Are you finding that your favorite comfort food is getting a little too, well, comfortable?
It’s easy to fall back on the familiar, especially when you’re feeling famished. But the world is full of all kinds of delicious cuisine, much of it right here in San Francisco. Take your taste buds on a trip by trying something new when the familiar gets tired.
Most American families emigrated from somewhere else (just like many yuppie transplants immigrated to San Francisco) and brought their culinary traditions with them. Thus, much of what was once exotic is now a mainstay. Mexican, Italian, Chinese, Indian, Thai, Vietnamese and Japanese food are all now fairly common cuisines. But there was a time when these popular kids of the lunchroom (so to speak) were new students, open, eager and hoping that some cheeseburger-nomming American would notice them and say, “Hey, this is different and delicious. Come sit with us.”
So that’s what this is: The Bold Italic’s version of a No Reservations episode for underrepresented world cuisines (except without Anthony Bourdain’s sordid past and inability to gain weight on a vacation). Whether they inspire you to try something new or simply make you hungry, one of these international cuisines might just become your new favorite.
Israeli food inspires. True story—it inspired me to write this. I recently traveled to Israel to visit friends, and the food I experienced there was so good, I was stunned. I wondered, what other world cuisines am I missing out on?
These same Israeli friends used to live here in the city and often spoke about the amazing food in Israel. I didn’t doubt it but figured that some of the hype was due to homesickness. They were homesick all right—homesick for life-changing hummus, fluffy pita bread, chopped cucumber and tomato salad, eggplant sandwiches and shakshouka. What’s shakshouka? Poached eggs in a tomato sauce with chili peppers, spiced cumin and paprika. And it’s amazing.
What to get: I have yet to find shakshouka in the city. But these spots have falafel, hummus, baba ghanoush and shashlik (seasoned meat skewers), and that’s a good start.
Photo courtesy of I.E.T.
Photo courtesy of Ed U.
Photo courtesy of Lolia S.
I’ll be honest—I ordered the salad to be polite. I asked what to order, and the server said salad. But since this was my first Burmese food experience, I trusted him. After trying the Tea Leaf and Rainbow salads at Burma Superstar, I would trust that server with my life. And while there are many other delicious Burmese specialties to be had, you won’t soon forget these salads.
What to get: Salads! And Nan Gyi Dok, a coconut rice and noodle curry dish
Photo courtesy of Bridget Veltri.
Photo courtesy of Tammia H.
Photo courtesy of Albertino M.
Ditch the utensils. It’s perfectly acceptable, even encouraged, to use your hands when enjoying Ethiopian food. Most Ethiopian signature stews (wats) are served on top of injera bread. Injera is a flat, thin, spongy, slightly sour bread that’s perfect for scooping. Just tear off a piece (preferably with your right hand, if you want to be culturally respectful) and dig into your communal entrées.
If you are sensitive to spicy, beware (and communicate that to your server).
What to get: Wat, or a stew made with either meat or vegetables
Photo courtesy of Bridget Veltri.
Photo courtesy of Bart Simpso N.
One word: pupusas. They’re so delicious, it won’t matter what they’re filled with—beans, yucca, pork, beef or just cheese. Be careful, because once you try these magical stuffed pillows from El Salvador, you’ll crave them forever.
What to get: Papusas and fried plantains
Photo courtesy of Ann S.
Photo courtesy of Daniel L.
Almost everybody loves kebabs. I mean, it’s meat on a stick—what’s not to love? Next time you’re out for Afghan, broaden your horizons and try aush, an Afghan rice specialty along with traditional noodle soup. You won’t regret it.
What to get: Aush, a noodle soup with beef, yogurt and mint; kebabs; pallow and challow rice dishes
Photo courtesy of Kevin C.
Photo courtesy of Mr. Bolo B.
Before moving to San Francisco, I thought Korean food was pretty much kimchi and bibimbap—maybe because until then, the only Korean food I’d had was during a layover in Seoul. I was wrong. Korean barbeque and kimchi rice are awesome.
What to get: Anything barbequed, soups and kimchi-fried rice
Photo courtesy of Yilin T.
Photo courtesy of Paul M.
When I was in Peru, I went for it. Like, tried-alpaca-steak, ate-guinea-pig went for it. Though it was memorable, I returned to the United States craving fresh ceviche, Incan potato varietals and gigantic corn kernels. But you don’t have to travel all the way to Lima for quality ceviche. La Mar Cebicheria is located right on the Embarcadero. (Though if you’re going to Lima, they have a location there too.)
What to get: Ceviche, pisco sours, barbacoa from Sanguchon, pulled pork with an Inca Kola sauce
Photo courtesy of Vivian C.
Photo courtesy of Wes M.
Photo courtesy of Fabian B.