State of the Cart: Alice Waters on Street Food
By Meredith Brody
It hasn’t escaped Alice Waters that San Francisco is deficient in street food. (And the East Bay in general – there may be taco tricks strung out along International Boulevard in Oakland, but if there are any non-Farmers Market-related carts or trucks to be found in Berkeley, we haven’t found them.) “I’m a lover of street food,” she says, “so I bemoan that.”
For special events at Chez Panisse, she sets up stands in front and on the vine-shaded patio offering everything from New Orleans beignets to garlicky snails, depending on the occasion. For one memorable fete, she had her then-young daughter Fanny and a pal dish out mulberry ice cream cones – “I charged $2, because if they were free they would have been overwhelmed, and one man came up and said they were the single best thing he’d ever tasted in his life – and for $2! That’s the point, offering something – where they are – and surprising them with how good it is. And part of the pleasure is watching them put it together. It can be the simplest thing – even roasting chestnuts. We need to have that street life thing – a way to express the ethnicity of San Francisco.”
To that end, the Waters-led Slow Food Nation ’08, over Labor Day weekend in San Francisco, will feature a Slow on the Go street food extravaganza, located in front of City Hall on the Joseph P. Alioto Performing Arts Piazza, curated by Sylvan Brackett.
The tentative list of offerings, priced between $2 and $8, which will inevitably evolve and change in the weeks between now and Labor Day, include vegetarian chaat from Viks Chaat of Berkeley; a masa-tortilla-based dish, perhaps tlacoyo, cooked on a comal, from the Ferry Building Farmers Market’s Sonoma-based Primavera; N’Awlins-style chicory ice coffee from San Francisco’s Blue Bottle; a ham biscuit from Benton’s Smoky Mountain Country Hams, from Madison, Tennessee; a BLT or ham sandwich from Edwards Virgina Ham of Surry, Virginia; a muffalleta with salami from Seattle’s Salumi Artisan Cured Meats, owned by Mario Batali’s father; an old-school salami sandwich from New York’s Salumeria Biellese; a pork and grilled peppers sandwich from Napa’s Fatted Calf; hand-pulled noodles or steamed buns from the Bay Area’s Imperial Tea Court; ice cream sandwiches from Berkeley’s Ici; and something chocolatey and caramelly from San Francisco’s Bi-Rite Creamery.
“And,” says Alice, “I’ve been threatening to take my little short stool and my little bucket of mulberry ice cream down there and dish out cones myself.”