First Person:
International eating adventures
Posted May 15, 2009


It is common knowledge that PopTarts are not real food. Eating cold pizza in the morning does not constitute as a well-rounded breakfast.

Driving through McDonald’s after a late night studying session will catch up to you in the end.

As a college student, I do not always make the best decisions when eating. I grab the quickest, cheapest foods to fill my stomach, and hope that the meal does not completely clog my arteries.

I became a vegetarian in January. Do not ever watch the documentary “Meet Your Meat.” and this further complicated my eating habits.

So when I decided to discover various ethnic cuisines near my neighborhood, I figured that I would continue to eat somewhat poorly. How healthy could jambalaya and Armenian pastries be?

However, I was surprised to find that healthy options were available with all of the ethnic varieties I chose.

Now I do not have to settle for a greasy baked potato at Carl’s Jr. – I can drive the same distance and enjoy a nice vegetarian Indian curry.

I might miss fries from In-n-Out every once in a while, but I will certainly feel no sorrow getting rid of these love handles, and my cholesterol can thank me for trying these alternate cuisines.

Mediterranean/Greek

There is a family-owned restaurant on Route 66 in Glendora called Zuzu Chicken that offers delicious and inexpensive chicken and falafel dishes.

While my family ordered chicken, I stuck with the falafel plate and the Mediterranean veggie plate.

The falafel came with hummus, tahini, diced tomatoes, and pita bread. The falafel was not dry, and the serving was big enough to sate anyone’s appetite.

The veggie plate came with stuffed grape leaves, tabouleh, hummus, eggplant salad (mutaball), and pita bread.

“The only thing I didn’t care for was the garlic sauce,” my sister Lauren said. “It was way too strong!”

Mediterranean food is a healthy option (if you stay away from the lamb dishes) because the diet consists of lots of fruit and vegetables.

According to a post at Mediterranean-food.net, “Olive oil is an important monosaturated fat source. Fish and poultry are consumed in moderate amounts and almost no red meat is eaten.”

Also, the hummus served at the restaurant was not too oily, so dipping the other foods in it added additional flavor, without the fat.

Vietnamese

The VN Restaurant on Arrow Highway in San Dimas was a great find for authentic and tasty Vietnamese food. My family and I ordered the deep fried tofu, which was a perfect appetizer without meat, and I had the House Special Egg Noodle Soup.

There were not many options for pho (a traditional soup with noodles) without chicken or beef, but I really enjoyed the broth, veggies, and the tons of noodles that filled the entire big bowl.

The portions were very generous, and it was easy to feel full quickly.

The atmosphere was interesting in this restaurant – the cooks appeared to be Vietnamese, but our waiter was a young Hispanic man.

He was giving free food to another table who seemed to be his family or friends.

Because he was distracted with this party, he often forgot to bring our food out on time, so some people at my table were served ahead of others.

The food was delicious, but the poor service made the experience somewhat disappointing.

Vietnamese food is also very healthy. Foodofvietnam.com says, “Vietnamese food includes a wide variety of vegetables and herbs instead of oil, and much of the cooking is done with water or broth.”

The most popular dish, pho, (Vietnamese soup), is low in fat and calories.”

In a WebMD Weight Loss Clinic story, author of “Quick and Easy Vietnamese” Nancie McDermott, writes, “Vietnam food borrows a little from each culture, but puts it together in a way that is uniquely its own. It’s a very individualized kind of cuisine where a lot of the dishes are blended at the table, so the exact combination of what is eaten is often left to the individual diner.”

I found this to be true with the apparent influences of French foods on the menu.

I would go back to this restaurant in the future and order another kind of pho.

Indian

In Claremont, there is a fast food Indian place called Delhi Palace Express on Yale Avenue.

Although the food was laid out cafeteria style on large metal serving trays, there were many options at inexpensive prices.

I ordered vegetable korma, which is mixed veggies with nuts cooked in coconut cream sauce, basmati rice, and garlic naan, an Indian bread.

At the Funnfud Blog, vegetable korma is described as a “wonderful way to savor a generous serving of mixed vegetables – loaded with potatoes, peas, beans, cauliflower, carrots, and flavored with a thick paste made from coconut, poppy seeds, tomatoes, onions and Indian spices; the mix vegetable korma is a filling meal.”

The people working there were not very friendly, and the food did seem like it had been sitting out for a while.

I think everything I ordered was made a while before I got there, and the only thing that was heated up was the naan.

“I was kind of disappointed in the tandoori chicken,” my mom Susie said. “It did not look the same as when I’ve ordered it at other restaurants.”

Although the food might not have been fresh, I would probably try this place again and order something different, just to see if they make anything fresh to order.

European

There is a Euro Bakery and Café on Baseline in Claremont. Its menu is extensive, and it is one of the only places to serve Portuguese food in the Los Angeles area.

I ordered a veggie panini with roasted Portobello mushrooms, yellow squash, zucchini, and onions on foccacia bread. The panini had a really delicious pesto spread, and all of the veggies were grilled.

For dessert, I had a slice of German mud slice cake. It was a chocolate cream cake with whipped cream and a walnut and honey crust.

The service was really quick, and as long as you stay away from the more fatty pork or meat dishes, the options were fairly healthy.

Thai

The Lucky Elephant restaurant on Arrow Highway in San Dimas offers some of the most authentic and delectable Thai dishes in the area.

I ordered mee krob for an appetizer. It is a huge ball of crispy rice noodles in a sweet and sour sauce – it is kind of hard to eat, but worth the trouble.

Its tom yum kai soup is hot and sour soup with straw mushrooms, lemon grass, limejuice and chili—although it is very hot, the heat makes for a layered flavorful soup.

I also ordered green curry with tofu; it was cooked with bell peppers, coconut milk, and basil leaves.

My last dish was pad thai, with thai rice noodles, bean sprouts, and peanuts.

There was chicken in the dish, but I did not eat that.

Among the different cuisines I tried, Thai food was the least heavy.

According to ThaiTable.com, “Since in Thailand, good quality, fresh food is readily available for takeout or eating in the office, there is not much demand for processed food

In Thai food, there is no milk, cheese or butter,” so dishes often have less calories.

Also, Thai cooking does not usually use olive oil or butter.

“Because the Thai food flavor system’s complexity comes from mixing flavor intense ingredients, like fish sauce and lime and hot peppers; there’s no need for a fat.”

Because of these reasons, Thai food is filling, but does not leave you feeling too stuffed or uncomfortable after eating it.

Armenian

One of my favorite destinations was Vrej Bakery on Foothill Boulevard in Glendora. The bakery has a wide array of Armenian cookies and pastries.

There are also two other locations in Pasadena and Granada Hills.

I tried several different things including gurayba, which is a butter cookie with semolina, Atayef Ashta, which is a pancake dough filled with cream and doused in sugar syrup, macaroon with apricot jam, chocoloate sableh, mamoul pistachio, which is farina with pistachio and rose water, and a shameyat, which is a date cookie.

In an April 2007 article in the Los Angeles Times, Charles Perry wrote “beside their own ancient pastries such as a bread-y coffee cake called gata, they’re into baklavas, Persian fritters and Russian doughnuts.

On top of that, Armenia has cultural ties with France dating back to the Crusades, so a lot of the bakeries specialize in French pastry.

Still, they usually sell some baklavas, gatas, perok (a coffee cake-like fruit tart) and the flaky cookie nazouk.”

The service at the bakery was not great. The woman who helped me was grouchy and did not really answer any of my questions about which pastries I should order and what ingredients were in some of the cookies.

However, the taste of the bakery goods completely made up for the lack of good customer service.

I would definitely go to this bakery again.

Southern

I wanted to try Southern cooking, so at the supermarket, I bought two boxes of Louisiana Purchase Bowls: jambalaya and dirty rice. They were super easy to make, but I was not happy with the end result. Both rice dishes were incredibly salty and the rice was a little gummy.

Traditionally, both dishes are supposed to have andouille sausage or meat, but I just cooked the rice according to the package, and this was probably a healthier choice. According to culinary Web site Epicurious.com, “meat-heavy jambalaya is a misdemeanor. But toss in chicken instead of andouille sausage and pick a leaner cut of ham – keep the shrimp, of course – and you can dine with a clear conscience.”

Blogger Liz Hill, from bluegrassfoodie.com, writes that dirty rice is “traditionally made with chicken giblets—gizzards and livers—but like all good dishes of humble origin it’s flexible enough to suit the ingredients you have on hand.”

I am sure that ordering these dishes in a real Southern restaurant would be a completely different experience, but I was glad that I tried them anyway.

Overall, I had a great experience with this experiment. I learned that most mom and pop operations are not trained in good customer service, but they are still the best places to go for delicious, authentic food.

I just might give up those PopTarts yet.

Erin Konrad can be reached at erin.konrad@laverne.edu.

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