Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Mission District Phase 3: Final Edition

The Mission District of San Francisco, is just one of many cultural neighborhoods. It is economically and ethnically diverse; however, nearly half of the population is Latino. Complete with shops, cafés, restaurants, murals, culture, and nightlife—this ever-changing neighborhood is one not to be missed. In the 1950’s Central American and Mexican families began moving to the Mission, and there presence can be seen all over.

My most recent “Mission” experience began at 24th and Mission, or the heart of the Mission, where I parked my car and began the trek to Balmy Alley. Along the seven-block stroll there are hundreds of taquerias, check-cash centers, and produce markets with their signs written in Spanish. An elderly Latino man can often be seen pushing his portable cart offering Mexican ice cream treats and even tacos.

Balmy alley is tucked away just off 24th street. When I arrived the alley was bustling with my classmates, fervently taking photographs and taking in every ounce of the incredible murals possible. The community murals movement began in the mid 1960’s, Balmy Alley is a product of this movement, and one of the few projects that was finished and preserved. The murals were meant to “educate the masses”, and portrayed images of influential Spanish people and messages. Balmy Alley was particularly effective because the murals were painted in one location. Moreover, murals are scattered through the entire Mission district, however, because they are spaced out, the message isn’t as strong. In 1972, the Mujeres muralists painted their first mural, which was followed up by three-dozen mural activists in 1984, who worked together to paint a mural on every fence, garage, and building in the alley.

After taking what seemed like 1000 pictures, we headed to Taqueria Vallarta for the food part of our field trip. The menu boasted many Mexican favorites like Chimichangas and tacos, and a few Americanized choices including the classic Super Burrito. Unfortunately I wasn’t feeling great, so I opted for quesadillas and Mexican rice. Much to my surprise and satisfaction Taqueria Vallarta uses Chihuahua cheese, as opposed to the imposter Jack or Cheddar cheese, that tend to creep into Mexican dishes when they are made in the states. Literally meaning “little cheesy thing”, the cheese is the star in this simple dish.

The traditional Mexican quesadilla is a circle of uncooked corn masa folded in half and filled with cheese, and then warmed up until the cheese has melted. This process varies in different parts of Mexico, for example El Salvador has its own version of the quesadilla that unlike the Mexican version is served with coffee. The Salvadoran quesadilla, also popular in Guatemala and southern Mexico, is a dense bread dessert made with flour, milk, eggs, butter, sour cream, sugar, and Parmesan cheese; these ingredients are mixed together and baked for 30 minutes. I’ve never had a dessert style quesadilla like the one I described; however, I am stoked to try it as soon as I get my hands on one, because it sounds delicious.

After finishing up at Taqueria Vallarta, we began the walk back to Mission St. and our final stop—Mission Pie. This café and pie shop serves a plethora of freshly made organic pies, including the most popular option, banana cream, as well as pumpkin, vegan apple with brandied raisins, and pear raspberry. Many of the ingredients in Mission Pie’s pies are grown at their very own Pie Ranch; the remainder of the ingredients are bought from local farmers and at local markets. The pumpkin pie was pretty amazing; however, after tasting a classmate’s banana cream, that is the clear choice here!

Every excursion to the Mission is bound to be different, from the taquerias to the trendy new restaurants, there is always something new to eat and new to see in this cultural haven.