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Sunday, August 21, 2011

San Francisco Street Food Festival

I love street food, real street food, the kind that speaks to the hands of someone who made a few items, things they make in the style of their family, the imperfect world of food prepared for service on the run. There is something about the immediacy of food prepared and served for eating on the move, the lack of refinement and the nature of the cook’s hands making the food from shelf to mouth. It is the purest, and probably the oldest form of food cooked for others.
This past Saturday was the 3rd Annual San Francisco Street Food Festival presented by La Cocina, this event occurs in the Mission District of San Francisco and is a great food scene with many of the City’s buzz-worthy restaurants and trucks taking part and supporting La Cocina.  I love the Mission District of San Francisco, although it has it’s seedy side, areas where you are probably best off not being too familiar with, it is also one of the most vital and diverse neighborhoods in a very diverse city. With its traditionally Hispanic population and lower socioeconomic incomes blending with the newer influx of hispters and foodies, the neighborhood buzzes with activity every day. There are precious few places where you can go from a block of three dollar burritos to perfect croissants and pizzas by walking a block or two. In this mix is La Cocina, an incubator kitchen focused on assisting lower income and underserved women with starting food businesses, providing them a place to cook, a source for ingredients and advice and direction in dealing with the codes and requirements of starting a business. This is their way of celebrating the support, food-centric people and neighborhood that has supported their efforts.
Although there were some very polished restaurants at this festival, showing all the glory of cooking in a brigade, all the culinary training, the great sourcing and quality of their ingredients and polish of theior technique, there is still something wonderfully uncontrolled about vending a limited menu, out the front of a truck or tent, that makes this food special. Because this is The Mission, there was also the guy with a tiny hot dog cart, the tinkling of the Mexican ice cream push cart and even the odd entrepreneur selling home baked cookies. What a mix it was.
We got to experience Salvadoran, Asian, American and fusions of all of these in various guises. My eating companions included food journalists and taste makers from around the U.S., as I had the opportunity to eat and visit with the media covering this event. It was interesting to hear their take on the San Francisco food and food scene. There is something very enjoyable about eating and drinking with folks that take this part of our local culture seriously.
Some random images as well.
Even when you live out of a shopping cart, a friend or two sure makes the day go better.
I love these luchadore masks with the great colors
Is there something that speaks to California and Mexican street food than grilled corn?

Who needs hundreds of dollars of portable fryers and steamers when you have a dog cart.
We got two dishes from this cook, the puffy masa cakes with cheese folded into the cake and some corn cakes that would make any brunch better, here she cooks just for us (not so much really)
There were cocktails, as there needed to be, Lynchburg Lemonade
And later, we found a small but sleek coffee shop, with the hot tattooed baristas, and open seats
Lime pangas, this seemed such a great decoration for a food booth in the Mission
Mmmm, fried chicken, and I did not know there were such things as portable fryolators, I feel I will have to get one of these.
This was also very cook, a kushiyaki grill with traditional Japanese charcoal, I got some grilled beef heart off of this little grill.
And looking over all of the festivities, one of the many murals around the Mission District

There was quite the crowd, featuring all of the diversity that San Francisco is so well known for. I was forunate to meet up with my friend Mai from Flavor Boulevard, who had ventured over to experience the event as well. Here is her take on the festival. It was certainly fortuitous that she found me, as Mai is tiny, I would never have found her amongst the crowds. I tend to stand out a bit more.

Where are all the usual close-up food pics and detailed culinary descriptions? Well, for me, this event is really more about people, people and community and a shared passion for the locale. I was glad to be there supporting a good cause and a fine neighborhood, the food was just a part of a great day.


  1. Wow! What a wonderfully descriptive post, Bob! And lovely shots too! Your pictures of the people are so good, I tried to take some but none has as much of a visual impact as yours. :)
    Were those Slanted Door buns worth the extra long line for them? My friend wanted one but she was too full to pack it in.

  2. Thanks Mai, we decided against getting the bao, as we were pretty stuffed already. There is no way to eat all of the food that looks good at these festivals.