Him: “I want to be familiar with every street in San Fran”
Me: “ I want to walk every street in San Fran”
Him: “oh no, I am afraid that’s is how I will know the streets.”
We keep ending up in San Fran on the weekends. And on a few weekday nights and take the last train home. And more often than not, we end up in the Chinese restaurants in the infamous China town ordering delicacies made of random animal parts that would have made us cringe a few years ago. And mock the folks who order spring rolls and fried rice like it was a Panda Express. They didn’t have to come all the way. Or don’t know what they are missing. One of our favorites is Z&Y. Its located in a perfect spot. You can play backgammon on the terrace top. Visit calligraphy stores. Or hit Grant Avenue.
From the outside, it looks like random cheap useless stuff being sold in beautiful ancient looking building structures. And excess occupying every inch of the place. And boy! do these street vendors know how to hustle. Inspite of the language barrier, they do their best to get your attention and hold your interest. Having all the ‘tourists’ looking into their maps, looking at a list of places to visit and ready to take pictures of everything would have stood out. But not at ChinaTown. All the hustle and bustle of life is a norm and a necessity here.
But China Town exists for needs beyond that of a tourist. If you love ethnic food, there is so much to sample and gobble out here. Something as small as a red bean pancake or a 6$ all you can eat Dim Sum house visit. Serious tea drinkers can pick a variety after they have sampled 100 kinds of teas (not kidding). The apothecary and herb stores are everywhere. I didn’t have enough knowledge or language skills to understand more of these places, but going with a Chinese friend might help. Since goji berries and ginseng are well known to Americans, you see them in the organic variety, packaged differently and priced much higher than anything else in the vicinity.
If you are a serious cook, you might love the food markets. They have an entire section based on dried sea food, making it very economical, easier to store and transport. I dont think they like people with cameras hovering around and not buying anything. I took home some anchovies and dried mushrooms.
The art lovers can stop by paint stores and the hidden art galleries. This place is a Gem. You walk into a small underground studio under the shop. And can watch people do their work. And see through the rolls of previous work, most of which is for sale. Some beautiful pieces lay there non chalantly, unassuming of their beauty and lost to the world of admirers.
My favorite was the wok store. Lots of Cast Iron at great prices. And book stores with Chinese cookbooks in English. The wok store had a variety of sizes and pre-seasoned cookware. And wooden cutlery. This is where i should scout my essentials once i move to California for good. This lady was a pro as warding off anyone who tried to bargain. I wouldnt try.
I saw some political activism. These ladies stood there all day quietly. Respect. In contrast, my tired self was in need of a pick me up. I had done 13 miles by foot. Having foot reflexology foot massage places everywhere tempted me to try one. These massages are amazing and cheap. Not many Yelp reviews for these places sadly, oh well.
I slowly somehow ended up in Japan town. The path was a steady uphill which i thought justified my getting a foot massage in the middle of the day. Notes to self: We need to take this tram next time. There is some serious foot-boarding going on, on those things i want a part in it all.
In comparison, Japan Town is almost Zen like. No street vendors haggling on the streets. Very clean. Sparsely populated. Had different energy or the lack of it in comparison. Ramen shops. Super markets. Pottery stores. Origami stores. Aisles and aisles of paper. And beautiful stationery. Makes Michaels look silly in comparison when it comes to the make and quality of the paper. My vested interest was to hold and examine the famous Japanese Chefs Knives that I keep hear raves about. Being a knife lover myself, holding them and testing them out was a spiritual experience in itself for me. Someday, dear beautiful knife, some day, I am coming back for you.