Today Besha Rodell repeats her assertion that finding “the best” and “most authentic” recipes in existence are obsessions that, if not exclusive to Angelenos, drive our hearts and minds beyond a point that may be rational for denizens of any other sprawling megalopolis. Calling our constant pursuit of perfection “an ailment,” Rodell digs at the city she’s just getting familiar with, noting that the addition of this attitude with the recent explosion of ramen places “make for conditions that basically qualify as full-on insanity.” Well, excuuuuuse us!
Save for Yelp, Chowhound, and the enjoyable obsessions of Midtown Lunch, the only places we really soak up so much “best noodle” talk or really, “best of” anything discussion, tends to be from Rodell’s own employer, L.A. Weekly. The paper repeatedly nails sweeping spreads on “the best” handmade Chinese noodles and “the best” Japanese noodles in Torrance, among its sterling stable of “best of” lists that follow reams of seemingly non-stop noodle-crawls and authenticity checks by Jonathan Gold, prior to his decampment.
Rodell’s talking about Ramen Hayatemaru in Torrance today, offering the fresh perspective of a new Angeleno who, like many before her, is asking herself what the fuck she’s doing driving 45 minutes for a bowl of soup. But this is Los Angeles, an ever-lasting Gobstopper of eating where the hunt is merely an amuse-bouche and an endless drive akin to tucking your napkin under your chin (don’t do that, by the way).
Ever since the days of the Hansen-helmed Counter Intelligence, Angelenos’ hungriest obsessions may have been less focused on authenticity and superlatives than quenching the unsatisfying feeling that something life-changing could conceivably still be out there, if only we knew which stone in our gargantuan garden to upturn; a sensation not unfamiliar to music obsessives wracked by the feeling that they’re yet to hear what could be their favorite group.
The condition is both a symptom and eventuality that steers a city as big as our’s, but certainly not one unique to L.A. We know Tokyokko who are just as willing as we are to embark on a hour-long trip for a remote dalliance with a reputed kushiyaki spot, an impulse that needs no explanation to your average, food-driven Angeleno.
For a city like Los Angeles, where some of the most moneyed citizens brag of never going “east of LaBrea” or putting a toe down “south of Pico,” making a journey just to eat is perhaps ever more vital than the destination itself. While Rodell is right that hurling oneself to far-flung points on the map is often flaunted like a merit badge, the simple fact is most Angelenos have to travel somewhere to get a taste of something being done better than it is in their own neighborhood.
This thought is universal in L.A.; be it from a savvy West Hollywood resident needing to breach borders to get Mexican cooking with higher standards than Poquito Mas or the city’s collective need to reach the SGV for great Chinese that can only flourish among cheaper leases or make a trip to Compton for superior barbecue with real Southern bloodlines. Satisfaction with what’s in proximity would be a bigger time waster than a two-hour slog to Little Saigon in rush hour traffic. To paraphrase Lao Tzu, “If you do not wish to have something, you are content with what you have.” And with so much great food on the edges of the city core, one would be a fool to be content with what they have.
Great eating, in addition to being the prize, also stands as a secondary excuse to get out and know our own city. It’s an endless adventure that opens the breadth of the city up to the intrepid, with dynamite pay-offs of enjoying recipes truer to their form than what the mainstream wants to push down everyone’s throats. In the end, pursuing perfection doesn’t just pay off in what you eat, but just as often how you come to comprehend and love the great, colossal tangle that is L.A.
Oh yeah, Rodell notes that her drive was well worth it in the end for the gyzoa, which you could always be satisfied with buying at Trader Joe’s if you’re not really seeking “the best.”