Despite my grandest aspirations, I am a white kid from Santa Monica. I was raised to believe that nothing worthwhile existed east of the 405 and that the Valley was just a place where Teamsters rented film equipment. I spent my early twenties in an unemployable malaise, existentially strangled by the banality of good weather and fish tacos. After college, I tried my hand at being an alcoholic playwright in New York. I moved back five months later.
Then in 2008—thanks to a crappy play and a motivating shove from my girlfriend at the time—I started Man Bites World, a no-frills blog in which I set before myself the daunting task of eating the food of a different country each day until I ran out of cuisines. There were a few rules: no days off, no cooking anything myself, and no mail-order imports (sorry, fermented Swedish herring).
I started the clock in September and right away headed for a Sri Lankan curry joint in Tarzana, a South African sports bar in Van Nuys, and a Nigerian hole-in-the-wall in Inglewood. By the end of the first week I was slurping Honduran conch soup in Sherman Oaks and wondering what the hell had taken me so long to venture out of my culinary bubble.
Finding the places was half the fun. Thanks to a call-in show on KPCC, I learned about a produce shop in Valley Village slinging Uzbek pilaf out back. A cryptic e-mail from someone who once lived in Ghana set me to loitering inside a sleepy African market called Nana & Naa, where three lovely women prepared crispy fried fish in a bowl of thick okra stew served with banku—a white ball of fermented corn and cassava dough. A Slovakian man roasted chestnuts for me in his apartment. I tried braised meats from Trinidad and Tobago and dug into platefuls of Bolivian salteñas. On day 102 I ran out of cuisines. On day 103 I got drunk and cooked my grandmother’s spaghetti sauce.
Over those two-and-a-half months I came to a few conclusions—about myself, but also about this city. I decided that food is our best hope at ever truly understanding one another, and that if you embrace the flavors of someone’s soul; they will embrace you, too (sometimes literally). But more than anything, I learned that I was an idiot. How many meals had been wasted and experiences missed during all those years spent nibbling Chipotle burritos, wondering why life was so damn boring?
Today, at 31, I run the kitchen at a popular barbecue restaurant and host, of all things, a food Web series. Since the blog wrapped, I have worked as a food writer, a restaurant critic, a server, and a bartender. My delicious new path would probably have eluded me for another decade—perhaps forever—were it not for the one lesson that Man Bites World taught me above all else: Life in L.A. is never boring—it’s only your choice of lunch that makes it so.
Noah Galuten is the manager of Bludso's Bar-&-Que and host of the Web series Food Feeder
Back to The Food Lovers Guide: Global Eats