Honestly, can one truly get excited about supermarket deli potato salad? And yet, there it is, in all its bland, yellow-hued glory at pretty much every picnic we attend for the next three summer months. Instead of accepting our fate, it's time to take some action and bring in some vibrant flavors. So before we heed the seasonal call of eating outdoors, we should head to Koreatown's supermarket delis.
When it comes to prepared foods, no other type of ethnic market comes close to the variety offered at Korean market delis. They have hot and cold. Sweet and atomic. Umami turned to level 11. With the numerous markets in the Koreatown, the competition is fierce as to who has the largest selection and the most unique dishes. For that reason, there isn't one that is plainly the best. So we paid a visit several in search of items that could be picnic standouts.
Because we are adults, we went looking for dessert first. On the weekends, Zion Market offers fresh made mochi or dduk cakes in flavors including black sesame, melon and strawberry. These pillowy little sweets are made with flavored sweet rice flour and filled with a richly flavored paste. Zion's are especially delicate in texture, with an outer marshmallowy shell. Their fillings are smooth, but not gummy, so that each bite highlights why even though these are two opposite textures, they combine to make an excellent confection.
Assi Market sets its deli apart by touting that most of its items are MSG free. Assi's chap chea, made simply with noodles, vegetables, sesame oil and soy sauce, is a refreshingly light yet flavorful pasta “salad.” Assi's deli is smaller than most, so they do tend to run out of certain dishes quickly, although they replenish the section throughout the day. Their kitchen has a take-out window, so you can order your choice of items to go along with whatever looks good on the entrée table.
The title of king of the self serve deli bar goes to Galleria Market. Yards and yards of condiments and sides are capped on either end with hot and cold items, some that are very familiar and others that would certainly be the talk of the picnic. However, here we return to the potato. Their marinated baby potatoes from the deli bar are exactly the type of flavor experience one would expect to come out of K-town. The little bite-sized potatoes are in a syrupy soy sauce that plays a fine balancing act with the buttery starch bombs.
Exploring these markets, it was easy to fill a wheelie basket full of items that could cater an entire picnic. Or two. Spicy cucumber, boiled squid, and for potato salad traditionalists, Galleria Market offers that too.
Zion Market: 3500 West 6th Street, Los Angeles, (213) 351-9900. Assi Market: 3525 West 8th Street Los Angeles, (213) 388-0900. Galleria Market: 3250 West Olympic Boulevard, Los Angeles, (323) 733-6000