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Fabulous Breakfasts, Splendid Lunches : Hand to Mouth: A Gourmet Guide to Street Food

May 01, 1994|Linda Burum | Linda Burum is the author of "A Guide to Ethnic Food in Los Angeles," published by HarperPerennial

At Surati Farsan Mart (11814 E. 186th Street, Artesia, (310) 860-2310) , browse over the display to the beat of Indian rock music. Farsan means snacks in the Gujarati dialect, and this shop does its own regional take on chat. Try pani puri, crisp golf-ball-sized bread puffs that you fill with savory beans and then douse with a cooling minty water before popping into your mouth.


Anyone who's ever eaten Salvadoran pupusas can't understand why they've never become a food craze like tacos or sushi. The best of these ground-corn patties, stuffed with luscious cheese or shredded meat, have thin crusts around generous fillings. A garnish of lip-numbing spicy pickled cabbage called curtido always shares the plate. Once only clustered around East Hollywood and Pico-Union, pupuserias are now turning up everywhere. Among the best: Papaturro, ( 4109 W. Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, (213) 660-4363, also on Vermont Avenue ); Mi Casita Salvadorena ( 14860 Van Owen St., Van Nuys (818) 988-6171 ); Pollo Campero ( 5067 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles, (213) 953-1470 , also in Van Nuys and Huntington Park) ; La Flor Blanca ( 12571 Harbor Blvd., Garden Grove, (714) 539-8795 ).


Southeast Asian street chefs fling their murtabak dough high in the air, stretching it to a handkerchief-like delicacy. Then they spread it on a heavy, black iron grill and wrap it around a meat or egg stuffing. The resulting savory pastry of Indian origins has to be one of the greatest gastronomic joys of Indonesian-Singaporean-Malaysian street eating. These pastries are the best reason to visit Sudi Mampir (12728 Sherman Way, North Hollywood, (818) 764-1892) .

Another popular Southeast Asian grilled bread, roti canai , comes forth steaming from the kitchen of Little Malaysia (3944 N. Peck Road, 8, El Monte, (818) 401-3188) , where Fai Khaw and her family pamper expatriate Malays with dozens of street-style dishes added to the regular menu on weekends. Her popiah is a tissue-thin crepe stuffed with crisp vegetables and shrimp, her mee Siam a splendid mix of Thai-like curry seasonings on noodles.

There's also ice kacang , an exotic snow cone in a bowl, which is drizzled with rose syrup and embellished with garnishes--such as chewy, translucent palm seeds and corn kernels--that are unfamiliar to the Western dessert vocabulary. An even more baroque ice kacang comes topped with a scoop of ice cream.

The most authentic West Javanese street food comes from Toko Rame (17155 Bellflower Blvd., Bellflower, (310) 920-8002) where lempur , a tamale-shaped rice roll, is stuffed with succulent chicken. The banana-leaf-wrapped arem-arem longtong berisi has a little strip of marvelously spiced ground meat at its center. Risole, a crepe stuffed with stewed chicken, is an Indonesian equivalent of a blintz. My favorite sweet, talem singhong , a brown-sugar-sweetened cassava pudding cake, has a rich coconut milk topping. Go on weekends when the selection is widest.


The Taiwanese are fanatical snackers. From the droves of vendors clustered in every Taipei neighborhood come pastries, noodle dishes, iced and hot sweets. 99 Ranch Market, (818) 307-8899 , in San Gabriel Square (140 W. Valley Blvd . , San Gabriel) has recently installed a street-food center to the right of the door as you enter. The servers behind the counter ladle out sweet peanut soup. Snacks include beautiful orange yams cooked in a light, sweet syrup, scallion breads (best eaten warm) and Chinese tamales, the sticky rice triangles stuffed with mushrooms or sweet red-bean paste and wrapped in banana leaves.


Every culture has devised foods that travel well. Cornish coal miners used to take football-shaped meat pies, called pasties, with them into the mines. They brought the pasty tradition to the American Midwest, where it survives to this day. At the Pasty Kitchen (3641 Katella Ave., Los Alamitos, (310) 431-9747) , the ovens go all day, and when you pick up your chicken or beef with vegetable pasties, they will still be warm.

Guppy's Pasties (12849 Sherman Way, enter at rear, North Hollywood, (818) 982-5109) makes the traditional pies but they've also translated the pasty into an original California-style snack. Guppy's vegetarian pasties, chile-chicken pasties and chile-beef pasties have a crust made with canola oil as the shortening.


Armenians will argue the merits of lahmajun from Uncle Jack's (1108 N. Kenmore St., Los Angeles, (213) 664-8842) or the Sasoun Bakery (5114 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles, (213) 661-1868) , both in Hollywood's Armenian enclave. This ultra-thin, pizza-like snack smeared with a well-seasoned minced-meat-and-hot-pepper topping is as ancient as it is wonderful. And both bakeries sell their lahmajun warm from the oven.

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