La Victoria, 24th Street's immovable presence, is 60 years old. Instead of things like Depends and mall walkers (customary gifts for any sexagenarian) owner Jaime Maldonado wants your reminiscences ― an essay in 300 words or less, describing your most vivid memories of the place.
Maldonado describes the contest at the La Victoria blog. Allow us to paraphrase: What's your greatest memory of La Victoria Bakery and Kitchen? Describe it in 300 words or less, and win a free meal for four, cooked by Soul Cocina's Roger Feely. The deadline is 6 p.m., August 23. Entries to be judged by Maldonado and yours truly, and announced at La Victoria on Wednesday, August 25, starting at 6 p.m. What's more, 10 runners up will get what Maldonado calls "a great food prize from Soul Cocina." And SFoodie will publish the top entries, so yes, you'll be famous. Sort of. Send your entry to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Where to start with the reminiscing? Maldonado offers his own, up-close memories of the place. Mine is from the summer I fell in love with San Francisco. I was 24, maybe, in love with a guy who'd taken it upon himself to mentor me in food.Steve turned me on to delicately translucent slips of sand dabs cooked in the residual warmth of a heated-up dinner plate downstairs at Chez Panisse, where Judy Rodgers was guest chef. We had crystalline, ginger-flavored chicken broth at some long-defunct Cantonese place on Clement. And one weekend afternoon, on a day spent aimlessly walking San Francisco when you're new to the city and no stroll anywhere ever seems exactly aimless, Steve took me to La Victoria.
It was my first taste of a panaderia, in the days when La Victoria was a thriving one, and 24th Street was thronged with women whose hair smelled like shampoo so flowery you tasted it when they walked past. I felt the panaderia novice's wonder at the ritual of the place ― the flimsy golden trays with their tracery of fine veins, the tongs you had to seek out at the counter. The pinks and golds of the pan dulces, the forms glittery or white-dusted with sugars, the rainbow jimmies, the cheapness of it all: I thought, This is amazing. And it was, even if the reality, opening our white, grease-stained bag in Dolores Park, was that so many of them tasted exactly alike, no matter the shape ― the crumble of pastry turned extra-friable from lard, the empty sweetness.
Steve had shown me something I couldn't stop thinking about, the curiosity stoked by a trayful of sweets at La Victoria. They led me to Diana Kennedy, the Mexican-food writer who'd spent a year working at a panaderia in Mexico City and who wrote about it (now collected in Kennedy's The Essential Cuisines of Mexico). Even after Steve drifted away, as elusive and unsatisfying, somehow, as those airy pan dulces, I'd found a passion.
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