What’s up, San Fran?

Hello from San Francisco!  I’m here for the next 3 weeks, externing at a very cool startup called Zipongo.  The company and the city both have a great food culture, and I’m really looking forward to exploring it.  If Day 1 was any indication, it’s going to be an interesting month.

I landed in San Fran yesterday a little after 1pm.  By the time I got into the city, I was crazy hungry.  Traveling and time zones put me at about 5pm (eastern time) with only a banana and an orange in my system – I needed food and fast.  Unfortunately, I was facing an uphill battle.

The reason was thanks to a documentary I just watched, called Forks Over Knives.  FoK is all about food from animals (and how bad it is) and food from plants (and how wonderful it is).  It presents a ton of evidence that all animal products (fish, eggs, and yogurt included) are slow poisons to the human body, directly translating to cancer and heart disease.  In fact, I found it all so convincing that I decided to drop them from my diet completely.

That left me combing the streets of San Francisco like a madman yesterday afternoon, praying to find something vegan.

I eventually stumbled on was a cool lunch spot just off of Union Square called The Grove.  I walked up to the counter salivating over the sandwiches I saw people eating.  Unfortunately, they were all off limits to me, and I ended up with the vegetarian chili… hold the cheese… hold the sour cream.  Dammit.

Was it tasty?  Yeah it really was.  Was it filling?  Not really.  I needed about 5 times the amount served to quell my monster appetite.  Why did I have to watch that movie this week?!

But things turned around: walking to the hotel, it became clear that I was headed straight to the heart of Chinatown.  I forgot completely about my stomach while I explored the neighborhood, wandered through the Italian district, and ended up at the bay by sunset.

Scenes from Day 1

By the time I made it back home, I was ready for dinner.  Veggie soup, again.  This time, though, it was probably of the best bowl of pho I’ve ever had.  And as I’ve learned in NY, the Vietnamese truly understand the proper size of a soup bowl.

Unbelievable soup in a completely empty restaurant.

As for my diet, late last night I came across this great critique of the documentary, which paints a more accurate picture of the research that led to the film’s conclusion (animals = poison).  It’s not that the doc was garbage, it’s just that it oversimplified to make its point, relying on black and white generalizations to describe the effects of complex processes.

In other words, look’s like meat’s back on the menu, boys!  

In conclusion, I recommend 1) watching Forks Over Knives, 2) reading the critique of the movie on rawfoodsos.com (and other analyses on the China Study and other examples from the movie), 3) staying tuned to eating goodly… this is going to be a fun month.

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The Bourgeois Mango

Behold the Manila Mango! At $2 a pop and with edible flesh the size of a cell phone, these little babies are definitely high-end.  After all, that “stringless, creamy-sweet flesh” just don’t come cheap.

deal.

The thing is, it actually does.  The picture above was taken at the Whole Foods on Houston.  Walk a half a mile south, though, and you can find the same exact mango (right down to the distributor and product number) for a third of the price.  Magic?  No – Chinatown.

Continue reading

My Failed Experiment: Partridge in a Pear Treacle

Two weeks ago – the same day I ate dried bugs – I stumbled upon another of Chinatown’s grotesque oddities: fresh partridge.  (Fresh, of course, meaning dead and for sale.)  I’d never seen partridge eaten before, and I’d certainly never thought of having one myself.  But with Christmas around the corner, the thought of turning the birds into a meal was inescapably appealing.  Obviously it would have be served in a pear *something*, but what would that *something* be?  Partridge in a Pear Demiglaze?  Partridge in a Pear Tortilla?  After much googling, the answer became clear: Partridge in a Pear Treacle.

Treacle, I learned, is basically British molasses. All I’d have to do is prepare a treacle/pear sauce and douse the birds in it before roasting.  Simple.

Or so I thought.  Continue reading

Adventures in Chinatown: Cicada Soup

china town market

Clockwise from top left: sea cucumbers, kabochas, dragon fruit, and turtles. All within about 10 square feet.

I like to think that the seeds of my eating enlightenment were planted in Italy, where meals seemed almost religious.  They then spent the long, cold winter of college life deep underground, and began to germinate only after mom’s home cooking brought the warmth of spring.  If that’s the case, my Chinatown summer is what made everything bloom.

It only took one trip to Chinatown to forever change how I perceive food.  At every turn was another completely alien vegetable, another dead animal I’d never seen before.  I couldn’t read any of the signs, I couldn’t communicate with any of the people, and I couldn’t have been any more delighted. It’s when I first really felt that crazy bubbling-over surge of discovery.  I’ve been hooked ever since.

$2 an ounce? That's a steal.

Today, as always, being in Chinatown was like seeing it for the first time.  I walked the streets and browsed the markets, taking in all the weird stuff like a little kid staring at a giant caterpillar.  In fact, what I ended up purchasing wasn’t that far off: dried cicadas.  I’ll say that again: dried cicadas.  An ounce of them.  The moment I saw them I knew I had no choice.  “Besides”, I thought, “you probably can’t even taste them after a couple splashes of soy sauce.”  But when I asked the woman at the counter how to prepare the insects, her answer scared me straight: “Just cook with water.  That’s it.”  Huh?  No ginger?  No veggies?  “Just water, that’s it.   Cook for an hour.”  And that’s how I found out what was for dinner.   Continue reading

Breakfast in Chinatown

Mei. Li. Wah.

 

If this were a regular Thursday, I’d be writing this post from the Starbucks on the corner.  I would have weaseled my way into a little table by the window – near an outlet if I was particularly lucky – and all around me would be the frantic clamor of distracted New Yorkers scrambling for their fix.

But today’s not a regular Thursday.  And I’m in Chinatown.   Continue reading