San Francisco holds a plethora of wonders for food lovers, from some of the finest restaurants to the Ferry Plaza farmers market.
A trip through Chinatown, though, is pure sensory overload. It is the largest and oldest Chinatown outside of China.
A city within a city, enter through the southern gate on the corner of Bush and Grant streets and explore a vast, colorful array of Chinese culture.
On weekends, the streets are packed with families, mostly the area’s Asian residents, but tourists stumble through, too, usually with a camera in hand and eyes wide open.
Food shops and restaurants (more than 200 of them) are tucked between trinket shops and colorful apartment buildings.
One must stop is the famous WOK SHOP, which carries a treasure trove of Asian cookware, knives, utensils and dishes. Seriously, check out their website if you have any interest in Asian cooking at all.
Narrow sidewalks become even more narrow as grocers stack up their produce, piled high in a rainbow of colors.
Few things are labeled in English, so traveling through Chinatown with a guide is helpful if you’re touring, and essential if you’re buying.
Peer through glass windows and behold visions of seafood not commonly found in your local grocery store.
Tiger shark, eels, whole prawns and various types of carp — oh, and fish heads, which make for richly flavored fish stocks, not to mention succulent cheek meat.
Some shops specialize in only meat and poultry, proudly hanging shellacked Peking ducks from hooks in the front window.
Pastry shops abound, too, and who doesn’t want a big sheet cake with Godzilla poking out of the top? (Hello, Cake Wrecks?)
Even though a guided tour can be helpful, you can explore the area (approximately 1 mile long and 1.34 miles wide) on your own.
Wear comfortable shoes, bring cash for noshing, and if you do want to take pictures, be respectful. Some shopkeepers don’t allow photographs. If they wave you off, just keep walking. You’ll find a friendlier soul a few doors down.
Joyce Jue, a cookbook author and cooking teacher offers food tours through Chinatown. Joyce was born and raised in Chinatown, so she presents a unique “native’s” point of view.
She can even tell you how to cook with taro root (above). If you’re interested in a food tour with Joyce, send her an email at joycejue at comcast dot net. Her website is joycejue.com. How do I say this without offending her? Ms. Jue is an Asian food expert, but she is not a technology expert, so you won’t find lots of information about her tours on her site.
That said, I can’t think of anyone more qualified to guide you through the wonders of Chinatown than Joyce Jue.
Post Script: Just heard from Amy Sherman of the popular Cooking With Amy blog, that Shirley Fong-Torres of Wok Wiz also offers food tours through Chinatown. I checked out the Wok Wiz website. There are two tours. The daily walking tour ($45) includes a dim sum lunch but isn’t necessarily focused only on food. The “I Can’t Believe I Ate My Way Through China Town” tour ($90) is a full three hours and food is the focus. (Thanks for the tip, Amy!)