CHINATOWN district, San Francisco
On Ross Alley, the oldest alleyway in San Francisco, you'll be bewitched today by the smell of fresh fortune cookies. The street once attracted people to brothels and gambling establishments, and while the cookies might be tamer, they're as addictive as some of the past activities in the area.
You simply walk into the factory - two machines constantly pushing out little circles of batter, which are cooked as the machine revolves, coming back around to be picked off and swiftly folded by the two ladies on the machines. They'll ask if you want to try, and then to buy (that's what we heard, anyway: perhaps they just asked if we wanted to buy!), and an old lady at the front will pull out a bag of cookies or instead a bag of flat unfolded circles, just as delicious and a fabulous snack later in the day.
Ross Alley itself is of interest for other reasons: there are murals depicting scenes in Chinatown life, and there's also a barber shop which has had many a famous visitor over the years, whether Michael Douglas when he was making a movie locally, or Willie Brown, the SF mayor.
The Alley runs between Washington and Jackson streets.
One fun thing to do while in Chinatown is to see how a fortune cookie is actually made.
Like the Origin of the Tango in Argentina, the origin of the Fortune cookie has many theories. Some date it back to the 13th to 14th century in China, others say it was invented in Los Angeles around 1918, and then there's even a theory that a Japanese American in San Francisco invented the Fortune Cookie!!!
One thing is for certain: Fortune Cookies as we are familiar with in American Restaurants were not introduced to China until 1992!!!
The fortune cookie is a great example of how cultures reinvent themselves as depicted by the Chinese American community in San Francisco's Chinatown.
Walk about the Alleyways of Chinatown until you find Ross Alley, somewhere between Grant and Stockton and Clay and Jackson. In this lovely alleyway, where you'll hear sounds of Mah Jong played in houses, a chinese Violin, and even the percussion of a dragon dance company practicing it's moves, you will first smell and then find the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory. Literally, a hole in the wall, you will just see two or three workers making cookies and putting them in bags. They'll even let you sample a hot one freshly made.
Here you can purchase a bag of fortune cookies for as little as $1.00. You can buy a large bag of "flat fortune" cookies for $3.00. But I thought the process of making them was the most interesting.
This company was founded in 1962, the year of the Tiger.
If you visit San Francisco's Chinatown, you will have to walk Grant Avenue from California Street all the way to Columbus. There will be many stores, lots of walking, so, on a hot day, you will need to stay hydrated. Wanna try something different and healthy? Then check out TenRen's Tea. I walked in this one and ordered a Red Bean Tapioca Drink. I read somewhere that Red Bean is one of the healthiest toxin cleansing things you can digest.
The service is fast, friendly, and you will be refreshed.
Via the Kong Chow Temple we walked to Grant. It was a completely different sight compared to Stockton Street.
On Grant you'll find a lot of souvenirshops and it's definately the "commercial" part of China Town. Althought we liked Stockton Street much more it was still nice to see all the beautiful lanterns and colourfully painted fronts.
We started our walk through China Town on Stockton Street. We simply loved what we saw there. It was a varied mixture of exotic colours, flavours and noises. We thought that we were the only "not Chinese people" around. There were a lot of nice eating-places, marketstalls, grocer's shops, cafe houses and a countless number of alleys to get lost in.
Sometimes it was a bit of a shock to us as the smells of garbage and food were pungent in the sometime dirty alleways. We saw animals in their natural state, rather than the Mc Donald's way of food presentation. It's also a hot spot for games and a little gambling for Chinatown's citizens.
Chinatown is a community within San Francisco that is worth the walk through. Many restaurants and shops line the area. We walked through and had our pictures taken at the gates.....it's a nice place to stroll though and get a bite to eat.
The China Town in San Francisco is squeezed in between The Financial District and North Beach.
They say it's the largest Chinese community outside of Asia. We noticed that this was a quick trip to Hong Kong's present and past.
Chinatown, San Francisco, takes up a lot of space in this city and one little alley has a big surprise waiting for you. Ross Alley is known for the "Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory" but right next door is the Barber Shop of Jun Yu, at 32 Ross Alley. A great haircut can be had, even a shave, but ask Jun Yu to play the Erhu, a Chinese style violin, and his eyes start to sparkle.
Jun Yu lets it be known on a sign outside his humble shop that he played the Erhu in the movie "The Pursuit of Happyness".
He will sit down near the door and start playing for you. He knows many musical scores and those outside his door were entertained with "Red River Valley" which takes a lot of talent to play on the Erhu. There is a box by the door for donations if you enjoyed his playing. With a twinkle in his eyes, how can you resist. Shei, Shei, Jun Yu.
I saw this guy in Chinatown. He was protesting, I tried to ask him what he was protesting for, but i didn't understand him. People walked right past him while he was yelling things out in his language. He gave me a paper but it was in taiwanese, i'm not sure what it said. But he was interesting to see, he was very passionate!
The Kong Chow temple, in the headquarters of the Kong Chow Association (a Chinatown community organization), was first built around 1853, in a different location, but many of the temple's original elements have been transported to this newer location, on the 4th floor of an office building. Not much from the outside, but well worth the trip inside.
It's a Taoist temple, with dozens of sticks of incense constantly burning, the ash falling into great urns, and offerings left on the altar, as well as prayer flags and other objects affixed around the room. There's an elaborate carving on the left side facing the altar that is especially interesting: it shows the signs of many, many years of incense-smoke!
Although visitors are welcome, please be aware that this is a place of worship - indeed, people may be performing devotions during your visit - and you should behave appropriately. Donations are not solicited, but it might be polite to put something small in the box near the door.
Take some time to find this little out of the way factory in Chinatown. It sits in an alley so isn't easy to find. But the stop is SO worth it.
A little Chinese gentleman is the ringleader of this circus. He hawks the cookies and asks for a 50 cent donation if you take any pictures.
Two little old ladies remove each cookie from the revolving hot irons and BY HAND insert the fortune and bend the cookie around a steel mandrel.
We bought a small bag of flats (flat cookies without the fortune) and now wish we'd have bought more.
They're So tasty.
This is well worth a visit. the food is great, you are initially drawn by the smell, then you realise there is too much choice.
Try some of the places the locals use. They are just off the main haul through Chinatown in the side streets. There are some wonderful Dim Sum take aways.
The Sing Chong Building was the first building that was rebuilt after the 1906 earthquake that devastated SF.
I took us on the "adventure" in China Town to the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Company. Expecting a large production factory on a main street.....we found the 2 person factory tucked away in an alley.