Street Food Stories

Lima and San Francisco are connected in many ways. In an early post, for example, we learned about the history of Pisco in San Francisco but last week’s anticucho recipe got me thinking a lot about the culture of street food.

In the Lima of my childhood, street food was everywhere — anticuchos, tamales, and picarones were some of the most popular criollo dishes. Walking down the streets was a sensory feast — smoke from charcoal fires used to grill the kebobs, steam rising from the large pots, or the sudden sizzling sound of the deep friers. Some vendors would also sing songs to announce their arrival — ¡tamales calientes!

Here in San Francisco street food is more modern. Off the Grid organizes fleets of trucks that serve ethnic food from all over the world. Instead of songs, these vendors use social media tools like Twitter or Facebook to announce their location. There are many street food stories, but one of my favorites is Mission Street Food.

Mission Street Food was started by Anthony Myint when he rented a taco truck one night a week to cook gourmet food. Eventually, he grew to share a kitchen at Chinese food restaurant before opening his own space, Commonwealth. What makes Mission Street Food and Commonwealth so special is that they are charitable restaurants that donate part of their profits to charities, to feed the poor or homeless, for example. To me, that is a business model that is creative, inspirational, sustainable, and socially responsible.

The street food scene in SF is rapidly evolving and I look forward to exploring more in upcoming posts. In the meantime, I am still hoping that someone will start selling Peruvian street food in the city. I can almost smell the anticucho carts in the Financial District, or the picarones in the Embarcadero or listen, here come the tamalera — ¡tamales calientes!