San Francisco’s Mission District: A Blend of Flavors- Nerissa Martinez

Posted on January 30, 2012

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I grew up in the Mission District. It is familiar.

The smell of gas, carnitas, and the fresh and openness of produce, along with the foul odor of human excretion, lingering in the air as you rise from the generic walls of Bart, signals that you have arrived to: The Mission District. The Mission is a lot different from when I was growing up. In my preschool age, I used to walk with my grandpa on 24th for the daily groceries and meat at the carnecería, and if I behaved, I would be awarded with the occasional peleta or pan dulce. We used to walk hand in hand, looking up at him with admiration. When I looked around me I saw Hispanic people. Everywhere. I was told to never walk the streets alone, beware of the men hollering, and never wear red or blue. As I grew up and moved on to high school and now college, and I return to my once before stomping grounds, I see gringos moving in, an eccentric culture developing, and less of what I remember of my childhood. I had always thought it would stay the same, no matter how far away I went, but then reality hits. Nothing is ever constant and the Mission is the epitome of continual change.

As Luis, the baker and business associate of La Victoria, stated, the Mission District suffers a culture clash, of new and old, of tradition and modernity. Local businesses, including La Victoria, the oldest in the community for 60 years, struggles to keep its authenticity as a panadería but also cater to their newer and lighter clientele. I feel the same sediment the locals who have lived in the Mission for years since the settlement of their families that this change is hard to come by. It is gratitude that the danger is disappearing and pride that restaurants and Hispanic culture being noticed, but it’s disheartening that people are being misplaced. Because, you see, the Mission, like Chinatown, North Beach, or even the Castro, housed people and greeted newly arrived migrants who wanted familiar identification and language in an unknown place and often unwelcomed in other parts of the city.

However, I find in the long-run, the diversity in the food business of the Mission will help the community prosper. Before, the Mission was a place you did not want to go to, but now with the new, smaller businesses like “Mission Minis” or “Humphry Slocombe”, it breaks the misconception and allows more original businesses to succeed.

Two places I believe share the epitome of this clash are: El Farolito and Mr. Pollo. El Farolito is the classic Taquería. Their specialty is their tacos. So, I ordered a taco. Al pastor. Al pastor is marinated pork. Traditionally, it is put on a vertical rotisserie and shredded, but due to health code regulations, the al pastor here in the U.S. had to be grilled. The spicy smell watered my taste buds, but as soon as you bite into it, that addicting aroma ceases. The oily, charcoaled bite along with the generic taste of the tortilla left it with mediocre flavor.

On the other side of the spectrum, Mr. Pollo is a unique fusion of flavor. Having Guam, Venezuelan origins, the recipes and dishes at this hole-in-the-wall I am sure is worth the wait and the cramped space. They are supporters of the farmer’s market and the organic movement, attempting to make fresh food daily. What Ivan, the friendly and down-to-earth chef, created on “the stage” was a coconut de leche polenta with fried plantain topped with arugula and chataleño cheese. First bite, an explosion of flavor and texture. It was sweet and savory, soft and crispy. The polenta was creamy along with the cheese made it for an exotic twist to the mac n’ cheese. The apple cider vinegar marinated arugula and fried plantain make for a contrast of flavors that harmoniously work together. It is a must to visit Mr. Pollo right there on 24th and Mission.

Balmy Alley. Here is what encompasses the Mission District as it is today. The expression, the diverse culture, the awareness it wants to bring. The murals of this public gallery illustrate the issues of the neighborhood in attempt to share awareness and culture of innovation and creativity, in order to share its home to all of us.

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