu, fresh okra is sautéed along with onions, tomatoes and herbs in the bhendi masala. The chefs definitely know their way around okra and its optimal preparation.

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Tofu makhiani is a tomato based cream curry with roasted garlic and ghee resulting in a buttery, tomato sauce often referred to on menus as butter chicken (when served on chicken not tofu of course).

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And the tofu yellow curry is an onion based sauce tinged with turmeric for a sweet and spicy treat.

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Lunch specials are affordable and available Monday through Fridays.

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And finally don’t forget to check out the dessert menu where we found some of the best rasmalai we have had locally. Milk based patties in a creamy sauce are scented with rose water and this version brings together the soft textures, full boded smoothness and crunch of pistachio in a perfect blending with nothing overpowering the delicate balance.

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For a creative Indian dining experience, with nods to America’s love of beef and California’s desire for stellar health, The Indian Kitchen satisfies everyone in exactly the form that works best for them.

The Indian Kitchen, 8165 Santa Monica Boulevard, West Hollywood, CA 90046
Phone – 323-656-9000           web site – indiankitchenla.com

Enchanting Westside Mexican Moles

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Juquila on Santa Monica Boulevard, is our westside mole spot. The time consuming Mexican dish is a reduction of a laundry list of ingredients, with each chef introducing their personal vision into the mix of chiles, nuts, spices, bread, fruit, vegetables and up to 100 ingredients, if you believe some of the legends.

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Juquila serves the food of Oaxaca in a narrow space with relaxing, warm, sunny, terra cotta colored walls and patterned booths.

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Everyone gets to sample the red mole drizzled on fresh tortilla chips, because they are delivered complementary to the table as guest settle in.

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The chips come with a spicy salsa that adds a nice kick to the starter.

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We were so enthralled with the red mole that we had to order a side of the rich, sweet, spicy, thick and complex sauce to submerge our chips.

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We ordered their cinnamon tea while dipping the crisp tortilla chips into our tongue teasing, flavor packed, red mole and perused the menu for dinner options.

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The red mole was so satisfying we had to order the mole negro or black mole. There are at least 7 types of Oaxacan Mole with the most well known being the black because of it’s enhancement with rich, bitter-sweet dark chocolate that adds significant excitement to the sweet, nutty, roasted, and bitter flavors.

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We stirred our white rice into the inky sauce and then pulled off pieces of the tender dark meat chicken and rolled them in the corn tortillas provided, creating a soft  black mole taco that brought joy to our hearts and palates.

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We strongly recommend trying their moles but there are also flavorful bowls of chicken and beef soup, burritos, tacos and some traditional, hard to find, Oaxaquina dishes such as tlayudas, large corn tortillas covered in toppings and resembling a pizza.

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Completing our meal with a thick, creamy slice of flan was just the ticket. We are always thrilled to have a wide variety of regional cuisines to savor locally and since its not always convenient to travel to East LA for some of the best Mexican food Los Angeles has, it’s nice to know we can find reliable and delicious alternatives that have been thriving on the westside for decades.

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Juquila Restaurant, 11619 Santa Monica Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90025
Phone – 310-312-1079         web site – restaurantejuquila.com

Southern Indian Enchantment

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Mayura brings the flavor of Southern India, Kerala to be exact, to Culver City.

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Their lunch buffet, lunch and dinner specials are reasonably priced and offer the curious a chance to indulge.

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The extensive buffet lines the western wall of the restaurant and comes with a drink and made to order dosa (rice and lentil flour crepes), on request.

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Our favorite dishes on the buffet were the goat curry and fish curry, both deep, complex, rich sauces concealing well prepared meat and fish.

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Mayura is one of the few places locally where we find appam , light, spongy, rice, lentil and yeast pancakes that absorb the curries served alongside.

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The buffet includes appetizers and soups,

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and of course traditional naan bread.

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South Indian cooking crafts amazing vegetable dishes to appeal to the vegetarian population. We benefit from this dedication in the form of mixed vegetable curries and a savory, dry string bean recipe on the day of our visit.

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An entire buffet island is dedicated to condiments, salads, pickles and raita.

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The condiments and potato curry from the buffet are savory and sometimes spicy dips for the dosa which come in a variety of shapes including the cone dosa below.

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Mayura prides itself on setting out the best dishes from Kerala and providing stellar customer service. They follow the philosophy of Gandhi and have his definition of customer on the wall, assuring a splendid afternoon or evening meal.

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Mayura Restaurant, 10406 Venice Boulevard, Culver City, CA 90232
Phone – 310-559-9644           web site – mayuraLA.com

Terrific Tinga

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East LA closes down early, but for breakfast, lunch or an early dinner they bring mouthwatering Mexican food big time. We were lucky enough to get to La Placita de D.F. Restaurante before they closed and began what has now become a search for the best Tinga in Los Angeles.

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Tinga is a stewed pork or chicken stew, slow cooked in a spicy chipotle sauce and served in a variety of ways. The super tender, seductively seasoned, smokey dish is traditionally served as a tostada, wrapped in a soft tortilla or stuffed into a fried quesadilla. It is often piled high atop sopes, a thick, flat, griddle fried, corn dough called masa.

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We managed to wrangle both a plate of the smokey, stewed, pork tinga with a side of rice and beans and a tinga tostada, loaded with refried beans, lettuce, tomato, avocado and grated cheese. Both ways we found this particular pork tinga recipe to be outstanding and a true pleasure to consume.

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Everyone in the restaurant had a cemita in front of them so we had to order one to find out why. Cemitas differ from Mexican tortas (sandwich) in a number of ways but one of the most important differences is the bread. The cemita’s “bun” at La Placita is etherial, light, slightly sweet, toasted heaven. Inside the bread sits a thinly pounded and fried slab of meat, shredded queso Oaxaca (a type of fresh string cheese), greens, chipotle peppers, avocado and beans.

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We found that dousing this big boy with the green salsa sitting on the table was an excellent addition and next time will ask for more chipotle chilies on top.

We are excited to continue exploring East Los Angeles, Boyle Heights and neighboring areas, in our search for the most flavorful tinga. But we have to say that La Placita is up there with some of the best we’ve tried and that we are off to a fantastic start.

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Be aware that they are closed all day Thursday and at 6:30 PM the rest of the week. Don’t let the early hours stop you from experiencing these fantastic family recipes that are bringing the flavors of the Mexican state of Puebla to Los Angeles.

La Placita Del D F, 1859 East 1st Street, Los Angeles, CA 90033                           Phone – 323-780-8232

East LA Mole Find

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Mariachi Plaza in Boyle Heights is many things. Starting with a central community square and metro stop, which allows for easy access.

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It is a central gathering place for community events happening throughout the year.

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We happened to be in the area on Sunday evening and found music, dancing and vendors peddling goods. We now know that Fridays and Sundays from 2 PM till 9 PM the community comes together to commune, eat, dance, celebrate and take advantage of vendors selling goods.

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We were particularly intrigued by a jewelry and ceramic vendor whose booth advertised Mole Mama Chabel.

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We hurried right over to find out what we could about this 100+ year old recipe of one of the most famous sauces originating from Puebla, Mexico.

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We were assured these are in fact traditional family recipes handed down from 1892. Samples are given of the green and red mole offered. The green mole is recommend for vegetables and has the distinct flavor of ground pumpkin seeds, while the red mole is rich, smooth, chocolaty, sweet and savory bliss.

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At $5 per pack we had to purchase both. Instructions are simple. If making the entire bag simply add 18 ounces of chicken stock to the mole and heat. Adding cooked chicken, vegetables or any other preferred ingredients is all that’s required. No need to spend hours slaving over a stove trying to demystify this challenging recipe that contains over 20 secret ingredients.  It’s already been perfected and is ready to go. The moles are also freezable if not intended to be used immediately.

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For those interested in participating in celebrations of Latin culture, dancing and purchasing some delightful moles, Mariachi Plaza on Friday and Sunday afternoon and evenings is a charming place to be.

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Mariachi Plaza, 1817 East 1st Street, Los Angeles, CA 90033
web site – mariachiplazalosangeles.com