And now, ladies and gentlemen, a (not-very-well-researched) brief history of San Francisco street food. First up: the taco truck, a portable taqueria in a shiny, well-scrubbed trailer offering chicken mole burritos and a Coke. There’s the beloved Tamale Lady who sells, you know, tamales. Weary tourists and shoppers in Union Square refresh with salt-crusted pretzels and cold drinks. Late-night in the Mission, enterprising guys hawk bacon-wrapped hot dogs, a Mex-Tex invention that sounds deadly, tastes like the Promised Land and is best consumed annually, after midnight, under the influence.
Driving the latest wave in street food is the hipster food truck, those rambling kitchens on wheels that Tweet their destinations and offer everything from bao buns to curries to crème brûlée and Korean eats. Even with permits and inspections and general legitimacy, the trucks still have a twinkle of renegade DIY luster, though with televised contests and a saturated market, I reckon we’re already on the inevitable slide into food truck fatigue. (To wit: just when you thought the world couldn’t possibly handle another cupcake, somebody thought to make them portable. Sigh.) In the meantime, though, we have an incredibly well-attended festival dedicated to street food (oh, how we San Franciscans love a festival), and trucks regularly rally up to create impermanent, urban food courts.
But you know what we don’t have? Old-school halal guys. Chicken shwarma and falafel guys. Up until yesterday I’d only made falafel from a mix (pretty passable, actually) but I thought I’d try to make my own scratch version of the spicy chick pea patties. These were quick (just a few minutes in the food processor) and beautifully textured (crisp on the outside, tender and slightly creamy within) with full, spicy flavor and a perky color from the tumeric and parsley. Falafel are traditionally served with a lemony tahini sauce, but I prefer the cold, clean taste of Greek tzatziki, the garlicky yogurt sauce prepared with dill and cucumber. (It’s also easy to prepare and makes a terrific accompaniment to chicken or salmon.) Serve the falafel and tzatziki as part of a mezze platter with olives, dolmas and baba ganouj, or pile into a pita with tomatoes, cucumber and red onions for a portable, street-friendly snack.
adapted from the Moosewood Cookbook by Mollie Katzen, 1977;
makes about 2 dozen patties
- 4 C cooked chickpeas (or two 15 oz cans, rinsed & drained)
- 3 medium garlic cloves, minced
- 1 tsp tumeric
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/2 C shallot or yellow onion, finely minced
- 1/4 C (packed) flat-leaf parsley, minced
- 1/4 C water
- 1 Tbsp lemon juice
- few dashes of cayenne
- 1/3 C flour
- vegetable oil for pan-frying
Combine all the ingredient (except the flour) in a food processor and process until you have a uniform batter. Add the flour and stir to combine. Proceed with the recipe or refrigerate the batter for several days until needed.
Heat a heavy skillet with a few tablespoons of oil over medium-high. When it’s hot enough to sizzle a speck of batter on contact, drop tablespoon-sized amount of batter into the oil, pressing lightly to flatten into a pattie. Sauté for about 8 minutes per side until golden and crisp. Add additional oil to the pan as needed.
Cook in batches, and transfer falafel to a plate lined with paper towels to drain. Keep warm in a 300 degree oven until serving time.
adapted from Michael Psilakis’ How to Roast a Lamb: New Greek Classic Cooking, 2009; makes one pint
- 1/2 English or hothouse cucumber, peeled
- 4-5 medium cloves garlic, smashed and minced
- 1/2 C distilled white vinegar
- 2 shallots, sliced
- 2 Tbsp fresh dill, minced
- 1 1/4 C Greek yogurt
- 1 Tbsp olive oil
- 1 Tbsp lemon juice
- 1/4 tsp pepper
- 1/2 tsp salt
Quarter the cucumber and trim away the triangular wedge of seeds; dice and put into a medium bowl. Fold in the remaining ingredients. Allow the flavors to merge in the fridge for at least one hour. Adjust seasoning and lemon juice to your liking and serve with falafel or chicken souvlaki.