Smorgasburg Showcases Innovative Food

The tall, washed-out, tan walls of the Alameda Produce Market evoke a European-style forum, and the crowds of people walking between rows of stalls piled high with exotic and delicious-looking food serve to complete the image. Walking around the Row downtown Los Angeles, many spectators overlook the vibrant hub of culinary culture located just within the historic wholesale market.

In a city in which “nobody walks", stepping into that open air market, full of unique and idiosyncratic food vendors, feels like walking into a different country. However, food truck events, such as the “First Friday’s” event on legendary Abbot Kinney Boulevard, have developed a reputation as a hotbed of “hipster” culture, and as an engine for gentrification in the neighborhoods in which they manifest.

Smorgasburg appears, at first glimpse, to be attempting to buck this trend. Perusing stalls offering a record-breaking seven different cultural spins on the classic LA street taco, one would be hard pressed to find a single demographic not accounted for.

As he chowed down on a basket of wings from Daddy’s Chicken Shack, long time Los Angeles local Liam Dow lauded the “diversity in the people here, divers(ity) in style and age, (…) you’re really seeing the real LA”. Though the usual throngs of Instagram-happy hipsters snapped a seemingly endless selection of shots posed against the historic downtown architecture, they were matched in number by a remarkably diverse assortment of families from nearly every community in LA. 

This state of affairs is intentional on the part of the organizers of Smorgasburg. When they wanted to take their popular Brooklyn-based concept to LA, co-founders Eric Demby and Jonathan Butler teamed up with local food writer Zach Brooks to curate a selection of the most innovative and diverse vendors in the LA area. While food truck events are currently in vogue, Smorgasburg aspires to be something more. The company prides itself on being an “incubator of new concepts”; in fact, some of their vendors, such as Chichi Dango and Shrimp Daddy, made their debut alongside Smorgasburg LA, and are growing in notoriety and popularity alongside the event.

Chichi Dango is a flamboyant twist on the familiar concept of Hawaiian shaved ice. Served in squat towers evocative of sand castles and topped with fresh passionfruit and strawberry, these delightfully colorful desserts were one of the most popular dishes at the event. Happy customers walking and balancing their technicolor obelisk drew glances of jealousy and awe from the gathered crowds, who would then dutifully take their place in the winding queue for their own chance to try something truly one of a kind.

As eye-catching as Chichi Dango is, the dish that most consistently caused a stir was the exquisitely presented Garlic Butter Shrimp served by Shrimp Daddy. Ensconced within a fresh, halved pineapple, and topped with mac salad, furikake seasoned rice, fragrant cabbage and cubed pineapple, their signature Garlic Shrimp is an all-out assault on the taste buds. A captivating mix of sweet, smoky and caramel flavor, the Shrimp Daddy stall was never without a line of at least 30 people throughout the event. Often creating an impassible barrier across the isle of stalls, it served as a natural focal point and hub of conversation, as excited patrons drew ever more people into the maelstrom. 

On Saturday, March 10, 2018 Smorgasburg will be setting up shop on the Santa Monica Pier for a “pop-up” event, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.