In The Porridge Manifesto, Rachel W. Cole proclaims porridge the “perfect pre-dawn bite.” Nutritious, easy to prepare, warm and delicious, hot cereal (aka porridge) hits all the marks.
A traditional dish with a number of iterations from around the world, porridge is like the United Nations of foods, with the only real criteria for being in the club being grain. Almost, but not always, porridge is served hot, but pretty much any grain can join. While the American tradition celebrates sweetened varieties from oatmeal to Cream of Wheat, the rest of the globe often loads their bowl of zganci (maize, Slovenia), Upma (semolina, India) or Tolegi (sorghum, New Guinea) with savory vegetables, meats and spices.
Los Angeles, of course, is the perfect place to experiment with a variety of porridge options, whether for breakfast, lunch or dinner. While steel-cut oats with butter and brown sugar may be the usual standby (and worthy!), why not wander further afield and embrace the shock of the new?
Black sesame, red bean, pine nut and abalone! The array of porridges available at Bon Juk cannot help but dazzle. The menu trumpets the sweet pumpkin porridge as "good for a woman's beauty and aging care." While the octopus with kimchee "helps digestion and is good for the recovery from weariness and illness." Sounds like good hangover food. Spicy and loaded with seafood, the octopus comes in a large bowl and could easily feed two. Little sides of pickled vegetables mitigate the richness perfectly. Oh, and if that's not enough for you, Bon Juk promises to "cook each dish with a true heart as a mother cooks for her family." 3551 Wilshire Blvd.,Los Angeles; 213-380-2248.
Hot or cold. Day or night. Squirl’s Kokuho Rose brown-rice porridge with hazelnuts and jam hits the spot. The jam especially, housemade, in seasonal flavors, like raspberry-vanilla, strawberry-rose-geranium and blueberry-rhubarb elevate this humble dish. You can get it vegan, with house almond milk, or lactose-tolerant, with Straus Family Creamery milk. The cozy, homestead appeal of the hot breakfast cannot be denied, although Chef Jessica Koslow prefers hers cold, like a rice pudding. But served hot, on a rainy day, this porridge may be just the inspiration you need to write a folk song, or even a poem.
720 N. Virgil Ave. #4, Los Angeles; 323-284-8147.
Fishing with Dynamite
Fishing with Dynamite is a big ten restaurant in the best sense, catering to every taste without sacrificing an iota of flavor or technique. The restaurant divides its menu into "Old School" and "New School" dishes. For those who like their seafood chowdered, battered and caked: you will be pleased. On the other hand, for those looking for a little more oomph for their lucre, this Manhattan Beach eatery takes bold risks, like the Koshihikari rice, that pay off big time. The Japanese grain is cooked in chicken dashi and loaded with blue crab, uni, shrimp and basil, the egg on top like liquid gold. This porridge serves big, bold flavors managing to taste both Asian and Italian in every singular bite. 1148 Manhattan Ave., Manhattan Beach; 310-893-6299.
Chef Michael Voltaggio does what he wants. Playful and surprising, the dishes on ink.’s menu celebrate invention. As pertains to porridge, ink. begins with fresh corn, grated and cooked down to thicken and then mixed with fresh kernels. Spiced with nori powder, green onions, salt and butter, the combination is like molten lava, thick and roiling. The porridge is then topped with a housemade “forito,” a kind of crackling Dorito chip seasoned with nori powder and homemade ranch spice. The combination is unlike just about anything else. 8360 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles; 323-651-5866.
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Conscientious objectors will love Cafe Gratitude's porridge fit for anyone gluten-, lactose- or meat-intolerant. It's also delicious. The chia seed porridge, hydrated with hempseed milk and augmented with powders from the lacuma (a Brazilian fruit) and maca (a Peruvian, herbaceous biennial plant), is creamy and light. Topped with cinnamon, maple syrup, gojii berries and seasonal fruit, this porridge manages to be filling but somewhat light. If you're sharing with someone, try the buckwheat-flax pancakes with cashew whipped cream. You won't even feel like you're doing something good for yourself, even though you are. 639 Larchmont, Los Angeles; 323-580-6383.