“Everybody needs a place to rest; everybody wants to have a home. Don’t make no difference what nobody says, ain’t nobody like to be alone. Everybody got a hungry heart.“ We may not have all been born to run, but The Boss eloquently expresses our appetite for love and belonging, with a rousing sing-along chorus. It’s the knots in your stomach, the jolt that wakes you in the night, the sob trapped in your chest. Cud for poets, musicians and writers to chew, and the guts of Maslow’s hierarchy; as unfathomable as existence and inherent as eating.
Perfect in every way… but his last name is Hitler. Do I have to take his name? Yes, you’re Mrs Adam Hitler. I just couldn’t. Perfect in every way… but he’s a heroin dealer. Does he sell it, like, hand it to the junkie, or is he just the boss? He’s the leader of a cartel, super-rich, Colombian. Is he a good dancer? Continue reading
Umami: it’s the fabled fifth flavour, sounds like ‘tsunami’ and makes an ideal name for a kitten. It’s also the yumminess in Parmesan cheese, truffle, mushrooms, pork and breast milk. So what? No biggie, right? Thing is, that special Umami yumminess can be credited to the unfairly maligned evil genius of amino acids: glutamate. Otherwise known as the ‘G’ in MSG. Otherwise known for the headaches, dehydration, nausea and chest pains you claim to suffer after eating Chinese food. But before you saddle up your food intolerance high horse and ride poor Umami Burger out of town, think about it. Apart from both science and Dr Chef Dave Chang’s MAD Symposium lecture disproving ‘Chinese Restaurant Syndrome’, historically speaking if you tack the B-word on to the back-end of a commonly offensive adjective, you’re on to a winner. Cases in point: FatBurger, Douche Burger and Fat Ho Burgers (RIP). So, if fat, douches and fat hos can be tasty, how’s about a little Umami? Hmm? Just a teeny taste? At the outlet in Los Feliz, on Hollywood Boulevard near the Wacko store, I order The Original Umami Burger – beef patty, Parmesan crisp, shiitake mushroom, roasted tomato, caramelised onions and house ketchup ($11). It’s intravenous Umami. From the sweet, milk bun to the medium-rare ground steak patty, pleasingly pink in the middle and sprinkled with magical Umami Dust™, you’ll want to get Umami all up in your grill. It’s savoury and thrilling, like thinking about a packet of salt and vinegar chips. Along with the tsunami burger we share a plate of tangy treats – cauliflower, mushrooms, tomatoes et al on the House Pickle Plate ($5) and Sweet Potato Fries ($4). Smothered in the Signature Sweet Salt, these fries are like chomping on a hot cinnamon donut: comforting, indulgent and finger lickin’. Like the best things, the word Umami comes from Japan and means something like ‘delicious’. DUH. But if you’ve already named your new kitten, you can just call it ‘savoury’. Whatever name you give it, Umami is universal and hardly the root of digestive evil and sleepless nights. I mean, how can gravy be bad? Or Vegemite on toast? Or a bowl of salty edamame? Or working your way through an entire wheel of aged Parmesan by yourself? It’s true, Umami Burger is cool and beardy and thus repellent, but what tasteless monster among us can resist an extra flavour? Salty, sweet, sour and bitter sure are something, but they’ll never be sublime without Umami. Just like The Jackson 5, sans Michael.
Joan used to be married to a man from New Zealand, but now they’re just friends. He lives in Venice. Joan sits on her lifeline somewhere between 41 and 55, she has yellow-blonde hair, parted at the side and secured near her ear with a pink clip. Her accent is part drawling Californian, part Fargo, North Dakota. Joan works as a waitress at Langer’s Delicatessen-Restaurant in Westlake, Los Angeles. Open since 1947 (though tragically, orangely renovated sometime in the 70s), Langer’s is home to the #19 sandwich. Oh, the #19. How does one put love into words? Let me start at the right side of my plate, with the pickle; everybody loves pickles. Everybody. The Langer’s pickles are plump, firm and yielding; vinegary and sour… again, love renders me mute. Joan interrupts my reverie for, ‘a little more Sprite?’ Yes please, Joan, how did you know? Joan makes sure we are comfortable, discreetly replacing our balled-up, Russian-dressing-stained paper serviettes. She walks up and down the bar, tending all of her customers with the same quiet courtesy, ‘A little more diet coke?’ The menu humbly describes the #19 as PASTRAMI, SWISS CHEESE and COLE SLAW with Russian Style Dressing ($15.20). But the bread! For the love of bread, why is there no mention of the bread? Baked daily and sliced fresh, the rye has such a perfect crust, not toasted exactly, certainly not soft; I’m sure there’s no other word for it than, well, crusty. The secret? It’s baked twice; don’t tell. The caraway is a flavour memory, lingering back there somewhere but tricky to pin down. It’s bread to break Atkins. Pastrami, cole slaw and Swiss cheese are each individually sublime, and together symbiotic. We all know a good sandwich is the sum of it’s parts, but a great sandwich is the sum of perfect parts, prepared by expert hands and served with love. Traditionally hot pastrami is a NYC kinda thing. So why then did Nora Ephron, the woman who knew New York so well it’s an integral character in most of her films, name this the best in the world? What does Langer’s have that New York City doesn’t? Surely not better pastrami, nor more passionate pastrami eaters. What Langer’s has got that NYC hasn’t, is Joan. ‘A little more Sprite?’
“The hot pastrami sandwich served at Langer’s Delicatessen is the finest hot pastrami sandwich in the world. It’s a symphony orchestra, different instruments brought together to play one perfect chord. It is, in short, a work of art.” – Nora Ephron