Now in its 27th year, AAJA Voices is a student program that provides aspiring journalists with career-ready skills to succeed in the continually-evolving media landscape. By nurturing relationships between students and professional volunteers, Voices also gives students the opportunity to tap into mentors’ networks and begin their own while also providing AAJA journalists leadership and management opportunities. 

Exploring Los Angeles’ Koreatown through Noodles and Fried Chicken

By Aditi Mayer & Kitty Hu

Approximately 2.7 square miles, Los Angeles' Koreatown  is a food mecca, serving as a home to both a variety of Asian cuisines, Oaxacan mom-and-pop shops, fried chicken joints, street vendors, and arguably some of the best Korean food in LA. We were interested in speaking to both older and younger generational restaurant owners to gain a better understanding of the shifting business landscape in Koreatown, especially with the influx of online food delivery services and marketing platforms like Instagram. Additionally, we wanted to include perspectives on the rich history of Korean community-building from when immigrants had first arrived, during the 1992 Los Angeles riots, and today.

We set out to find sources that had a familial tie to their restaurant. We came across children of liquor store owners, younger folks who set out to establish new twists on old classics, and families that decided to operate outside of Koreatown proper due to high rents. While we had sources cancel at the last minute, we were grateful to have scheduled interviews with Samuel In, the owner of Ham Hung, a North Korean noodle restaurant established by his parents in 1985, and Justin Lee, the son of OB Bear, a popular Korean fried chicken joint recently featured on Netflix’s Ugly Delicious

It was a humbling experience reporting on this community since neither of us are from the area. We did extensive research on the history of migration to Los Angeles. We listened to first-hand testimonies on NPR from the times of the riots. We read pieces from numerous publications based in Los Angeles to see what restaurants other writers were highlighting. In fact, as we researched OB Bear, we came across an AAJA mentor — Frank Shyong had written an article for the LA Times on his experiences frequenting the fried chicken bar — and we learned more about the story behind the mainstream media coverage. 

When thinking about filming b-roll, footage to accompany the interviews, we focused on capturing signage and daily life in the neighborhood, filming during golden hour for optimal lighting. Our mentor, Brian, also helped us rent a gimbal, which allowed us to add production value, especially for the introduction of the restaurant owners. However, we were restricted while filming the interiors because many customers did not want to appear on screen and were quietly finishing their meals instead. 

Currently, we are almost finished with production and are beginning the post production process. We have one last interview with a community member but have started to explore a wealth of editing programs to sync, transcribe, and assemble our rough cut. From there, we’ll be focused on fine-tuning our sound to reduce noise and coloring the piece to reflect the vivid energy of the busy neighborhood. 

When returning to Ham Hung for a final shot of Samuel in front of his restaurant, he laughed, saying, “That’s it? Next time I can film on my phone for you.” He told us to let him know when the piece is finished.

Thanks, Sam. Will do.

Aditi Mayer and Kitty Hu are 2019 Voices Students. Aditi Mayer is a Los Angeles based freelance photojournalist. She is a graduate of UC Irvine’s Literary Journalism and International Studies program. Kitty Hu is a third-year student at the University of California, Los Angeles, double majoring in film and international development studies.

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