Monday, December 28, 2009

Winter in Downtown Oakland

I have a great love of city streets. A good day for me is a day of wandering, with food and drink, and whatever else comes my way. Or that's what i keep telling myself. Here's a look at an afternoon in Downtown Oakland.
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Downtown Oakland is no crown jewel of American city centers. On a recent wander, I was struck by all the unused space. On a weekend, you'd think the bomb had been dropped.
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All this wasted space. Office workers are at home in the depressing suburbs, and maybe their cars have only moved to one of the many mega stores and their parking lots. With the work week finished, there's absolutely nothing happening downtown.
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There's very little going on, but there's always more than enough parking.
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I'm of two minds about this. One: it's depressing that such a large area of town is a deserted concrete wasteland. But: I also do kind of enjoy the desolate and crumbling city. These depressing scenes can be really fascinating.
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These scenes say as much as or more than any article in a newspaper about all the fashionable parts of town. But in the end, it can all be a little soul sucking. When the days are short and cold, and there's nothing going on, it can fill me with immense sadness.
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Monday, December 21, 2009

A Death in the Family (Warning: Graphic Images)

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Friday afternoon when it was time to put the chickens away, all three of them were missing. It was about an hour until dark and we were clueless. We figured that they had gotten spooked and all gone up as high as possible. Eventually we found Pepper way up in a tree and got her down and into the coop. We searched all over and in the neighbor's yard but couldn't find Naked Neck or Big Mama. Not good. With the light fading we called off our search and decided to look for them in the morning.

When morning came around Naked Neck had returned and was wandering around the back yard like her normal skittish self. Big Mama was missing. That is, until I found her body, or what was left of it near the edge our lot. A wild animal, likely a raccoon, had helped itself to our chicken's flesh.
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A couple months ago when Big Mama started to molt, she stopped laying. It was at this time that I jokingly suggested using her for soup. One of my roommates would have none of it so I dropped it.
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This represented a problem for me though. Many animals are abused to provide us with meat, milk and eggs. Having our own chickens has meant that we get to enjoy their eggs, and in return we give them a pretty good life. The depressing alternative is usually to live in very cramped quarters, maybe have their beaks removed, and be pumped full of drugs so they provide the materials for our omelets and eggnog. But what's the right thing to do when they stop producing? A petting zoo isn't really the most sensible solution. In this case something else took care of the problem.

And so the raccoons tore Big Mama apart and we heard nothing from inside the house. I could have given her a better death, and I might have used all the parts. Instead I buried the gutted and headless carcass next to the catnip.
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Maybe the chickens were spooked into the trees and were hoping to wait out the danger until the morning. Or maybe they just decided to call it a night early and fly up into the tree for no particular reason. If so, it was a deadly mistake.

I'm sorry Big Mama, you didn't deserve this.
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Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Chilaquiles at Cafe Siena

No trip home to Eugene Oregon would be complete without a trip to Cafe Siena. Cafe Siena is an excellent little cafe next to the University of Oregon campus that serves up Mexican inspired breakfast as well as crepes and Northwest inspired fare.

As much as I like Cafe Siena, there's really only one thing that keeps me coming back: The chilaquiles.
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Anyone familiar with Mexican chilaquiles or even their very similar Tex Mex cousin knows the basis for the dish is leftover tortillas. Well, these chilaquiles are a very unusual masa casserole, baked all together and served up like you might serve lasagna. As unorthodox as it is, it's a rich delicious meal great after a night of drinking, and still great after a night of not drinking. Either way, a rich and spicy plate served up with a cup of coffee is one of my very favorite breakfasts in the world

Unique take on the classic dish, or simply a less common style? Maybe someone out there knows, or maybe I just need to do some more research.
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I'm already looking forward to my next trip home.

Cafe Siena
853 East 13th Avenue
Eugene, OR 97401-3706
(541) 344-0300

Sunday, December 6, 2009

My Phad Thai

For many, Phad Thai is the first dish that comes to mind when Thai food is mentioned. It took me some time to actually eat any when I moved to the kingdom. Eventually though, I knew exactly how I liked it and where to get it. It was a taken for granted meal and nothing more. Sure, I loved it, but I also love drinking water. Phad Thai was and is a simple street dish that you would never really bother making in your own home. That is if you lived in Thailand. Twenty, twenty-five, or thirty baht gets you a lovely plate of noodles and you're happy. End of story.

Trouble is, on occasion, I crave a plate of these lovely noodles in America and am left perplexed. Much like Thai coffee, many recipes for Phad Thai abound, and there are a lot of crap recipes. The are many reasons for this: ignorance, access to ingredients, or even pickiness.

Now I was going to write a long(er) diatribe about the state of American Phad Thai, but Chez Pim already did so I don't have to. Read her post, follow her recipe, and if you've got another minute or so to burn, you could aways come back here to read my ranting and look at my pretty pics. I like Chez Pim's recipe and description maybe only because she seems to approach her cooking of this dish like I do many things. The ingredients are a bit flexible, the rules not concrete, and there are some great rather crazed descriptions. Familiarity and intuition are key.

If I were to take a guess, the two most important missing ingredients usually missing from Phad Thai in America are tamarind and dried shrimp.
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The tamarind gives that special tartness that is often lacking here, and is often replaced by a terrible sweetness. Even worse, another one of the key ingredients, dried shrimp, are often left out.
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Hi little guys! These things are very salty and very necessary to balance you flavors. While these are not the only ingredients, they seem to often be missing in many thai restaurants.
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My first attempt was a tad embarrassing. Too many noodles, not quite enough flavor. It was here that I once again reminisced about one dish street stalls. Street stall that serve one thing and one thing only are my favorite as they do one thing and must do it well or risk poor sales. Technique is key, so practice makes perfect. My subsequent attempt was better still.

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The flavors were all there, but maybe a tad undercooked. Getting better.

The following day I made it again and frankly was happy with the result. Sure I forgot the bean sprouts and pickled turnip but I'm working on it.
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If you're still reading perhaps you're looking for a nugget of advice so here you are: My advice to you is to kill yourself. but if you can bear the pain of life just a bit longer, perfect your phad thai technique, then leave behind a beautiful corpse. If you believe in an afterlife congratulations, you've earned your way in for spreading joy and happiness with your noodles. If you are sensible, you've simply made your vessel all the more delicious for the worms. Happy cooking folks.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Healthcare For All

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The role of organized religion in American society is a touchy subject when you are supposed to have a separation of church and state. Unfortunately things are not always so cut and dry and religion does enter politics rather frequently. Last November some of our good(?) state's churches stepped in and did their part to help keep other citizens from marrying in California. Imagine: people so put off by other peoples' lives and loves that they fought to keep them from being recognized by the state and enjoying the same rights as themselves.

And now we have health care. I walked by The First Congregational Church of Oakland and stopped dead in my tracks. Maybe I've cynically come to expect the opposite but here was a church with a plain and simple message of inclusion that I'm stupefied isn't more commonly displayed. At present an overwhelming majority of Americans identify themselves as Christian. To see America, the richest and most powerful "Christian" nation fighting over whether all of her citizens should have equal, and yes universal health care seems to suggest many of our Christians still have a thing or two to learn about living a Christ like life.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Another Thanksgiving

This year's thanksgiving plate
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looked almost exactly like last year's. Spooky.

I might have had very little of interest to report this year if it hadn't been for a couple of guests. Two Taiwanese women came along and brought with them a taste of home. One of them brought a fried chicken dish that was described to me as a street snack, and the other brought black jelly. The name escapes me but it was almost exactly the same as Chao Kuay from Thailand. Blogged here and here.
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I can speak from experience when I say that Thanksgiving becomes irrelevant without the friends, family, and food of our common history and geography. Overseas, the big day has at times been spent over a special meal, but never with turkey and stuffing. I don't really much care for it out of its context. But this isn't to say I am a fundamentalist when it comes to this holiday. As America is a nation of immigrants, our population continues to diversify, so do our traditions. While there was certainly the turkey and stuffing this year, many families often have other unique items from their respective family histories. I've never met another person who enjoys homemade Challah at the table on Thanksgiving. Our guests' contributions were in the spirit of our ever evolving cultural tradition.

The black jelly looks rather nice with my plate of wonderful homemade desserts. That's apple pie, cranberry cheesecake, cranberry upside down cake, and pumpkin pie by the way.
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While I'm unlikely to try my hand at this black jelly next year, if the same guests are present, I just might look forward to it.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Cheeseboard Pizza. It's Pizza Right?

I seem to have gotten a free lunch yesterday at the Cheeseboard, which was excellent as always. For me, The Cheeseboard might be an intolerable experience if the food wasn't so damn good. I'm surprised I've never written about this place before. The Cheeseboard is a collective that makes one kind of pizza each day and only one kind. This daily pizza has unorthodox toppings such as caramelized onions, Meyer lemon rind, or even corn, which was on today's fresh corn, chile passilla, onion, feta and mozzarella cheese, garlic olive oil, key lime, and cilantro pizza. Oh and the crust is sourdough too. This just might be the best pizza in the area, but to some, this is a point of contention.

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It is pizza, right? Who cares, and to hell with anyone who says otherwise.

My arm in a sling, loud and annoying music in the background, and an obnoxious crowd could not undo my rather good mood. It was that good. The company helped too.

Thanks Robyn and Dave. I owe you one.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Green Papaya Deli

Now that I have some extra time at home, I have the chance to play catch up on a few posts.

I now have a favorite restaurant in the Bay Area, and so do you! Over a month ago I finally ventured to the Green Papaya Deli, a Lao restaurant in Oakland, and was blown away by their laap pa, or fish salad. It was fresh, spicy, and herby, just like one would expect. Paired with some sticky rice and I was in heaven.

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This was all fine and good, but I would need to come back with reinforcements...

For my next visit I came back with a friend and long term resident of SE Asia whose knowledge of the food far surpasses mine.

Digging into the menu my companion was excited and hopeful about what he saw. For the most part though, we kept it pretty safe and simple. We started with a papaya salad.

It was what we would hope from a papaya salad. It wasn't that it blew us away, it was just a very competent mix of flavors. It was fresh, well balanced and boy was it spicy. We figured if an establishment can't do this right, all else is lost. My companion likes his with the addition of dried shrimp, so I didn't stand in his way.
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We also ordered a laap gai, or chicken "salad". Once again, a very good laap without anything missing. It may sound funny, but whenever I order food like this around here, I've come to expect disappointment. Laap isn't unusual, but unfortunately one that really bursts with flavor and spices like this is.
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And finally, the highlight for the both of us, soup nor mai. A bamboo shoot stew common in Isaan and Laos. How do I explain this one? Well for one, the bamboo shoots were fresh, not canned. It was a seemingly simple and comforting stew that also packed a punch. A bite with sticky rice was just about perfect.
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All of these dishes were fresh, tasty, and spicy. We were both in a bit of delightful pain. One of our servers, the daughter of the woman making our food, told us she was impressed with our ability to eat so much spicy food. We thanked her for the wonderful food a couple of times. Getting people to believe that you do in fact want your food spicy can be a challenge. All through the meal we were making plans for out next visit. My dining companion was there again the very next night. It was that good.


Green Papaya Deli
207 International Blvd
Oakland, CA 94606
(510) 836-5337

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Break Time

Less than 24 hours after participating in Critical Mass in San Francisco, where thousands of bicycles took to streets to celebrate this simple, healthy alternative mode of transportation, I met a car door head on in north Oakland. I flew through the air and came in for a landing directly upon my shoulder. Less than a day after showing my support for greater bicycle awareness and safety, I was injured on a major thoroughfare where no bike lane is present. I didn't break any laws, but I did fracture my clavicle.

I don't want to spend a long time talking about this, but while I was sobbing on the sidewalk over my bicycle, broken camera, and unresponsive body, I also had to make sure not to be taken into an ambulance, the price of which was quoted to be at least two grand. I was worried about how I was going to pay for this, not for my own well being.

But I'm okay. I need a little time off work as I can hardly use my left arm, which unfortunately for me, is my dominant one. But it could have been worse. Had a car been behind me after my short, graceless flight, I might have been run over and possibly killed. I don't believe in supernatural deities, karma, or fate, but I walked away from an accident that might have killed me under different circumstances. I certainly do believe in luck

Unfortunately, my camera appears to be toast, so blogging might be slow for the forseeable future. Hope to have some good news for you soon.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Atomic Fireball

Today I came into the possession of an Atomic Fireball. By my reckoning, it is the first one I've had in fifteen years or more.
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When I was a kid, I used to buy Atomic Fireballs at the Dairy Mart near my house for maybe five cents each. I remember them filling a cheek and maybe even burning a little bit. This one seemed smaller, and less atomic. There was no defect though. I think the problem is that I'm all grown up now.

For More information on Atomic Fireballs, go here.

Happy Halloween folks.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Writers Gush, Silent Blog

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If there is one thing that is certain, there's a lot to be eaten in America. Unfortunately, the sensory, sociological, and economic issues involved in documenting this have overwhelmed me. I shoot photos everyday and have general ideas of posts, but these are big issues and I get bogged down. There are tons of blogs and many of these just review restaurants and show us what they ate for dinner. While there's a certain amount of hedonism that goes along with food blogs, it's nice to imagine something deeper. Maybe this post is owing to a case of seasonal affective disorder, but in my current frame of mind a blog about living the good life of good food and drink seems less and less palatable.

A note about the above photo:

This weekend, after eating at the single best Taco Truck in Oakland, a man and woman got into a serious altercation. The woman was drunk, and maybe also high on crack. She looked like she could have been his mother, although I imagine that they were of similar age and once lovers. She was screaming and crying about needing help and he was screaming back to quit following him around. My dining partner had gone to wait in a long line for a horchata while I nervously fingered the dials on my camera. I snapped the leftovers and crumbs fit for the pigeons at my feet. They pecked for a moment and then gave up choosing instead my neighbor's offer of leftover tostada pieces.

The previous times i have been to this establishment, there was a man selling his possession on a blanket. Another man has at times offered to wash my bike. He was a different man than the schizophrenic who camps out behind the truck and has conversations with aliens or the Virgen de Guadalupe. No, this time it was a drunk, drug addict and her once lover having a melt down in the middle of the seating area surrounded by Latino families. Luckily, it didn't come to blows, only tantrums.

Now, I could ignore this, and unfortunately I am often forced to. But behind every pretty photo there's a story, in plain view or hidden, and unfortunately, these stories are often simply omitted.

Monday, October 12, 2009

October 12th, 2009

I thought I'd share with you a collection of photos taken today at the Lake Merritt Gardens in Oakland, and a couple of area restaurants. While I normally stick to food on this blog, I do in fact take pictures of lots of other stuff. Posts about the food are forthcoming, but for now, a simple slidehow. Enjoy.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Apple Season

Apples are in season and as most other Americans we are enjoying the hell out of them. The other morning I spied this apple in our house fruit bowl.
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You know, this all seems very familiar. This apple was much like the others except that it didn't come from a nearby California farm, but some distant Chilean orchard.
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While I tend to be a tad outspoken about food and some people think I'm off the deep-end, I think we can all agree that something is awry here. To some of us the very idea of a Chilean apple in California is ridiculous, but I imagine we can all agree that one of these months old apples from the southern hemisphere sitting next to fresh California apple is preposterous.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Koryo Ja Jang

Recently, for the first time in maybe five years, I ate jajjang myeon. Jajjang is a black bean sauce covered noodle dish served in South Korea and is referred to as "Chinese food" much like Sweet and Sour Chicken is referred to as Chinese food in America. I hit up Koryo Ja Jang on the corner of 43rd and Telegraph where a slew of other Korean joints reside.

The proprietor seemed surprised by my rejection of a menu and I was floored by what was put in front of me.
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I felt like I was back in Mangmi-dong, my old 'hood in Busan. While most Korean food often isn't the same (or good) as back in the Republic, I'm sometimes really impressed by how respectable some Korean dishes are here in America. Take note Thai restaurateurs! Mind you, I don't really love this dish, but everything was just how it should have been. Strangely neon pickled radish, raw onions, a fermented black bean sauce for dipping and kimchi. I washed it all down with wonderful barley tea. While jajjang is not huge on flavor and will taste the same whether you are at the peak of health or suffering from a massive head cold, the deliciously chewy wheat noodles provide a lot of comfort value.

It's really quite amazing how tastes and smells can really take you to another place and awaken long forgotten feelings or memories. This meal briefly made me lose all track of where I was. You can imagine my severe disappointment upon stepping out onto the austere telegraph road to make the slow walk home.

Koryo Ja Jang
4390 Telegraph Ave
Oakland, CA 94609
(510) 652-3900

Friday, September 25, 2009

Huge Tomato, Caprese Salad

Recent discussions with housemates about what to buy, what to eat and why is best explained with a simple dish and a few pictures.
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A tomato that fills your hand and is soft to the touch is exploding with juice and flavor. This and a bunch of basil were procured at the farmers market for under three dollars. A couple more dollars and fresh mozzarella was added to the mix. You can probably see where this is going. Nice olive oil, balsamic, salt and pepper rounds out this perfect salad. There's nothing at all complicated about this. It's just a few fresh ingredients.
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This fed two of us and did so quite well. I know no greater argument for eating what's fresh, local, and in season better than this particular meal. Sure, in America you can get inferior mealy tomatoes year round and make some version of this whenever the hell you like. But remember, there are many other wonderful fruits and vegetables that are at their best at entirely different times of the year. If you live in California or another place with such an agreeable climate, that produce might be growing in your own backyard, down the road, or in one of the nearby agricultural areas of the state that has not yet been turned into depressing suburbs.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Chicken Snack

I found a pretty caterpillar on my table after a meal. It was actually rather stunning.
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It crawled near me and then onto my arm.
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I carried her outside and gave her to one of my chickens.
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Maybe this was not what you were expecting. But it's important to remember: chickens gotta eat too!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Backyard Figs

I want to tell you about my figs. Actually, first I want to tell you about my house. We'll get to the figs.

The house where I live is about a hundred years old. Old by some people's standards, not so much by others. Whether it's true or not, we've been told from someone or another, that the first people to live in our house after its completion was an Italian family. One very important thing that they did upon moving in was to plant a couple of fig trees. A couple of very old fig trees share the backyard with a loquat tree, walnut tree, and a redwood. Currently, the fig trees are heavy with fruit. Even with the currently hot weather, the figs ripen only sporadically, so when I spy a ripening fig, I get excited.

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Sometimes I check back over the course of a week as a fig gets to its point of bursting. It's hard to wait as it might get pecked by a bird, one of my roommates might see it, or I might simply forget about it and it will pass. But when the stars align, I just might get the perfect fig.

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As a kid who grew up eating Fig Newtons, I really had no idea how phenomenal figs really were until much later in life. I'm currently in the process of making up for that.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Bacon Latte or The Decline and Fall of Western Civilization

Recently some friends were in town and I thought I'd take them on a bit of a Bay Area coffee tour. Our exploits took us from Blue Bottle, to Philz, and finally to the Pirate Cat Radio Cafe.
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At the Pirate Cat Radio Cafe we imbibed in a bacon infused latte and a vegan bacon doughnut.
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Where to begin? The Pirate Cat Radio Cafe is an unlicensed community radio station that in the last year has opened a cafe. It is a vegan cafe, save for the infamous latte. Strange. I asked the barrista about this apparent contradiction who didn't see it as strange at all and declared the bacon latte as "pretty great." I ordered a donut to accompany the latte and only afterwards learned that it was vegan. Not that I'm against anything vegan, but really, a vegan donut is one of the more ridiculous things I've heard of. It immediately conjured up the name of the lead singer of the Dead Kennedy's, Jello Biafra. He chose his stage name because of the contradiction it represented: mass produced and nutritionally poor food, and mass starvation. And this is sort of how I feel about vegan doughnuts. Veganism is often a political and moral stance, but eating something so widely accepted as empty calories and vegan seems like a glaring contradiction.

But how was the latte you ask? Well it did give that lovely sweet salty flavor. Unfortunately, whether because we all knew what we were drinking, how rich it was, or it being the third coffee of the morning, it didn't exactly blow any of our socks off. After the first few sips my mouth had an unmistakable aftertaste of bacon. Maybe with these words, some of you are already out the door and on the way to your very first bacon latte. Regardless, I recommend a visit to to Pirate Cat as it's a great little cafe.
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Listen:

Everyone and their mother blogs about food and funny food the world over. It didn't used to be so, but now it's not unusual to see people stepping foot in a place for a brief period, eating something funny, and writing about it for shits and giggles. This has shown up all over the blogosphere, and even in some relatively well respected newspapers. We've got worms and grasshoppers in Thailand, Spiders is Cambodia, and god forbid, french fry coated hot dogs in Korea. The list goes on and on. People have talked it to death, but it is particularly tiring to see outsiders coming in and using the sport of adventure eating as a window into local cuisine and culture. However, I can't help but think that the Bacon Latte does in fact say something about America and maybe food blogging as a sport: it's bloated and increasingly irrelevant.

Pirate Cat Radio Cafe
2781 21st St
(415) 341-1199
www.piratecatradio.com

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Taco Redemption

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After the previous post I feel the need to remind you the reader and myself of what is possible. Perhaps I was a little too soft on Baja Fresh. Make no mistake: It was like witnessing Pat Boone's rendition of "Tootie Frootie." If you are huffing gas, or simply unaware that this song was being butchered, you just might have thought to yourself, "Wow! This cat really has it!"

A quick trip down memory lane will remind you of my obsession with tacos. I've written a couple gushing posts about Tacos Sinaloa here and here, and was present for a less than stellar visit to their seafood truck on the premises here. Initially I was dismissive of the Tacos Sinaloa seafood truck. I had only visited once and was underwhelmed by a rather old tasting tortilla and limp tasting fish in their fish taco. Well, that was then.

My last visit found me feeling forgiving and looking for something different. I took a risk and ordered a ceviche tostada. Believe me, the last thing you want to ingest is dodgy ceviche. Ceviche is raw fish "cooked" in lime juice. I've purchased excellent ceviche on the pacific coast of Mexico but never in Oakland. While the Oakland version couldn't match the Mexican one, it was a great surprise out of the back of a truck.
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Next I got a couple of the fish tacos. They were excellent. The fish freshly fried, the tortillas fresh this time and getting that great flavor and spice that only tacos cooked on a hot and busy comal can provide.
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Meals like this should convince any sane citizen to stay away from the chains and look for your food from people who know what they are doing. For maybe the last time (maybe) get your ass to tacos Sinaloa. You'll be glad you did.

Tacos Sinaloa (For Seafood, the truck in the back)
2138 International Blvd
Oakland, CA 94606
(510) 535-1206

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Corporate Fast Food

After the other day's post, I thought back to a few months ago when I had a few hours to kill in downtown San Diego. Soon after realizing that there was not in fact anything worth eating, I took it upon myself to make it an exercise in eating crappy food. What better way to remind myself of the food I like to eat than abusing my body and good taste with trip to a typical American fast food establishment? I chose Baja Fresh, a chain I had not in fact ever been to. It seemed like a nicer version of Taco Bell. Bear with me here folks, this just isn't how I normally eat.

I decided upon an unholy trifecta of seafood tacos. One of grilled fish, another fried, and one of shrimp.

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Although not really the same thing, I started thinking about Morgan Spurlock's adventures from Super Size Me. Yes, he did throw up out of his car window after a super sized meal, but for the most part he characterized fast food food as making him feel pretty good, if only when he was eating it. It was very easy to eat even if it did do horrible things to his body. And this is mostly how I felt about my meal. I took a bite thinking that I would be biting into a dog's breakfast, triggering a sharp gag reflex leaving me soiled for an impending plane ride next to some other fat disgusting slob for five hundred miles. No dice. I was confused. Not because I hated it, but because it was kind of bland. Yeah, I could taste the fish, the shrimp, and the general idea of the thing, but there was not a lot else. The underlying flavor can only be described as "yummy" or some other stupid word that your tongue might use while under the influence of something stupid inducing. I just wanted to take more bites, searching for the flavor, searching for that feeling of immediacy, and the sense of experience of eating a mix of flavors. It wasn't bad, but it was certainly bland.

People wouldn't eat this stuff if it didn't taste kind of good. They eat it and it's mostly inoffensive. It doesn't titillate nor does it really offend. After my meal I was reminded that eating like this for too many meals, you can in fact lose your taste for other food. If all food just tastes inoffensive and "yummy", it's harder to want to eat the better and at times healthier stuff. And so I was left wondering about what this means for the average eater. Is this kind of food synonymous with the American diet? Fattening, Vaguely ethnic, and bland?

Monday, September 7, 2009

A Simple Quesadilla

What with all the posts about festivals and street food regulations, I wanted to post something simple. It's easy to lose track of the mundane, which is what we all usually eat on a day to day basis. Remember: mundane in one place is something else entirely in another geographical location. Take pride in what you have where you are, and learn what you can elsewhere.

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Here's a simple quesadilla in my dining room. While many food blogs offer complicated recipes to impress friends and enemies, it's important to keep it simple sometimes. While this quesadilla won't win any awards, it's easy and delicious. Like this: Heat pan, apply tortilla, place grated cheese inside, remove from heat, and place avocado and picante. Chase with beer and convince yourself you've just eaten in a fancy restaurant. The money you've saved might help pay those insurance premiums, or even your monthly bill to the hospital you owe your entire life savings and or your child's college fund.

I usually make my own, but the tortillas are made nearby, the cheese is not shipped in from across the country, the avocado is from the state, and the best picante always comes from Mexico. Here we have something I've always eaten as a quick snack or part of a meal. At home I take it for granted, while far away I'd almost kill for it.
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Sometimes it's tough to wrap one's head around what exactly it is that Americans eat. The above is just one example This post may be painfully obvious in its observations but I dare you to try and sit down and in fifty words or less, describe what it is that Americans eat. Your comments are certainly appreciated.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Oakland's Eat Real Festival

This past weekend was Oakland's Eat Real Festival. The Eat Real Festival was in fact the main event for which the San Francisco Street Food Festival was only a sister event. Needless to say, I was nervous.

Friday night, with nobody to hang out with, and nothing better to do, I went for the preliminary event, which was only beer and some ice cream. I love beer. Making it, drinking it, thinking about it. After arriving at Jack London square I was able to do one of these things.
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If the above photo isn't obvious, this was some of the most expensive beer I have ever seen and not sampled. Yes, seven bucks would have gotten me eight ounces, or half a pint of beer. I certainly wasn't going to pony up fourteen bucks for a pint! The idea of enjoying a simple pint of beer seemed ridiculous as it did insulting. To make matters worse, some of the beers on offer were easily available in nearby stores for normal human prices. A fair number of people were drinking so I left wondering: who are these people? Doctors? Lawyers? Lottery winners? Health Insurance CEOs?

I swung by my local liquor store on the way home to pick up a couple of California beers for the grand total of three fifty.
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I poured a beer, and told my sorrows to my backyard chickens.

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A prior engagement meant I was out of town for Saturday and most of Sunday so I missed most of the rest of the festival. Figured it wasn't worth it anyway. Lucky for me, I was wrong and there was something to go back for. On Sunday afternoon I caught the tail end of the festival and was pleasantly surprised by what I saw. Many well attended stalls and food trucks were serving up a wide variety of fresh delicious food. Unlike the cluster-fuck that was the San Francisco faux street food festival, this event really seemed to have its act together.

I started with a cup of individually brewed coffee from Ritual Coffee Roasters, which may or may not be a cult.
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The coffee bicycle makes little sense to me as by the time you get your coffee, it has sloshed around and warmed up in the sun. But the bike sure is neat.
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I bought my coffee from a trailer where they slowly crank out nice coffee beverages. For three dollars, you too can enjoy this postmodern bourgeois bohemian ritual.
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A taco truck caught my eye. It was Seoul on Wheels. A twitter based Korean taco truck is all the rage in Los Angeles, so why not the Bay Area?
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The line was long but I was intrigued. A little patience and the news that they were all sold out of both tofu and chicken sent many people away. I asked the proprietress’s advice and she told me I had to try pork. It is the finest of all meats of course.
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The result? Unconvincing. Actually, it was worse than that. It managed neither to be reminiscent of either Mexican or Korean to be at all memorable. The tortilla was like dry cardboard, and the pork a little two sweet and not nearly spicy enough. I'd still give em another shot if the opportunity presented itself.

A few hundred feet away was the Yucatecan stand, Chaac Mool, where I just had to try their taco. With a simple prodding I also ended up with a tamal.
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While the taco wasn't exactly exploding with flavor, what there was worked together better than the Korean taco that didn't know where it was from or where it was going. I have little experience with Yucatecan food so am not qualified to offer you my take down of the taco or the very enjoyable tamal. So I'll stop here. It was purty though.

There were small pies, pupusas, barbecue and a variety of ice creams left to try but the wallet was getting lighter. A final snack had to be procured.

Maybe it was the cooler on the bicycle or maybe it was the flavors on offer but Cici caught my eye.
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Organic Salted Almont Gelato seemed like the perfect way to end my outing.

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Three dollars bought me a small cup to enjoy on the grass.
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In the end, I was pleased with this event even if I don't know what to make of it. A perusal of online sources suggests that people enjoyed what they saw and what they ate. The organizers mission statement was good and there was a good spread of things on offer. But once again, it was a mostly well-to-do crowd, in a gentrified part of town, and not really a chance for the masses to "eat real." As has been my concern for the last while, the comfortable class enjoyed their status food as they always do, while just up the road, people are eating something else. There's a gap and it's one that the organizers are aware of and trying to do something about. As illustrated at the San Francisco Festival, formerly illegal street vendors went legit and started serving a very different clientele next to other legit vendors serving up gourmet treats. At Eat Real it was s similar scene with seven dollar pints of beer and thimbles full of ice cream for several dollars. Excellent and maybe very worth it if you've got the money. The question remains: Can there be an intersection of people from all walks of life enjoying legal, good quality American street food?