More Than 200 Languages Are Spoken In LA, But Food Is My Favorite

The author at approximately 5 years old. (Courtesy of Elina Shatkin)

Once we are born into this world, we can count on only a few things. We all suffer. We all die. We all need to eat. Food is one of the few threads that links human beings.

It's what brought me to renowned author and feminist extraordinaire Margaret Atwood.

A few years ago, I was covering an event where she was the guest of honor. As guests grazed on fruit and slices of cheese, I beelined to the buffet. Moderation has never been my strong suit.

I grabbed (what I thought were) a few tortilla chips. Then I had to make some hard choices. Beans or chicken breast? Shredded cheese or sour cream? Salsa or guacamole? I chose everything. Hell, I probably dolloped on artichoke dip and threw in a few slices of salami. By the time I was done, I had created a nacho pyramid, a snack tower dangerously lacking in structural integrity, impressive if embarrassingly gluttonous. It was, as The Kids These Days would say, very on brand.

I looked around and realized no one else had a plate heaped with as much food. Behind me, someone murmured, "Nicely done." I turned to see the woman who wrote The Handmaid's Tale nodding in approval at my creation.

"Thank you," I told Margaret Atwood. She smiled, and I hustled away before my creation collapsed.

Whether it's due to indecision or gusto (maybe both?), I have always been what parents, especially Jewish parents, like to call, "a good eater." I am a born over-orderer. "Your eyes are bigger than your stomach," my mom would say as I sat amid way too many leftovers at another restaurant meal. She was right, but that never stopped me.

The author as a very happy and very chubby baby of approximately 8 months old. (Courtesy of Elina Shatkin)

My mom didn't have to coax me to taste new things. So it made sense when I moved to Los Angeles and food became my way of exploring the city. It helped me understand the ins and outs of whatever area I lived in and led me to far-flung neighborhoods I knew nothing about.

Years later, I started writing about food. Food blogs had become a thing, and Yelp was in its infancy. To me, food was conversation, and I was thrilled that people like me could suddenly be part of it.

As an immigrant kid, I grew up eating things like beets, kasha, farmer's cheese and more beets. Sure, now everybody is roasting beets and obsessing over "ancient grains," but back then, these foods were "weird." My mom had to trek to the Russian delis of suburban Northern California to find them.

The author (top left) blows out candles, probably at Pizza Hut, for her 5th birthday. Her best friend at the time, Vivek, stands to her left. She has no idea who the other kids are. (Courtesy of Elina Shatkin)

To be sure, I also ate many of the typical American foods — burgers, pizza, tacos, tater tots, Frosted Flakes, spaghetti — but oh how I yearned to trade my often ridiculed school lunch sandwich of dark brown bread, butter and god knows what else for the typical Wonder Bread, mayo and bologna combo.

The author at age 3, pretending to be a wax doll. (Courtesy of Elina Shatkin)

I wanted to be normal. To be like everybody else. To be American.

Now, as an adult, I am grateful that my mom's appreciation for food and skill at cooking helped me develop a palate that was distinctly un-American. That I got the chance to eat both borscht and grilled cheese sandwiches, vareniki and fajitas. It's that experience of navigating two cultures that informs my work today.

Here at LAist, I try to use food as an opportunity to dive deeper into the things that connect us. Culture. History. Neighborhoods. My goal is to connect people to this city and this region, to create a platform where we can all explore, learn and share.

I am lucky. I have the most delicious job in the newsroom. But, like my stomach is telling me, there's always room for more. I want to include more of the city and, by extension, the world in LAist's food coverage because so much of the world is, in one way or another, here in Los Angeles, possibly in taco form.

So let's break bread. Or injera. Or bolillos. Or naan. Or focaccia. Or gluten-free bagels. Okay, not that last one, because I have yet to find a decent gluten-free bagel, but I stand by the rest of it.