I admit it…I’ve lived in the San Francisco Bay Area for more than 25 years and I’ve never really explored our legendary Chinatown. Sure, I’ve gone for dim sum many times or to check out a unique eatery, but spending time wandering the streets to soak in its rich history? Nope. Not until we filmed this show. Discovering our country’s oldest Chinatown with Chef Martin Yan was an experience I’ll never forget.
Martin is a joy. I’ve known him for more than a decade and he never fails to make me smile (and belly laugh). Not only does he have incredible knowledge, he’s hilarious. When Martin graciously said he would spend time taking me through “his” Chinatown, that became the inspiration for our second episode.
His famous tagline, “Yan Can Cook, So Can You” is the basis of his award-winning PBS shows. Born in Southern China, Martin trained in Hong Kong and then immigrated to Canada. He’s been a Bay Area culinary staple for decades and is treated as royalty in Chinatown.
As Martin and I strolled the streets tucking into tiny shops and food purveyors, we were welcomed with open arms. Some bites were amazing, some not so much. The bao pork buns, however, at Wing Sing Dim Sum were my favorite. Fresh, light and flavorful, I wanted to box them up like donuts and take them home.
Tasting Dragon Beard candy was a first for me. Watching Derek making this ancient dessert was a sweet treat. There were nearly 20 people standing on the sidewalk as we filmed taking turns trying to learn how to eat the candy properly. It has to be pulled so that the cornstarch filaments look like a beard as the confection melts in your mouth.
Dim sum lunch with Martin was another experience. Again, I’ve eaten dim sum countless times living in San Francisco, but this was different. We ordered…and ordered…and ordered while Martin explained the history (and future) of dim sum. And, I finally managed to eat chicken feet with chopsticks! An accomplishment.
After shopping, noshing, singing and strolling with Martin I felt enriched…and stuffed.
Though Chinatown is steeped in history, it’s also home to innovation with Chef George Chen driving change.
He’s a charming man whose goal is to elevate the way Americans think of Chinese cuisine. As the owner for decades of numerous local Asian-style eateries, George wanted to focus on making a statement. He’s done it with China Live – a collection of dining options rolled into one space – which has exploded on the San Francisco food scene.
But his crown jewel is Eight Tables by George Chen. Lauded for its creative yet traditional preparations focused on “shi fan tsai” or private chateau-style dining, eating at Eight Tables was one of the best culinary experiences of my life.
I hope you enjoy taking a look – and a taste – of the wonders of San Francisco’s Chinatown. Gānbēi!
Chef Martin Yan
Golden Delight BBQ
Gung Chou City/Stockton Seafood Center
(dry goods store)
Wing Sing Dim Sum
New Asia Dim Sum Restaurant
The Wok Shop
Dragon Papa Dessert
(Dragon Beard candy)
Vital Tea Leaf Co.
Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory