Los Angeles' ethnic neighborhoods often feel impenetrable. Navigating the seas of strip malls signed by foreign characters, and market mounds of various exotic herbs all labeled “peppermint,” is a disconcerting task for even the most adventurous flavor foragers. That is, it can be disconcerting, without the proper culinary compass.

Luckily, James Beard Award nominee Chef Robert Danhi, author of Southeast Asian Flavors: Adventures in Cooking the Foods of Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, & Singapore — which he says is “more of a food book than a cook book” — leads culinary tours of Little Saigon in much that same vein. Through the enormous markets and small shops of the Orange County enclave, home to the highest density of Vietnamese outside of Vietnam, Danhi goes beyond names and recipes, he demystifies Vietnamese cuisine, and shows why he fell in love with the Southeast Asian culture — introducing curious cooks and eager palates to the unique neighborhood flavors, and his adorable wife Estrellita.

Beginning in the market, sorting through aisles packed with noodles and fish sauces, then moving through Dong Phuong tofu factory, where heat radiates from rows of fresh soy milk, ending in Hanoi Restaurant with a demonstration of one of the recipes from his book, and tasting all the way — the tour is a whirlwind of flavor and culture. In four short hours, Danhi casually fills minds and bellies with the cultural history and flavors of regional dishes: fresh sugar cane juice (Nuoc Mia), soy-glazed shaking beef salad with pickled red onions (Bo Luc Lac), Vietnamese style yogurt (Sua Chua), and sweet potato and shrimp fritters (Banh Tom Co Ngu), to name a few.

Bo Luc Lac: Soy Glazed Shaking Beef Salad with Pickled Red Onions; Credit: Emma Courtland

Bo Luc Lac: Soy Glazed Shaking Beef Salad with Pickled Red Onions; Credit: Emma Courtland

On September 19, Danhi will lead a group of 20 people on an excursion devoted to the food of Northern Vietnam, the first in a series of walking tours that focus on the distinct cuisine of one of the three regions of the country. Registration for the Northern Vietnamese Cuisine Adventure is now open, and limited to the first 20 people who sign up. The $75 fee includes all of the food and beverages, plus a signed copy of his book, Southeast Asian Flavors, which alone normally costs $45. Registration for all three regional adventures is $175.

For more complete details, contact Jonathan at order@southeastasianflavors.com or call (310) 648-7970.

LA Weekly