Saturday, July 26, 2008


I am attending a business conference in a town a few hours away. So Friday I packed my bags and, after tying up loose ends at the office, got in my car to drive to the town the conference was in.

I don't know about you, but for me, there is an inverse relationship between the distance I'm traveling and my organizational competence. A trip around the world? No problem. I have everything packed, everything scheduled, contingencies planned for, all essential needs anticipated. A weekend stayover 10 miles away? I forget my toothbrush.

I also tend to lose a sense of priorities. I mean, yeah, if I were traveling to Hawaii and forgot my swimsuit, it would make sense to buy one on the road. But on a business trip to Orange County, where all four days are scheduled with seminars, I probably shouldn't be driving around looking for a place to buy swim goggles on the rare chance that I might take a dip in the hotel pool.

A couple of days ago, I anticipated my trip to the conference. I'd have a whole afternoon to myself. There were cool places along the way. Maybe I could stop for Vietnamese food. Or in Little India! I could go explore the area, maybe see some sights. Or arrive early at the hotel and check out the spa.

But things happened. First I needed to pick up something I'd forgot to pack. Then I remembered something else. So I found myself searching around West Los Angeles for a Radio Shack, caught up in all the construction and detours around Culver City. And I was starving! The thought of getting on the 405 without eating lunch was not pleasant.

Oh look! a Radio Shack! I turned south on Sepulveda at Washington Blvd - and ended up in a bumper-to-bumper crawl.

For 15 minutes traffic crawled half a block. There was the Radio Shack, and next to it, a little restaurant - the Jasmine Market & Deli. So much for exotic food in Orange County - here I could get what I needed and maybe grab a bite. "How's the food next door?" I asked the kid at the Radio Shack.
"Oh, it's okay. It's Indian," he said.

There were signs in the window offering lunch specials, combos with chicken tikka and vegetable curry. Another sign claimed that only Halal meat was served. I went past the tables out front, and into the tiny store. Inside, there were only a few tables, a refrigerator case, and a long counter separating the kitchen from the room. Shelves at the back held packaged and bottled Indian spices and pickles. At one table, two couples dined, the men in traditional garments, women in salwar kameez with shawls covering their hair. At another a man dined alone, reading an Arabic newspaper. High on the wall, in a glazed wooden case, an open book with ornamental calligraphy was displayed - the Koran, perhaps?

A cheerful young guy in a UCLA t-shirt handed me a menu. I ordered a lunch special called Keema Curry, which was described as "ground beef cooked with special sauce and authentic spices."

The lone diner finished his meal and as he paid, he laughed and teased the waitress, who wore a shirt that said "California Girl" on it as she brought me my food.

There was a basket of naan, dark blistered and hot from the grill, a touch of ghee brushed on its crusty surface. A 3-compartment plate held basmati rice, a spoonful of vegetables in sauce, and a slaw-like salad. And a bowl of the keema curry, looking and smelling, for all the world, like a bowl of spicy Cincinnati-style chili! I though, pretty good for a hole-in-the-wall curry shop!
My keema curry lunch special cost me about $6 with a bottle of water. The keema, sprinkled with chopped cilantro, pooled with delicious rich oil, tasted wonderful with the fragrant rice. The cabbage slaw had chopped sweet onion and green serrano chiles, dressed with lemon or lime juice. It was really refreshing, but with a bite from the chile. The veggie curry was mellow with coconut milk. I could feel the jangly, traffic-induced tension dissipate, replaced by satisfaction and contentment.

After I finished my meal, I read a newspaper review posted on the wall. Turns out that the Jasmine Market & Deli is no ordinary curry shop. It is the only Burmese Muslim restaurant in all of L.A. County, and Muslims of all nationalities flock to it for its fresh, delicious halal foods.

How lucky I was! For all my disorganization, the missed turns, the traffic jams, the worries and regrets of unrealized plans, I had stumbled upon a genuine jewel, a rare and wonderful thing to experience in this city which continues to amaze me, Los Angeles.

1 comment:

JCK said...

You eat well, my friend. I love how your adventures frequently involve restaurants. I'm hungry now!