I heard about the 2nd Annual San Francisco Street Food Festival some weeks ago. Amazing, I thought. Then it nudged up against me again – probably in the form of a Tweet or some other such fleeting message. Then came the news that it would be followed by an entire two day conference on the subject – all organised by local business incubator La Cocina. Arghh! I wanted it – real bad. It played on my mind for the next couple of days until eventually I gave in. My gut urged me to go – both for the comida buena I would surely encounter, and for the dizzying array of great people who would be speaking at the street food summit.
More on the mind food later, but now onto the scoop on that three block section of the Mission district that, on Saturday 21st August, became a-throng with thousands of people, all wanting to get their grub on – and no one seeming to mind a bit that this meant serious queuing and hardcore shoulder rubbing…
After my three hour volunteer shift finished (I love a bit of box shaking in front of a sea of strangers – good window into the general and varied demographic pouring into the place too. And how clever of me to have known to wear hot pink jeans. No chance of avoiding me!), I hit the streets, having breakfasted abstemiously on one solitary banana.
Damn, do they like a bit of sweetcorn in San Francisco. One of my favourite snacks, elote, Mexican style, is only served in very few places in London. Covered in chilli, lime and Mexican cheese, you pretty much don’t care that it has your teeth all trussed up with spicy kernels – you just want to devour it whole. Rows of corn occupied almost every grill at the Festival. I got mine from Los Cilantros.
Next, my eye was caught by 4505 Meats. Meat experts supreme – and purveyors of the lightest chicharrones I ever did taste. I ordered my Zilla dog and squealed as it arrived garlanded in the things! Good, toothsome ‘dog, deep and tangy kimchie sauce, marinated scallions in a bun with those suckers crowning them? Gave me plenty of energy to return to the crowds with vigor.
Past the Roli Roti guys with their ‘flying pieces of pork shrapnel’ and onto El Huarache Loco – one of La Cocina’s great success stories. Here I went for a taco Alhambre. I love tacos and must have eaten at least three a day whilst in San Francisco. This was full of that great combination of smoky charred meat, good rich salsa and pricked with the sublime tang of cilantro and lime.
And straight into the arms of another of my favourite things in the world – ceviche! Famed Peruvian San Francisco restaurant La Mar were kicking it with the street traders – playing by their rules – and much in demand for their sudden accessibility to all.
Of course this meant that I missed this…
Yes, it’s a fish taco trike. Wild. The guy has a grill at the front and pieces of fish in a refrigerated box. Once given their food punters can go to the table at the back of the bike and tuck into their snack. He also has a handy beer bottle holder to his left. I stood and watched for ages. This is classic street theatre – an interactive fun-mobile that does more than just dole out food. I want them in London. (Why shouldn’t we have them in London?)
As the sun came out those crowds showed no sign of abating. A band played, people strummed guitars, the replete began to dance and places rapidly began to sell out.
But hope was on the horizon – a gourmet S’more proposition. I dived in as though I hadn’t eaten in weeks…
This little sandwich of joy was from Kika’s Treats. I love how, unlike every single other stall, this one operated a trust system where no ticket was issued after payment. They figure that if you’re prepared to queue to pay and then queue to get your treat, you must be a good sort and tickets are therefore redundant.
After this latest mini-splurge I felt replete myself. I walked through the rest of the Festival sucking up the airborne bonhomie that seemed to be everywhere – even in the penned-in drinking zones (now that is a bit odd). The fact that people’s days were spent almost solely on standing in line didn’t seem to matter. What felt right and good about all this was that it brought together people who love to eat (i.e. everyone) in one space. This space felt like it belonged to us all. Nobody told us where to stand or queue or eat – we negotiated this amongst ourselves.
This is what a satisfactory urban experience feels like. It feels like you’re in amongst it. And this is a true mark of a city’s character. La Cocina, San Francisco – we salute you.