When you think of fast food, you probably imagine gigantic multi-national corporations churning out unhealthy, mass-produced food that is high in fat and low in quality. San Francisco, one of the most vibrant cities in the country, is no place to try out a McDonald’s hamburger! However, if you’re on the go and uninterested in a sit-down lunch, there’s another quick way to get good, locally made meals: the newly popular food truck culture. In a city that is renowned for its walking food tours and special foods, the trucks are a great way to experience San Francisco as the locals know it.
Food trucks have become very popular over the past few years in California; the mobile kitchens are capable of producing fresh food to hungry locals, and the ease of transport means that a truck can go to customers instead of the other way around. Spreading word through social media and word of mouth, the trucks can set up shop at festivals, events, and even a parking space. They are cheaper to rent or own than a commercial space, which makes them good options for small business owners. The collaborative feeling between truck owners provides a unique market atmosphere, with more cooperation and less competition. The Truck Stop, at Mission Street between 1st and Fremont, is an open lunch space that hosts a rotation of popular vendors each day, making every lunch hour a new culinary experience. Off The Grid has become the go-to advocacy organization for food trucks; it has opened fifteen market spaces all over California where vendors can gather regularly. It also schedules and organizes Food Pods, where 1-4 trucks will gather in selected neighborhoods to serve meals at peak hours when demand is highest.
What can you get from a food truck? Depending on the vendor, the answer is virtually anything your taste buds desire. Bacon Bacon is a San Francisco favorite, whose primary ingredient is pretty obvious! There are vendors specializing in crème brulee, Filipino fusion, authentic tacos, homemade hamburgers, and even edible insects! The portable, small-scale nature of the food truck allows the vendor to focus on more specific types of cuisine, rather than trying to juggle a large restaurant-style menu that may not be the chef’s specialty.
However, 2012 was a tense year for the rapidly growing food truck industry in California; while House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi called them a “model for small business innovation,” there was significant opposition to the mobile vendors. It came from traditional restaurants worried about lost revenues from rent-free competitors, and from educators who claimed that food trucks were counterproductive to the state’s efforts to introduce healthy school lunch programs. Assemblymen proposed a bill which would ban the food trucks from vending anywhere within 1500 feet of an elementary, middle, or high school between 6am and 6pm; the confusing permit process for trucks created lots of headaches for truck owners and restaurateurs alike. The bill would have banned food trucks from roughly 80% of San Francisco’s streets; after public outcry, it was withdrawn from the legislature.
2013 has seen even more growth in food truck culture. Supervisor Scott Wiener has proposed legislation that would appeal to both restaurants and trucks, calming the tension between the industry leaders. Rules would include not allowing trucks to park near restaurants that have similar menu items, and would allow trucks to park in new areas of the city, like hospital and university campuses, while reducing the distance ban near high schools. There are still a lot of details to be worked out, like providing designated truck parking spaces and reworking the permit systems, but it’s clear that food trucks are here to stay. These on-the-go meal vendors are quickly becoming a beloved and vital part of San Francisco’s culinary identity.
by sffoodie at February 16, 2013
One of the highlights of a Local Tastes of the City tour is the chance to taste some authentic Italian espresso from the cafes in North Beach. While Seattle was the birthplace of the Starbucks domination, San Francisco was actually one of the first places where Italian coffee culture came to America and had a chance to thrive. Initially a niche product, espresso drinks and coffee bars are now on every corner. While our parents’ summer jobs may have involved delivering papers or flipping burgers, many young people are getting their early work experiences making lattes and cappuccinos. Because the industry is still so new, the perspective from behind the counter is still relatively unknown to many cafe patrons. But once you’ve been a barista, you will never forget what you wish you could tell your customers. Here are some of the secrets of the baristas we know.
If you’re bleary-eyed, a strong dark roast coffee might sound like the perfect jolt to wake you up. Most coffee shops offer at least two roast levels of black coffee for their customers. But while the darker blends may taste stronger, they actually have slightly less caffeine than the light roasts. The roasting process burns off some of the caffeine and water content in the beans. However, the difference between levels is relatively small, so go with the flavor you like best.
And what about a shot of espresso? Some people swear that espresso actually has less caffeine than a standard cup of coffee. This is both true and false, mostly because coffee beans and grinds vary so widely from one cafe to the next. First of all, espresso is not a type of bean; it is a method of production, and can technically use a lot of different coffee beans at various roast levels. While a cup of espresso has about the same amount of caffeine as a cup of brewed coffee, the serving size is much smaller and the caffeine will be in a higher concentration. What is certain, though, is that the hot milk in your latte will likely make you drowsier instead of more alert in the morning!
The Key to a Perfect Latte
Many people have their preference for a latte; a pump of vanilla syrup, some fat-free milk, or an extra shot of espresso. But the best-tasting and most authentic lattes use whole milk; the fat content is the key to steaming milk that can be used in latte art, which is a sign that it’s perfectly made. A skim milk cappuccino is nearly impossible to properly make because the milk just won’t foam enough. And those sugar-free flavor syrups still have a lot of chemicals in them; just because the calorie content is lower doesn’t mean that it’s good for you to have four pumps of hazelnut in that latte.
by sffoodie at December 25, 2012
Espresso drinks have become so ubiquitous in recent years that it’s almost impossible to remember how novel they were in America. Starbucks was the first to offer lattes and cappuccinos to a mass customer base, but now every coffee shop has a hissing espresso machine and a new subculture has sprung up around prizing the “authentic” versions of drinks. While you might have ordered a pumpkin spice latte or caramel macchiato hundreds of times, you might not realize that there is a definite difference between all of these espresso drinks, and some of them are very different in their original Italian form. While all of these drinks contain espresso shots and milk, they are all unique; indeed, it’s remarkable how so much diversity can arise from such simple ingredients.
Perhaps the most popular espresso drink, the caffè latte has many names and many definitions. Coffee and hot milk have been a part of European dietary habits since at least the 1600s; the French enjoy café au lait, the Spaniards have café con leche. The basic Italian caffè latte consists of a shot of espresso and steamed milk, with a small layer of wet foam on top. Expert baristas can create latte art when the espresso is thick and the milk is steamed just right, which allows them to pour out a design using the microfoam.
The cappuccino is the latte’s thicker cousin, with far more foam on the top layer of the drink. The traditional proportions call for a cup to be one-third espresso, one-third milk, and one-third wet foam on top. The cappuccino is named for the Capuchin friars of Vienna; their brown robes supposedly resembled the color of coffee with a few drops of hot cream. Some coffee chains offer cappuccinos with dry milk foam on top instead of the traditional shiny wet foam. An authentic wet cappuccino is actually one of the most difficult drinks to make successfully, as it requires careful attention to achieve the correct ratio of foam to milk.
The Americano got its name during World War II, when American soldiers would pour hot water into their coffees to resemble American drip consistency. An Americano consists of a shot of espresso topped with boiling water, which dilutes the flavor. While it may look similar to percolated brew, the taste remains quite distinct. Some places call this drink a Long Black, and gently pour the espresso shot on top of the hot water, rather than adding the water to the espresso. This method preserves the crema in the drink, resulting (according to some) in a slightly more full-bodied flavor. Either way, it’s delicious!
by sffoodie at December 18, 2012
Each Local Tastes of the City Tour includes a stop at one of the authentic Italian cafes in North Beach. Guests can enjoy sips of freshly pressed espresso shots, or get a foamy cappuccino that will knock more popular chain recipes out of the water. In the past twenty years, espresso drinks and coffee bars have become overwhelmingly common in North America; no one thinks much of ordering a latte nowadays. While it originally seemed bizarre to us, we’ve become so familiar with the Italian coffee tradition that it’s become a fundamental aspect of the daily grind and North Beach was one of the first places to popularize the idea. But what exactly is espresso, and why can it make such delicious liquid treats?
Espresso has been popular in Italy since at least the 1880s. The word ‘espresso’ refers to both a brewing method and the resulting drink. Any type and roast of coffee bean can be used to make espresso. Unlike a traditional drip, espresso is finely ground and compacted tightly into a small space; hot water is then forced through the coffee at high pressure. This produces a thicker liquid with a syrup-like consistency: the espresso ‘shot’. Espresso machines usually use small metal baskets, which hold the espresso; they are mounted on the end of lever-like handles called portafilters.
A shot of espresso has a distinct reddish-brown foam on top called crema. Crema is the result of the emulsified oils in the ground coffee being forced into the cup, and it is a good indicator of the espresso shot’s taste. If the espresso is too loose, the water will not properly penetrate it and the shot will be weak and watery; if the grounds are compacted too tightly, the water will not evenly flow and the shot will be bitter and unpleasant. High-volume coffee shops have automated espresso machines, to produce shots on demand; smaller venues will have machines which require the trained touch of a barista to properly grind, compact, and draw the espresso shot. It’s an art, and it requires practice. A well-made espresso will be strong, but never bitter or acidic.
When you go to order a shot of espresso, you may be asked about the size you prefer. Generally, espresso shots are measured in terms of two factors: size and length. The size of a shot is measured in single, double, triple, or quadruple; the numbers roughly correspond to fluid ounces of drawn espresso. A double shot will use twice as much ground coffee as a single, and so on. Double shots are the standard size for a regular espresso drink today; very large drinks may have three or four shots in them, depending on the venue and recipe.
The other factor in an espresso shot is the length: short, normal, or long. These options refer to the amount of water pushed through the espresso, resulting in a differently sized drink with the same level of ground coffee. Shot length is more difficult to measure, as simply running the water for a longer time will over-extract the coffee and weaker the flavor. The grind must be adjusted to compensate for the longer extraction time.
Now that you know a little more about what goes into your Vanilla Hazelnut Latte, check back next week when we’ll examine the real differences between lattes, cappuccinos, and other popular espresso drinks.
by sffoodie at December 11, 2012
Humans have a complex and wonderful relationship with food. Rather than simply eating to survive, we work with flavors, textures, and cooking techniques to create new and wonderful things. We also have a psychological connection to what we eat. There is tension between the pleasure of junk food and the stigma of unhealthy habits; we distrust mass-produced foods, even though we depend on them every day. Eating is incredibly important, so it’s no wonder that rumors tend to spread like wildfire and alter our habits—whether it’s a supposed life-prolonging ‘superfood’ or the shocking discovery that a beloved ingredient is harmful to one’s health. Here are a few common food myths, debunked.
Myth 1: Carbohydrates Cause Weight Gain
This myth has persisted for many years, most recently with the Atkins diet craze in the early 2000s. But the truth is that carbohydrates aren’t really the problem: it’s how they’re prepared, and what form they take. Processed white breads and pastas contain lots of sugars and refined carbohydrates; cutting down on your consumption will certainly help your diet. The same goes for fatty donuts and French fries. But beans, produce, and whole grains also contain carbohydrates, and they are packed with nutrients, protein, and fiber. In the end, it’s about the big picture of how the food is prepared, and its caloric content.
Myth 2: Chocolate Causes Acne
Pimply teenagers have avoided chocolate for generations because of this myth; it’s persisted for at least a century. Numerous studies have found no clear connection between the sweet treat and acne eruptions; it’s actually quite difficult to find a cause-and-effect relationship between food and skin problems. Chocolate gets a bad rap for its high fat and sugar content too. But in small amounts, quality dark chocolate is not harmful; it contains antioxidants, which can be beneficial for your heart. Just remember to keep it in moderation.
Myth 3: Store Coffee in the Freezer to Help Keep its Flavor
This myth whips back and forth; some people swear by freezing their beans, and others recoil in horror at the thought. Coffee is not a shelf-stable product; the oils can go rancid when exposed to the elements. But coffee beans are also porous, and can easily absorb flavors from the surrounding environment—like your freezer. If coffee really did keep better in cold temperatures, then you’d be buying it from the frozen foods section of the grocery store. And double-blind experiments have found that there’s no taste difference between frozen and room-temperature beans.
by sffoodie at November 23, 2012
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