Under the spell in Chinatown

You can see from the top of the hill
Tangled streets and the mystery there
Painted lanterns hang from balconies
People running everywhere

Chinatown, with all your dark mystery
Chinatown, Chinatown
Your spell is capturing me

Lovely ladies with almond eyes
Dressed in silk and laces
Twilight falls and the shadows move
Silently in secret places

Chinatown, with all your dark mystery
Chinatown, Chinatown
Your spell is capturing me

You've got me under your spell
You've got me under your spell
You've got me under your spell
You've got me under your spell

by the Doobie Brothers

The who?, you say.
Not The Who. The Doobie Brothers.

I took a short trip to San Francisco with my sister last month. It was the very first time that I went on a non-work related trip without my husband and Medha. She was crushed and still hasn't forgiven me completely. But, I have to tell you! It's a must-do! Leave the grinch behind. Walk into every store you feel like. Eat wherever you want, whenever you want. There are no endless questions: where are we going? do we have to go there? when will we get there? I need to go pee-pee really bad. None of that! We went to meet our youngest maushi and bhaoji whom we had last met over 7 years ago. We spent a day with them and then took off on sister-to-sister quality time in the heart of San Francisco.

I didn't take nearly as many pictures this year as I did last year. I wanted to see things with my own eyes instead of through the lens. And one place I wanted to experience, smell and taste was Chinatown.

We took the cable car from Market Street and hopped off at one of the Chinatown stops. We had no clue where we were, where we were headed, or what we were going to do. The first thing we noticed was that everything was written in Chinese. And then we came across this beautiful Chinese Hospital.



I spied some fresh produce in open boxes along the wall of a corner store in the building ahead.


It was very difficult to not buy any of this stuff!


Just then the delivery van arrived and Chinese people of all sizes and shapes swarmed to the store.


Everyone stopped politely and waited for me to take my picture. I tried to tell them to go about their business and buy all those fresh veggies but they were far too polite. They continued to wait. So I moved on...and came upon this store that sold dried seafood.


I recognized only a couple of the dried seafood in this inviting array. Once I started looking at it at close quarters, it wasn't all that attractive anymore. The smell? Let me just say that there were no incense sticks readily available nearby.


We wandered through the streets. Was this what China is like, I wondered! I looked for matching baby doll shoes to go with Medha's Qui Pao dress but they were either out of the color or the size. I made up for it by buying myself a simple but elegant pair of pumps.

We walked by a store that sold herbs and all kinds of exotic dried roots. Some of the roots looked like they could be an insect or a small animal. But roots they were.


There were times when I felt like I was back in India. There were "everything under the sun is sold here" stores. From sweets to shoes to clothing to toys. And they displayed their wares outside the store and hung from the doorways, just like the little shops in India.


Since my sister hadn't had dim sum before, we asked around for a good restaurant in the area. Everyone told us to go to Ray Eestuhn. We walked down this street, looking for Ray Eestuhn ...


...till someone told us exactly where it was. We would have never found it on our own.


There was a wait. We didn't mind as we had much to talk about. We had been talking non-stop since we met at Denver Airport and it didn't seem like that tide was going to ebb any time soon. Great Eastern was filled with the locals and there were very few non-Chinese in the restaurant. I was thrilled at the thought of authentic dim sum and a little apprehensive at the thought of biting into some of the dried stuff that we had seen earlier.

We figured out how to order dim sum over cups of delicious hot jasmine tea.


We had several different types of dim sum. The most interesting was fish wrapped in seaweed and deep fried. We also had sticky rice wrapped in lotus leaves. And steamed rolls. The meal cost us only about $15 and we were quite full!


I wanted to explore Chinatown some more but Lombard Street and Fisherman's Wharf beckoned. Maybe next time.

Chinatown, with all your dark mystery
Chinatown, Chinatown
Your spell has captured me

32 comments:

Jyothsna said...

Chinatown is appealing, atleast the first time! You end up buying things you don't really need :)

Anita said...

You mean you didn't buy any of the fresh produce? What about the herbs - the roots and stuff...Some dried fish might have been nice. Or not!

That is the problem with dried seafood - it always smells of the beach! But when you add just a tiny bit of shrimp paste, or fish sauce to something - ummmm...a slice of heaven?

Lucky you - sister-to-sister time is always great. Without THs, even better!

shilpa/eon said...

Oh Chinatown! I was under its spell too when I visited recently. I'm trying to remember where I had dinner. That place was packed and had very few non-Chinese people and the food was to die for.

I bought a packet of dried mushrooms while under the spell and now wondering what to do with that or how it would smell and taste!

Meeta said...

Firstly Manisha, let me congratulate you on your first trip without "THE CLAN" hehehe! I did it last year with two of my friends and we went camping near a beautiful lake. This year we are planning a longer weekend break and are going to go to Milan for shopping - I can totally relate to your feelings. No routine and no one to watch or get out of trouble LOL!

Secondly, SF is the best and Chinatown is a place where one can spend days. Your pictures are great and brought back some cool memories.

bee said...

ray eastuhn. lol. nice pics, manisha. the best meal i have had in a chinatown anywhere was in london - eel. it's yummy.

dim dums are fabulous. hope your sis liked them.

Nature and Me said...

Your description of China Town is so lively...it felt like I was walking through the streets of an Oriental bazar.

TheCooker said...

Ray Eastuhn is funny!
Funnier still is that you bought pumps for yourself to make up for not finding shoes for M.
It has been a long time since I went anywhere without the jing bang lot.

KitchenAromas said...

You are making me nostalgic! I lived in SF for four years before moving here to CO. Outings to Chinatown were always fun..good food (they have a couple of good chinese vegetarian restaurants too..go figure), awesome tea and lots of junk to buy! They sell some great green and jasmine tea..did you buy any?
The funniest thing I spotted in SF Chinatown is a store that sells fortune cookies..not the usual ones but fortune cookies for adults, X rated! :)

I've heard Denver has a Chinatown too, yet to explore but I doubt it'll even come close. Great pictures!

KitchenAromas said...

I stand corrected - no real "Chinatown" in Denver!

Manisha said...

Jyothsna, I was travelling light and wanted to keep it that way so I didn't go on a buying spree. I went into all the shops, yes! I picked up gifts for my loving family but that was about it. I also had masala, kokum, and papad that my aunt gave me.

Anita, we didn't have a car and we were hopping on and off the cable car. Plus we had to get to Fremont for dinner at a friend's so I was not looking forward to lugging fresh bhaji with me. Dried fish would have been good but I would have had to buy agarbattis, too!

Shilpa, yeah! I know exactly what you mean! Check Musical's blog for a recipe with dried mushrooms.

Meeta, I must admit I was very apprehensive. Will he wake up in time to take her to the bus stop? Will he remember to go to the bus stop to bring her home again? Will he be able to pack her lunch? I made sure there was a fair amount of food in the fridge, including dosa batter. He made her cheese dosas, they went out bike riding, had dinner out, rented movies, forgot to call me. Oh yes, they had a lot of fun, too!

You went camping?! That must have been a ton of fun! A close friend of mine joined us on our second day in SFO. She has made me promise that we will do something similar together once a year. I'm game!


bee, yeow! Eeeeeeel? I don't think I'd be able to sleep! You are very adventurous when it comes to food!

N&M, thanks! It was a wonderful experience! The place was bustling with so much activity and I particularly loved feasting my eyes on all the fresh produce.

TC, my Tai thought it might be Great Western but I was pretty sure I heard Ray Eestuhn. And when we stood on the street and wondered out aloud about Ray Esstuhn, a woman popped out of a small florist next to a dim sum place that had this recording full blast about the wonders they served and said to us: "Ray Eestuhn? Opposite ABC sign." Tai heard that and had no choice but to agree that it was Ray Eestuhn.

And hey! I was committed to buying shoes, you know. They just happened to be a couple of sizes larger than what I had initially planned. Medha wanted to know if I could keep all my shoes for her. I should have been flattered but all I could say to her was: Why? You get your sweaty feet from me?!

You should get away. There's a lot to be said for returning home after a trip away.
:-D

Roopa, after almost 2 years we still haven't explored Denver. We'd rather much head for RMNP and hike in the mountains. Must do it soon, though.

I didn't buy any tea. :-( I should have but I didn't want to lug lbs of stuff around.

Fortune cookies for adults?! LOL! LOL! I have a lot to say and ask...
:-D

And, no real Chinatown in Denver. But a friend who is Chinese was telling us of some really good Chinese restaurants in Denver. I should start writing these things down. He put us onto Chef King in the King Sooper's plaza on S Boulder Road in Louisville. So far, the food hasn't disappointed and it's very spicy!

Cynthia said...

Manisha, thanks for taking the time to visit my blog, it is a pleasure to discover yours. I've added it to my feeds so that I never miss another of your posts.

Thanks for this trip to Chinatown. I would have been so tempted to buy loads of stuff, you obviously have more self control :)

You can check my blog soon as I will post a response (in the comments section) to the questions you have about the rice and peas dish.

See you around.

Manisha said...

Cynthia, welcome to IFR! It's good to have you here! Your blog has been on my feeds for a while now and I enjoy reading your posts and seeing how our cuisines are so closely related.

Self control? Not really. Laziness wins every time. Buy and lug was not a very inviting option. The winds get very blustery in SFO and walking with a heavy load was not very inviting. But I know what I will be buying the next time we go!

I will look forward to seeing you around more!

Diane Carlson said...

I love Chinatown, but prefer Oakland Chinatown for most of my shopping. It's more a day-to-day working market area, and has an EXCELLENT farmer's market on Fridays with tons of Asian greens.

But both are nice. We are so spoiled for choice here - so many lovely markets and such a great mix of people and cuisines!

Sig said...

Thanks for the virtual tour Manisha... great pictures... The best China town I've been to is in Vancouver BC. I went with a Chinese friend and it was a totally different experience, almost felt like I was in China :).
Did you know authentic Chinese restaurants have some dishes that they would never tell you about? My friend ordered a bunch of stuff in Chinese which were not in the menu, and those were yummy (of course I didn't want to know which parts of the animals were used in any of those dishes)!

And yeah, dim sum is great, especially in China town!

Suganya said...

Thank you Manisha, for taking us with you to the China town. Loved yr post... And, always, have time for yr girlfriends/ sisters!

Pelicano said...

Oh, I'm so glad you went there- isn't it just magical? I even took a walk down Market St. late at night, however I didn't find interest in anything for sale there... ;-)

However, next morning I bought some dried little shrimpies- a whole pound! And brought them home...where my cats promptly found them in my suitcase and finished every last one... :-(

Pelicano said...

Cheese dosas did you say?

Anita said...

Denver has so many great things to explore - the farmers market downtown must be in full swing on Sundays, the Chinese and Vietnamese stores and eateries on the outskirts (there is an Indian store there somewhere), the wonderful French restaurant I walked to downtown on many a Sunday breakfast...Domos for lunch...The Greek restaurant...the very forgettable Napali and Indian restaurants downtown... have forgotten all the names :-(

You are so lucky to be there, Manisha! Please go to the Vietnamese places for me...steamed rice with their spicy green beans, and Thai tea, and...sigh.

I know cheese dosas - talk about D being an accomplished cook!

Manisha said...

Diane, I have heard wonderful things about the Oakland Chinatown recently. I wish I had known about it last year when we spent about a week in the Union City/Fremont area. You folks in California are certainly very lucky indeed!

Sig, wow! That must have been very exciting. Chinese restaurants are known for off the menu items or for having a menu written only in Chinese.

Suganya, I think it's very important to have time for your girlfriends. My sister and I are more friends than sisters. And we can talk and 'cackle' about anything and everything with one another! I do have a couple of friends that I meet for lunch about once a month or I treat myself to a session of Soul Food, a lunch series for women.

Pel, definitely magical! LOL about your cats and the dried shrimps. But at least someone enjoyed them! And yes, the man can cook. He just doesn't want to most of the time.

Anita, it took us 2 years before we 'discovered' Chicago and started loving it. It's not quite 2 years since we moved to this area so I'm guessing we will get there! For now, the mountains rule. And we have only scratched the surface of the East side of RMNP. There is a whole world out on the Grand Lake side. Not to mention the San Juan Valley or the Sand Dunes. Most folks from out of state have seen more of CO in the few days they spend here than we have in 2 years. We will start exploring more of Denver very soon, of that I am sure.

Anjali said...

Manisha thanks for sharing about your trip. The pictures are beautiful. Sis-to sis time is always memorable. You brought back memories.

Pelicano said...

Anita-
Don't forget about the pho (fer) at the Vietnamese restaurants! And the salad rolls...

Manisha, you're so lucky I can read Chinese to post a comment...

Pelicano said...

Devanagari too!

Manisha said...

You know what she will say to that, don't you? You are wonderful with scripts but you still have a language problem!

Soooo, how many Kanji do you know? My learned sister - not the one I went to SFO and she's very learned too - is learning Japanese and told me just the other day that she knows about 1000 Kanji. Wow! I can barely make out if something is a Kha or if it RaVa in Devanagri. I be the black sheep of the family. The runt they decided to keep. Just like in Charlotte's Web.


And in case you didn't pick up on the subtle message: you are now free to wax eloquent about me and my prowesses. And free to move about the country, too. And, all I have been drinking is Lipton Yellow Label.

Anita said...

Lipton Yellow Label is goood...did you ever get mugs that come with it sometimes? Those I my favourite for drinking tea! Alas, only the last one survives and there are no 'mug free' with the pack anymore...

Emily DeVoto, Ph.D., said...

Oh, what fun! I love Chinatown... thanks for the wonderful tour.

I know the nagging types of which you speak. I took a friend once, and we had a yummy and filling lunch at Sam Wo's noodle parlor. Then as I was slowly browsing and marveling at a produce shop, my friend said, "Can we stop thinking about food now?"

As if! :-p

Pelicano said...

Actually I was kidding; I can't read Chinese characters at all...nor the D. script- yet! :-)I was attempting to be humourously sarcastic :-( I can count to five in Hindi...plus order food of course, and name off ingredients... :-D That be it!

Although, in my last kitchen I painted Chinese kanji- is that what they're called?- on my cupboards. It said "Sunny gold incense...". Unfortunately, I couldn't get anyone who was Chinese to come for tea and a giggle...

Shankari said...

Hi Manisha

My pickle is sitting in our backyeard basking in the sun. Loved the ease of your recipe.It already looks mouthwatering. It is 100 degrees, how many days do I have to wait before I get to take a bite:)
BTW, I go to china town every year. It is a ritual for me. Feels like I am back home in India...

Manisha said...

Anita, our Lipton is packed in the Middle East - used to be anyway. No free anything with it. I used to buy the 750g packs but now I am forced to buy the smaller 250g packs as that is what my grocer will stock. They used to have only Yellow Label tea bags which got old just sitting there - yuk - and Red Label. Needless to say, now they stock Yellow Label.

Emily, stop thinking about food?! Blasphemy, I say! We charted our trip based on food. And since we couldn't dig into the seafood from the stalls/restaurants, we went right back the next day and had clam chowder, seafood salad combo, squid, you name it! Welcome to IFR and I hope to see you around more!

Pel, you're hilarious. I don't mind coming over for tea and giggling with you!

Shankari, good for you! I started taking bites when it was a week old. After 2 weeks, I scooped about 2 spoonsfuls and kept it in a katori. Then had it with dinner, bagels, toast, by itself. :-D Dig into it when you want to, is my motto! Just do it in small amounts cos it's best when it's ready - about 4 weeks in the Colorado sun. More if you see less of it and you don't feel its intensity as we do here!

Pelicano said...

Yeah, mine's about ready now...I've been good and kept it to spoon-licking, but I'd really like to have some with a bowl of rice!

You're welcome to have tea with me anytime; did you hear the dagad phool news? Apparantly it grows wild in two states here in the U.S.- and select/sparse areas on top of that: PA and WI...check out Linda's post on eggplant something...

Luv2cook said...

Hey Manisha -

Thanks for visiting my blog :). I am not sure yet what I am gonna make with all my fresh veggies. You will have to come back and check it out hehe...

This is a very cool write up about China town in SF. It will be on my list of things to do when I go there next :).

Linda said...

Hi Manisha, so glad you had the opportunity to make this trip -- sounds like you had a fabulous time! I've always wanted to see San Fran's Chinatown... thanks so much for the visual/virtual tour :)

laila said...

I also did China town with my sister. There is a lovely shop that sells tea and lets you try as many varieties as you like before you buy. It was a great experience.