Language is a such a wonderful, ever-evolving thing.
If I were a bit smarter and academic, I would have loved to study linguistics in college. It’s fascinating to see how language reflects the culture and events of a time, place and people. It’s always shifting and advancing to both more complex and simpler structures, with more and more new words being added to the contemporary dictionary.
Take Korean, for example. Every time my parents return to Korea, they get increasingly perplexed by the slews of new words being uttered by the younger generation.
I still remember when the word “wang tta” (왕따) first entered daily vocabulary and my parents telling me about it. “Wang tta” or 왕따 is a term for ostracism that had been running rampant in Korean public schools. The term is used to refer to horrifying mistreatment/ignorance of an individual, but is now a vernacular term that apparently has been extended to people outside of the teen community.
Shakespeare was the ultimate genius in producing new words that are now so readily used that it still surprises me that these words never existed until he inserted them into his plays, all practically out of his ass a whim. You know those balls in your eyes? Shakespeare was the one who named them “eyeballs.”
“Skim milk”? “Puking”? “Red-blooded”? Also Shakespeare. This man would have driven lots of editors mad if he were a reporter!
More recently, the word “Tebowing” has been used widely by the general population and mainstream media as both a form of mockery and reverence.
There are also a lot of self-made words floating around the blog world, words that the majority of people who aren’t part of this niche wouldn’t get. You probably have heard of some of them, like OIAJ, SIAB, Green Monster, xxx-balls (cue in: tee hee hee), Hugh Jass salad, and so on (thanks to my Facebook friends for helping me fill these in!).
Come to think of it, the word “blog” didn’t even appear until 1999. Or Facebook. That feels weird, because what are we going to do with ourselves without them now?
Anyway. There’s a new word that has entered my regular vocab list, and it’s “baco.”
What is baco? If you’re an up-to-date foodie in Los Angeles, you would have heard of Baco Mercat, a restaurant that opened in downtown Los Angeles last October by chef Josef Centeno, who is also an executive chef at Little Tokyo’s Lazy Ox Canteen.
(Picture credit to Eatocracy/CNN)
I’ve met and talked to Josef in person. I was trying to interview him for my broadcast reporting final package on downtown’s new streetcar project. While most of my interviewers were chatty and open, Josef made a particular impression on me for his straightforward terseness. His quiet, tacit answers didn’t come off rude at all, just charmingly shy, and so characteristically…him. I liked him right away.
Josef was a student pursuing anthropology and philosophy degrees in University at Texas at Austin when he realized that he felt the most inspired and happy in the kitchen. Thank you, Lord, for giving him that revelation. A double thank you, Lord, for somehow providing him the wisdom to move out west to Los Angeles to expand his dream after stints in NYC, San Francisco and Los Gatos.
Josef is a godsend to the L.A. culinary scene. He has been consistently bringing fresh and innovative cuisine to Lazy Ox Canteen and now he has his own baby, Baco Mercat, where he can freely mix his own eclectic cultural influences to his classical French culinary experiences.
Baco, the signature dish at Baco Mercat, is a word drawn out from a play on “global tacos,” which turned to “globacos,” and then simply— “bacos.” It’s a hybrid flatbread that is not a sandwich, not a taco, not a pizza but…a baco.
Baco. Doesn’t that word just flow over your tongue and traverse beautifully through your teeth?
I’ve been following the opening of Baco and the raves that followed after, primarily through the excited emails from my friend Daina.
Daina is a regular customer at Lazy Ox Canteen, and she’s become friends with Josef. I don’t know how she does it but she’s the kind of irresistible personality that somehow eases her way into the backstage and makes friends with even the most reserved individuals.
Well, we decided to have lunch together at Baco Mercat on a weekday. Baco Mercat is located at the historic Old Bank district, and from what I could see, there were a lot of downtown lawyers, financial bankers and Los Angeles Times reporters in scene.
I also invited my adorable friend Eva, since she and Daina have become Facebook friends through our shared meal of Korean goat stew.
We met up late afternoon outside of Baco, and though lunch hour was way over, the place was still teeming with downtown-ers chowing down on Josef’s incredible food.
Baco also has a modest bar with six beers on tap, a decent wine list and interesting spirits and even their own line of sodas with curious flavors like black mint, chicha morada and their housemade orange ginger juniper soda. Super cool stuff.
Okay, it’s tough to order at Baco Mercat because everything sounds so good.
There’s the original baco, which is a sandwich/wrap-type thing based off a bread recipe Josef invented as a riff off flatbread. Apparently he created it out of a whim as a snack for late-night cooks in his kitchen, and honed it until it was the perfect balance of chewiness and softness. Each baco in Josef’s menu is named by its dominant protein.
Obviously we had to order bacos with meat. We ordered two kinds of baco.
Here’s the “El Pesco”:
The menu is as tacit as Josef. It just simply states: “Crispy shrimp, sriracha, chive” but what it really is a butterflied shrimp coated lightly with breading and deep-fried to a juicy crunch, stuffed with a refreshing, creamy coleslaw with a dab of spicy sriracha into his baco bread. It was wonderful!!
The second baco we shared was “El Pollo”:
Again, all the menu lists is “chicken escabeche, spiced lebni” but it was a fantabulous package of organic grilled chicken pieces, squished into a lightly toasted carby envelope with luscious, tangy lebni (a Kefir cheese) and piquant greens. OMG-amazing.
Other than the baco, Josef also uses the same bread vessel to make an open-faced flatbread called “coca,” what he calls a Spanish version of pizza. He rolls out the baco dough extra-thin so it flash-bakes in the oven into a crispy, skinny edible plate for handfuls of toppings.
We went basic with the “el cordero” coca:
House-made merguez (sausage), harissa (a spicy salsa) and fresh chevre goat cheese.
It’s a whole pie that one person can devour because of how thin the base is. It’s almost like a cracker! It was light and really delicious especially because the chef wasn’t at all shy with the spice.
To cleanse our palate we also had one of Baco Mercat’s daily offerings, the pickled vegetable salad with olive oil:
It was fresh green tomatoes, grapes and persimmon, lightly pickled to draw out its puckery sweetness. One trait about Josef is that he’s really into simple flavors and ingredients. It’s the quality of the ingredients, coupled with immaculate creativity and brilliant cooking technique that dominates his dishes.
I had a very proud moment with my friends.
Look at them, both totting their cameras along with them to take pictures of food! Daina has a food blog now too, and she’s currently interning at the food blog section on LA Weekly.
I definitely want to be back. If I was still interning at the LA Times, I would be another one of Josef’s regular customers. I would also be broke which is why maybe I’m thinking it’s a blessing in disguise I can’t visit as often as I would like to.
Either way, I think the word “baco” will be spoken more frequently and widespread soon. I hope you get to actually taste it one day though. Finger crossed?
Question of the Day: What is your favorite (or least favorite) “made up” word?