I headed out one night after a dinner in Persian restaurant Javan. It was late so I decided to call an Uber. The driver was a smiling elderly man. I shared a ride with a young woman who, like me, had just wrapped up a great evening.
When I stepped into the Uber, I immediately found myself in the middle of an interesting conversation. The young woman told the man how much trouble she had had, trying to find good veal. She wanted to make kofta, or Turkish meatballs. The Uber driver told her that he was Lebanese, and veal was one of his “staples”, so he knew where the good stuff was. He told her all his favorite stores and butchers in Los Angeles.
Ten minutes later, the young woman left the ride beaming. The driver turned around to face meand asked me how I was doing.
“I am good,” I said, ready for some conversation. “Where are you from in Lebanon, if you don’t mind me asking?”
He did not mind. He told me his story and asked me for mine. I told him that I was from Indonesia, that I came to the United States two years ago to pursue higher education.
“Indonesia!” he exclaimed. “I’ve never had Indonesian food before! Tell me, what is the best Indonesian restaurant in L.A.?”
Of course, L.A. being L.A., there is more than one great Indonesian restaurant. I regaled him stories of spicy leaf-wrapped rice, thick beef black soup, salad doused in peanut sauce. He sighed and shook his head. Confused, I asked him if I had said anything wrong.
Nothing was wrong, he said. He was just amazed at all the things he had discovered in L.A., all the food he had tasted. It was like finding the world in one city.
I thought about what he said — the world in one city. While the things I encountered here are not exact replicas of other countries around the world, I can’t deny that the influence of — well — everywhere in the world has left its mark on L.A.
There is that small enclave of Ethiopia in Fairfax. There is that mosque, built by a Libyan mother so her son who was going to school nearby had a place to pray. There is that Swedish candy shop, which sold the sourest sour skulls. There is Chinatown, Little Tokyo, Little Armenia, Olvera Street…you name it.
Walking around L.A. is an adventure in itself. You may find yourself taking a look at a different part of the world from one neighborhood to the next.