The Bay Area is a food-lovers' paradise, renown for its fine restaurants, famous chefs, and fresh ingredients. From farmers' markets to fabled vineyards, we've got it all – and we don't have to go far to get it. People come from all over the world to get a taste of San Francisco, while those of us who live around here don't have to go anywhere to taste the world. You can take your taste buds on a global trip without ever leaving one street.
Clement Street in San Francisco's Inner Richmond is a kaleidoscope of colors and cultures. People from more than a dozen different Asian countries – plus families from Europe and the Middle East – all throw their languages, traditions, and cuisines into Clement Street's cultural "stir-fry." Nibbling around this neighborhood is an epicurean adventure.
World-famous chef and TV host ( Yan Can Cook ) Martin Yan, a globetrotter who's made the Bay Area his home, is a perfect guide for the culinary wonders of Clement Street. As Martin walks Clement between 4th and 9th Avenues, his first stop is a supermarket that seems to sell just about every food under the sun – the Richmond New May Wah Supermarket.
Food aficionados and chefs like Martin can let their imaginations run wild in New May Wah. There is no shortage of exotic ingredients, including live seafood, two aisles of fantastic fruits and vegetables, and a meat counter that has some mysterious items. Martin finds a long clam known as "gooey duck," a pod that has baby bananas inside, and a wide array of cow and pig innards.
People come from all over to buy hard-to-find ingredients at New May Wah. But you can get old-fashioned, all-American favorites here, too. Martin says, "I always joke with people if you cannot find it in this store, this item does not exist." A different world of food exists just across the street, inside Haig's Delicacies. Haig's is an institution on Clement Street, having been there for fifty years. The store offers a global array of teas, coffees, and spices. But Haig's specialty is Middle Eastern and Mediterranean food. Co-owner Rita Takvorian offered Martin some falafel made from her Armenian family recipe, as well as dolmas – a rice mixture rolled in grape leaves, and several kinds of hummus, all made at the store.
Rita explains, "Hummus is made out of garbanzo beans. And tahini, which is a sesame paste, ground up sesames." Martin enjoys the taste, which he calls "beautiful" and "well-balanced." A short walk on Clement Street can be like spinning the globe from the Mediterranean to China. Walking a short distance, Martin comes to the Herbal Consulting Center, where Wai Keung Yeung has been caring for people for more than 15 years. Mr. Yeung was trained at a Chinese medical school. He uses both modern technology and ancient remedies to treat joints, tendons, and all sorts of ailments. Martin explains, "This art has been passed on from generation to generation for thousands of years."
Walking across the street, Martin walks to Burma Superstar for lunch. Just a few years ago, Joycelian Lee and her boyfriend – a Burmese-American – were loyal customers here. Now, they're the owners. She says, "We found out they were closing the restaurant, so we ended up taking it over." Joycelian says she loves the diversity of ingredients in these dishes and how the layers of flavors reflect Burma's spot on the map of Asia. "This style of eating is very Burmese, where you'll have some dishes that are Indian-influenced, some dishes that are Chinese-influenced, and some that are uniquely Burmese. And eating them all together, that makes a Burmese feast."
Martin's feast includes a dozen dishes from soups to samosas. Every bite is alive with flavor and rich with interesting textures. Martin tells Joycelian he doesn't just like the food – he loves it! After lunch, Martin needs a little something sweet. His next stop offers plenty of choices. "Sweet Delite" sells hundreds of candies, dried fruits, and frozen desserts. But the shop is best known for its tapioca pearl drinks. Owners Johnny and Bianca Yao, who come from Taiwan, recommend three fruity drinks, made with shaved ice and big black tapioca pearls.
But your stomach isn't the only thing you can feed on Clement Street; you can also feed your mind. Green Apple Books is a beloved bookstore located across the street from Burma Superstar. It was opened in 1967 and has been thriving ever since. Over the years, Green Apple has expanded its store a little at a time, creating some quirky architecture. "There are all kinds of little alcoves. A lot of creaky floors, a lot of nooks and crannies," says co-owner Kevin Hunsanger. He says used books are a big part of the store's success, explaining, "You can find books here that you won’t find anywhere else." It doesn't take Martin long to find some of the 26 cookbooks he's written.
Clement Street isn't just a great place to visit, it's also a real, vital community – a place where people live and work and shop and actually get to know their neighbors. Kevin says, "The sense of community here is like no other neighborhood I've experienced in San Francisco. It makes me very happy to be a part of this."
Certainly, we're happy to be part of it, even just for one day. Clement Street is a lively community, an extraordinary crossroads of cultures and cuisines, and an easy place to take a global adventure without packing a bag.