Intersections: A semi-regular feature that tells stories about intersections of streets, people, and cultures

If we’re friends, you’ve probably tried to pique your interest in the burrito mix at Olympic Burger in Koreatown.

Not only are they the approximate size and weight of a healthy newborn, but the burrito contains a surprisingly dense web of cultural references unique to Los Angeles.

Take the inclusion of pastrami – thinly sliced ​​and used almost like a condiment in burgers and to fries, a technique that has roots in the historical interactions between the Jewish and Mexican populations of Boyle Heights.

Then there’s the chili, not thick with a lot of beans, but the liquid kind you often find in one-name burgers and burritos all over Southern California like James’s, Tom’s, and Tom’s. Here it is also served with cheese on rice.

The meat, called “costilla galbi” on the menu, is a blend of Korean short rib marinade and flavors from the Mexican short rib preparation, Costilla de puerco.

Olympic Burger and Los Angeles in general are filled with these organic interactions across cultural and language barriers. At Sopita Ramen down the street is kimchi tofu ramen on a menu crafted by a Korean chef from South America. A few months ago, I wrote about Ocha Classic, a nearby Thai restaurant chain that Latinos love.

On a recent weekday I met Sahra Santana, 40, who was visiting her family’s home in Los Angeles from Australia, where she had moved with her husband a few years ago.

Olympic Burger was one of her first stops on her journey home. She used to work for an insurance agency upstairs and became a regular. Eventually she converted her parents, immigrants from El Salvador who fell in love with Costilla Galbi.

Now some of her cousins ​​and relatives have married or developed close relationships with Asian Americans. Her mother, Roxana, 59, frequents Korean bakeries.

“It’s just the way we were brought up. We’re very mixed and very open,” Sahera said. “And I think Asians are a lot like Hispanics.”

I think these quiet interactions are the building blocks of community in Los Angeles. There is easy camaraderie and spontaneous understanding that forms between those who are in or heading to the same place, no matter how long it takes. In other words, there is community around intersections.

To highlight these stories, I’m testing a new spin-off feature in this column called Intersections. In each piece I will focus on a specific intersection and tell a story about the people there.

I have some physical intersections in mind, and I welcome interesting suggestions for visiting – I’d go anywhere within the L.A. County boundary. But I am equally interested in the intersections between age, culture, and background.

Future columns might visit a South Los Angeles intersection with six restaurants, a quinceañera at an Armenian wedding hall in the San Fernando Valley, and a Mexican musician working with a Chinese violinist at the San Gabriel Strip shopping center. Perhaps the night I was so alert will be narrated by a Japanese nightclub singer in an Ethiopian restaurant singing Frank Sinatra that I dropped injera bread in my lap.

If you’ve read this column, you’ll probably notice that I write a lot on this topic. I think it’s because I’m always looking for reasons to hope. I hope this city does not value the people who run it, whose lives they make beautiful. I hope this messy, multi-ethnic democracy doesn’t tear itself apart, or at least, it can coalesce in its wake and remain a place where people like my family can make a home. If any city gives me hope for that, it’s Los Angeles.

When I started this column, I wrote that we live our lives in parallel. I was talking about how my mother and I lived in completely different cities that seemed to intersect at home, at the dinner table for an hour.

I think this is still true. But what I also accepted is that we inevitably intersect. You cannot prevent people from finding each other and forming a community.

Olympic Burger is a product of that. Korean immigrant Elvis Kim, the owner, came to the United States in the 1980s and was inspired by the casual dining beloved throughout Southern California at the time. (John Way, whose family currently owns the place, confirmed that his chosen English name is really Elvis. They play his songs in the restaurant sometimes.)

There are no Japanese people involved in the restaurant, but the teriyaki was fun for the cross-cultural crowd during the time Kim showed it to him as well.

In the end, there’s no story behind the flavor fusion – only the exotic and adventurous tastes of a Korean immigrant and a community diverse enough to share it.

Sometimes I still hear people describe Los Angeles, California, or America as a melting pot, and I’ve never agreed with that term.

There is a lot of heat, from climate change, drought, burning of buildings in protest against police killings and record-breaking summer temperatures. But we do not melt in one ingot – we make new ones.

America is like an Olympic burger burrito, the disparate items sharing the same space. One Mexican bite, one Jewish one, another Korean, all immaculate L.A.

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