I had written a long, detailed description of my recent trip to San Francisco, but it started sounding a bit like any other tourist's travelogue with the exception that I focused more on food than most tourists, save perhaps Anthony Bourdain, so I decided I should write about something else. As I started my second concha and Silk, I was finding it increasingly difficult to type between mouthfuls. My hands get a little crumby and truthfully I don't eat to nourish, I eat to savor - so I was getting distracted by the ecstasy dissolving in my mouth. I found it hard to focus on Haight Ashbury, Alcatraz, or even the wonderful Frida Kahlo exhibit at SF MOMA. All I could think about was pan dulce, or Mexican sweet bread.
My love affair with pan dulce goes back to my childhood in East L.A., of course. When I was a teenager, there was a period where I subsisted on a diet of nothing more than pan dulce and milk for breakfast and chicken gumbo for linner (lunch/dinner). That diet, along with daily Kung Fu lessons, helped me lose a lot of weight but I wouldn't recommend it to anyone. Imagine my delight when a few months ago, my husband and I discovered a little panaderia fairly close to our house in San Diego that has now become the supplier for my addiction. I go there at least twice a week and I have yet to taste a piece of pan that hasn't been delicious. The elotes are my favorites: they're shaped like a piece of corn in its little silk coat and are usually lightly sprinkled with sugar (editor's note: Alice uses the phrase "lightly sprinkled" interchangeably with "coated with" here.) I like the standard elotes but they make two or three variations of them here. Cocodrilos are a close cousin to elotes, as far as flavor and appearance go. They're long and appear to have scales; sometimes I go for those just so my family doesn't accuse me of getting the same thing all the time. My kids and my mom were always partial to conchas, which are light, puffy pastries with a crumbly hard, sweet topping applied to resemble a conch outline. They usually come in vanilla, chocolate or strawberry. My husband is an ojos de buey man - I mean that's the kind of pan dulce he likes. He does not have ox eyes, which is what ojos de buey means. In some places, Ojos de Buey are a completely different concoction and the coconutty red jam ball my hubby likes goes by the name of Yoyo in those places, because it resembles a fat yoyo much more than an ox eye.
There are more types of pan dulce than I can name: from Orejas de Elefante to Cochinitos, the selection is enormous. Fortunately, you don't have to know the names to sample their supreme yumminess. In a recent Yelp review, I read someone who described the pan dulce they loved as looking like a vulva. Well, I went over to Panchitas Panaderia that day, found the vulva looking pan and discovered that it was indeed one of the best pieces I'd had. If you haven't had pan dulce from anywhere but the grocery store, you owe it to yourself to seek out your neighborhood panaderia. Get a little taste of the glory.
As for my San Francisco trip, it was lots of fun. My husband was working, so my daughter and I were on our own for most of our adventures. We got Muni passes and went all over town like good little tourists. We walked until our feet throbbed then walked some more just so we could squeeze in as much fun as possible out of our vacation. We walked up the Filbert steps to the top of Telegraph Hill and then went up to the top of Coit Tower and I was glad that god invented cortisone injections for my bum knee. We went to City Lights and Cafe Trieste and saw an excellent Frida Kahlo exhibit at SF MOMA. My daughter got a kick out of the fact that this still life, which Frida painted as a gift, was considered so pornographic that the recipient refused to hang it in her home.
I suppose all of this goes to show that the connection between food and sexuality is fairly strong in Mexican culture - remember "Like Water For Chocolate"? My daughter and I ate our way through San Francisco at inexpensive little holes in walls like the Theater Two Cafe that was literally hidden behind a temporary plywood wall due to construction; we skewered tasty marinated tofu at the funky Asqew Grill in Haight Asbury. We packed so much into our little vacation that I was happy to get home and relax!