Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Around the Neighborhood: Finding a Sense of Place and of Community through Food

Belonging. Almost everyone wants to belong. To a community in which we feel appreciated and wanted. To a place where we put down roots. Communities and places conjure images in our minds; they are labels with general characteristics and beliefs. They have a defining edge and with that edge they have outsiders. And, lately I've been struggling with those labels.

The Line down Valencia Street in The Mission


With communities, the edges are often blurry and typically defined by and policed by the group. With places, outsiders are somewhat clearer--those who don't live in, who weren't born in, or who can't trace their ancestors back to that place. Yet, no one controls the labels we use to define ourselves; belonging is personal and not necessarily reliant upon the approval of others. Labels can get murky as "membership" changes. But is that bad? Or, are there certain labels we shouldn't use without permission? And, who gives permission?

Not a San Franciscan

I'm not a San Franciscan. Growing up that was made very clear by real San Franciscans. (A real San Franciscan is someone who was born within the city limits.) I am a Bay Area native. I am a California native. But I'm not a San Franciscan. I don't have the birth rights to claim that label.

Right before and for a couple of years after I was born, my parents lived in San Francisco right off of Taraval Street near 19th. I was conceived in San Francisco, carried in San Francisco, but not born in San Francisco. And I was born outside of San Francisco, in a hospital just above 280 in Daly City, for a very good reason.

When I was born hospitals had very different visitor policies than they do now. My dad worked and would have had little time to visit his wife and new baby had I been born in San Francisco. Why? Because he was working on a construction site on the peninsula. A construction site conveniently located just below a hospital. So I was born in Daly City, and unlike other moms and babies my dad visited us daily during lunch while we were in the hospital. But that choice forever branded me an outsider.

Techies on this side of the line vs Real San Franciscans on the other


Earliest Memories of San Franciscan Eateries

My roots are in the Bay Area, yet almost all of my early memories are exclusively of San Francisco, of places that no longer exist. Family-run restaurants that closed when they lost their leases (Italian American business owners who lost leases when Chinese landlords bought properties in North Beach and substantially increased their rents). Places torn down in the name of progress or damaged in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake.

Three places still remain. Places that ground me to The Mission, even though I am not Latino or Hispanic: Puerto Alegre (we ate many a meal there and ran wild through the place with the owner's children), Lucca Ravioli Co., and Dianda's Italian American Bakery.

Lucca Ravioli on Valencia St in San Francisco


Connecting through Food

All my life I've been an outsider: I wasn't born in San Francisco and with the exception of my first few years didn't live in San Francisco growing up. I made connections through food.

I attended junior high and high school in San Francisco, with many classmates, who like me, weren't born in San Francisco. The few that were born in San Francisco came from generations of San Franciscans, back to the founding of the city. The others, while not born in San Francisco or in California, unlike me, lived in San Francisco. My classmates hailed from Chinatown, The Mission, Park Merced, and The Sunset.

We couldn't afford to live in the city proper, so when I was three years old my parents bought a house on the peninsula. If you ever want a more present reminder that you're an outsider, one that everyone around you sees everyday, live on the peninsula and commute to school in the city when others either walked or took a bus to school. My family was also different from those of my classmates in that my parents weren't divorced or separated, and my mother worked at home. She always made our lunches and she always gave us home baked delights. Thanks to her, I made connections with my classmates. My connections were made by sharing my mother's home baked cookies and cakes.

Dining Room with Danish Modern Dining Table


Food is Home for Me

Growing up the only place I felt comfortable or where I felt like I belonged was sitting down at a table to eat a meal. Home became transitory, mobile. Wherever I have traveled, through food I have made friends out of strangers and created lasting friendships. Food takes me home. Home for me is anywhere friends and family are gathered together sharing a meal and swapping stories.

Sunlight across center of Danish Modern Dining Table


Family Dinners at The Station, starting September 29th

Because food is home for me, I'm excited to announce my supper club, Family Dinners at The Station, will be opening this month, Monday September 29, four weeks from today. Seats will be limited to eight people (offered through Feastly [ticket sales closed]), and we'll be dining family style around our dining room table.

I'll be sharing more details, including the menu as well as opening up ticket sales, shortly on Feastly. (Hint: The first dinner will be Thai inspired, my signature cuisine.) If you want to get a 48-hour jump on reserving your seat when tickets go on sale, become a member of The Road to The Good Life Cooking club today.

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genuinely eden

Credits: All layouts designed by and images taken by Eden Hensley Silverstein for The Road to the Good Life.