The other day I was browsing the stores on Irving Street with my friend. I was taking her to my favorite Vietnamese delicatessen, two shops up from the corner of 25th. The smoked duck there (Chinese guitars on the menu) are the best I’ve ever eaten. We were a bit early for lunch so we kicked around the old Sunset Market. In the late 1960s, when I visited a Russian girlfriend on Moraga Street, Sunset Market was one of the biggest stores serving the huge neighborhood of San Francisco’s Sunset District. The houses were then and are now very much alike each other… There was a song back then by some forgotten rock group of the era “...houses made of tickey tockey and they all look just the same.” In any case the Sunset Market on Irving Street was where mom shopped to buy cereal, milk, (no one had ever heard of ‘low fat’ milk back then), Wonder bread, Skippy peanut butter and other necessities of those ancient times.
The sign still reads Sunset Market but the lettering under it is not English. Inside, the foods do not resemble the white bread and milk of long ago, instead pork stomach, black chicken, brains and goat heads are part of the glass encased offerings of the butcher shop today. In the back, tanks of murky water house live fish swimming around with their mates waiting for someone’s mother to point the finger of death at them. The butcher will happily net, kill, eviscerate, scale and wrap your dinner; his mates seemingly swimming a little faster as the package is handed across the counter with a friendly smile. Looking down at our feet a cooler of live frogs winked up at us. This was getting to be quite the ethnic experience. We moved across the back, the old dairy cases held no chocolate milk, no butter or cheese, instead dim sum, dumplings, fresh noodles of endless variety and some foods unidentifiable to the western cook. We passed downs aisles and aisles of exotic seasonings, spices and dried goods. Who knew there are so many kinds of soy sauce, 50 brands of tea and 20 feet of dried noodles to choose from? In the produce department, there are some things from my youth, bananas, apples, carrots, green beans and the like but the bins also display green vegetables I did not recognize, such as giant radishes. On the floor, boxes of roots that all look the same to the uneducated eye. The old ghosts of the Sunset must wonder as I do how much the people and the community have changed. Gone are the Jewish, Italian and Russian delis, the elegant pastry shops and French bistro’s.
Given the new San Francisco, I propose a new name, perhaps a better representation of the “City by the Bay” ...Soy Francisco.
Bill Hanson is a Sonoma County native and a lifelong sportsman. He is the former president of the Sonoma County Mycological Association. Look for his column in The Community Voice each week.