I have been out in San Francisco now for two weeks. In fact, i’m about to fly home to the UK. I’ve been out here for work. Avanatta, my company, is working towards making itself a presence out here on the West Coast. You can actually read more about that over on my other blog here. But this blog isn’t about work, it’s about food, and San Francisco is widely regarded as one of the food capitals of the world, and in the last fortnight i’ve had an insight into why!
So there’s this thing out here called Off The Grid. It’s a bit like a religion, in that is has a following. A big following. A following of food worshipers.
Off the Grid began life in June of 2010 with the simple idea that grouping Street Food vendors together in the aim to create an experience that would allow neighbours to connect with friends, and families to reconnect with each other. Since then, the OTG movement has spread. Currently it operates 23 weekly markets in the greater bay area, and works with over 180 vendors weekly. It pops up in areas across SF, from open spaces like the UN Plaza and South Park, to covered side roads like 5th & Minna. They pop up at special events, such as the Fleet Week festivities which took place last weekend (specifically down on Pier 80) and sometimes establish themselves weekly at a certain location, like the Picnic at the Presido which takes place every Sunday and Twilight at the Presido being held every Thursday (until 29th Oct/1st Nov, so you have two weeks left!)
The closest thing we probably have to Off The Grid back in London would be KERB, which I have previously written about and LOVE! But because America just has to do everything bigger, in scale, KERB just can’t even compete.
My first Off The Grid experience was during Fleet Week. Fleet Week is a celebration of America’s sea services. Taking place every October on the Marina Green over Italian Heritage Weekend, San Francisco’s FW’s air show, parade of ships and many community events have become a significant and integral part of the city’s local culture. And on the Saturday myself, my friend Adam (a veteran Pub Crawl guide from the golden age of the 1 Big Night Out Pub Crawl back in London – see my ancient blog post on that here!) and his gal Jill headed down to Pier 80 for some amazing food truck adventures.
I made a comment a while ago in another blog post about how I think Korean food is going to be the next big thing in London. Well, that doesn’t seemed to have happened (YET!) but out here Korean food is respected as a flavour packed cuisine. And so we went over to the Korean Bobcha truck.I went with some Korean Tacos (when in America!) while the other two went with burritos and kimchi fries. My three soft tacos each had a different meat fulling; Beef Bulgogi, Chicken Bulgogi and Spicy Pork. The tortilla was floury and fluffy, dry and sturdy. The meats were each succulent and tender. The pork in particular was bursting with flavour and miraculously, despite the huge mound of crisp salad on top, I managed to not get any down me!
My second Off The Grid experience was just a few days later, as on Tuesday’s they pop up just next to the UN Plaza which just so happens to be a quick 5 minute walk the apartment i’ve been staying in.
This Tuesday just so happened to be a scorcher of a day, reaching about 30 degrees Celcius which on one hand is wonderful as I know London has been circling the winter drain this week with highs less than half of what i’ve been experiencing… but at the same time… I did NOT pack appropriately for those kind of highs, so I was a sweaty mess by about midday!
I opted to eat from the PhatThai truck because the heat reminded me of my holiday in South East Asia earlier this year and suddenly I was really craving some Pad Thai. Lucky for me a big serving was mine for only $8, along with siracha sauce and chilli flakes. The noodles had a citrus tang to them heightened by a squeeze of lime, while the beef was juicy and tender. It tasted as authentic as those served in the beach huts of Thailand and I finished with a smile on my face.
By this point I had decided that there really is nothing better than seeking out OTG for every lunch I had left, and soon my days were being planned around where the nearest pop up would be to me. The Wednesday & Friday market at 5th & Minna was the second closest location to me, and so I visited on both those days.
The website tells you what trucks are going to be there on each day, and I had had a little google before I went to see what my options were, and ensure I not waste any precious queuing time. As I looked at the menu, my mouth fell open. For $3 I could experience a dessert known only as chocolate covered bacon.
CHOCOLATE. COVERED. BACON.
Well done, America. You have won at food. We bow down at your feet and worship your ability to be both utter genius and a little bit crass at the exact same time.
Bacon Bacon also serves savoury dishes, ALL of which include bacon, including their *almost* veggie which is vegetarian in every way except the fact that it has bacon. Naturally.
I had the Bacon Bahn Mi which came with Pork & Bacon Patties, Pickled Veggies, Cilantro, Spicy Mayo for just $9.50. The patties were thick and meaty, with a tangy yet spicy kick from the mayo. The bread got a little much to the end and I sacrificed one of the buns to a pigeon who had been circling me for a while, and ate it instead like a pizza, which worked well, if not better!
Now, the chocolate covered bacon… I won’t lie and say I loved it. I think it just wasn’t what I was expecting. You know those rashers of crispy dried bacon you can get in Waitrose which go really nicely on your salads? THAT is kind what I was expecting, lightly covered in chocolate and crunched up into chips. Instead this was literally a rasher of bacon covered in chocolate (which sadly melted quite quickly due to the heat of the day) and some crumbled health bar. The bacon therefore was a bit soft and fatty and probably should have been paired with a slightly milkier chocolate. The saltiness of the bacon did make the flavours reminissent of salted caramel but it wasn’t the revolutionising combo I expected it to be. But for having the balls to put these two well loved items together I take my hat of to the Bacon Bacon team! In the mean time, I might try my vision at home…
Before I came out to SFO I had a vision that I was going to become one of those super healthy California gals who drinks coconut water and wheatgrass smoothies, does yoga and goes power walking around the city. For some reason I hadn’t taken into consideration the fact that coconut water tastes rank (even the Harmless Harvest ‘pink’ coconut water that I was promised would change my mind about this fashionable drink forever is pretty rank), i’m super lazy and the food offering out here is just too good to resist! I have been for three separate runs around the block, spurred on by the crazy homeless people who lined my route (they weren’t motivating me by cheering me on, it was more fear from them screaming at me that got me to the end of each block- the homeless problem is prolific here!) but it’s going to take a lot to remove the extra layer of wobble i’ve added to my thighs over the past fortnight. But if i’m totally honest, it was worth it!