Day 95: Latvia
Here’s the newest odd scenario that resulted in me having somewhere to eat: my new friend Abba (who I met when she cooked us the amazing meal for Bahrain Day) saw a Latvian friend of her’s on Thanksgiving who is currently living in Seattle. She asked her if she would be willing to cook Latvian food for me. Her friend said she wouldn’t be able to do the cuisine justice. So Abba’s Latvian friend contacted her own father, who told her that there was a Latvian cultural center in Los Angeles having a function which would include food, then sent Abba an address. After some research, Abba and I could find no proof that anything was going on there at all. But nonetheless, Abba, a few other friends and I all decided to give it a whirl. And again, all we have is an address.
When I arrive, it’s essentially a relatively small community center with a front hallway, a bar, a small kitchen serving home made food and a recreation room filled with people selling crafts, smoked fish and baked goods. Abba got there before me, and has already made friends with John the bartender, whose wife cooked all the food for today, so I grab a beer (they’re only two dollars!) and we head into the recreation room. We are absolutely the only non-Latvians here, but the people couldn’t possibly be nicer. “You must try these pīrāgi,” a woman says, as we buy the pleasant little baked bread pockets filled with ham and onions. Another woman assures us that hers are better, sells them to us, then asks what we’re doing here. Abba explains, then the woman quickly offers to take us to her home and show off her photos and recipes some time. We tell her that, unfortunately, due to the everyday nature of the project, we really can’t backtrack and that I’ll have to write about it all in the morning. “That’s okay,” she says, “we’ll go today.” We don’t want to impose, but she seems very committed to the idea, so we tell her we’ll talk more when the function seems to be winding down. So we buy some smoked fish, then head over to the hot food counter, drop down ten bucks and buy a plate full of John’s wife’s food.
We bite into slightly sweet sauerkraut, some very tender roast pork, boiled potatoes with a very tasty and eggy kind of hollandaise sauce, then munch pig-filled pīrāgi and intensely smoked salmon, wash it all down with beer, and suddenly, I feel like I’m in a very good place. First of all, I can’t even believe that this place turned out to exist, much less serve good food and cheap booze. Our friends Erin, Ben and O’Ryan arrive, follow much the same rotation as us, then join us with their own food and beer. “If this were an actual bar,” I say, “open late and available to the public, we’d come here all the time. It would be packed.” Everyone nods in agreement as a table full of older Latvians begin drunkenly singing their native folk songs. Meanwhile, the woman from before is heading home and offers us one last chance to take her up on her offer, but we are happily entrenched where we are, thank her kindly and let her be on her way. We feel good, the day seems to be a success, the food is extremely comforting (with the salmon having some insanely tender and delicate parts in the middle which I’m really quite fond of) and with that, we think it’s time to wrap up and head home rather happy.
But then two blond women (and the only ones there who seem to be under 45) come over to our table and say “Hi! Can we join you?” Turns out they’re interested in what these non-Latvians are doing here and pretty soon, Julija and Zane are our new best friends, we all buy each other lots of beers, apple schnapps and mulled wine, and the day begins to progress rather dangerously. Eventually, the place seems to be closing down, our table is the last one remaining and a very drunk Latvian man in a full suit joins us, saying “I’ve started my own program. I have sex with a woman from a different country every single day. But I’m only on day thirty five.” Before you know it, we’ve been there for about five hours, there are a lot of empty bottles on our table, and everyone has exchanged hugs, hand shakes and phone numbers. Erin, O’Ryan, Abba and I step out into what has somehow become evening, then look back at the small Latvian community center that gladly took us in for a few delightful hours. Amazed, confused and also in awe, we say goodbye and each head home— universally happy, even though I’m still not totally sure what happened. Another amazing day, in the books.
Latvian Community Center
1955 Riverside Dr
Los Angeles, CA 90039
Food Breakdown: An unknown amount of alcoholic beverages, three plates of pork, cabbage and potatoes, 2 bags of pīrāgi, one piece of smoked fish.
Distance From My House: 16.6 miles