Cultural innovation at Smorgasburg LA
â€śIt might just be because itâ€™s summer, but when [Smorgasburg] was starting out, we were serving about four to six thousand people a day, and now weâ€™re up to 10,â€ť Angela Wagner, Creative Director of Little Llama Peruvian Tacos, said. Little Llama is just one of 65 vendors at Smorgasburg LA, a rapidly growing market held weekly in the Alameda Produce Market in Downtown Los Angeles. Every Sunday, vendors gather in the sweltering summer heat to sell cultural delicacies, artisanal foods, vintage clothes and original artwork. Occasionally, live performances and community events are held, which helps keep variety of the market fresh.
With its old buildings and classic look, the outdoor Smorgasburg LA has a picturesque charm that contrasts with the surrounding ROW Downtown Los Angeles Art District, a development undergoing a modern makeover. In between the colorful rows of booths are clusters of umbrellas, which are often packed with busy vendors and strangers sharing benches. Despite the heat and almost comical overabundance of pigeons, the market has a pleasantly calm atmosphere, which, combined with quality food, makes for quite the mellow mood.
Though the recent superfood trend is nothing new to L.A., Amazebowls stands as a staple at Smorgasburg, offering an antioxidant rich acai blend as a healthy alternative to the available cream-based desserts. Their Instagram-famous coconut bowl boasts a blend of coconut shavings, diced strawberries, blackberries, granola, bananas, candied oranges and edible flowers. The toppingsâ€™ various flavors come together harmoniously, allowing the acaiâ€™s tart berry flavor to shine through. Surprisingly, the edible flowers are not only for decorative purposes but also hide an intriguing floral undertone that is refreshing in the unamity of the fruit and granola. The bowl is a pleasing presentation of colors and flavors, but the half coconut holds 10 grams fewer acai than the plastic bowl at the same price. Nevertheless, the bowl was very satisfying for someone new to acai.
Found at festivals and events throughout California, the mobile Black Sugar Rib Company offers an authentic barbeque experience with their BBQ Sampler at $18, which includes a handful of pulled pork, four beef links and three baby back ribs. Although the sampler may seem expensive, the portions are fair in comparison to similar plates at the market. Black Sugar Rib Co. delivers on its promise of sweetness, but the texture of the meat leaves much to be desired. The pulled pork is tough, dry and stringy; the sausage mushy and the ribs flavorless. The highly-praised ribs taste as if it were cooked and seasoned on the spot and lack a crucial smokiness.
What makes Little Llama stand out from other taco stands is its use of Peruvian flavors and ingredients. â€śPeruvian food hasnâ€™t really caught on in the United States,â€ť Wagner said. â€śBut Angelenos love tacos, so we decided to do a fusion concept where we took classic Peruvian ingredients and flavors and put them in a taco format to make it more accessible.â€ť Despite that the stand currently only offers four different tacos and refreshments, the food is made with widely-varying ingredients, such as the corn polenta in the Pomegranate-glazed Pork Belly and huacatay aioli in the Lomo Saltado. â€śPeru [has] one of the highest concentrations of microclimates on the planet, so they get crazy amounts of vegetation and peppers. So they have a really unique flavor profile,â€ť Wagner said. The Pomegranate-glazed pork belly taco has a mild, sweet taste from the mashed corn and cotija cheese complementing the fatty, savory pork belly. The pomegranate glaze fits surprisingly well, the sharper flavor cutting into the rich fat. Its counterpart, the Lomo Saltado, is less sweet but is excessively starchy with the combination of mashed potatoes and the homemade tortilla.
Unfortunately, Smorgasburg is only open until 4 on Sundays, so the time to try the different foods is limited. The market’s selection is big enough to warrant several visits and is in a convenient spot near other areas of Downtown.
Written by Jamie Chen, Scene editor
Photos by Jamie Chen and Leanna Chan