California Burriuto - ©

Street Food Discoveries: California Grab-And-Go Classics

You’d expect me to be digitally visiting somewhere exotic like Beijing (in honour of the Paralympics) today. But that’s for next week. This week we’re staying much closer to home, with a survey of California’s street food Classics – a mix of Tex-Mex and L.A. Modern cuisines…

Care Asada Fries - © bakingmischief comCarne Asada Fries: A new Cali street food classic…

Most folks think of California as having been around only since it became a state – in 1850. But Wikipedia – always one to dig as far into the past as it can – advises that the area has been occupied for at least 13,000 years. At its outset, “California was one of the most culturally and linguistically diverse areas in pre-Columbian North America. Various estimates of the native population have ranged from 100,000 to 300,000. The indigenous peoples of California included more than 70 distinct ethnic groups of Native Americans’. […] California groups were also diverse in their political organization with bands, tribes, villages, and [whole civilizations] on the resource-rich coasts, such as the Chumash, Pomo and Salinan. Trade, intermarriage and military alliances fostered many social and economic relationships among the diverse groups.”

Their cultures were predominantly what we would probably call, as a collective, ‘Mexican Indigenous’. As such, many Mexican foods are still at the top of the Cali menu. But the Spanish influence, the influx of Chinese workers to build the Transcontinental Railway, and the arrival in the early 20th century of a large number of Japanese migrants who took up fishing and market gardening intensively, have created a unique (in the U.S.) blend of cultures best exemplified by the rich mosaic of San Francisco.

We’ll skip the obvious (Tacos, Tamales, Elote, Churros), and focus on some familiar street foods, each with it’s own Cali twist. We’ll also look at some others that will probably will be brand-new to non-Californians…

On our menu today

Mission-Style Burritos: You know what a Burrito is: a big flour tortilla wrapped around classic Tex-Mex fillings. But the Mission-style Burrito follows a specific recipe. First of all, let’s get this straight: Burritos were invented in Mexico, not California, as many foodies claim. But Cali Food lore has it that the first Mission Burrito was made at a taqueria called El Faro in the Mission District of San Francisco on September 19, 1969. Look how far the Burrito has come in a little over 50 years!

Missioin Style Burrito - ©

It’s a big, fat burro stuffed with beans, rice, sour cream, guacamole, salsa, shredded lettuce, and jalapeños. And it’s always served wrapped in foil so it won’t fall apart on you.

California Burrito: A San Diego surfer subculture creation. The earliest known mention in print of the Cali dates from 1995 (see photo, top of page). Like all Burritos, it’s built on a large flour tortilla,  stuffed with a little carne asada, and large amounts of cheese, french fries, sour cream, and guacamole.

Carne Asada Fries: Carne Asada – thin strips of grilled beef – is the basis for many Mexican and Tex-Mex dishes. On Fries, it’s a San Diego Specialty. Fresh, hot Fries are topped with Carne Asada, Fresh Cheese, Guacamole and Sour Cream. Aficionados say it’s just the thing to have with a cold cerveza. Dare I compare this dish to a fully-dressed Poutine?

L.A. Bacon-Wrapped Dogs: A totally-L.A. creation, and hailed by some local fans as the king of Cali Street food. A simple prep: just what the name says.

LA Bacon Wrapped Hot Dogs - ©

Another grab-and-go goodie that’s great with a beer. Get ’em in the evening from any of a slew of flat-top grill carts in L.A.’s Fashion District.

Dodger Dogs: Another exclusive L.A. bite. This is essentially a pork Ballpark Frank, and you must use a Dodgers Frank, made by Farmer John’s Sausage to be truly authentic. The bun is a regular steamed hot dogger, but the frank is extra long so it sticks out each end a good 3 inches (8 cm). The Dodger Dog is traditionally dressed with Mustard and Crispy Onions, but there’s no rule that says you can’t experiment with other toppings…

Tejuinos: A blend of regular corn masa and piloncillo (unrefined Mexican-style brown sugar), allowed to marinate for up to 2 weeks, and served in a tall glass with ice, lime juice and rock salt.

Tejuinos - ©

It’s found on every corner. Everybody drinks it. And those who’ve tried it say it’s a tremendously refreshing quaff.

Fresh Fruit Sticks: California produces the bulk of the sunshine fruits in the U.S., so it should be no surprise that there are lots of food carts all over the streets of L.A. that sell nothing but sticks and chunks of dead-ripe, ice cold firm fruit drowned in lime juice, rock salt and chilies. There’s that lime and rock salt combo, again. (If it seems familiar and you’re trying to place it – it’s what you serve with a traditional Tequila shot, and part of the classic Margarita recipe!)

Raspados: The Mexican version of shaved ice. Using a traditional scraper, or raspado, vendors file off mounds of snow-like shavings from a 5o lb. / 29 kilo block of ice, put them in a cup, and douse them with your choice of flavoured syrups. For decades, just about every kid in East, Northeast and South L.A. has relied on this cheap, tasty treat for relief from the summer heat…

Now you can stroll the food cart streets…

… Of L.A. and San Francisco with the air of a seasoned pro! And be sure to order up some of the less-well-known treats we’ve covered in this post!

~ Maggie J.