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San Francisco Foodies: Gourmands

Well, finally! I get to talk about food again. I’ve been reading quite a bit lately about people labeling San Franciscans who like food with the term which I assume is derogatory, “foodies” or more specific, “San Francisco Foodies”. I say derogatory because the word “smug” usually comes up in most cases.

Yes, we’re smug, we know it all and we could fix the world if you’d just let us, but let’s put that aside for a moment. Let’s look at the word foodie and how it applies to San Francisco. Originally coined in 1981 by Paul Levy and Ann Barr and used as the title of their 1984 book, The Official Foodie Handbook. It described a person who was not a gourmet who had a very sensitive palate that could discern the difference between a 1978 Chateu la fit Rothchild and and 1979 Chateau la fit Rothchild.  Anyone who comments on my possible misspelling is not a gourmet, nor smug, but a snob who can’t find anything else to pick apart to discredit me.

Foodies are people who have a love of food that tastes good and are interested in why it tastes good so that they could possibly make it themselves. There was a term prior to this that actually fits San Francisco foodies much better. That term is Gourmand. They don’t necessarily have the refined palate of a gourmet, but they can at least tell the difference between a Cabernet and a Merlot and they love food whether it is a succulent slice of prime rib from the House of Prime Rib to a bronco burrito from El Burrito Express. I would say Gourmand is a much more fitting word than foodie. First off, while being a modern word, foodie is almost 30 years old and well, sounds so 80’s even though I don’t remember anyone using the word here in the 80’s. Gourmand in and of itself is a word that has some class behind it, probably because it’s a smug French word and we being the smug people we are should be able to identify with it more.

In a recent story I read in a place I can’t remember, but probably sfgate.com, they mentioned that New York has the most diverse cuisine options to eat followed by San Francisco then followed by, well who cares, I’m trying to focus on San Francisco here. We are the second food Mecca of the US with the flavors of many countries around the world at our finger tips. Yes, we have lots of high brow restaurants in this city, but the people who eat there are perfectly happy walking up to a taco truck or one of the new versions that don’t serve tacos, but some form of portable cuisine that’s fast and easy to get and tastes good when you’re sitting on the curb consuming it.

There is a guy in the Mission who cooks up crepes from a side walk stand that moves around daily and he announces where he will be on Twitter. We have trucks that drive around the city cooking up BBQ, Korean food, even curry dishes. Highbrow? Nope. Good food? You bet.

Anthony Bourdain, a former chef who worked in gourmet restaurants travels around the world eating what he calls good food, well….I beg to disagree. He did a show in San Francisco and ended up eating a burger at Red’s Java House. There are some people that love the place, but I had a burger there once and I’ve done better with frozen burgers from Costco. A good burger shouldn’t be served with processed american cheese in this city. Anthony didn’t focus on any of the great mobile food purveyors in the city, but he did at least start with the House of Prime Rib. Anthony I would call more of a foodie than a gourmand. He’s trying to identify with the normal person who likes food, but he tends to choose places that don’t serve very good food when he steps down to the level of the average person and he basically eats shit.

San Francisco foodies [gourmands] can usually cook for themselves and enjoy cooking. There is nothing better for me than a day in the 60’s which causes me to pull out the BBQ. I try all sorts of different marinades and side dishes and in the event of a major disaster I know that my family will be well fed. I know how to turn a cheap piece of meat into a 5 star dish because that’s what you need to know in this economy. We know that you don’t have to pay $300 for a meal for two in San Francisco and sometimes the better meals you can get for under $15 for two people.

We also like to try new foods that are outside our comfort zone such as the fruit cherimoya. It really does have a taste like bubble-gum and pineapple but with all those seeds you have to be careful not to break a tooth. I have indeed stooped to the level of what some people would call third world countries and through some of my hispanic friends have been able to try chapulines over several shots of tequila. It takes about five shots of tequila for the average caucasian to even think of popping a deep fried grasshopper in their mouth, but I admit, they’re tasty. I’ve eaten dim sum that I have no idea what was in it, but it sure did taste good. I should probably learn more Cantonese or Mandarin to better converse with the vendors to know what I’m putting in my mouth, but if it looks good I’ll try it.

So for now, I’d say we should move away from the term foodie in favor of gourmand because after all we are San Francisco and we’re smug. Get over it.

I am NOT a food blogger!

I recently have had the unfortunate experience of seeing quite a few food bloggers on television. This is not a good thing because if they are any indication of what food bloggers are like, I am not a food blogger. Most of them seem to have no luck with the opposite sex, can’t cook and the food they write about while tasty, has them all on high blood pressure and cholesterol meds.

This is not what I am. I love food, I write about food some times, but I don’t write about food I’ve bought at a restaurant all the time, I write about food I cook. Yes, I may have a couple extra pounds on me, but seeing as I’m getting closer to 50 that’s not so unusual and I know people in their 30’s who have more of themselves to love than me.

I grew up in the kitchen. I have a picture of myself at about 3 with an apron on standing on a chair washing dishes in the sink. This is probably because that’s where you always start out — as a dishwasher. I remember around 7 I got to move up helping my Mom mix cookie dough and bake the cookies and at 10 I was helping out my Dad at the BBQ. My family is from an Italian and German background, mostly Italian so it’s always about the food. While I’m a city boy we always spent the summers up in the Sierra foothills in what most city people would call a “red-neck” town. All the guys got a gun for their 16th birthday and you could sit out on the porch in the evening and watch the raccoons, skunks and deer walk right past your house. One of the things I learned from this was an appreciation of nature and vegetables. We used to drive out to Joe Malfino’s farm and get about 10-20 pounds of Italian red onions that his father brought the seeds over from Italy when he came here. Nothing is as sweet as one of those onions and my Dad used to show off to my friends when we’d get back my cutting an onion and having them taste it raw. When we’d be driving home we’d always stop at a place called Sloughouse that had the sweetest yellow corn you could ever imagine. When we’d get back home my Dad and I would plant radishes, carrots and swiss chard out in our foggy back yard which was kind of a way of bringing country life to the city.

I learned a lot from those times growing up. I was a city boy for most of the year, but in the summer I’d have to be a country boy picking the walnuts, figs and apples off the trees at my Aunts house or maybe we’d go over to a cousin’s place were we would be wrestling with the pigs and milking the cows and picking the freshly laid eggs from the hen house. For most of the people that was work, for me it was fun because I got to do something my friends in the city never got to. I remember my Aunt’s friends coming by and dropping off boxes of peaches and other fruits that were maybe off the tree for a couple hours at most.

Now I’m carrying on the tradition by cooking like I learned from my family and adding my own side to things. I’m moving out of the Italian/German comfort zone and playing around with South American, Indian, African dishes just to see what new I can come up with. I’ve wanted to be a chef many times, but some of my acquaintances such as Bruce Hill and Joe Zelinsky have said, “You work long hours, with no overtime and you barely make above minimum wage.” I think I’ll have to pass then, because I want to be able to buy the food I cook at home.

Durian Gelato…Interesting

Today I did something I never thought I’d do. I asked to sample Durian Gelato. The Durian is a fruit from the Phillipines that is of mythic proportions. An ex-girlfriend’s Grandmother used to tell me that it was, “The fruit that tastes like heaven, but smells like hell.” Lola, you had that one down cold. The only problem is when I put this tiny morsel of gelato into my mouth I was struck by a flavor that wouldn’t go away.

First there was a sulfurous bite followed by a somewhat grassy, well rotten grassy flavor, but never once was there anything sweet in the taste. I had the chance to try this at the local Marco Polo gelato shop on Taraval street. Don’t hold the Durian gelato against them though. They have a lot of the standard flavors you’d find in a gelato shop like rum raisin, pistachio, arcobaleno, double chocolate, but they also have mixed in Asian flavors such as sesame, taro (that’s ube in the Phillipines), green tea and of course the Durian.

This is a fruit that Andrew Zimmern who hosts Bizarre Foods on the Travel Channel can’t even get himself to try. He says it’s because he, “just can’t get past that funky, gross smell.” I figured gelato might water down the strength of the flavor, but if it did, I can see why Andrew would never eat the fruit. This is the same person who I have watched eat bugs, rotten egg omelets, but there is one fruit he just can’t eat. That tells me a lot of how bad the smell is if he can’t even eat it.

So what do you all think? Durian, yay or nay?