Tag Archive | Chinatown

Yosemite and Beyond

Next up in my Northern California trip: Yosemite! My mother and I drove there from San Francisco, stopping for lunch in Tracy. Quite by accident, we stumbled upon an Indian grocery store/restaurant called Apna Bazaar, where we ate a delicious meal. Plus there was a case full of different flavors of barfi, labeled in English and (what I think was) Hindi, and the aisles of the grocery store were full of millet flour and pickled mangoes and rusks!

The last time I was in Yosemite, I was not yet born, so this was my first real visit. We stayed in a tent cabin in Half Dome Village in the valley, and we had two full days in the park. On the first day, we walked past/through the prescribed burn in the Ahwahnee Meadow. The smoke billowing under the pines and the flames licking the earth were a rather eerie sight. Naturally, when I noticed the sign for the Yosemite Cemetery, I had to go check out every gravestone and marker. Then we went up to Glacier Point to take in the views and hiked to McGurk Meadow, where we ate wild blueberries.

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Me and Half Dome

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“Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night’s Plutonian shore!”

On the second day, we hiked along the shoreline of Tenaya Lake (where there were still patches of snow!). Then we went to Tuolomne Meadows and climbed Pothole Dome.

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Tenaya Lake

The following morning, we returned to San Francisco. My mother flew back to Minnesota, while I headed to San Francisco Chinatown. It was in fact the Mid-Autumn Festival (中秋節) that day, and I was determined to buy moon cakes. I just walked up Grant Ave., impatiently overtaking tourists and keeping my eyes peeled for a bakery amidst all the kitsch. (I must have looked like a tourist myself, pulling my little suitcase and wearing a stuffed backpack.) On one street corner, a man sat on an overturned bucket playing the erhu. I finally found Eastern Bakery and proceeded to buy three moon cakes, a 粽子, and an egg tart, which I promptly ate on the street (just the egg tart).

From Chinatown I went to Berkeley, where I was staying for the night. My friend Isabelle had told me about an exhibit by Alina Chau at a Berkeley gallery called Tr!ckster, so I decided to go see it. I hadn’t realized Tr!ckster was both a gallery and a charming comic book store. Alina Chau’s paintings were gorgeous, and there were so many intriguing and beautiful graphic novels to page through. Best of all, I was invited to an impromptu tea party with the owner, a volunteer, a young customer, and his guardian. It was a magical afternoon. Before I left, I bought Monstress by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda.

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One of the paintings in the exhibit

中秋節 – Mid-Autumn Festival

Monday was the Mid-Autumn Festival, a Chinese celebration of the harvest and the full moon. On Saturday, my roommate and I traveled to Chinatown to buy moon cakes for the occasion. We first met a friend of mine who goes to Caltech for lunch at Sam Woo, where we ate braised fish with tofu (a dish which included, to our surprise, a fair amount of pork), green beans with minced pork, and beef pan-fried noodles with pickled vegetable.

We then walked to Phoenix Bakery for the moon cakes. The bakery sells quite an assortment of pastries and confections, from French-style viennoiseries to mochi ice cream, from enormous frosted cakes covered with sliced almonds to savory buns and dim sum items. And moon cakes, of course! What’s more, they were 25% off!

They had the traditional red bean paste and lotus seed paste fillings I like, so I bought one of each, both without egg yolks inside. The moon cakes were labeled in Chinese and had quite poetic names. The lotus seed one was marked 雙鳳蓮蓉月 (shuāngfèng liánróng yuè), which means “double phoenix lotus seed paste moon.” (The character for lotus, 蓮, is in my Chinese name.) My roommate’s lotus seed moon cake with two egg yolks was labeled 雙黃 (shuānghuáng), “double yellow” instead of “double phoenix.” To my surprise, the red bean paste moon cake was labeled 玫瑰豆沙月 (méiguī dòushā yuè), which means “rugosa rose bean paste moon.” I’m not sure why a red bean moon cake is called rose. Maybe because roses can be red?

We waited until Monday, the day of the festival, to taste the moon cakes. Both the red bean and the lotus seed were very good.

Red bean paste moon cake

Red bean paste moon cake

Lotus seed paste moon cake

Lotus seed paste moon cake

Blurry inside of lotus seed paste moon cake

Blurry inside of lotus seed paste moon cake

Since I figured it would be a long time before I had another chance to visit a Chinese bakery, I bought a couple of other things too. First, a baked barbecued pork bun, which I hadn’t had in ages and which tasted exactly how I remembered.

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Second, a rice dumpling (粽子 – zòngzi), which the bakery called a Chinese tamale. It’s a packet of sticky rice filled with pork, Chinese sausage, a salted egg yolk, and other tidbits (I’m accustomed to mushroom and peanuts, but this one had neither and I think had mung beans), the whole thing wrapped in bamboo or lotus leaves and tied with string. Zongzi are associated with the summer Dragon Boat Festival, but I will happily eat them whenever. They are so good. My great-grandmother used to make them.

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Sadly, when we visited, the bakery didn’t seem to have any egg tarts, the delicious yellow custards in flaky crust that you can get at dim sum. If there had been any, I definitely would have bought one. Or several.