Tag Archives: SF Street Food Festival

SF Street Food Festival Recapped!

Ahoyyyyyy, mateys, and happy Tuesday! My weekend was swell, filled as it was with good company, restorative sleep, and street food. That’s right: I spent most of my Saturday wandering Folsom, eking through masses of people, and waiting in line to try some of the city’s tastiest morsels.

Confession: I miss the Minnesota State Fair. I don’t miss too much about living in Minnesota — my family, thunderstorms, and the megamall are notable exceptions — but I do miss our annual trek to the fair. Weeks before our trip, I’d consider the foods I had to try: Ben & Jerry’s ice cream was always on the list*, as were the cream cheese wontons served at the International Bazaar. Sometimes I’d get a Pronto Pup; sometimes I wouldn’t. Ali would inevitably wander to Sweet Martha’s, where she’d purchase a plastic pail of baked-on-the-premises chocolate chip cookies. As we wound our way through the barns (which were sharp with the odors of livestock), we’d swing the cookie pail, nimbly sidestepping cow pies.

Cow pies! Good times.

Now, instead of looking forward to the State Fair, I look forward to the San Francisco Street Food Festival. It’s like the MN State Fair, minus the livestock, John Deere equipment, Midway, grade-C early-2000s pop stars, and flocks of grandmas wearing khaki shorts/white New Balances.

A trip to the SFSFF requires some prep: you’ve got to review the list of vendors, determine which foods you’d most like to try (because you can’t try ’em all), and arrive early. EARLY. Like, right at 11:00. Alex and I got there at 11:05, and already the booths were crowded. San Franciscans are serious about their food.

I won’t recount every item I tried, because 1) the rest of this entry would just be a list, and sometimes lists are boring**; and 2) you’d consider me a glutton if you got the full recounting of everything I ate. (Seriously: I had to take a nap before making a second trip to Folsom.) Highlights it is!

First, NO, I did not try the wax-moth-larvae tacos (or the mealworm ice cream). Jasper tried the former, closing his eyes for the first bite or two, then realizing that moth larvae don’t taste like much. This absence of strong flavor isn’t enough to get me excited about eating insects, though. Cultural bias? Sure. I also dislike bugs in a way that I don’t dislike cows, pigs, chickens, or tofu blocks.

Prior to the fest, I decided that I’d only try foods that I couldn’t get anywhere else (or that would be difficult to get). That stipulation ended quickly. The first bite Alex & I tried was A16’s Duroc pork meatball, pictured above. A bit larger than a plum and smothered in sauce, the ‘ball was tasty — but not tasty enough that I can recall specifics three days later. (Sorry, A16!)

In direct rebuttal of my “no everyday foods” rule, I had a cup of Three Twins’ lemon cookie ice cream, which was divine. With Smitten now on the scene, I’ve gotten spoiled; rarely am I awed by plain-old, non-liquid-nitrogen-produced ice cream, but this scoop was different. After so many heavy foods, the delicate lemon flavor was a necessary palate-cleanser. I am, admittedly, a sucker for ice cream with cookie bits: I love how the cookies soften, retaining a semblance of their shape. Mark my words: I’ll be back for another cone.

Around 1:30, deep into round one of sampling, Alex and decided we needed to nap. The sun was high; we were full of pork and tequila. Nap we did, and once we awoke, we were ready for round two.

Round two was much tamer than round one, this owing to the denser crowds and the fact that we’d eaten a goodly amount. Still, I had a mild hunger: hunger enough to justify a 20-minute wait for Kung Fu’s Nunchuck Chicken Tacos. Confession: I wasn’t super stoked about these tacos — I almost always prefer carnitas or carne asada. As in the Three Twins Ice Cream Incident, Kung Fu’s tacos unraveled my loose-constructed bias. Oh, man: the chicken was soooooo savory: umami savory (#marinatedfordaze). It had a depth of flavor I normally associate with beef. Garnished with diced red onions, brilliantly dotted with sriracha, these tacos were a hit. I only wish I’d eaten two instead of one.

Against all odds, Endless Summer Sweets’ funnel cake was my favorite item of the day. Seemingly brainless, the funnel cake is a true marvel of food engineering; the intricacy with which the dough coils and solidifies is, frankly, pretty badass. So many cakemakers smother their goods with powdered sugar, but not Endless Summer Sweets — the cooks dusted just a few shakes of sugar, followed by a spatula’s worth of fresh whipped cream and quartered, late-season strawberries. Those berries? Those were what did me in. Mercilessly sweet and bright as lacquer: oh, strawberries! I wish I had some of them now.

At one point, twenty minutes into the wait for my funnel cake, I asked myself, “Is this worth it?” The jostling, the cost, the empty calories: so worth it.

***

*When I was ten, B&J’s seemed hella gourmet. Remember the time before artisan ice creameries popped up on every corner? I do.

**Not always, though. The Awl usually has good lists.

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Food, Folks, and Fun

But I’m not talking about McDonald’s. No! My sis came to visit last week and we spent a lot of time reminiscing about olden tymes (i.e., 1997), shopping (window and actual), and eating. We visited some of our standard places — Papalote, Frjtz, La Boulange — as well as doing some home cooking. The culinary highlight of my sis’ visit, though, was the San Francisco Street Food Festival, held on August 21st and sponsored by La Cocina.

I first learned about the festival about a month ago when Hook and I attended a smallish craft fair, at which I received a postcard advertising the Street Food Fest. (The postcard is notable only in that I pinned it on my bulletin board so that I would not forget to attend the event. You’d be surprised at how many things slip my mind unless I keep tangible reminders of them in visible spots.) So, yes: I long anticipated event, and it did not disappoint.

Bi-Rite ice cream sandwich: oh, yeah.

Knowing that the food offerings would far exceed even this seasoned eater’s appetite, I did a little research beforehand, strategizing about what dishes, exactly, I wanted to sample. After reading and rereading the list of vendors/dishes, I came to only one conclusion: I wanted a Bi-Rite ice cream sandwich. My other food choices would be left to chance — or, more accurately, to whim.

Ali’s selection strategy was much more fluid than my own — she approached the first vendor stand that looked good to her (Endless Summer Sweets) and snatched up a bag of Kettlecorn. I sampled a few kernels — not too sticky and caramelly and saltily delicious.

Kettlecorn, anyone?

The next stand that caught Sis’ eye was Anda Piroshki. Growing up, neither Ali nor I was a huge fan of this Russian staple (this owing to the fact that my family’s piroshki were always made with chopped meat, and we picky kids didn’t like meat), but to honor our heritage, we capitulated.

My apple, almond, and cranberry piroshki.

Sis chose the spinach and cheese piroshki (“The Russian Gem”); I chose the variety filled with apples, almonds, and cranberries (“Mother Nature’s Treat”). (If you haven’t noted this trend by now, you soon will: given comparable sweet and savory versions of the same food, I’ll opt for sweet in 90% of cases.) Despite my sweet tooth, I had to admit that Ali’s was the better choice. For one, her piroshki was warmer than mine. The filling was also a lot more flavorful — notes of dill and nutmeg balanced the flavor of the feta. My bite, on the other hand, was a little bland. The apples themselves were mushy, and there were very few dried cranberries and almonds in the filling. (So few, in fact, that I hunted around inside to see if maybe the almonds had been left out of this batch.)  Mother Nature’s treat would have benefited from additional spicing, I think: cinnamon and nutmeg, or maybe ground ginger. Further research reveals a potential source of blandness: my piroshki had been made without any added sugar (in the interest of health). Still, the texture and tepidity of the filling undercut any enthusiasm about the health value of this treat. That said, I’ll give Anda another chance; now that I’m fully carnivorous, I’d like to integrate this family staple into my diet.

Where next? On our first pass through the maze of vendor tents, Ali had spotted Zella’s:

Zella's Soulful Kitchen.

To my surprise, Sis (a reformed vegetarian who made a semi-recent foray into veganism) wanted a pulled chicken sandwich and sweet tea. Well, I’m a sucker for BBQ — she didn’t have to ask me twice. We hopped over to Zella’s and got ourselves some chicken sammies.

Yumyumyum: this was the best BBQ I'd had in some time.

Served on a basic sesame seed bun, the Zella’s sandwich appeared to be a fairly standard pulled chicken number, saucy and topped with coleslaw. Basic it was not! The chicken was tender, moist, and not at all greasy; it was just spicy enough and I detected hints of cumin in the sauce. The coleslaw, too, had a great, balanced taste: pleasantly spicy but not choke-inducing. From my investigative methods (i.e., digging through the ingredients with my compostable, soy-plastic fork), the slaw was a mixture of red and green cabbages, carrot, mint, and deveined jalapeno. YUM. Couldn’t finish this monster sandwich, but I did my darndest. Zella’s sweet tea, too, was a hit — sweet but not overpoweringly so and tempered with fresh mint. God, I love sweet tea.

And that brings us almost to the end of our taste-testing journey. By this point in the day — noonish, bordering on one-ish — the crowds were building and Ali and I were pretty full. Not too full, though, for a Bi-Rite ice cream sandwich! I chose the chocolate chip cookies with malted chocolate ice cream and shared with Sis. Heaven! The cookies had been made with a lot of love and a lot of butter; the ice cream, as is always the case with Bi-Rite, was creamy and smooth and decadent and of the sort that I would use to fill a swimming pool and then eat my way out of that swimming pool.

See how excited I am to try this piroshki?

Final verdict of the 2010 Street Food Festival? Success! The variety of vendors was impressive, the event supported a great organization (more about La Cocina here), and the prices were very reasonable. (Ali noted that food vendors at the MN State Fair, which is obviously not a charitable event, charge a lot more than did the vendors participating here.) My only regret was that I couldn’t sample more foods — Out the Door had vegetarian steamed buns that looked awesome — but alas! Next year.