Saturday, February 21, 2009

Do You Live In A Food City?

I read this post below from Accidental Hedonist. And you all know me. I'm the BIGGEST fan of San Francisco there is. I consider it one of the most amazing cities in the world. It's the city I've chosen to call home (for now!) And to me? It's a food friendly city.

So when I read her criteria got me thinking. By these standards, is San Francisco a good food city? I think there are some good points below. And of course, by my standards, SF fairs pretty well! Maybe we need to work on the street food culture, but aside from that? I'd say we should rank pretty high up on the list.

In terms of food cities in the U.S., which cities do you consider food cities? New York? Chicago? Miami? L.A.? New Orleans? Sorry friends. In my mind, San Francisco could only be rivaled by New York...and even then, I have a hunch that S.F. would win. If I were the judge of course!

What Makes a Good Food City
via Accidental Hedonist by Kate Hopkins on 1/16/09
In the course of my travels, I have discovered long ago that there are some cities that are wonderful places to visit for foodies. These are places where it is very easy to find great places to eat, wonderful places to shop, and food producers, including farmers, feel that the can easily sell their wares.

And then there are other cities. These are places where good food has to be sought out. The good restaurants, if there are any, are few and far between, and market places consist of either Safeways or Krogers, and not much more. These are the places seem desolate and a little bit sad.
I've been thinking about what makes a good food city, and what separates places like San Francisco and Seattle from places like Cincinnati and yes, even Pittsburgh. Here is what I've been able to come up with. I'm not saying that each city has to have all of these items, but the more of them one has, typically the better the food culture of that area.

In no particular order:

Be a port city: To be a good food city, it pays to have cheap access to rare and/or unique ingredients. Cities in which goods from other countries flow through on a regular basis invariably mean that some of those products remain in the city.

Have a diverse population: The more cultures associated in an area mean different ways to interpret food. Additionally, the more ethnic groups in a city means ethnic restaurants and markets that cater to those ethnicities.

Have at least one open air market open for at least a season: I'm not talking about farmer's markets here (I'll get to those later). Rather, I am talking about places like Pike Place Market, where one can be assured of getting fresh meats and vegetables on a daily basis. These places don't need to be open 365 days a year, but summer and/or autumn options would be nice.
Have at least one local supermarket option: Shopping at Safeways and Krogers mean that your money spent there eventually ends up helping some other community other than your own. Local stores almost always seem to be open and aware of local issues and are more likely to give access to local food producers than the national chains.

Have at least a one-to-one local restaurant to franchise restaurant ratio: The most popular fast food restaurant cuisine in Seattle is not hamburgers. It's teriyaki chicken, and their restaurants outnumber McDonald's here by three to one. I find that very cool.

Have a restaurant culture: By this I mean having a group of chefs and restaurateurs who consistently look to find new and interesting ways of presenting food to an area. Nothing brings attention to a city more than a James Beard award or two, even if we all know that the Beard awards are a

Have a street food culture: If ever Seattle could improve it's food standing, it's here. Street vendors are likely the oldest means in which prepared food has been sold to the public, outside of marketplaces themselves. New York City is known for their vendors (albeit of questionable quality at times), as is Portland, Oregon, of all places. I find these places quaint as well as important to the food culture.

Have several independent restaurants that cater to the lower/lower-middle classes: Fresh cheap food that benefits local owners is a win/win for a community, whether it's teriyaki sold on the cheap, or a local diner that sells chicken fried steak, or a pub that sells pasties, all provide an integral service that allows an area to seem unique.

Have a wholesale fish market: Obviously inland cities will have problems with this. But for some reasons, cities that have wholesale fish markets seem more interesting to me than cities that don't.

Have a weekly open air market place: We call them farmer's markets over here in the States. There should be at least one market for every 50,000-75,000 residents I think. I'd like to see that number go down to 1 market for every 20,000 residents, but I don't think that will happen in my lifetime.

Have at least one microbrewery, chocolatier, and honest-to-god baker that nearly everyone in the city is aware of: Some cities do this much better than others, mind you. But it is important to have common food products that are produced uniquely to that city alone. Think about how many different Potato Chip manufacturers out there that remind people of a certain city. Mike-Sells in Dayton, or Snyder's of Berlin in Pennsylvania are great examples. These are businesses that makes foods that make people proud that they're produced in their city.

Have an unsegregated consumer base: It's not enough to have ethnic restaurants in a city, but people outside of that community should visit these places on a regular basis. Many of the Thai places here in Seattle would not exist if only the Thai community visited them.

Have the residents brag about the food: What turns me on to an unknown restaurant or marketplaces is often a local who loves the place. There are some cities where the residents are far more vocal about their food culture than others. New York is the most obvious, but folks in San Francisco have been known to talk about their food scene. An attentive, recepting, and most importantly, vocal consumer base is often a sign of a healthy food scene.

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