Food is one of the gateways to a society’s culture. As a Korean American, one of the times I feel closest to my heritage is eating beef short rib soup in Downtown L.A. or rice cake soup during New Year’s Day gatherings. On a human level, the act of eating food brings people together and opens minds to different cultures and traditions. At Stanford, we live just an hour away from one of the most vibrant cosmopolitan centers in the world, San Francisco. Within the city, the Mission District represents the home to a bustling culinary scene with authentic cuisines from around the world. Seeking to explore the culture in our neighborhood San Francisco, we embarked on a day-long adventure to the Mission.
After jumping off the BART at 16th Street Mission, we wandered through mural-lined streets until arriving at our first stop: an Italian restaurant called Beretta. Our antipasto, or the first course of a traditional Italian meal, was the sweet potato fries with the gorgonzola and parmesan. The highlight of this dish was the gorgonzola cheese dip. Soft, warm, cheesy, with a hint of sourness, this cheese melted around the tongue. Paired with the crispy sweet potato fries with a hint of saltiness and soft filling, the dish was a celebration of sweet, sour and salty flavors.
Next, the margherita burrata pizza arrived, in all of its simple aromatic grandeur. Burrata refers to an Italian cow milk cheese that consists of mozzarella and cheese. We marveled at the texture of the cheese; it was liquid-like yet chewy and soft. Biting into the toasted bread, we first encountered the rich tomato sauce with fresh tomato pieces. until the soft cheese came onto the scene with a hint of basil, rounded out by a thin yet firm toasted crust.
The star of the meal was the crab arancini, or stuffed Italian rice balls that are fried. Crisply toasted on the outside, the balls had steaming filling on the inside with a hodgepodge of rice, crab and vegetables. The crispy outer and soft inner textures made for a delectable combination to chew on. The tangy tartar sauce dipping danced in powerful sync with the gently salty flavor of the arancini; the flavors in combination worked to bring each other out even more strongly.
After walking through a desolate, quite frankly slightly eerie street to find this Peruvian restaurant, our taste buds were not disappointed. We decided to order the dish sub-labeled as a “Traditional Peruvian Favorite,” and it was clear why that is the case. The beef tenderloin virtually melted in our mouths as it was exactly that: immensely tender. The stir-fried vegetables and french fries were topped off with some pepper and soy sauce, satisfying our tongues with an Asian zing. The jasmine rice that accompanied the dish was best when lightly drenched with the soy sauce and topped with the delicious vegetables.
We next chose to make a stop at the iconic Boba Guys (in fact, the company’s first store was in Mission), where we ordered the horchata tea and matcha latte. Originally a Mexican drink made with rice, milk, vanilla and cinnamon, Boba Guys layered this drink with a shot of their house blend espresso. The horchata tea had a rich, silky cinnamon milk flavor that created a cozy feeling. Soft, chewy and warm, the pearls added a nice contrast to the tea in texture and temperature.
We picked this dessert as it literally glowed from the display case, its bright pink filling spilling out from the perfectly browned pie crust. The rhubarb added a surprising sourness to the pie, which would have otherwise been perhaps too sweet due to the abundance of syrupy strawberries inside. The crust was arguably the best part — it crumbled between our teeth and provided a strong foundation for the juxtaposed sweet and sour flavors.
This tasted like candy in baked form. Shaped like the top of a perfectly crafted swirl of ice cream, the hard baked good was sweet yet hard, pieces of candy-like substances crunching then disintegrating inside our mouths. Despite the sugary nature of the dessert overall, it was not impossible to taste some natural, almost vegetable-like flavors mixed into the delectable good. Overall, this dessert confirmed the reason why Tartine Bakery usually has long lines that go out the door.
After returning to Stanford, I couldn’t help but think that we had just sampled a tiny proportion of the diverse foods in the Mission, let alone in San Francisco. This trip has made me want to be more adventurous and continue exploring new foods and cultures. Dish by dish, we hope to do so. Bon appetit!
This gastronomic adventure was supported by a grant from Ng House.