San Francisco is a playland for lovers of haute cuisine. Boasting countless michelin-starred restaurants and a population of discerning gourmands to keep them in check, the city is a wonderful place to blow last week’s paycheck on tonight’s dinner. I have eaten at several San Franciscan temples of high gastronomy, but the city’s normal food is what so endears me to the scene.
In a competitive restaurant industry, any eatery standing is guaranteed to serve palatable cuisine. There is something good to eat around every corner. Smells waft through streets and down alleyways. When I think of my city, I always remember the smell of something and everything cooking. Walking down any given street invokes the temptation of many olfactory sirens. The sweet smell of roasting fish lingering about the little french bistro on Clement street is obscured by the aroma of fish sauce and freshly-baked bread from the Thai joint and bakery two doors down.
The food need not be served in restaurants to delight. The food truck has for some time been a fixture of the local scene. These are not your grungy taco trucks of drunken university infamy. They are mobile restaurants specializing in three or four simple dishes executed perfectly and served to mobs of ravenous fans.
Off the Grid is a weekly gathering of several food trucks from all about the city. They meet in a parking lot, attracting swarms of curious foodies who stand giddily in line, raising their voices to order dinner from cashiers standing five feet above them behind plastic barriers of idle trucks.
There stands an eager crowd scattered in front of Charman Bao, a truck specializing in buns. The bao, which can be ordered steamed or baked, are filled with a variety of meats and vegetables, but diners favor the pork belly bao. Pork belly is my gastronomic kryptonite and I order one to join the eager mob in wait.
When my number is called, I receive a small bao piled high with strips of unctuous pork belly and topped with turmeric-pickled daikon and green shizo. The bun meets my teeth with a delicate crunch, the airy bao soft against the crispy pork belly and toothsome pickles, whose sweetness and acid bite offer a refreshing counterpoint to the rich pork. I finish my bao and wish desperately for another. At $3.75 each, I feel no guilt in indulging once again.
Still hungry, I consider the two bao an appetizer and take a turn about the parking lot. Months before in the, a friend and I stonedly concocted an Indian food burrito from a mishmash of the previous night’s take-out and some flour tortillas. It was delicious. We were going to be millionaires.
To my disappointment and delight, I look across the misty parking lot to the Curry Up Now truck, a mobile restaurant whose specializing in a similar product. The bastards have done it already. I hand the cashier $8, and he passes me a
The heat of its chicken tikka masala filling was benign at first, but after four bites of the wrap, filled my mouth with fiery spice, flooding my brain with endorphins.
The next time I am in search of lunch, I will surely take to the streets