Little Tokyo, Los Angeles: Getting the flavor of the place
Feast your way to a new understanding of Los Angeles' Little Tokyo.
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In the heart of the historic district, Brian Kito, whose grandfather is credited with creating the fortune cookie, still works the counter in Fugetsu-Do, the shop his family opened in 1903.Skip to next paragraph
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Today, he's proud to serve mochi to the grandchildren of many people his ancestors once served. "My parents were in the internment camps," he says, "and when they came back, this area was struggling, but we are working to preserve the contributions and sacrifices of those who came before us."
Outside the shop, a black and brass timeline embedded in the sidewalk reminds us of the area's difficult history in the words of those who lived it. "1941 FBI raids Issei associations for evidence of disloyalty," reads one inscription.
"It's like the sad version of the Hollywood Boulevard walk of stars," says Matz, pointing to the collection of stories stretching through the sidewalks of the district.
We finish the tour at the incongruously named "Chop Suey" restaurant, sinking our teeth into spicy chicken wings and learning about the history of the California sushi roll. What is now a Chinese restaurant catering to the downtown business crowd used to be the Far East Café, a place of refuge and community for displaced Japanese-Americans after internment.
We enter through a narrow alleyway in the rear, which, Matz points out, "was where the old restaurant used to stash the livestock." Back then, she adds, this place was renowned for its fresh meat, "and they did that literally by penning them until they were on the menu, then someone would grab them, slaughter the [animal], and serve it right away."
The members of our tour seem content with the $55 afternoon of cultural cuisine. "It's funny how close you can live to something in L.A. and know nothing about it," says Liz Kim, who lives in Los Feliz, a neighborhood not far from downtown.
"This was a great way to get more comfortable with a part of the city I didn't know well," says Alexis Boozer.
Six Taste Tours hosts similar visits to other neighborhoods: Chinatown, the financial district, Thai Town, and a Taste of Taiwan just outside downtown in Arcadia. Also offered is a contemporary look at Little Tokyo (we took the traditional tour).
Six Taste faces language and tradition challenges in organizing the events, says Mr. Kito, the first restaurateur to work with Okita. "Occasionally, the more traditional owners don't want to change the way they do things to accommodate large groups."
But, he adds, Okita is making a valuable contribution to cultural understanding: "The tours are well done, well researched, and are helping to show people areas of the city they knew nothing about."
• Staff writer Daniel B. Wood contributed to this report.