There are a lot of reasons to love San Francisco, but I think one of the biggest is the food you can get here. You can travel around the world’s cuisines without leaving this city squeezed into a 7 mile by 7 mile peninsula. An Austrian friend of mine, Karin on her first trip to San Francisco gave me a wicked little smile when I said you can find any kind of food here. “I will offer you a challenge then.” OK, that was a rather Germanic way of putting it, but even though she was born and raised in Austria she’s of Syrian decent.
“Can you get authentic Syrian food?” I stopped for a second. What the hell exactly is Syrian food? I still don’t know for sure, but I imagine it must involve slow cooked tagines of animal parts served in a spicy sauce. Time to google. Yep, we have seven Syrian restaurants in San Francisco. We never got to try one to see how authentic they were, but even so you can still find any kind of food you want here. We of course have the fresh seafood down at the wharf. House of Prime Rib offers up some wonderous slabs of beef, but those are things you expect to find. The Italian food in North Beach is still great and has moved outside of North Beach to possibly permeate the city. Steak houses are a dime a dozen around here. Where you have to go to find some odder, uncommon foods is the local neighborhoods. Want a little tongue with your burrito? Head to the Mission. Chinese food that the squeamish don’t want to ask what’s in the broth of the soup. Head to Chinatown. Middle eastern and Indian food is everywhere from Yumma’s and Sunrise deli in the Sunset District to Saha Arabic Fusion and Shalimar downtown or Kan Zaman in the Haight. We even have a pizza place that rumor has it, imports its water from New York and brought it’s pizza oven from there as well.
In the picture that goes along with this article is one I took that yesterday at a local grocery store in the Sunset District. This is what I expect to see in a grocery store in the Mission District, not the Sunset. As a matter of fact they had almost an entire aisle dedicated to Hispanic ingredients right down to the candles with Jesus and Saint Mary on them.
I can get most countries cuisines without even leaving the Sunset district, although German and French food is getting harder to find, but there’s always Ethiopian food ready at New Eritrea on Irving Street. We have three Hawaiian restaurants within 5 minutes of my house serving up a plate lunch just like the surfers in Hawaii feast on after a morning of surfing, yet not one of them is near the beach. We got food here and you gotta love it. Now I think I’ll run out for some Southern BBQ today.
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.