Benkyodo, a must go to mochi shop, was our second stop of the Japantown food tour of San Francisco. I chose to try the kinako flavor of mochi. This particular mochi was filled with red bean paste and was a dull green color on the outside with nut powder on top. As I held it in the tiny white rapper, I could see the light brown dust float away in the wind. I was surprised to find the inside to be a deep purple and have the consistency of a grainy play-doh. It was squishy and hard to chew. If you’ve ever seen a dog attempting to eat peanut butter, you know what I’m talking about. The nutty coat remained left behind as the course filling left without taking a second look behind it.
Getting into the restaurant scene at 21, my mom started out as a waitress. “I took cooking classes here and there. Then I took culinary art classes at college because I wanted to cater and be a chef,” she said. She never quite made it to a chef position but was a restaurant manager more than once and continued to cook. My mom had a constant relationship with cooking throughout her life that inspired her to connect with friends, try new things, and take her mind off things.
Cooking only became hard for my mom after I went to kindergarten. I came home one day and said “Mommy I want white bread with my sandwiches.” She replied “You’ve never had white bread. We only eat wheat bread!” I was no longer her “California baby” as she called me and stopped eating anything she put in front of me. She claimed to also be a picky eater as a kid and even shared that she had to have things cooked in separate pans. Like mother like daughter as they say.
Before having a picky child my mom “loved to cook for relaxation and on my weekends off I would cook for fun and have friends over. I loved to collect cookbooks and read them like a novel. I loved to cook beef wellington because it tastes so good, the pastry is fun to make and it was fun to cut out the designs. I liked serving it because everyone was in awe over it”. She liked to be adventurous in the kitchen, something I am not good at but after learning about her past with food I may be more open to trying it.
Spices conquered my taste buds in a frenzy. I was able to relieve the burning momentarily with a sip of lemonade that had a twist, it was cilantro lemonade. The light green clearly separated from the yellow half stood out right away. Various spices were also added among the cilantro to combine in one cup and create an almost odd but citrus flavor that added to the lemon. All of my taste buds had little white “I give up flags” waving by this point from the Vada Pav. This was the owners signature fried potato puff dish that she served us. The dense sandy texture was broken up with the crunch of onions here and there. The fresh fluffy bun from down the street was the perfect non-spicy bookends that tried to contain my sandwich from falling all over the plate that lay below.
As we crossed the street to find out where our next stop was, the line coming out of a corner restaurant that grew longer with every passing minute was a dead giveaway. Luckily, we did not have to wait for an obviously popular dish from Bakesale Betty’s. A fried chicken sandwich is her specialty and now I know why. The crunchy breaded chicken was surrounded by shredded coleslaw with a kick of jalapenos. As I tried to get every last piece of coleslaw to stay on my sandwich, a lady with a bright blue wig wearing a black chef’s apron approached us. We all huddled around and it felt like we were talking to a celebrity because of the stunned looks coming from the line of people waiting. She told us all about how she got her start and how she figured out a system that worked for her business. I am already craving another one of her famous sandwiches that brought a new light to how I see fried chicken.
Nerves ran through my body as I reached my hand into the bag to draw my first of three ingredients. A smile spread across my face as I read sweet potatoes on the little piece of paper. Dough and cashews came next. Not as terrifying as I had imagined at all.
A recipe from The Smitten Kitchen by Deb Perlman immediately came to my mind. My roommate has made it a few times for dinner, a butternut squash and caramelized onion galette. I exchanged sweet potatoes for the butternut squash and chopped up cashews to add to the mix.
As I came to terms with how much work this galette was going to take, I slowly began to make the dough. The first step required putting flour and salt in a bowl, not too trying. I whisked sour cream, white wine vinegar and water in a smaller bowl and then poured it into the flour mix. The dough was tricky because none of it really stuck together and I was left with lumpy flower mess. As I kept adding water and kneading, I was able to form it into a ball and let it chill in the fridge for an hour.
I thinly chopped two onions, cut up three white sweet potatoes into cubes, grated two cups of Fontina cheese and cut up thyme for the filling. The small white sweet potato squares slid around the baking sheet coated with olive oil, like ice skaters competing in the Olympics, as they went into the oven. I continuously stirred the onions on the stove and watched as their color changed to translucent and waited for the burning sensation to leave my eyes. “Oh my gosh, the cashews!” I said as I named my three ingredients to my neighbors and realized that since they were not in Deb Perlman’s recipe I forgot to add them to my shopping list. Luckily, my mom was nice enough to make a quick trip to the store so I could stay true to my three ingredients.
The pale dough was soon filled with the potatoes, onions, cheese and cashews as I folded the edges up to hug the filling. I stuck all of my hard work into the oven and patiently waited to eat. Aromas of onions and pastry engulfed the air and I occasionally checked on it to make sure nothing bad had happened. Forty minutes later, the folded dough was flaky and golden brown and all the little white cubes were toasted on top. The cashews added a nice crunch to the soft mix and the sweet potatoes were a success in my book.
Dinner time was approaching rapidly. Coughs and sneezes came from the living room couch where my mom laid sick. This meant that I was suddenly in charge of cooking dinner.
She told me there was a whole chicken in the fridge and to remove all of the gizzards from the inside, which meant sticking my hand into the dark slimy abyss. The bumpy naked skin and unknown misshapen lumps freaked me out. I was not too excited about this task but I tried my very best. I got one gizzard out of the chicken and felt pleased with myself.
My mom, sleeping, would not answer any of my pressing questions about what the heck to do with that chicken. The cold exposed bird lay there staring at me, belittling me for my lack of knowledge. So I heaved it onto the pan and stuck it into the oven as fast as I could to get it out of my sight. Probably without any seasoning at all.
When my masterpiece was finished, I warned my mom that it was ready. She was finally awake and would soon regret ignoring her middle school aged daughter’s questions. As she slowly walked into the kitchen, she saw my chicken and began to laugh. Apparently, I had put the chicken on the pan wrong side up. Who knew there was a right side to a chicken? She also seemed amused to discover that several little organs had been left inside of this now golden steaming bird. I could tell she was feeling better because of the giggles that continued to pour out of her. To say the least, it wasn’t the best dinner I had ever had, but at least I didn’t catch anything on fire.
I embarked on my first food tour in the San Francisco Mission District and had no idea what to expect besides the whole eating food part. I was thoroughly intrigued right after our first stop at Mission Minis, an adorable cupcake shop, were I got to choose one cupcake of my liking.
A Peanut Butter Kiss cupcake was gracing my taste buds before I knew it. With its moist chocolate cake and fluffy peanut butter frosting I could taste the sweetness of sugar mixing with the saltiness of peanuts. On top of the icing laid colorful tiny sprinkles that caught my eye and said “I’m the fun cupcake, eat me!” This little treat lasted for about two bites and I could taste the richness of the chocolate cake that was as fluffy as a cloud. I could smell the left over peanut butter as I licked my fingers clean. I never imagined that something so small could encompass as much as it did and linger for so long on my tongue.
Our next, and my favorite stop, was at Local Mission Eatery. The décor of this eatery was modern and had a natural essence about it that I loved. We were served a seasonal winter veggie sandwich on sourdough bread. After breaking through the solid crunch of bread, a vast mix of veggies came forth in a complementing fashion. The soft ricotta cheese, apple slivers, cooked kale and pumpkin butter created a delightful creamy balance with the rough exterior.
Radishes were also a part of this mix, which were sliced thin and seemed to be missing their usual kick of sour flavor. I was continually surprised at how all of the usual veggies I would classify as crunchy were now soft and mushy to match the ricotta cheese. This quaint restaurant was an enjoyable stop that enticed me with both its unique food and calming decorative style.
While I was in Nice, France this summer my friend and I came across a corner restaurant that was painted a bright yellow with murals of an old lady doing different activities, such as riding a scooter, a long side the building. The outer appearance was so intriguing that we had to eat there. The restaurant was called Chez Memere and we were seated outside were we got to observe people walking by trying to decide if they should eat there as well. Luckily, our waitress spoke English and instantly had sold us on their homemade sangria and served us a little cup of nicoise olives while we looked at the menu. The menus were made out of old record label covers and the walls inside were decorated with them as well. Everything about this restaurant was unique and different from any other restaurant I had ever eaten at.
I recently had ventured into the realm of seafood while in Italy and surprisingly discovered that I liked calamari and clams. Still feeling adventurous, I ordered the calamari as an appetizer. Soon I had in front of me a huge onion ring looking calamari with a slice lemon and a creamy white dipping sauce to complement the fresh seafood. The golden batter encased each ring. When I bit into the calamari, there was a light crunch to the outside of the puffy batter that I had spritzed with the zesty lemon. Inside of the ring, I was surprised by the stretchy yet delicious white squid. When the delightful appetizer was gone, all I was left with was the lingering scent of lemon on my fingertips.
I had the gnocchi in a fresh tomato and pesto sauce for my main course. The gnocchi had small ridges on one side of its oval dumpling shape and were covered in chunks of tomatoes mixed with basil pesto. Initially the dish gave off a pungent basil aroma until I tasted the pillows of potato dough and was swept away by the freshness of the tomato flavor. While, it looked dense from afar, they melted on my tongue one by one. Even though the first bites were extremely hot, I couldn’t stop inhaling one of my favorite Italian dishes. The meal ended with a light cream puff smothered in a rich chocolate glaze, surrounded by dollops of whip cream for dessert. This random hidden gem along a narrow street of Nice became our favorite restaurant after charming us with its quirkiness.