Chances are you live a stone’s throw away from a Thai restaurant in your neighborhood, and you’ve got a go-to local favorite for pad thai. These days I often find myself traveling north of Berkeley, where there’s quite a few wonderful Thai eateries clustered in Albany, El Cerrito and San Pablo locales.
Andrew is from Louisville, Kentucky. He lives in San Francisco, plays music, works with kids, and writes for a variety of magazines and newspapers, including The Oakland Tribune, The Contra Costa County Times, Wine Enthusiast, The Onion, and Thrasher. Pro: hush puppies, green garlic, caramel ice cream, Japanese sweet potatoes, smelts, Larb Ped, beer, wine, cocktails, and assorted dumplings; con: milk, chips, and candy.
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I’m not interested in reporting on what in the food-verse Panorama has seen fit to report — though that would be an suitably Internet-y concern. Anyone wanting to know the gritty and succulent details of the food section can just buy the newspaper, or read one of dozens of summaries floating around. What I am actually interested in is how Panorama’s food pages might potentially epitomize a new ideal for the framing of food stories, recipes, and related visual content in print, and how that could possibly trickle down to the under-funded and under-valued realm of real daily newspapers.
The free samples — cheese cubes with toothpicks, tiny paper cups of soup, chips with dips, and so forth — make shopping for groceries a lot more fun than trolling malls for mattresses, knee braces, and power tools. You know this because — at least from time to time — you’ve done it too.
In San Francisco, however, Whole Foods is by far the best destination for handouts. At least that’s what I once thought.
Exempting those that kill you or make you crazy for six hours, wild mushrooms can, as most readers are very aware, be extremely delicious. Chanterelles are buttery and subtle; fresh porcini are robust and nutty, excellent roasted, or in salads with Parmigiano-Reggiano shavings and pine nuts; lion’s mane mushrooms are furry and high-strung, delicate, with a mild, almost seafood-like taste — especially nice folded into an omelette. The possibilities are nearly limitless, and most dedicated eaters and chefs prize their special qualities and bountiful culinary applications.
Sometimes, the homiest dishes — foods without pretense or artifice — are most revealing about the cultures from which they spring, and inspire the most debate amongst their devotees. However, from countless regional Mexican renditions — like white sauces in Sinaloa and Guadalajara’s polenta-like cazuela cook-downs — to American adaptations that echo Tex-Mex migas, all chilaquiles aim to soothe — regardless of a particular variation’s provenance and claims to authenticity.
Enter the turducken. Despite its cultish presence in the cozy Thanksgiving lexicon, the turducken is aggressively weird, an unnatural, misshapen, stitched-up Frankenstein-like thing — something that perhaps resembled a “sneetch” in life — prior to being butchered and baked.
Valencia is a humming thoroughfare teeming with restaurants, bars, vintage stores, galleries, furniture vendors, shops hawking expensive curiosities, construction projects, pigeons, and one small, loud street performer with a bright blue guitar. I don’t know what the street was like in the 90s, but it’s changed remarkably since I arrived just seven years ago. The blocks have built up, becoming denser. Spaces have changed hands, but fewer proprietors without public relations teams still hold court over the bike lanes, shimmering cars, and busy pedestrian paths. Notably, many restaurants have closed, and many new ones have taken their place. The climate brims with potential, yet it’s simultaneously harsh: with so many eating options tangling in such close proximity, survivors must stake out unique corners of the market — or place a premium on a convenience they provide.
I first became really curious about Lao food nearly two years ago, after a tasty meal at Champa Garden, the somewhat venerable Lao restaurant on 8th Avenue east of Lake Merritt in San Antonio–one of the most diverse neighborhoods in the Bay Area, home to close-knit populations of African-Americans, Latinos, and Asians in almost equal proportions. I tried to draw distinctions between its dominant flavors and those most prevalent in the more familiar cuisines of its Southeast Asian neighbors. Like Thai, Lao thrives on interplay between sour and spicy, crunchy and soft, and both cooked and raw ingredients. The effect however is different.
Food is wholesome and sustaining, but my relationship with it at the time kept it framed in an unhealthy light. Food was something that had once made me very happy. I was tired of surrendering it to an unpleasant fantasy realm, where my brain waged war against my body, and limited what it could enjoy. That pissed me off as much as anything about my predicament, and I finally decided to do something about it — with some counseling, a gym membership, and plenty of tacos. I wanted to spend my life eating, and in time, maybe make a living doing so.
The jerky salesman was the real deal, I thought, a Kentucky classic, an intrepid street food hustler in a lean and largely cart-less land. I wanted to meet him again, to interview him perhaps, to most importantly get my hands on some more of his delicious wares.
Everything on television is deliberately orchestrated, of course, but many of the common signifiers of male chefness — the cursing, the drinking, the fighting, the screaming, the preoccupation with large pieces of meat — whether expressed on camera, in memoirs, or reputation via third-person anecdotes — endow a traditionally feminine role with coarse, conventionally masculine trappings. Producers want men to feel safe watching their shows.
Every Tuesday morning, the class visits the SF Ferry Building. We teachers gently prod our shifty little charges into the loose winding semblance of a line and lead them, meandering along the sidewalks, dashing through crosswalks.
Office workers are captive diners. Since people will pay more for convenient bad food in the middle of the day, lunch spots charged with feeding the downtown drones know their registers will ring regardless of how good their wares are. For every self-described foodie frantically mining for diamonds in the roughest of roughs, there are a dozen people who, at least for an hour or so, don’t care.
Let’s say you’re at a party, hovering over a gooey white puck of Mt. Tam, canape-concerned, ignoring the guests swirling around you, when a stranger sidles over and sizes you up. “Hey,” he says, a wide, knowing grin spreading across his face as he gestures at the cheese-covered knife you’re determinedly sliding across a good cracker. “You’re a real foodie, aren’t you?” “No, I’m just hungry,” you say, wincing — because you hate that word.