Sunday, June 20, 2010

Pupusas at Alemany Farmers Market

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One of the first things on my San Francisco to-do-list was figuring out where to shop for produce. Not places to just look at beautiful produce like the Ferry Plaza, but places where real people actually can afford to buy produce, instead only a couple of trophy stone fruits.

We cycled down off the hill we live on, through the mission, under the highways, through a homeless encampment, and to Alemany Farmers Market. Upon arriving I was already declaring it the best Farmers Market I've ever been to in North America. There were many vendors, a large variety of produce, and many eager shoppers. Business time.

We bought three kinds of salad greens, broccoli greens, fresh onions, a huge bag of peaches, pounds of cherries, and I didn't get a single shot of it. My arms were full. Shopping was the goal and it was a great success.

However, when it was time to eat, the camera came out. There were reports of excellent pupusas so we ignored all the other food and headed straight for Estrellita's Snacks.

I was immediately impressed. A group of short Latina Women were patting away at generous handfuls of masa and putting far more filling inside than any homemade pupusa I've ever managed. There's something to learn here.

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These were generously topped, more so than other pupusas that I've had in the area. Maybe they are generous folk, or maybe it was getting late and it was time to use up the reserves. Either way, I was pleased.

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Pupusas are not high cuisine, make no mistake. But when eating fresh, hot, cheese filled masa cakes, it's hard to imagine anything tasting much better.

Estrellita's Snack at Alemany Farmer's Market
100 Alemany Blvd
San Francisco, CA 94110
Sat 8 a.m. - 3 p.m.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Hello San Francisco

My head is bad
my mind's all through
Ain't been so stoned
since I was new
The streets are cold
the people are too
But you look like a lady'd
let me sing my songs to you

                          - Lee Hazlewood
              
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Thinking about dystopia, as I often do, my mind wandered to the film Robocop. You all know the film: the corrupt police department in future crime ridden Detroit decides to turn to a cyborg police officer who is immune to the lure of bribes, drugs, and whatever else it is that ails the hearts of all human police in a society that is crumbling. It's kind of like present day Detroit, except with robots.

Next, fighting back nausea my mind turned to the rather utopian vision of the Star Trek universe. If you aren't familiar with Star Trek just get back under your rock already. When our boys and girls in leotards venture back to earth, a beautiful futuristic San Francisco features prominently as it is the location of Starfleet. Or something like that. 

I think we all know why San Francisco might have been chosen for Star Trek much as we know why Paul Verhoeven chose Detroit as the locale for his dystopian vision. Here's the rub: Future Earth in the Start Trek Universe is fucking boring. Everyone is happy, healthy, and boring. It's a wonder they don't all throw themselves from the still standing Golden Gate Bridge.

There's a lot about San Francisco in print and on television. You read a lot about people visiting and having a wonderful time as they do here and in other beautiful cities the world over. But is that all? What else is there left to explore that hasn't been done to death?  I'm more interested in living than someone else's vacation.  I'm interested in what happens when the honeymoon ends, when the weather turns to shit, and the daily drudgery begins to take its toll. What then?

Anthony Bourdain is reportedly going to be in the city tomorrow.  I imagine he'll have a nice time.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

The Last Supper

We recently loaded up all of our possessions and moved across the bay. We had a group of friends helping us and for all their hard work, we treated them to our favorite taco spot: Tacos Sinaloa.

As always there was a retinue of crazies and weirdos threatening to kick off at any moment. There were Latino families enjoying an early dinner and groups of Asians from the nearby little Saigon and further afield. Tacos Sinaloa really has a broad appeal.

My friend M hears voices and they told him that it was a good idea to buy a couple of bobble head dogs for his new truck. I hope he's okay.
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We covered the table in ceviche tostadas, shrimp tacos, and horchata.
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It was a meal fit for people who had worked and sweated whilst carrying heavy boxes.

The bobble heads followed our every move.
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This was likely my favorite spot in all the East Bay so it was a fitting farewell meal. I will need an excuse to come back.

Tacos Sinaloa
2138 International Blvd
Oakland, CA 94606

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Goodbye Oakland

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It is with a certain amount of sadness that we bid Oakland adieu. When we were leaving, I was surprised by my feelings on the matter. Soon after arriving, I decided that Oakland was the less successful brother, or outcast cousin of San Francisco. The streets were not exactly teeming with activity, yet they were still quite dangerous. It reminded me of a huge suburb of San Francisco. I had previously vowed never to live in anything like a suburb, yet here I was living in a place that bored me to tears.
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However, a funny thing happened. I started to really like the place. Maybe it was the culture shock finally subsiding and a certain depression lifting, or maybe it was all based upon my familiarity with the city. I learned to rely more heavily on my bicycle and take a different perspective on the city. It may not be that dense, but I can hop on my bike and be anywhere within reason relatively quickly. A bike accident (caused by a careless driver) briefly sidelined me but it only made my resolve stronger and my contempt for automobiles all the more certain.
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I started to map out interesting rides, huge ethnic communities, and relatively mellow places to dine. Across the bay, the streets were flooded with camera toting, guidebook reading tourists going to see and taste the best the city has to offer. Save for the weekend Jack London Square farmers market, they leave Oakland well enough alone. In places I have spent time and lived, I have always enjoyed the less visited, less esteemed, and more, shall I say more humble places. You can really get to know them on their own terms. You can become an expert of a sort without being fed constant information by travel shows, news articles, or even other bloggers. Hell, just the other week Mark Bittman from the New york Times was wandering around the Mission in San Francisco, frequenting some of my fave places. The well worn paths of culinary delights can often leave little to discovery.

And so we've across the Bay to San Francisco. I've been commuting into the city for almost two years at great expense. I need to be in the city even more this coming year and it had ceased to be a good use of my time or money to be schlepping into the city on a daily basis. Even living a five minute walk from BART is not worth it. The time and money just wasn't worth it any longer.
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It might seem like the small expanse of the bay wouldn't keep me away from Oakland for very long, and maybe you're right. However, when a BART ride inches up toward seven dollars round trip, I'd rather save my money.  Also, my interests usually keep me in my neighborhood.  While I'll definitely venture out of my immediate neighborhood in San Francisco, the bay between my old home and new one is large enough to make my visits rather infrequent. My advice is always to write about what you know where you are.  I'd rather read about someones intimate knowledge of their own neighborhood than an outsider's gushing from a brief visitation.  Sure, newness brings another perspective, but I'm interested in reaching the point where superficial observations give way to understanding. I have a lot of work to do.

So two years in Oakland are finished, much like two years in Bangkok before. Ironically, neither place is off the table in terms of possible places to live in the future, but for now, I'm going to focus my energies on the place I'm currently residing. While I've spent lots of time in this city the last couple years, I'm looking forward to going deeper.