What do you get when you take one ABC Chinese Guy (That stands for American Born Chinese, according to Yimster), one Thai woman, and 23 wild and crazy
Caucasians from the age of 13 to 60+?...A CHOWHOUND EXTRAVAGANZA.
That's exactly what we were last Saturday when we met for Jook at the Utopia Cafe. Pam Pan, Pork with Seaweed were only two of the varieties of jook we had, along with family style plates of chow mein, coffee and tea. It must have been GOOD, because when I reminded Yimster we had better get going, he answered, "hey Bob, you ABC, we're still eating over here". (That's ABC-American Born Caucasian). After an hour of eating and socializing we descended on Chinatown like locusts on a cornfield.
We passed many meat markets of all sizes, shapes and colors; pearl tea shops; Chinese herb store (closed on our first pass); fish markets where the fish were jumping, swimming, being chopped, sliced and diced; produce stores where they were still unloading fresh everything, and as Tida pointed out to me, Durian (sp) by the box load.
We later stopped in Ross Alley where they were making fortune cookies the old fashioned way with old fashioned machinery; Chinese women adding the fortune
to the cookie rounds and then shaping the cookies by hand. Our group preferred the flat round version to the traditional shape.
We saw cages of partridge, baby chukkar, baby chickens, etc. that we didn't figure were headed to a petting zoo; fish and meat being hacked at in every
imagineable way; people buying, bartering, and facing off merchant vs. customer in an age-old ritual.
At one point, Yimster explained that many butchers sell Chinese Sausage (lop chong) with red string attached for good luck. He knows a butcher that removed the string so you didn't have to pay the extra weight. I said, "what could it weigh, like 1/4 of an ounce, big deal". Yimster's reply, "The Chinese taught the Jews how to be cheap!" WE had to give him a Mozel Tov on
We learned the in and outs of identifying truly FRESH fish and the tricks some merchants use on the unsuspecting, such as eye drops to clear the fish's
eyes. Derek postulated that they might also use red dye on the gills?? Yimster told us how most butchers will add the bony, less desireable cuts to your regular meat orders.
Most of us agreed that non-Chinese speaking, rookie shoppers, without Chowhoundish skills would not do well in Chinatown. As in SUCKER!!
Lots of dim sum shops, bakeries, pastry shops dot the streets. Whole pigs by the truck load hang in shops, along with fried chicken, roast chicken, soy sauce chicken, steamed chicken, barbecued chicken, roast duck, barbecued pork, etc. all "begging" in the windows.
After making a whirlwind tour of most of the Yimster's haunts, discussing techniques of buying, strategies of getting the most for your money, etc. we splintered into several groups agreeing to meet later at New Woey Luey Guey for lunch.
Our group was led by Peter Hertzmann, a former Chinatown docent, who graciously offered to lead us on a historical tour. Acc ompanied by knowledgeable Ben Yee and Derek Durst, we got a wonderfully informative
historic tour of Chinatown as well as early San Francisco. What a treat, and how interesting.
At lunch, previously described in wonderful detail by Yimster who was expertly assisted by JenniferFishWilson & family, we were seated at two large tables.
Joel (Jaweino) provided two Gerwurztraminers which stretched to many of the 25 guests. Jennie Sheeks, at our table, led a discussion on the reasons that
contemporary wines are not made to age ("Vin de Garde") like wines made in the past.
Doug D. and Mark B. became my personal travel agents and helped me with some great ideas for Ann and my inaugural foray to Europe next year. I secretly
nicknamed them "Rick Steeves II & III". As usual all the food the was spilled found its way onto my lap and THEN we conducted a serious dessert analysis.
First, let me say that at our table, and I will quote and paraphrase Derek, the dessert scribe: The pastries we had for dessert were NOT well received.
The sweet rice and tapioca sweets were gelatinous, bean-filled, soft, and mochi-like. Yimster said due to the Chinese using much less sugar these aren't as sweet or like anything we normally eat. I think these got a C- at best.
The Custard bun, a copy of Mexican Pan, did not have enough custard to make much of an impression, but there were a couple of "just ok" comments. Derek liked the crunchy, flaky crust. I think this got a C.
The almonds cookies contained neither almonds or the taste of almonds. One person described them as "stale wedding cookies". Yimster says that's how the Chinese make almond cookies, take it or leave it! These got another C-.
Derek and most of the diners at our table preferred the pastry filled with chunks of sweetened, preserved melon in a sweet bean paste. This, says Derek, was a wonderful juxtiposition with our tea, but detected less melon then in previous versions from the same bakery. These got a B-.
Universally, we agreed that the event was a huge success, we all had a wonderful day, great food, terrific people, and by the time dessert came we were quite overstuffed. So overstuffed, that all in all, dessert became only a minor letdown.
Many thanks to Lambert and Joel for planning, orchestrating and navigating the First (that I know of) Chowhound Chinatown Walking Tour. Especially, for
letting me hang around. I hear from Lambert that we raised nearly $300 for Chowhound, Inc. which is great news.
For me personally, it was fun to meet and see all of my fellow Chowhounds; place a face with a name - or as my Dad used to call it "breaking bread" together. The food was great, the shopping tour informative, the historical tour educational, the company better, and the exchange of information - "PRICELESS".
The Yimster and I are already planning on Chinatown Walking Tour-Round II. (Well he's planning, I'm just butting in.) Stay tuned!!
PS: If you don't already, PLEASE subscribe to ChowNews as soon as possible. Yimster will be listing and providing more details on all of the actual stores we visited and shopped at during the walk.