Each week we talk to a member of the Serious Eats community. This week we chatted with Devany Lister Aley (Miss Mochi who lives in Orange County and believes in how awesome its food is.
Name: Devany Lister Aley
Location: Orange County, California
Occupation: Veterinary Technician and Student
Do you work in the food industry?
Nope! I actually wrestle puppies for a living—failing to convince them I'm actually trying to help.
What is one of your earliest food memories?
Sharing mochi with my next door neighbors as a kid. I got confused, because when I asked what to call them, my grandmother told me they were "rice cakes." She was trying to explain what they were, not what they were called. American rice cakes are dry, flaky discs. Mochi is completely different, so I was totally stumped as to why these foods were called the same thing. That is, until my grandmother explained that it was a Japanese dish called mochi, which are little cakes made from pounded rice. Mind = Blown. I'm part Japanese-American, so I ate a lot of food from Japan growing up.
What is the most memorable bite of food you've ever eaten, can you describe it?
A big bite of perfectly ripe peach, plucked off the tree in my parent's orchard, still warm from the sun. It tastes like glorious summer and sunshine.
When people come to visit Orange County, where do recommend they eat/take them to eat?
Cynical people love to say that Orange County is a cultural wasteland, but I beg to differ. Diamond Jamboree in Irvine is chock full of amazing Asian-American eats. Many of my friends have been dragged into panaderias and Mexican markets like La Reina for feeding my pan dulce obsession. If my compatriots are feeling adventurous, I drag them up to Los Angeles for an L.A. street dog exhibition in the fashion district, followed by a great dinner at Phillipe's or somewhere in Little Tokyo. And everyone needs to try In-n-Out or carne asada fries from Albertos at least once.
When you leave Orange County where will your last meal be?
I would have to say In-n-Out—bringing burgers and fries over to my grandparents' place, because I always enjoy them more sharing them with my grandfather who has great taste in cheap eats. My grandmother secretly enjoys them, but grumbles about horrible fast food and feeds half of it to my dog, so everyone is happy.
What is your favorite region/city/country to eat at?
Hawaii! I'm all about American meets Japanese. I once got over a pound of saki-ika (dried squid) from Costco for pennies. It came in a round, plastic jar that resembled a fish bowl! We carried it everywhere, nicknamed it the "Squid Ball," and included it in all the family photos. Plus, Hawaiians love SPAM, and that's a good thing.
Is there something that you've eaten recently that you can't stop thinking about?
The beef dukboki from Mochilato. It's funny to order a Korean entree from a place that primarily peddles ice cream mochi, but the dish is delicious. Instead of the fiery gochujang-laced version you usually see, this is made with a sweet-salty soy based sauce, with bits of beef, napa cabbage, and fried bean curd. I made my mother try it and and she came to the same conclusion I did: it's like Kraft Mac N' Cheese for the hapa kids.
Will you tell us about what you love to cook most?
I love comfort food, whether that is biscuits and sausage gravy or a quick donburi bowl. I also love food with a personal history, something that evokes a memory of a fun time.
Is there a special dish that you would consider your signature?
Mochi is definitely my signature food, and my favorite thing to give away to friends for holidays.
What is your guiltiest pleasure?
I'm a bit of an unapologetic fatty hedonist, so I think 90% of what I eat could be considered guilty by most parties. But I do have a well-documented obsession with canned meats, like SPAM and Hormel hash, which could be deal-breaking for some unenlightened individuals!
Is there anything you hate eating?
Brussel sprouts. People keep saying that I just need to try them a certain way, but every way I've tried they have been gross. I'm also not a fan of most meat unless it's ground up or in thin slices. You can give me a bite of the best filet mignon or prime rib you can find and I probably won't spit it out, but I am still way more interested in swiping your baked potato.
What would your last bite be?
This is such a morbid question! I just hope it's something dignified and delicious. I'd hate someone to find me keeled over a Little Caesar's pizza, congealed cheese and ranch dressing all over my face. If I were planning these things, it would be my mother's Thanksgiving dressing made with mulled wine and chestnuts. I love it, but when I tried to get her recipe for my blog it was in typical Japanese-American mom fashion where she just starts throwing ingredients at a bowl until she's satisfied. When she told me it had the right smell and she knows it was perfect, I gave up.
If you could eat or cook a meal with anyone who would it be and why?
My boyfriend, affectionately nicknamed "Mr. Mochi," and my brother, who doesn't have a cute mochified nickname yet. Perhaps "The Bro-chi?" I have the most fun trying new recipes, hunting down ingredients, and exploring new menus with them. They're both always down to try something new and a little off-the-wall.