¡Ask a Comida Critic!: Is Irvine or Anaheim the County's Most Integrated Supermarket City?

From Das Ubergeek himself:

A white guy (not me) and an Asian guy in the El Super on Anaheim and Ball [in Anaheim] arguing about the merits of gorditas vs. tortillas. Total integration of Anaheim, or sure sign of the Reconquista?

Let's use this introductory sentence for my required plug for my coming book on the history of Mexican food in the United States and to also note Americans have been debating the merits of "Mexican" food (chili con carne or tamales? El Torito or Chi-Chi's? Qdoba or Chipotle? Bayless or Kennedy? Hatch or Chimayó?) for over 150 years.

But Dave's question got me thinking about my beloved Anacrime, and the only other county city that can match it for culinary diversity and integration: Irvine.

The two cities are almost mirror reflections of each other, with significant differences. Both are county powerhouses in the city sphere, both are immigrant havens, and both are emblematic of what they represent (Irvine: endless, master-planned upper-middle-class suburbia; Anaheim: working-class strip-mall paradise). But that's where the similarities end. Irvine has big populations of gabachos, Asians of most stripes, Indians, South Africans, Persians and more than a few Turks, with no group making a majority. Anaheim is now majority-Latino, but with significant chunks of Samoans, Filipinos, Arabs, Romanians, Thais, Chamorros, and even Africans (along with some African-Americans). If we had to use broad strokes, I'd say Irvine's heart remains "white," but has Chinese and Persian chambers; Anaheim's is Mexican, pumping the blood of the world.

How does this translate into food? Mostly in our supermarkets. Irvine's great meeting place for multiculti food integration, of course, is Wholesome Choice, and I love to see how they update their offerings almost every year to reflect Irvine's changing demographic (I still remember when the South African section consisted of one shelf instead of the many it now occupies). But Anaheim's hub isn't its many Northgates or El Supers but Super King, the Armenian-run supermarket that attracts an almost-exclusively Arab and Latino clientele and reflects their tastes: buckets of olive oil, insanely cheap habaneros, and great meat cuts. My mother, who's never been to a Little Arabia restaurant in her life, now swears by pita bread, feta, and long-grained rice, all because of Super King.

Compare those places, however, to the country's other large Supermarkets. Freshia in Tustin does draw a multiculti crowd, but I don't see the same diversity at, say, Arirang or 99 Ranch or even El Super. I can count the number of times I've seen gabachos at Northgates over the years, but that Dave saw a gabacho and chinito argue over the merits of gorditas over tortillas, and no one in the Mexican supermarket thought anything of it, shows we should all follow the examples of Anaheim and Irvine.

Oh, and tortillas ALL THE WAY. Corn, of course...

Super King, 10500 Magnolia Ave., Anaheim, (714) 527-5809; www.superkingmarket.com; Wholesome Choice, 18040 Culver Dr. Irvine, (949) 551-4111; www.wholesomechoice.com.

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