|San Francisco food tour explores the real Japantown
Reposted from the SF Examiner August 31, 2012, by Gayle Keck.
Sure, you may have popped over to San Francisco’s Japantown to eat at one of those restaurants with little circling sushi boats. You may even be joining the growing ramen craze. But have you ever explored Japantown’s authentic tastes — the dishes you’ll rarely find anywhere else in the U.S.?
I recently was invited on a tour with Edible Excursions that took me to corners of Japantown I’d never visited, for seven tastes that would have been hard to track down on my own. I joined 11 other foodies, some tourists, some locals, along with tour company founder Lisa Zander.
Zander gave a brief history of the Japanese community in San Francisco and then we headed for our first stop, Yakiniq Cafe, where we sampled sweet potato lattes. That’s right: steamed milk infused with sweet potato. Sounds weird but, aside from being a bit sweet, it was actually tasty and comforting — especially nice for a foggy day.
We went on to try mochi from Benkyodo, a little coffee shop lost in time. These sweet-rice treats are made in-house, and there was a big variety to choose from. I decided on a seasonal special, strawberry, which had to be the best mochi I’ve ever tasted, with a chunk of fresh strawberry surrounded by a sweet white-bean center.
Other highlights included a trip to a grocery store deli for noodles, gyoza and chicken karaage, and a stop for okonomiyaki — like the love child of pizza and a pancake, with all sorts of goodies baked into the batter and delicate shavings of dried bonito gently wafting on top.
After gobbling onigiri, the traditional rice bundles recently made popular by Onigilly, we polished off a “geisha float,” a fancy treat with green tea ice cream, then devoured warm taiyaki, pastry “fish” made on a special griddle and stuffed with bananas and chocolate.
In some cases, we got to meet and chat with the proprietors and hear from them directly about the foods we were tasting. In others, Zander filled in with anecdotes or explained the meaning behind a food’s name.
The tour takes place at lunchtime on Fridays, and provides so much food (all included in the $75 price) that I didn’t eat for the rest of the day. Zander also supplies a sheet listing the spots visited, plus other recommendations in the Japantown area. Nice touch. All in all, I felt like I’d just had a mini-vacation in my own home town.
Edible Excursions Japantown tours take place on Fridays, from 11:00 am to 2:00 pm. The company also offers two tours in the Mission, and tours of the Ferry Building and Berkeley’s Gourmet Ghetto. From time to time, they offer discounts via coupon sites like Bloomtown.
I’ve gotten to be a big fan of food tours when I travel, and even started a website, FoodTourFinder.com, that lists tours all around the world. Check it out!