As a rule, I prefer the farmers’ market to the supermarket. The farmers’ market is so much more vibrant, and of course, the produce is incredibly fresh. But I do have my favorite local shops, among them, one with the unusual name Sun Hop Fat #1. Why do I love Sun Hop Fat and what is that weird looking jar of goo? Find out more at my first post for the Examiner.com.
Archive for the 'seen&heard' Category
Not many people here in the US seem to be familiar with the larger than life figure that was Keith Floyd. He was a uniquely talented cook, restaurateur and cooking show host in the UK. It has been said of his shows that he would deconstruct the very idea of a cooking show on camera, and then put it back together again before your eyes. I was lucky enough to have discovered his shows on my local BBC station while living in Israel. Read more about why I’ll miss Keith Floyd over at BlogHer.
I attended the Taste Pavilion at Slow Food Nation last Sunday evening. This was the first Slow Food sponsored celebration of American traditionally produced foods. The food was enjoyable, the lines were not.
At $65 a pop, was it worth navigating the crowds?
Read more about it at Well Fed on the Town…
… downtown San Francisco modeled in stainless steel pots and pans. If you read the Ethicurean you probably figured that out. The metal model is an installation by artist Zhan Wang at the San Francisco Asian Art Museum. The piece includes clever details such as forks and spoons for piers, and graters, barbecue forks, and tongs for the Golden Gate Bridge.
This installation was of particular interest to me, as I’m currently reading “The Fortune Cookie Chronicles: Adventures in the World of Chinese Food” by Jennifer 8. Lee. The book begins as a fascinating look at the origins of the fortune cookie—a ubiquitous fixture in American Chinese restaurants almost entirely unknown in China. The story, however, takes myriad twists and turns, weaving a multi-threaded narrative of Chinese-American history.
Lee covers various aspects of the Chinese-American experience, including the Chinese Exclusion act of 1882 and the huge underground industry of human trafficking that is the foundation of many Chinese restaurants in America. I’m not sure whether I slept through this particular topic in American history class, or if it figured as a terse sentence or two in my high school American history book (much like the Holocaust—one of the most hideous chapters in recent history was condensed into a paragraph and a photo). The Chinese Exclusion Act was unique in that it banned an entire race from immigrating to the United States and becoming U.S. citizens. Moreover, it denied citizenship to Chinese people already living in the United States at the time. The act remained in effect with amendments until 1943 when it was finally repealed. The 61 years of the Exclusion Act were brutal for Chinese people in America. Chinese Americans were unable to integrate into American society, and often forced to live in ghettos. San Francisco’s Chinatown—today considered a quaint destination by tourists and residents alike—was once a tiny little neighborhood in which Chinese Americans were forced to live.
The passing of the Exclusion Act was motivated by workers and laborers who resented the Chinese immigrants lured by the Gold Rush and work on the Transcontinental Railroad. Convinced that the Chinese were taking their jobs, some workers even went so far as to perpetrate pogroms upon Chinese people.
In 1885, an anti-Chinese rally in Seattle set a deadline for all Chinese to be out of Washington Territory by November 1. Two days after the deadline, residents conducted a giant raid against Tacoma’s Chinatown, where the merchants, who were less transient than the laborers, had remained. Doors were kicked down, bodies were dragged, people were herded like wayward cattle.
The same year, miners in Rock Springs, Wyoming, conspired to drive their Chinese competition out, attacking their settlement with guns and fire. As Chinese miners tried to escape the burning wooden shacks, their attackers forced them back into the flames. Some who fled into the mountains were later eaten by wolves. At least twenty-eight people died.
But the most lurid tale was the Snake River Massacre of 1887. The water in Hell’s Canyon in Oregon ran red with blood as more than thirty Chinese gold miners were killed and mutilated by a group of white men who had conspired to steal their gold and force the Chinese out. Three killers were brought to trial. Not one was convicted…
That Chinese Americans survived such brutal oppression is remarkable. Despite the Exclusion Act, “in the half century from 1870 and 1920, the number of Chinese restaurant workers surged from 164 to 11,438, even though the total number of Chinese employed declined.”
Why was there suddenly an entrepreneurial explosion of restaurants, and why, of all small businesses, did laundries survive?
Cleaning and cooking were both women’s work. They were not threatening to white laborers.
Viewing Wang’s installation with Lee’s book in mind makes his cookware cityscape all the more powerful. The woks, tongs, trays, pots, chopsticks all seem to represent a city supported by so many Chinese Americans who are otherwise invisible. The people who built the railroads, ran the laundries, lived in cramped conditions; the people who cook kung pao chicken and walnut prawns, serve hungry diners, sweep floors, send money home to husbands, wives, children, parents—they’re all here. Like each piece of kitchenware in the exhibit, they too are an integral part of this city.
Quotes from Jennifer 8. Lee’s book “The Fortune Cookie Chronicles: Adventures in the World of Chinese Food.”
On the BART:
“I got six girlfriends and I’m faithful to all of them.”
– Smirking boy to girl
When riding public transportation in the US, you often find yourself staring at huge advertisements. Almost anywhere you look, the walls of the train you ride in, the walls of the station platform, the floor and escalator, even the underground tunnels are covered with flickering ads. Cellular phone service, condos in fancy neighborhoods starting in the low 600s, exhortations from the Catholic church urging you to rethink abortion, almost anything can be hocked on the walls of the BART.
This morning, my eye is drawn to a simple fast food ad. I can’t stop looking at this advert. It annoys me in particular, and I’m not sure why. The bottom of the ad features a stylized San Francisco skyline in dark blue—replete with the Golden Gate Bridge and a trolley car. The background is a soft yellow that gradually brightens to a sunny gold towards the top of the ad. There, floating like an ethereal vision, is the product: a biscuit breakfast patty sandwich, a bun stuffed with what appears to be ham and American cheese, and three small cinnamon rolls, partially splattered in sugar icing that looks like glue. Golden rays of sunlight emanate from the foods like a Byzantine icon. The large caption below reads:
Now you can eat and pay rent.
The Fast Food Franchise breakfast menu starting at $1 each.
Fast Food Franchise Logo
I get it. Rent is so high in San Francisco, you barely have enough cash left over to buy food. How ironic, how wry, how… horrible. This is no joke—it’s true. There are people in this city who do not have enough money to both pay the rent and eat much more than cheap fast food. There are people in the city of peace and love who must choose between a place to live and a bite to eat—witness the many citizens living on the sidewalk and in the parks and alleyways of this city.
And then it hits me. I realize why this ad annoys me so much. Those who can eat and pay their rent are privileged. We can afford to buy local, organic, fresh fruits and vegetables and brick-oven baked bread and grass-fed meat and pastured eggs. We perceive it as our right to eat healthful food that nourishes and heals. Those who can’t afford the luxury of pesticide-free, GMO-free, nutrient-dense food must eat food that will eventually kill them, or risk homelessness. This fast food ad is, perhaps unwittingly, playing on the notion that cheap, harmful food is the only choice for the poor while healthful, nutritious food is for those who can afford it. Assuming that advertising reflects the beliefs of its audience, this is a sad state of affairs.
If there were any truth in advertising, here’s what this ad would look like:
Now you can eat government subsidized, artificial, toxic, artery-clogging food, and pay your exorbitant rent on a mildewed hovel in a slightly scary neighborhood.
Breakfast menu starting at $1, ending in sky-high health care bills.
You go to your favorite sushi joint for a leisurely bite with some friends. Someone points you to a table, the usual one. You’re wondering whether you’ll get a California roll, or perhaps a simple plate of sashimi. On the other hand, the daily special might be good. Everyone has a seat and waits for menus to arrive. But there aren’t any. You look around and notice that the other diners in the restaurant are all leaning over to touch colorful photos on a screen at the sides of their tables. Instead of servers, computers are now taking orders.
That’s exactly what’s happening at Tel Aviv’s “Frame & Sushi Bar.” The restaurant/bar installed a computerized menu and order system developed by Israeli company Conceptic. The touch screen allows diners to peruse photos of items on the menu and place an order. They can also chat with other diners. Frame restaurant manager Natalie Edry says the new system is a source of entertainment for young and old alike. Children can play with the menu while waiting for food, while the late-night after-party crowd can flirt with diners at other tables. The system also eases the workload for waiters and reduces the wait time for orders. What a concept!
I think it might be fun to try, but I wonder how well it actually works. If you know what you want to eat and you don’t have any particular needs or requirements, I imagine it would work quite well. But what if you want your burger medium rare? Suppose you want to know whether the feta cheese is made of sheep or cow’s milk? Are the greens organic? Is the fish wild or farmed? And if you want to order wine? Well, no computer can supplant a sommelier. Here’s where the system might become less efficient—when diners need to use the computer to fetch their server.
I can’t help but wonder what the maintenance must be like. Does the software run on Windows? What happens when you have to reboot? How much extra work does it take to keep the touch screens clean? And what if a pint-size customer accidentally spills his milk on the console?
On the other hand, for a majority of orders, a computerized ordering system might work quite well. The table to table chatting feature is particularly appealing for pubs and bars. In the case of Frame—open 24 hours with a late-night pub atmosphere—the screens appear to blend in pretty well with the fifties meets George Jetson style décor. The talble-side screens echo the large flat screen TV on the wall that displays to diners the real-time goings on in the kitchen.
What do you think? Would you prefer to order your food from a computer or a person? Do you think this system will help or hurt restaurant servers?
Well now I’ve seen it all…
This ad for organic tobacco was prominently displayed in the San Francisco Bay Guardian, July 25, 2007.
Claravale Dairy is now selling milk, cream, and colostrum at the Berkeley Farmers Market every Saturday. They plan to set up a stall at the San Francisco Ferry Building Farmers Market soon. I suggested they join the Sunday Temescal Farmers Market as well.
Claravale raw milk is sweet with grassy overtones, and deliciously rich. Try a couple tablespoons of their cream with strawberries—an ethereal experience.
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I’ve recently received Clotilde Dusoulier’s new cookbook “Chocolate & Zucchini: Daily Adventures in a Parisian Kitchen” from Amazon. If you haven’t done so already, buy this book! It’s full of creative recipes that don’t appear too difficult to prepare. It’s also full of Clotilde’s elegant photos and delightful prose you’ve grown to love. Most of all, her book is a source of inspiration—leaf through its pages for ten minutes and see if you don’t come up with a fabulous idea for dinner. Or lunch. Or breakfast.