While in San Francisco, a quick trip to Whole Foods and dinner with an old friend each brought me face to face with something new, something that provided a window into a new part of the world. I love that feeling, and it tends to throw my research skills into high gear. In this particular case, they were also both edible…
#1: Kouign Amman
Kouign Amman is a round crusty cake that was nestled in with the breakfast pastries, right next to the croissants. To my untrained ear it sounded vaguely Middle Eastern and peaked my curiosity. When I got home I discovered that it was actually a Breton cake made up of layers upon layers of dough, butter, and sugar and then cooked to caramelized perfection. A little heavier than a criossant, but similar. I associated Breton with northern France (Brittany specifically), but other than that I basically drew a blank…
Here’s what I found out. Apparently Bretons are an ethnic minority living in modern day Brittany, and Breton appears to be another word for Brittany. Sadly the Breton speaking population now is only approximately 250,000 people most of whom are in their seventies. Their population dwindles with every year that passes, which understandably leads to real concern about the extinction of the language over the next few decades. More information and a video from CNN: Bretons Fight to Save Language from Extinction. In addition, Locronan, a small town in the westernmost portion of Brittany (population: about 800 people), is the alleged birthplace of Kouign Amman.
Social media made it easy for Annelies and I to be back in touch and sitting at the window bar at BStar on a recent night in San Francisco despite the fact that we fell out of touch many years ago after college. BStar serves Burmese fusion and is owned by the same people who own the well-known Burma Superstar, where I’m told the wait is considerably longer. Both are on Clement Street in Inner Richmond, a neighborhood hailed as the go to spot for great Asian food and Annelies’s neighborhood. Based on her recommendations, we split the tea leaf salad, and I ordered the jook.
Descriptions pulled from the menu:
- Jook – rice porridge with chicken or pork, peanuts, scallions, ginger, chilies, and a thousand year egg
- Tea Leaf Salad – romaine, ginger, garlic, peanuts, sunflower and sesame seeds, tomato and tea leaf
Both the food and the company were great. Intrigued, I promptly googled jook to find out more when I got home – i.e. how it was made, what is typically added as garnish, etc. It’s also called commonly congee or any of almost a dozen other names when served in various parts of India, Korea, Vietnam, the Philippines, and even Japan. It’s eaten for breakfast or when you’re not feeling well, and is considered comfort food much like chicken noodle soup. Variations on the boiled rice porridge are huge making it particularly fitting for an Asian fusion restaurant!
The other interesting thing was the thousand year egg, a.k.a. century egg, that was served with the jook. It’s round, greenish, and right in the middle of the bowl in the picture above. Looking much more like a pickle than an egg, if you ask me. This was the first I’d ever heard of preserving eggs. Thankfully the one on my plate looked a lot more appetizing than the one pictured on Wikipedia and I hadn’t read stories and misconceptions of how this preservation process was originally discovered either! The consistency was similar to a boiled egg, and it worked well with all the other flavors. I probably wouldn’t eat it on it’s own, but I’d happily have another in my next bowl of jook.
What I Love about San Francisco & Some Recipes
I love that all kinds of new things are on offer in the Bay area. The pervasive question seems to be “Why not?” Wherever you turn someone is doing something interesting. Very often it also involves food. Relatively inexpensive food too. And, right below the surface, a simple Google search away, you’ll often find that someone more passionate and knowledgeable has done the tougher investigative work for you… Of course an obscure Breton pastry is available! It’s San Francisco!
Where to find more Kouign Amman and jook in San Francisco:
- Finding a Kouign Amann in San Francisco: Your Weekend Assignment from SFWeekley.com
- Congee Compendium in San Francisco on Yelp, and more about Congee in the Bay area.
If you’re curious, click to learn how to pronounce Kouign Amman. I know I was!