streetfood thursdays: namu & roli roti

For the next two months, I’m moonlighting as a San Francisco transplant, and I’ve arrived with a curious appetite.  I’m a hungry girl with hedonist leanings, and when in an unfamiliar city, I make it a point to eat my way through it.  For me, experiencing the gastronomical provisions of a city is a way of discovering its personality: its underground quirks and idiosyncrasies.  It’s a method of creative exploration, as if you were blindly feeling your way through a city’s neighborhoods with your tongue.

In this city of rolling hills and unexpected vistas and cloud plumes that roll in and out of the bay, a distinct food culture thrives. Sustainable, local and organic ingredients are touted with fervor; seemingly incompatible flavors are successfully matched in experimental marriages; and, in general, it strikes me that people take both the time and care to savor the edibles they put into their mouths.  The idea is - You never know which bite will be your last - and I can hardly protest. 

This Thursday and the last I visited the well-known Farmers Market at the Ferry Building.  While the outdoor market sets up shop three times a week (Tuesday, Thursday & Saturday), Thursday stands apart in that street food vendors line the front of the Ferry Building, selling their specialized fare.  In reality, the vendors are few (I think I counted about six?), but I posed a challenge to myself to return each week until I’ve tried them all.  I begin with my first two ventures: Namu and Roli Roti (and pardon the picture quality: photos were snapped from my cell phone).

During my first go at the Farmers Market, I paid Namu's stand a stop (Namu also operates a full-service restaurant serving up “new Californian cuisine” while using traditional Korean/Asian ingredients).  Namu - the stand - attempts to follow suit except the prep as well as the devouring are expedited processes.  On this particular day, the menu at Namu featured the following:

Indecision, indecision….I was all gung-ho to order a Korean taco since I had tried it before at the home restaurant months ago; I just couldn’t remember whether or not I became a loyal follower then.  I remembered its unusualness more so than the quality of flavor, so I had to give the Korean taco another chance.  The cashier, very friendly, nudged me towards the okonomiyaki, a traditional Japanese-style pancake usually filled with cabbage, meat or seafood, flour and yam.

Here’s the Korean taco ($3 for 1, $5 for 2), described by Namu as a ssam-style taco with seasoned rice, kalbi (marinated short ribs), daikon and kimchi salsa, kimchi remoulade, and housemade terikyaki sauce, all wrapped in a toasted piece of seaweed.  Delicious, YES… the creative concoction disappears in about 2-3 bites, but the flavors - sour, sweet, salty - meld smoothly. The downside?  Real taco shells take some time to grow soggy, but the seaweed “shell” on this Korean taco absorbs the juicy rundown of the kalbi so quickly that if you wait a second too long, you’re scrambling to keep the thing together in your hands.  

Okonomiyucky??? Far from it…but it was a Koreanized version of a familiar Japanese dish.  What I got was essentially an exaggerated kimchi pancake - thin and cripsy on the outside, chewy in the middle - and it was hosed down in streams of kewpie mayonaise and tonkatsu sauce, and garnished with bonito flakes and chopped scallions. I even opted to go for a farm fresh egg for a $1 extra, and the warm runny yolk that clandestinely sneaked into each bite made the dish more alluring. I’m glad to have tried it, but I don’t think I would get it again unless I had a partner in crime… I got bored of it about halfway through. 

Today I was in hot pursuit of a certain porchetta sandwich from Roli Roti, a food truck that rolls up to the Ferry Building every Thursday for the Farmers Market.  All the calories I burned on my 3-mile run down there quickly found their way back into me via this famed sandwich that’s stolen the hearts of local foodies.  I had to check out the hype for myself.

Here it is: the fabled unicorn of sandwiches. The description alone might give you a heart attack: “pork loin rolled into the belly with crispy skin…spiced with fresh organic herbs…garnished with onion marmalade and curly cress.”  Roli Roti slices the porchetta to order, tucking juicy slices of pork mixed with salty, crunchy bits of skin into a freshly baked ciabatta bun.  For me, what was most delightful about eating this sandwich was the epidermal “crunch;” yes, it sounds gross but I felt the same way when I first experienced the contagious “squeakiness” of haloumi cheese. 

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