5 Things You Didn't Know
You Didn't Know
Came From Los Angeles
(Er, Or Thereabouts)
Los Angeles Notes
In this episode of Eat My Globe, our host, Simon Majumdar,
focuses on his home city, Los Angeles, and shares 5 things you didn’t know you didn’t know originated in the City of Angels (or thereabouts) – from one of the greatest sandwiches in the world, to a famous cocktail, to a hot sauce that most people believe is made in South East Asia.
So if you want to know about the origins of the French Dip, why we need to say “thanks L.A.” for the Sriracha Rooster Sauce, and why three poor purchasing decisions led to a famous cocktail, come and join us on this episode of Eat My Globe.
EAT MY GLOBE
5 THINGS DIDN’T KNOW YOU DIDN’T KNOW CAME FROM
LOS ANGELES (ER, OR THEREABOUTS)
What happens when the fog clears in California.
I don’t know. What happens when the fog clears in California?
You see, LA.
You see, LA. See?
Oh. We have a Bruins fan in the house. Oh well. There had to be one.
I’m Simon Majumdar and welcome to a brand new episode of Eat My Globe, a podcast about things you didn’t know you didn’t know about food.
And, on today’s episode, we’re going to look not at an ingredient or a dish or a person as we have on other episodes in the series. Instead, today, we’re going to talk about a place.
One of the things I have discovered as I travel around the world is that every town or city I visit always displays its own unique character, and from that character they develop their own food scenes.
Around the world, in Paris, Rome, Tokyo, London and Madrid, and here in my new homeland of the USA, where New York, Chicago, New Orleans – my favorite eating city in the US in case you were wondering – and Los Angeles, and amongst many, offer up intriguing food offerings that are not only delicious, but also tell us much about the history of the city.
So, with that in mind, I have decided to add to the Eat My Globe mix, as it were, an occasional series of episodes about cities around the world and here in the USA, to look at what their food tells us about their history, and to share with you some of those foods that you didn’t know you didn’t know originated from there.
Where better to start such an enterprise than in my current place of residence.
So, today on Eat My Globe, things you didn’t know you didn’t know about food, let’s talk about the City of Angels: Los Angeles.
[Car honking noise]
[Scat singing: Do be doo bop.]
I moved from London to Los Angeles around 2010 and had been visiting regularly for a couple of years before that. It would be fair to say that although I’ve never really fallen in love with the city, Los Angeles and I have developed a relationship where we just about tolerate each other. Despite that uneasy relationship, one of the things I have enjoyed about being located here over the last decade or so, and particularly now as I’m the restaurant critic for Time Out Los Angeles, is that its food scene has come on leaps and bounds to the point where it has become one of, if not, the best food destination in the United States. Don’t get me wrong, Los Angeles has always had certain aspects of food about it which were impeccable, such as its representations of the cuisines of its many immigrant communities – we’ll talk more about that later. But in terms of its general restaurant scene, I initially found it disappointing, to say the least. That has definitely changed in the last decade. So now, it gives me great pleasure to share with you some history of some of the city’s finest contributions to the American culinary scene.
If we’re going to talk about food in Los Angeles, I think it’s definitely worth spending a short amount of time getting an overview of the city’s history itself. Now, of course, this is going to have to be very brief. Otherwise, it would take up the whole episode. But, I do think it’s worth doing as it gives a starting point as to why some cuisines have found such a welcome home here.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF LOS ANGELES
The first residents of the vast metropolis that we now call Los Angeles, were the Gabrieleño – also known as the Tongva – a native tribe that is believed to have moved from the Mojave Desert around 2000 years ago. Their presence in the Los Angeles basin remained steady until the arrival of the Spanish colonists in the late 18th century. After that period, they were often forced both to convert to Christianity and to give up their native traditions and language. Very small numbers of this pre-colonial community still exist. However, in 1994, the state of California recognized the Gabrielino-Tongva tribe as,
“the aboriginal tribe of the Los Angeles Basin.”
The first Spanish settlers came in 1769, with the arrival of one Gaspar de Portola, who camped with a collection of missionaries on the banks of the Los Angeles River. And, by 1771, the San Gabriel Mission had been founded by Father Junipero Serra. A decade after that, Captain Rivera y Moncada and 11 families from Mexico journeyed to the region to found a small pueblo or settlement on September the 4th, 1781, which they named, El Pueblo de la Reyna de Los Angeles — The Pueblo of the Queen of the Angels. This founding date, by the way, makes Los Angeles older than the likes of Chicago, Atlanta, and Washington, DC. And you thought everything was new in LA.
The occupation of this land by the Spanish was the first from non-native inhabitants. It marked a pattern of new arrivals from distant places that have been representative of Los Angeles culture ever since and has definitely had a huge impact on its dining scene.
There were a number of key points in history that marked both the increasing influence of the city and its appeal to Americans seeking a new home.
In 1848, after a series of conflicts between Mexico and the United States, California and with it, Los Angles, became part of the United States of America. This, in many ways, touches into the profoundly held belief amongst 19th century Americans in the notion of “Manifest Destiny,” the notion that the occupation of the entire continental land of the Americas by the United States was both inevitable, justifiable and divinely ordained. The notion of moving to a growing city on the far west coast of the continent must have appeared to many as the perfect fulfillment of this godly mission.
Further numbers flooded into the region during the mid-1800s when gold was discovered in what is now the Antelope Valley, which is located within the county of LA and north of the city of Los Angeles, and many of the prospectors began to settle in the lands after the discovery of other precious minerals and metals.
Likewise, in the period following the end of the Civil War in the mid-1860s, there was one more large wave of immigrants into Los Angeles and its surrounding area to take advantage of the portioning of vast former Mexican ranches into smaller farms. It was at this time that some of the most famous neighborhoods people typically associate with Los Angeles – such as Santa Monica, Pasadena and Compton – came into existence.
As they say on the LA County dot gov website,
“Los Angeles and its surrounding territories were built by immigrants.”
While these were initially from Spain and Mexico, and then subsequently from other areas of Europe, immigrants were attracted from across the globe – from Central and South America, and from across Asia, including China, Japan and many others – as well as many former slaves of African descent.
This may not always have been an easy process, to say the least, and if this were anything other than a food history podcast, it would definitely be worthy of a journey into Los Angeles’ history to see the often dark tales of how its waves of immigrants were discriminated against and often barred from not only the west coast, but also the country.
However determined to stay on the more positive inheritance of its amazing food, it’s fair to say that these waves of immigration definitely served to create one of the most ethnically diverse cities in the world representing dozens of cultures, and a city in which it is possible to visit any of its specific neighborhoods and enjoy food that is, at the same time, as authentic as I have found visiting the countries themselves, and yet exciting and creative enough to be at the front wave of the American culinary explosion.
My major gripe, however, coming from London and its expansive tube system, is that traversing this large metropolitan city and exploring its numerous neighborhoods requires driving in a car to get anywhere. But, as we shall see later, even that car culture has contributed to the city’s cuisine.
Anyway, this… This is a very potted history of this vast city, but I hope that it whets your appetite. When we come back after the break, I will share with you five things that you didn’t know you didn’t know came from Los Angeles. And yes, before you all start e-mailing me, some of these may come from L.A. City, L.A. County or even L.A. adjacent areas, but hey! I was always bad at geography. Stick with me.
Hi everybody, this is Simon Majumdar, the creator and host of the Eat My Globe food history podcast. Now, those of you have been listening to the podcast since we began almost two years ago – nearly 50 episodes so far – will know that we have never sought out sponsorship for the podcast. It’s very much been a labor of love. However, along the way, a large number of people have approached us suggesting they would like to support the podcast. And so, we have opened up a page on Patreon dot com to allow those of you who listen regularly to do just that. Any support we will get will allow us to purchase research materials, buy ingredients for recipes, and maybe, when we can, get out and about to bring you some very special in-the-field reporting. But, and this is really important. This is not just a one-way street. For varying levels of membership of our Patreon club, there will be access to fantastic Eat My Globe swag, including that incredible chopping board so many of you have written to me about, recipes based on the historical periods about which we chat each week, video shout outs, signed pictures, and even along the way, some very special episodes just for members. So, if you’ve enjoyed the episodes of Eat My Globe you’ve listened to so far, and would like us to make many more into the future, do head over to www dot Patreon dot com slash Eat My Globe and consider taking out a membership. Any support will be much appreciated. Remember, that’s www dot Patreon dot com slash Eat My Globe. So thank you very much, and keep listening.
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NUMBER ONE – McDONALD’S
Okay, number one.
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We could – and I have certainly been asked enough times to do so – go through the long and storied history of the hamburger. And, I’ll certainly touch on that now. However, if you really want a full history of America’s favorite fast food, then I recommend you go and seek out a book by my late friend, food writer Josh Ozersky. Josh passed away far too early in 2015, but he left behind him a great deal of terrific writing including a book entitled, “The Hamburger: A History.” It’s well worth seeking out.
Over 40 billion hamburgers are consumed by Americans every year. But, before they reached the United States of America, there was a significant history of proto-hamburgers that goes back to the ancient Romans, who made a dish known as Aliter Isicia Omentata, which is listed in the famed recipe book, “De Re Coquinaria,” by Apicius. The term Isicia comes from a series of dishes using ground meat. Omentata refers to the use of caul fat lining from the animal that was used to wrap the meat to hold its shape and add fat when cooking. This particular patty was made of minced meat – more likely ground pork – ground wheat, pepper, wine, and berries – like myrtle – and crushed nuts, then wrapped in caul prior to frying. Which sounds pretty good to me.
The Mongolians are also often cited in the long form history of the hamburger. Their famed horsemen of the Mongolian cavalry were said to put strips of meat under the saddles of their horses when riding across the country. The story goes that the friction of the saddle against flesh would tenderize the meat that could then be chopped up and eaten raw – creating steak tartare. Now, this is a great story. In reality, a bit of a myth because, while the Mongols may have put meat between their saddles, it was likely placed there to heal their horses’ sores, and not to be eaten.
However, it is one of the stories that helps explain its arrival in the town which gave it the name it still bears today: Hamburg, Germany. Hamburg was part of the major port of the Hanseatic League, a medieval federation of northern German cities and towns that was founded in the 12th century to help merchants and artisans with trade and protect them from the powerful wealthy upper class. As a port, it was a place that saw merchants from many nations stay within its walls, including Russians, who in the 1500s, brought with them the famous raw chopped meat dish, which soon was adopted by the meat loving Germans.
By the 1700s, Hamburg’s association with minced meat became so strong that a recipe for “Hamburgh Sausages” appears in the cookbook, “The Art of Cookery, Made Plain and Easy” by Hannah Glasse. She describes the dish of beef that is minced with suet, then seasoned with pepper, cloves and nutmeg, as well as
“a great quantity of garlic cut small”
and, rum, white wine and red wine. This mixture is to be stuffed into an animal casing and smoked for a week to ten days in a chimney and then dried until needed. She recommends them being served on toast.
It was a dish that was popular enough with German immigrants that it came with them as they began to flow across to the United States of America after the German revolution in 1848.
The dish became immediately popular, and the still existing restaurant, Delmonico’s – which claims to be the first US restaurant to offer a printed menu, although this has been disputed – offered a ground beef version by 1834. The dish became popular in restaurants and became widely known enough that it began to appear in American cookbooks such as Mrs. Lincoln’s Boston Cook Book, originally published in 1883, where the recipe states,
“Hamburgh Steak. – Pound a slice of round steak enough to break the fibre. Fry two or three onions, minced fine, in butter until slightly browned. Spread the onions over the meat, fold the ends of the meat together, and pound again, to keep the onions in the middle. Broil two or three minutes. Spread with butter, salt and pepper.”
Again, if you give Mrs. Lincoln’s recipe a try, let me know.
Now, the big difference between a Hamburg Steak and a Hamburger, as we know it, is of course the presence of a bun. This breaded encasement of the ground beef is the subject of much argument and there are many claimants to be the first to offer a hamburger in a close form to that that we eat today.
The Library of Congress gives that honor to a restaurant named Louis’ Lunch in New Haven Connecticut. Louis Lassen opened his establishment in 1895 to serve lunch to factory workers and served steak sandwiches as well as steak trimmings, which he ground then grilled, to avoid food waste. As the Louis’ Lunch website tells its story, in 1900, a man, who was in a rush wanted something he could eat while on the go. Louis then placed the steak trimmings between two slices of toast, handed it to his customer, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Another claimant to be the title of “Hamburger” originator is Charlie Nagreen, who claims to have served smashed meatballs between two slices of bread in 1885 at a fair in Seymour, Wisconsin.
And, finally the Menches Brothers also claim to have sold them at a county fair in the same year and they say that they replaced the pork in their then-current sandwiches with ground beef to create the hamburger.
But, the most likely – although unverified – creator of a beef patty on an actual bun – not toast or a generic reference to bread, but a bun specifically designed for a hamburger – goes to one Oscar Weber Bilby. He supposedly used buns baked by his wife, Fanny, to serve hamburgers at his 4th of July parties starting in 1891. The same family later opened a root beer stall in 1933 and that same grill is supposedly still in use today for grilling hamburgers.
The first hamburger chain, as we know them today, was opened in 1921 by Billy Ingram and Walter Anderson in Wichita, Kansas. It’s still going strong today. You know the one I mean. It’s the one that two guys called Harold and Kumar spent a whole evening trying to go to in a feature length film — Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle. They – Billy and Walter that is, not Harold and Kumar – had to counter some of the bad press beef production had received after the publication of Upton Sinclair’s book, “The Jungle,” in 1906, which excoriated the meat processing industry and had made many consumers wary of eating meat. I talked about this in greater detail in a previous episode of Eat My Globe on the History of Beef – so go and check that out. The pristine décor of Billy and Walter’s stores proved popular and it was a decision that other chains began to copy as they began to emerge.
And what about Los Angeles and McDonald’s, I hear you ask, as this is a podcast about that after all. Well, in 1940, after establishing several businesses in the San Gabriel Valley of Los Angeles County – including a movie theater and a juice stand – the two McDonald brothers, Maurice or “Mac” and Dick, opened their first restaurant in San Bernardino, located one county over. Yes, this is technically not in LA, but, as I said, LA-adjacent. That will do for me. The McDonald brothers wanted to serve food that would entice people with cars. And this desire to serve people in cars, I would argue, is born out of Los Angeles’ car culture, where one needs to get into a car to get anywhere – which, again, is one of my gripes about LA, but enough of that.
Their roadside restaurant, called “McDonald’s Barbeque,” had servers, known as “carhops,” deliver the food directly to the cars. Despite its success, in 1948, they converted their BBQ restaurant into one of the increasingly popular styles of restaurant serving hamburgers and milkshakes. It was not an immediate success because food was no longer served by carhops, and the menu shrank. But, after a few months, business began to pick up – in no small part because the brothers had done away with the labor costs of cooking to order, and where food was prepared in advance, kept warm under powerful heat lamps and collected by customers from a self-service counter. This allowed them to sell their hamburgers cheaply at 15 cents for a burger, 10 cents for fries and 20 cents for a milkshake.
So successful did the operation become that the brothers began to open a small number of franchise restaurants in Phoenix. However, it was not until the arrival of salesman, Ray Kroc, on the scene in 1954 that things began to take off for the company, if not for the brothers themselves. Kroc, who supplied the brothers with equipment, such as the machines they used to make milkshakes, was intrigued by their system and bought the rights from them to expand McDonald’s across America. Kroc opened the first restaurant in Des Plaines, Illinois in 1955. His company later acquired the rights to Mac and Dick McDonald’s company in 1961.
For all the love/hate relationship people seem to have with McDonald’s, to say that the idea was a success would be a massive understatement. McDonald’s now operates over 38,000 restaurants in 100 plus countries. And, in 2013, USA Today reported that McDonald’s sold 75 hamburgers EVERY second.
However, while Ray Kroc can be considered the father of the modern fast food restaurant, we should not forget the two brothers in the L.A.-adjacent neighborhood of San Bernardino who, initially, just wanted to feed people driving in their cars and ended up with a serving system that has fed billions of people around globe. The original McDonald’s restaurant itself is now a museum. While, as a restaurant, the original is long gone, its impact on the American dream has not.
Oh, and just one other hamburger related claim to fame for Los Angeles. While Kaelin’s restaurant in Louisville, Kentucky was supposed to have been the first restaurant to use the term “cheeseburger” on their menu around 1934, the credit for creating what I think is the greatest introduction since a person once said “hello Mr. Laurel, I’m Mr. Hardy” goes to a 16 year old called, Lionel Sternberger. In the mid-1920s, he allegedly decided to plop some cheese on a hamburger at his father’s sandwich shop, The Rite Spot, in the Los Angeles County city of Pasadena. It, too, was immediately popular and found its way onto the Rite Spot menu as the “Aristocratic Burger: the Original Hamburger with Cheese.” So, there you go.
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NUMBER TWO – THE FRENCH DIP SANDWICH
Ok, well that was quite a long first installment in “Things you didn’t know you didn’t know came from Los Angeles or thereabouts” but I hope you think it was worth it. Now onto a few shorter, but to me, equally important, contributions to the culinary world made from my home city and its environs.
In 2008, when I made one of my first visits to Los Angeles, a local, who I had connected with via online food websites such as Chowhound and Egullet – remember those? – invited me to join him for lunch at one of Los Angeles most famous “old school” restaurants, Phillippe’s. He told me that it was the originator of one of the most famous sandwiches in the United States, the French Dip Sandwich. I have to admit that at that time, I had never heard of the French Dip Sandwich. It was and is, however, quote, “an American classic sandwich,” as food critic Robert Sietsema once wrote in the New York City publication, the Village Voice.
So what is it? The New York Times describes it as
“Sliced roast beef on a springy French roll that has been dunked in jus. Sharp mustard is encouraged; cheese is optional.”
Mmm… Mmm…. Mmmm… Now I’m getting hungry.
That sounded good to me.
After sharing two of Philippe’s most famous offerings, the “Beef Dip” and the “Lamb Dip with Blue Cheese,” I could easily understand why these were part of the upper echelons of America’s sandwich offerings.
However, when I later did more research – as I tend to do – I found out that Philippe’s claim of being the originator of the sandwich was a disputed one. With another restaurant, a short distance away, in downtown Los Angeles, Coles, also laying claim to be the big bang of the dipped related sandwich. So here’s the lowdown.
Phillippe’s, or Phillippe The Original, to give it its full name, opened in 1908. Although it had to move location in 1951, to its current location on Alameda Street – close to Union Station – it is still considered one of the oldest surviving restaurants in Los Angeles. Their story about the origination of the sandwich is that, in 1918, the owner of the restaurant, Phillippe Mathieu, was making a sandwich for a local police officer – or sometimes they say it’s a fireman – and dropped it into a pan containing the drippings and juices from the roasting meat – or maybe that the customer asked for the bread to be dipped as the bread was a little stale – no one’s really quite sure. In any event, the policeman slash fireman ate it anyway and brought back some of his friends to try it the next day. And, “Taa Daa” a new sandwich saw the light of day.
Over at Cole’s however, they offer up a different story. Cole’s opened in 1908 in the Pacific Electric building. It was a hangout of many famous and infamous customers, including gangster Mickey Cohen. After going into serious decline over the decades, it was reopened in 2008 to great acclaim and remains just as popular today. Their claim to be the creators of the French Dip sandwich is that a customer who was suffering from a case of sore gums complained that the French style baguette used to make the sandwich was way too crunchy and asked the chef to dip the sandwich in the pan juices. The result, one French Dip Sandwich.
A century or so later, it’s still difficult to give a definitive answer as to who is the true progenitor of this classic, although in a story from the website, Thrillist, in 2016, they did lay their cards on the side of Phillippe’s saying,
“The version told by Phillippe Mathieu in 1951 is by far the most historically convincing.”
Although it is worth noting that they also say that the original French Dip sandwich may well have been made with pork, not beef, and that while the name may have come from the fact that the owner was French, it may well have been a pun on the fashion styles of the time.
In the end, whatever its exact origin, the French Dip sandwich, one of the greatest of America’s classic contributions to the world of sandwich art is definitely an L.A. thing. And, if you’ve never tried one, you need to get to LA and have a proper one — whether it’s at Cole’s or at Philippe’s.
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NUMBER THREE – SRIRACHA “ROOSTER SAUCE”
If you have eaten at an Asian restaurant in the United States, or even if you have eaten at a bar that includes on its menu food that might have an Asian influence – think Korean chicken wings – you will know what I’m talking about when I say the word “Sriracha.” At the very least, you will think about the instantly recognizable plastic bottle with its almost lurid red contents, its dayglo green lid, and now famous rooster logo and, which ingredients are written in Vietnamese, English, Spanish, French and Chinese.
It may surprise you however to know that those bottles are very much “Made in the USA” and particularly, “Made in LA,” and speak to the influence of, and the welcome to, immigrants that arrive from around the globe to the city of angels. And this Sriracha “Rooster Sauce” story is, I think, a great reflection of LA’s own immigration history that we talked about earlier.
So let’s start at the beginning. There is actually an actual town called Si Racha, which is located in Thailand between the capital, Bangkok, and the tourist destination, Pattaya City. It was in this city that a gentleman named Gimsua Timkrajang – the father of the person widely credited for inventing the hot sauce – created Sriracha. According to family legend, he made it after visiting Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia, and he found that these countries had a variety of sauces that featured one of the key elements of Southeast Asian cooking – hot, sweet, salty and sour – but none that combined all of them in one sauce.
It was not an easy process to make, but in the end, they perfected a sauce that they described as
Which roughly translates as “well-rounded” in Thai.
The sauce was initially made for the family itself, but also then began to be made by other members of the family to sell in local markets. It was a hit and began to be copied by others. This was easier than you might think, not least because the family did not apply for patent protection and had listed all of the ingredients used on the side of the bottle.
The original Sriracha Panich brand, as it is now known, is still on sale, and available in the United States. However, when one thinks of the word “Sriracha,” it is not this “original” that one thinks of, but its more famous, in inverted commas, “imitator.”
The “Rooster Sauce” version of Sriracha, the one which has become synonymous with the name, was made by a Vietnamese immigrant to the United States and began its life in 1975.
David Tran had been a Major in the South Vietnamese Army where he learned how to make hot sauces while working in the army kitchens. Disappointed with what he tasted, he began a sideline to make his own sauces using peppers grown by his brother and selling the sauces in re-used – and re-washed – Gerber baby food jars.
Post-Vietnam War, in 1979, Tran fled Vietnam on a Taiwanese freighter bound for Hong Kong. The name of the freighter was Huey Fong, which means “gathering prosperity.” That was later the name he would anglicize to “Huy Fong” and use as the name of his US-based company.
After receiving asylum status, he landed on American soil, first in Boston, then to Los Angeles, where fresh chilies grew under the California sun. Within a month of his arrival in Los Angeles in 1980, he began to sell his hot sauce from his base in LA’s Chinatown and delivered them to the increasing number of immigrants from Southeast Asia and to restaurants selling food from the same countries. Demand was immediate and he told the website, Inc dot com, that he made $1000 profit in his first month of trading.
Tran marked his bottles with the image of a rooster, to represent the character of the Chinese Zodiac in the year in which he was born, 1945. It is a symbol that became so famous that the sauce is often now referred to as “Rooster sauce.” And it is generally called “Sriracha” because it is a generic name for a type of sauce similar to other generic names like ketchup or Worcestershire sauce. And as Tran reminds people,
“It’s not a Thai sriracha. It’s my sriracha.”
The growth of the company in the last forty years has been remarkable, even though the company famously doesn’t advertise, and seems almost averse to any press coverage. In part, that is because of the likes of world-famous celebrity chefs – such as David Chang, who used it in his Momofuku restaurant, or Jean-Georges Vongerichten, who used it in his rice cracker crusted tuna with citrus sauce dish – and national chains such as Fleming’s steakhouse, which use the Rooster sauce on their lobster en fuego dish, and recognition in the global food industry, such as when Bon Appetit magazine named it its “Ingredient of the Year” in 2010 or when Thrillist ranked it at number one on the “Power-Ranking the 10 Best Hot Sauces on Earth.”
In 2014, the company generated almost $60 million in sales, and in 2018, the company made almost $80 million. They have moved from their initial 5,000 square feet facility in Los Angeles’ Chinatown district, to a 68,000 square feet facility in Rosemead, California and later, to their current 650,000 square feet facility in Irwindale, California. David Tran may have moved his company outside of the LA city limits but he remained firmly within Los Angeles’ county limits.
Things have not always gone 100% in their favor, however.
Tran did not trademark the word, “Sriracha,” because he saw it as free advertising for his company, and because it is also named after a Thai city. That means that as well as the “original” Sriracha, there are now dozens of copycat versions, and many coming from some very big and well-known brands, such as Frito Lay, Taco Bell, Heinz and Subway.
Also, in 2013, Huy Fong faced a lawsuit from the City of Irwindale, which resulted in a judge issuing an order for the company facility to stop
“emitting anything that causes odors.”
It was a response to locals complaining that the air in the neighborhood was suffering particularly during the season when the jalapeno chili used in the sauce was being ground. They claimed it caused heartburn and watery eyesight.
Tran’s response was suitably maverick saying,
“We don’t make tear gas here.”
And there was even talk of moving the facility elsewhere, and fears of a shortage of the Rooster sauce.
However, the lawsuit was soon dropped after Huy Fong made a written commitment to solve the situation and the South Coast Air Quality Management District found that there was no evidence of harmful air quality violation. The company even introduced tours of the Huy Fong facility, a form of open door policy with their neighbors.
In 2019, Huy Fong faced one of their biggest challenges in a dispute with their long-term supplier of the essential Jalapeno chilis for the Sriracha sauce. The company had a long-standing agreement with Underwood Ranches. An agreement that had begun with nothing more than a hand written letter, and had seen the companies develop a 30-year relationship. It was a relationship that in their final growing season together saw Underwood grow over 100 million pounds of jalapeno chilis that were purchased for over $22 million by Huy Fong. The relationship was described in court as
“partly oral, partly written and partly established by the parties’ practice”
and fell apart with a dispute over potential overcharging for the peppers. Huy Fong lost the case, and their opponents were awarded a whopping $23 million in damages. Huy Fong plan to appeal the verdict, but whatever the long-term outcome, the dissolution of such a long standing relationship cannot have been easy for David Tran.
Despite these setbacks, the passion for Sriracha continues to grow with Huy Fong having almost a 10% share of the American hot sauce market. So, next time you add some of that famous chili sauce to your meal, remember that, if it was not for Los Angeles and its welcome of immigrants from around the globe, your meals would be a lot less spicy.
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NUMBER FOUR – THE COBB SALAD
I’m a great fan of food origination stories that tell of a dish being created by the remnants of a restaurant walk-in or fridge, as it speaks to what I often see on my own time in the kitchen, the ability of chefs to create something spectacular out of almost nothing at all.
The next of our “Things You Didn’t Know You Didn’t Know Came from Los Angeles” is a perfect case in point: The Cobb Salad.
If you have never had a really great Cobb Salad, then you are really missing out. Our chums at Merriam-Webster define a Cobb salad as
“a tossed salad made typically with chopped chicken or turkey, tomatoes, bacon, hard-boiled eggs, blue cheese, and lettuce and dressed with a vinaigrette.”
That definition is almost accurate except it omits avocado and the particular vinaigrette in the original was a French dressing.
While I find the Cobb salad tasty, I would definitely NOT order that as a side salad. And while it might bear the name “salad,” do not be mistaken for thinking that this is any way a dish that is low on the calorific scale. This is a monster of a main dish salad. A typical single serving size of about 369 grams of a generic chicken Cobb salad contains about 570 calories with a total fat of 36 grams. Definitely not a diet food.
The Cobb Salad was created at the much-missed Brown Derby restaurants in Los Angeles. There were originally a number of these restaurants with that name in a small chain in the city, but only one of them, the one situated on Wilshire Boulevard, looked like you were walking into a giant hat. They were famous not only for their food, but also for the fact that, because of their locations, they often attracted many famous celebrities from the Hollywood golden age. They were often used as unofficial headquarters for Hollywood columnists and, on occasions, as sets for shows themselves. And, the restaurant locations used to cover their walls with the caricatures of the celebrities after they had visited.
The first Brown Derby restaurant opened in the mid-1920s and they were a fixture of the Los Angeles dining scene until business began to fade in the early 1980s and the final one closed in 1985. There remains a version of the Brown Derby at the Walt Disney World resort, which does its best to replicate some of the elements that made the original Brown Derby’s so popular in the day.
I am unsure whether Disney World replicates the Brown Derby’s full menu, which is rather a shame if they didn’t, as from some online listings, one can see that they offered a wide menu that covered everything from classic French dishes, to old school – or I guess then not so old school – American and Jewish American dishes, a wide range of cheeses and even a selection, in inverted commas, “from the Chinese Kitchen.”
But perhaps their most popular and certainly most famous dish was the Cobb Salad.
Of course, as with all “where did it come from?” dishes, there is some dispute about the exact process in how the dish came about and by whom it was created. The most popular story says that it was created by the then owner of the Brown Derby, one Robert Howard Cobb. But, there are also claims that it was created for him by his head chef, who made the salad for his boss. In either case, the stories claim that the dish was created for Cobb when he walked in to the kitchen of the Hollywood location of the restaurant after midnight for a bit of a snack. He – or Posti, the Chef – put together a salad of leftovers and included on top of it strips of bacon left over by a line cook. The result was mixed with the house French salad and was soon to become the famous Cobb Salad.
The original salad used four greens – Chicory, Romaine, watercress and Iceberg – as well as the ingredients I mentioned at the beginning of the story, and the French dressing is a mixture of vegetable oil, olive oil, red wine vinegar, lemon juice, Worcestershire Sauce, dry mustard and fresh garlic.
It’s a very simple salad to make at home, but if that seems like too much hassle, do order one next time you see it on a restaurant menu and take yourself back to the golden age of Hollywood.
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NUMBER FIVE – THE MOSCOW MULE
And finally, let’s talk about a drink. Well of course, you know that I couldn’t do a whole episode of Eat My Globe without mentioning a drink or two didn’t you?
In this case, I want to talk about one of my favorite cocktails, The Moscow Mule.
Now, if you have not tried a Moscow Mule, it is one of the most popular cocktails to make. Comprising 2 ounces of vodka (originally using the Smirnoff brand), Ginger Beer, and the juice of half a lime. They are all poured into the now famous copper mug with ice and topped with a garnish of a lime shell just used in the drink. Refreshing and delightful, even for me who is not the biggest vodka drinker in the world.
However, it may surprise you, because of its Russian sounding name, that this drink is actually believed to have been created in Hollywood, Los Angeles, at a bar known as The Cock & Bull Tavern. There is another claim from another city to have made the same drink — cough, New York City – but in reality, there is no dispute that Los Angeles popularized it.
To make the Moscow Mule, you, of course, need vodka. This spirit first began to be known in the United States in the mid-1800s. In 1859, there was an article printed in the New York Herald by an unnamed writer entitled, “Russia in the North Pacific,” which discussed the Russian military, as follows,
“Though they receive rations of vodka, and extra rations on holidays, the fact of a Russian soldier or sailor ever having refused ‘another glass’ is unheard of. Intoxication is, of course, quite common, and no fines, arrest or castigation have any effect in suppressing it. After the process of whipping with sticks tied together like a coarse broom, soldiers often declare their willingness to take two or three hundred lashes more, if they can but get another bottle of liquor.”
Knowledge of it grew with the influx of Eastern European immigrants to the United States at the beginning of the 20th century.
However, while vodka was popular with the Eastern European immigrants, it struggled to make much of an impact with the general population of America. And this was of particular concern to one entrepreneur, John Martin.
In 1939, Martin had bought the rights to represent the Smirnoff brand of vodka in the United States. It had been created in Russia by Piotr Arseneevich Smirnov in 1864. In 1886, it received a special designation as a,
“Purveyor to the Imperial Court.”
However, during the time of the Russian Revolution, his son, Vladimir, fled the country and finally ended up in France, where he revived the vodka brand under its now famous name, “Smirnoff.” Whatever its past glory, John Martin was having problems trying to persuade anyone to buy the stuff.
At the same time, the owner of the Cock & Bull Tavern, Jack Morgan, was facing his own problems as he was sitting on a surfeit of ginger beer. For those of you who may not know the difference, ginger beer is actually a brewed or fermented drink that is said to have started in England and contains a small amount of alcohol. Ginger ale – which the original is said to have started in Ireland and the modern version, as we know it, started in Canada – is a carbonated drink made from water and ginger. So ginger beer has a much more distinct ginger flavor, and because of that, it was harder to sell for Jack Morgan.
In 1941, Morgan and Martin were commiserating with each other in the tavern about their respective lack of sales and, with the bartender, decided to collaborate on a drink. One part vodka, two parts ginger beer, ice and lime juice. They placed the drink in copper mugs that Morgan had bought from a woman named Sophie Berezinski, who had created them at her father’s copper factory in Russia, and who brought the mugs with her when she immigrated to the US. And, the drink – in that distinguishable copper mug – was born.
As for the name “Moscow Mule,” this appears to have been randomly selected. The reference to “Moscow” was apparently an homage to the most famous Russian city, and the reference to “Mule” was apparently because of the kick of the ginger beer. It’s hard to know for sure, but the drink became an instant success and help bring vodka to its current status as one of the most consumed spirits in the United States.
Now, I have to be honest that I am far more of a gin drinker than a vodka drinker, but all this talk of Moscow Mules makes me want to make one right now. And when I do, I shall raise a glass to all the folks we’ve talked about on today’s episode of Eat My Globe.
The McDonald’s Brothers – and Ray Kroc – for their contribution to fast food, Phillippe Methieu of Phillippe’s Original for the French Dipped Sandwich, David Tran of Huy Fong for his special Sriracha sauce, Robert Howard Cobb and Paul J. Posti for an awesome salad, and, of course, John Martin, Jack Morgan and Sophie Berezinski for an amazing vodka tipple.
Oh, and while we are at it, let’s not forget, those people who have lived and arrived in Los Angeles over the last hundred years or so who have made this city one of the most exciting places to eat food in the world.
Good job, Los Angeles.
See you next week.
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Do make sure to check out the website associated with this podcast at www dot Eat My Globe dot com where we will be posting the transcripts from each episode, along with the references and resources we used putting the episodes together, in case you want to delve deeper into each subject. There is also a contact button, so please do let us know if there are any subjects that you would like us to cover.
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Thank you and goodbye from me, Simon Majumdar, we’ll speak to you soon on the next episode of EAT MY GLOBE: Things You Didn’t Know You Didn’t Know About Food.
The EAT MY GLOBE Podcast is a production of “It’s Not Much But It’s Ours” and “Producer Girl Productions”
and is created with the kind co-operation of the UCLA Department of History. We would especially like to thank Professor Carla Pestana, the Department Chair of the Department of History and Doctor Tawny Paul, Public History Initiative Director, for their notes on this episode. Also, a huge thank you to Sybil Villanueva for her help with the research and the preparations of the transcripts for this episode, which can be found on the website.
Published Date: November 16, 2020
For the annotated transcript with references and resources, please click HERE.