M.asaya is a play on words that means to go “beyond”. First-generation Chicano, Joaquin Flores, are trying to do just that – with plant-based street tacos and carrot hot dogs.
Some of you may already know Flores from working on the vegan pop-up with his family. Tacos with no karma, since 2016. His family started Sin Karma to directly address the lack of plant-based options in their El Sereno community, where they lived when they first went vegan.
“You can only eat taco de papa that often at family gatherings,” he tells us during our telephone interview.
Flores split his time between family, school, and sin karma until the urge to start his business drew him in a different direction. He was preparing to show up at farmers’ markets with the help of SEE LA–– from where he met Paola Guasp Amara kitchenwhere Flores is currently in residence – and had just finished his final exams for his Masters in Education when the pandemic broke out. It became a crucial moment for him to reflect on his mission with his new company.
“The pandemic really forced me to think further about what I really wanted to do with this project and how I wanted to manifest it,” explains Flores.
What turned out to be a concept that reflects who Flores is: a first-generation Chicano with Latino influence and the multicultural experience that Los Angeles has embedded in him. He aims at what connects us as eaters through a lens of health and nostalgia that is unique to him and builds bridges across cultures.
He was so excited about the carrot dog’s potential for opening people to plant-based food that he jokes Masaya, as a concept came from the carrot dog practically from the start.
“It’s these similarities and patterns of similarity,” says Flores. “This reference to something that is beyond culture, language or region indicates something outside that is much more related to human experience.” This idea of universality goes hand in hand with precision and care in his hot dogs, in which carrots play the main role instead of a vegan meat substitute. Flores says he couldn’t remember a good time when there weren’t any nightly hot dogs, fetching a dash of fresh peppers and onions from a nearby street hot dog cart.
“It’s really part of LA culture,” he recalls. “I wanted to throw the hot dog in there because it’s a real LA thing, but also a Latino thing and beyond. That’s why it’s mas alla. “
He was so excited about the carrot dog’s potential for opening people to plant-based food that he jokes Masaya, as a concept came from the carrot dog practically from the start. “I just thought it was something so smart that I don’t know if I created the brand for the dog or if the dog helped me create the brand.”
To take it a step further, Flores hopes to give his vegan street food cuisine cross-cultural twists that speak for his LA upbringing and weave communities and experiences together. Like the Bahn Mi Tacos and Curry Tacos, he works in the hospitality industry to reflect his LA experience from growing up in San Gabriel to Lincoln Heights, Downtown LA and Compton.
“More of a mix and flux that LA is,” he says of the future of his food.
At its core, one thing remains clear: Flores is committed to the concept of bringing together the connections between food and cultures and people who bring people together. This is what he brings to the table: a shared experience to leave a positive impact that goes beyond culture through jackfruit tacos and carrot dogs. Being vegan put that into perspective for him.
“It expands to a more global aspect: how to help make a positive impact on this planet outside of our culture has been the best way to do it in my opinion,” he explains. Going vegan for Flores was the most holistic approach to improving not only his physical but also his mental and spiritual health.
And as a vegan Chicano of the first generation who grew up loving shrimp tacos and now cooks his own version with mushrooms, it boils down to seeing himself represented in all his versatility that this city brings with it.
“It’s about no longer being invisible.”
Find Flores and his holistic and nostalgic Masaya popups this Thursday, Friday and Sunday from 6pm to 10pm in the Amara Kitchen and keep following him Instagram move on.
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