>> Baja Sub | Eat the World Los Angeles

Monday, 10 February 2020

Baja Sub


From the outside at least, Baja Sub is just one of those local spots in Los Angeles that serve their neighbors and have been doing so for years. With a bright red pepper in between the words of the name, and "Mexican Grill" the only other food advertising offered to passersby on Reseda Blvd, it would take a stroke of luck walking in to buy cold beer or cigarettes or the word of a friend to know a Sri Lankan steam table and full menu was awaiting you inside.

Meeting a friend who lives in the neighborhood and had also been tipped off from an Uber driver, the restaurant had all the makings of a special food experience. Baja Sub is also a market and the corner shop does sparsely populate its shelves with Sri Lankan and South Asian packaged goods, but it seems the real life is squared directly with the non-Mexican and non-sandwich oriented side of the offerings.

Around 15 years ago, the popular Mexican joint was purchased by a Sri Lankan. Instead of replacing everything and starting over by attracting new customers, he left the menu in place and made sure not to push anyone away. Nowadays you will see mostly Sri Lankans and other South Asians here eating and chatting, but if you are in the mood for a burrito or huevos rancheros it can still be done seamlessly.

It also seems to be somewhat of a community corner, as people getting together to eat will linger around for much longer if they are talking and catching up. Unfortunately that cold beer for sale cannot be consumed while dining, something that is mentioned on a few ALL CAPS posters with exclamation points (!).

Those coming for the first time should prioritize their visit by going for the $14.99 all you can eat buffet. It does not appear like much at first, but there are always curries, grilled and fried meats, vegetable options, rices, and an array of fried appetizers with various fillings.

As seen above, a group of three tackled this option and was able to sample just about everything from the restaurant's buffet, especially when second trips were made. The friendly staff kept bringing out new egg hoppers and string hoppers to make sure nothing cold was eaten.

A line of three vegetable curries ended up being some of the most delicious fare, seen above from front to back were lentils, potatoes, and a potato and vegetable mix. All three were added to those second helpings.

If they have biriyani on offer, this is recommended because they do rice very well. Even the simple stir fried egg rice that is always on the steam table is really nice. If you feel like focusing on one dish rather than many, kottu ($10.99 chicken/$11.99 beef or fish, not shown) is a stir-fried favorite made from torn up pieces of roti, egg, vegetables, the meat of your choice, and a good deal of heat.

A visit on Fridays and Saturdays will ensure that the hoppers are available, a fact that even makes the back of current owner Premil Jayasinghe's business card. Friday is probably the best night to come, when the buffet is dubbed the "Grand Hopper Night Buffet" and both hoppers, kottu, pittu, and polroti are all available.

Regardless of the day you find yourself here, the food is destined to satisfy.

Also found here, or if not across Reseda Blvd. at Bombay Spiceland, grab a small jar of Maldive fish. Through enough contact with Sri Lankan cuisines, and sometimes those of southern Indian states, a crucial ingredient always seems to be Maldive fish. Without doing the proper preparations, one might wander in and look for this over ice or in the freezer, but it comes in small glass jars.

This is its natural state, for tradition dictates that the flesh of the fish, in this case skipjack tuna, is smoked and dried by the sun before being cut into small pieces. This manner of preparation allows the small pieces to retain a very long shelf life and was used long before there was electricity.
The "chips" actually come out of the jar looking like small wood chips (below), and are certainly not meant for satisfying a late night snack crave. In the cuisines of the Maldives and Sri Lanka, the Maldive fish is used similarly to how dried shrimp paste is used from Myanmar to Malaysia, as a concentrated base of taste.
A typical purchase (somewhere near the Indian Ocean, but not in the Valley) would usually be a large filet that has been smoked and sun dried whole, taken home like a piece of wood, and then broken apart as needed in the kitchen. 

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