Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Mission Street Food, the book

More or less monthly, I review a cookbook for Tablehopper (a weekly email chronicling all things food and drink in SF--you should subscribe). Here's last week's review:

NOTE: The authors dropped by, so you should get a SIGNED one while we have them (never too early to start your holiday shopping?).

Mission Street Food (MSF)--as a restaurant, a movement, whatever--is hard to explain. Mission Street Food--the new book by MSF founders Anthony Myint and Karen Leibowitz--is not.

MSF started in 2008 with Myint and Leibowitz sub-letting a taco truck once a week to serve fusion food and fresh-baked cookies to Mission denizens. The goal was to have fun, not make much money, raise money for charity, and cook. When "the man" shut that down, more or less, the couple rented a run-down Chinese restaurant once a week. Then guest chefs were invited. MSF became twice a week. And the story continues, evolving into a fascinating look at a period in SF food history before crème brulee street carts and pop-up restaurants became ubiquitous.

mission street food

The book starts with the story of Myint's father, a Chinese refugee from Burma, and how his brief life story illuminated most of the principles for what MSF became: "willfulness, naïveté, resourcefulness, altruism, moral flexibility, putative insanity, and a compulsion to use food efficiently."

The story is both improbable and inspiring. The manic energy of the couple, their adaptability, and their passion comes through in the first-person narrative that comprises the backbone of this book from local publisher McSweeney's. It's a he-said, she-said form that reads smoothly, and it more or less follows the venture's growth, mistakes, foibles, and successes.

There are also some interesting sub-sections: a chapter of MSF's history is told in graphic novel form; a 2-page profile of Sara Miles, director of the Food Pantry at St. Gregory's; and a revealing 3-page aside about the collision of cultures in the kitchen as white hipsters sat alongside Chinese residents and two (or more) cultures shared a kitchen.

Then there's an 80-page section about the food, recipes that are as eclectic as everything else around this project. The recipes are creative and clear, with precise instructions alongside vibrant photos.

Mission Street Food is a beautiful book, too: hefty, colorful, even downright shiny in the right light. At $30, it's pretty reasonable, too.

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