More than 80 food vendors will set up shop along Folsom Street between 20th and 26th on Saturday as part of La Cocina’s annual Street Food Festival, now in its fifth year. Though they’ll descend on one location, the food and cuisines being offered represent an incredible geographic range.
The vendors at the fair include a mix of graduates from La Cocina’s business incubator program, local food trucks, and some of the most acclaimed restaurants of the Bay Area. The flavors, techniques, ingredients and people come from all over the world.
To visually represent this immense global diversity, Mission Local charted the geographic source for all of the merchants of this year’s Street Food Festival. (To see where vendors will actually be set up along Folsom Street, La Cocina has created this guide.)
In making this map, we uncovered a few tasty morsels of insight. It seems that making maps often leads to worthwhile insights.
For one, the variety of San Francisco’s food scene is no joke. Every continent is represented at the festival — with the exception of Antarctica, but we’re confident that can be addressed next year. There are cuisines from Malaysia, Ethiopia, El Salvador, Colombia, China, the American South, Cuba, Venezuela, Italy, Korea, Japan and even pre-Hispanic, indigenous Meso-America.
Just listing the various dishes on offer evokes far-flung locales: lumpia, pupusa, pão de queijo, swarma, chocolate babka, onigiri, natchitoches meat pie, takoyaki octopus balls, momos, chana masala, injera rolls, arepa rellena, bánh mì and many more.
Creating a map like the one above also reveals how challenging it can be to pinpoint the geographic origins of many types of cuisine. Where should one physically locate the geographic source of Kung Fu Tacos, a mobile food vendor that wraps traditional Chinese cuisine in a Tex-Mex shell? Where precisely does “California Cuisine” and “Soul Food” come from?
The process of assigning a geographical area to food can be incredibly reductive. Namu Street Food takes inspiration from Korean street food, but has a distinct Northern California flair. Foods from India or Mexico, for instance, are never just from India or Mexico, given that both these large countries have a huge number of regional and local cuisines.
Our map falls short when representing dishes inspired by specific time periods. The funnel cake of Endless Summer Sweets draws nostalgic inspiration from classic America county fair food. The wax moth larvae and pasilla pepper tacos of Don Bugito have their origins in pre-Hispanic, Mayan-ruled Mexico.
Claiming where food originates from can get you into some political hot water. Take, for example, the falafel, the signature ingredient of Liba Falafel. Egypt, Palestine, and Israel have all named the food as a national dish and there are seething resentments about which country can truly claim it. On our map, Liba Falafel can be found in Amsterdam, the place where its owner Gail Lillian found inspiration among the Middle Eastern immigrant-owned food trucks.
We tried our best to get it right, but because of the complexity of food in a globalized world our methods are hardly consistent. Pinpoints sometimes represent the country of origin of the owner, sometimes where ingredients are sourced from and sometimes a geographic locale with only a vague connection to vendor in question.
It turns out the food at this year’s Street Food Festival, and food in general, has a bit of a paradoxical relationship to geography. Often dishes that invoke a specific place can simultaneously defy the very borders of that very same place.
La Cocina’s Street Food Festival takes place Saturday, August 17 on Folsom Street between 20th and 26th 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., click here for more details or download the first ever Street Food iPhone app here. As a kickoff event, La Cocina also hosts a Night Market Friday, August 16 at Alemany Farm from 6 to 10 p.m. more information can be found here.