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A new generation of don't-miss markets in and around Los Angeles.

A new generation of don't-miss markets in and around Los Angeles

No trendier showcase of Southern California life style may exist these days than the supermarket.

Back in the '30s, Los Angeles' Farmers Market was bowling over folks from Iowa with its pyramids of perfect oranges. As a showcase for the good life that the region promised, the market joined the roster of don't-miss tourist attractions along with the Santa Monica Pier and dinner at the Brown Derby.

What would early-day visitors think now to be greeted by mariachis, handed flowers to nibble, or offered sushi-to-go? You can find these in a new generation of Southern California supermarkets that are drawing visitors--to shop and gawk-- from across town, across the country, even overseas. Go with your shopping list, with your camera, with an appetite.

Southern California--particularly the Los Angeles--Orange County area--is the country's most competitive food-retailing market. Supermarket executives ascribe this to the sheer size of the population to be served and to the fact that a half-dozen of the country's biggest and best chains, as well as several strong, independent retailers, compete here.

Competition drives the stores to continual innovation--greatly influenced by the area's ethnic mix (unmatched elsewhere for numbers and diversity) and aimed at increasing personal service. Some ideas take inspiration from Latin mercados or Asian marketplaces or European specialty stores, often with a dash of the hawker's flair thrown in.

We picture some of the activities that make "marketing' fun--food prepared while you watch, cooking and cookware lessons, food and beverage sampling, and so on. You may see them in your market soon. If you don't, but would like to, ask the manager; input is usually welcome.

Here's an idea of what to expect at the new markets--including two that anyone interested in Latino or Asian cooking shouldn't miss. But first, you might take time to rediscover their predecessors.

Two still-thriving old favorites

A downtown institution, Grand Central Public Market--the Les Halles of Los Angeles--is celebrating its 70th birthday with a renovation. And the 52-year-old Farmers Market continues to add new merchants to its open-air complex.

Grand Central Public Market has two faces--one on Hill Street looks toward the sleek office towers of Bunker Hill; the other smiles on Broadway, Mexican and Central American "Main Street.' The venerable food hall, between Third and Fourth streets, is newly renovated to '30s style. A vist is like a food lover's trip around the world. Its 58 merchants, speaking some 20 languages, stand behind refurbished chrome counters, under restored neon signs. Hours are 9 to 6 daily except 10 to 4 Sundays. Park at the northwest corner of Hill and Fourth for $1.50 an hour (free with $15 purchase).

The Farmers Market, at Third Street and Fairfax Avenue in Los Angeles, starts to get crowded about 11. Go when it opens to see the produce at its most prinstine. Buy a still-warm doughnut or a cappuccino. Choose from a dozen kinds of just-squeezed fruit juices, 2 dozen kinds of just-baked breads. Look for the fresh horseradish grinder, the nut-butter blender, the toffee maker. Winter hours are 9 to 6:30 daily except 10 to 5 on Sundays.

The new breed: video managoes and vintage Katharine Hepburn

At the trend-setting supermarkets we list at right, you may enter through a cool arcade of fresh flowers for sale, between a lineup of mariachis and a menudo-tasting table, or through the aromas of baked goods hot from the oven.

Look down the grocery aisles: don't be surprised to find banners identifying entire sections as Korean, Vietnamese, Mexican, and so on. You can buy food from the hands that make it (while you watch)--from pizza to a personalized birthday cake. Fruit stalls offering imports from Chile and New Zealand make seasonal availability a thing of the past.

Select your seafood still swimming or beautifully arrayed on ice as in European markets. Meat counters show off ready-to-cook items skewered, stuffed, or marinated. Gourmet-to-go delis stretch along-side coffee bars, sushi bars, salad bars, fruit bars, and--at one Irvine Ranch Farmers Market--even a wine bar.

Especially on Saturdays, look for free samples--crisp wedges of Asian pear, scoops of chocolate mousse, mineral water, barbecue sauce, imported cheese.

Supplementing helpfully informed personnel are signs that offer nutritional information, recipe ideas, and such profound suggestions as this note on a 1981 Cabernet, "If this wine were a person, it would be Katharine Hepburn at the age of 18.' Starting to appear are continuous video tapes: at the Giant, the produce department shows shoppers how to select a ripe mango or other item, while the meat department may feature a step-by-step preparation of fajitas or other dishes; at Lucky, the seafood department video covers cooking and serving suggestions.

Latino or Asian, Montebello or Gardena

Tianguis, open since January with a name adapted from the Aztec word for marketplace, is the Vons chain's response to the area's burgeoning Latino population.

Outside this vast supermercado at 1201 W. Whittier Boulevard in Montebello, take a red, yellow, or green shopping cart, then browse the many departments--including a salchichoneria (deli) strung with 21 kinds of sausage (the largest selection of chorizo available in California), a tortilleria where wheat versions stream down the assembly line and women pat out the corn kind by hand. Check the dozen types of fresh chilies and he fresh salsas displayed in big stone bowls. Hours are 7 A.M. to 11 P.M. daily.

New Meiji Market, at 1620 W. Redondo Beach Boulevard in Gardena, is the largest-volume Oriental supermarket in the U.S. Quantity equals choice: more than 200 rice cracker products; case after case of refrigerated kim chee; rib-eye sliced for shabu shabu or sukiyaki; yellowtail, squid, sea urchin, 10 kinds of roe ready for sushi. Produce clerks explain uses of leek-like negi, cilantro-like mitsuba, jicama-like naga imo, along with now-familiar Asian items.

There's an extensive selection of cookware and tableware. Hours are 9 to 9 daily except to 8 Sundays.

A further sampling: the big and the small chains

Here are some of the multiple-location markets to keep a special eye out for. Independent retailers, each with fewer than a dozen stores, are innovative in many ways. Try these locales: Bristol Farms, 606 Fair Oaks Avenue, South Pasadena; Gelson's, 10250 Santa Monica Boulevard, Century City; Irvine Ranch Farmers Market, Atrium Court of Fashion Island mall, Newport Beach.

These retailers each have dozens of addresses. We suggest the following: Albertson's, 17120 Colima Road, Hacienda Heights; Alpha Beta, 19340 Rinaldi Street, Granada Hills; Hughes, 14440 Burbank Boulevard, Van Nuys; Lucky, 5750 Mesmer Avenue, Culver City; Ralphs, 17250 Saticoy Avenue, Van Nuys; Stater Bros., 375 N. Azusa Ave., West Covina; Safeway, 8969 Santa Monica Boulevard, West Hollywood; the Boys, 4700 Admiralty Way, Marina del Rey; the Giant, 5420 Sunset Boulevard, Hollywood; Vons Pavilions, 9852 Chapman Avenue, Garden Grove.

Photo: Landmark clock tower is sign of Los Angeles' Farmers Market, started as a farmers' co-op in 1935. Tourists from all over the world still ogle produce at the now-sprawling complex

Photo: Mariachis and pinatas in Montebello's new Tianguis market greet Latino shoppers--and any who cook south-of-the-border style

Photo: Grower Pamela North offers edible nasturtimus at West Hollywood Safeway. At new Culver City Lucky, seafood clerk--and video--offer advice

Photo: Weighing in at watermelon size, Mexican papaya (70 cents a pound) is pride of clerk at downtown Los Angeles' 70-year-old Grand Central market. Sausage maker in neighboring stall turns out his plump product while you watch

Photo: Winemaker Jack Cakebread leads an after-hours tasting of his Cabernet Sauvignon at Bristol Farms market in South Pasadena

Photo: Handing over sculpted morsel, demonstrator of Japanese cookware skillfully carves daikon, carrot, and cucumber into flower shapes at Gardena's New Meiji Market

Photo: In tiled kitchen classroom above Newport Beach's Irvine Ranch Farmers Market, Tarla Fallgatter of Ma Cuisine cooking school teaches simple seafood preparations-- here using salmon

Photo: Memories of an L.A. visit are made of these: Farmers Market's big frosted strawberries
COPYRIGHT 1987 Sunset Publishing Corp.
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Copyright 1987 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Article Type:Directory
Date:Oct 1, 1987
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