In Their Shoes: On the L.A. Food Scene with Asics
Tien Nguyen loves Asics, or Tigers, as she calls them. Tien writes mostly about food; formerly for LA Weekly and now for the LA Times. She is also the co-author of chef Roy Choi’s (yes, the Kogi truck guy!) recent memoir L.A. Son: My Life, My City, My Food. Asics are her favorite shoes and if you find yourself in Los Angeles you might run into her researching her next article over a delicious dish. Take walk in Tien's shoes for a little taste of Los Angeles.
RW: Why do you love Asics Onitsuka Tigers?
Tien: They're very versatile and comfortable, which are both very good things since I walk a lot. I'm not very good at picking out my clothes in general, but shoes - I think I know how shoes should fit. I love Tigers!
RW: How did you start writing about food?
Tien: I used to be a lawyer. I really wanted to be a lawyer because I wanted to do some good, and I liked the idea of defending people. And I've always loved writing and research. But the practice of law, for me anyway, was far more stressful than enjoyable, and it didn't really allow me to exercise the more creative part of my brain. So I just started writing. I wrote about food because I was eating a ton and it was easy to just dive in and write. Eventually, I quit my job. I fooled myself into thinking I would find another legal position, but I didn't stop writing. If anything, I was writing more.
RW: How did you become part of the collaborative writing L.A. Son?
Tien: I had been writing for a while and Roy and Natasha had read a bunch of my stuff from LA Weekly. We had also met a few times before. I would always run into him at his truck and at events, and I always felt that we were kindred spirits, in a way. When it came time for the book, he and Natasha needed a co-writer, and they asked me to join.
RW: How did you develop the tone for LA Son?
Tien: Roy has a very particular cadence when he speaks, a natural beat, that's very compelling. Preserving his voice, and all the energy behind it, was important for the book. He had an outline for the book from day 1, and what we wanted to do was to tell the story about Los Angeles that doesn't often get told - an immigrant's story, a story that focuses on life east of the 405. Someone who has a lot of scars and is willing to expose them is rare, and Roy was willing to put it all out there. Roy would write the first draft of each chapter, and I'd move stuff around, pull out more details, ask him to dig deeper. Natasha and I would figure where we were going narratively and edit. For the first chapter we worked on together, I think we went through ten or eleven drafts, just getting the story and the tone right. We definitely got more and more in sync as we went.
RW: Favorite places to eat in L.A.?
Tien: I might be biased but Good Girl Dinette. It's my girlfriend's restaurant - there's a delicious cauliflower bahn mi that's roasted and it's really good. Proof Bakery in Atwater Village has really good chocolate chip cookies and cakes. Cognoscenti Coffee for coffee. Sapp Coffee in Thai Town. McConnell's Ice Cream. Pho Filet. Tsujita on Sawtelle for ramen. I love Roy's restaurants and I have a soft spot for Golden Deli.
RW: What's the next place on your to eat list?
Tien: Go Get Em Tiger is opening a new coffee shop in Los Feliz. I'm curious to try it.
RW: When did you see the change coming for the food scene in LA?
Tien: Definitely around 2008, 2009. Before then, if you loved food and had an internet connection, you were probably on Chowhound. It existed as a message board - just a bunch of people who loved food sharing information. But then around 2008, 2009, Twitter, Facebook, blogs blew up. All of a sudden, we could share information on a much larger scale and it turns out, we were sharing what we've been eating.
RW: Aside from food is there anything else you enjoy writing about?
Tien: I love writing about food because it's a vessel - through food, you can talk about a neighborhood, you can talk about people, you can talk about politics, you can talk about history. Outside of that, I like writing about sports. I recently interviewed the organist for the LA Kings for LATaco.com, for example.
RW: Can you relate to the story told in L.A. Son?
Tien: Yes, I can, but maybe more indirectly. I can't relate to a lot of Roy's specific life experiences, but I can connect to his internal struggles and how, in his early years, he had a lot of anger and didn't know where to funnel it. His story of trying to figure out who he is and where he fits, and doesn't fit, in the world, are all things I could relate to.
RW: What's the most memorable article you've written?
Tien: One year for April Fools' Day, I wrote a post for LA Weekly where I made up a story about a new app called LikeGrandmaMade. The idea was that you would open this app and take a picture of what you're eating, and it would tell you if the dish was authentic or not. I thought of this joke as a way to point out how silly it is that we put so much weight in the idea of authenticity of food, as if food and people and culture are static and don't change over time. I thought the app was so absurd that people would easily guess it was an April Fools' Day gag. But people did fall for it! I got responses from people calling the app racist and from people asking if I could give them the link to download it. It was hilarious.