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Told in a Whisper
"Surely the old Bohemians of San Francisco did not spend all their time in restaurants. How did they live when at home?" This is what was said to us one day when we were talking about the old days and the old people. Indeed they did not live all their time in restaurants. Some of the most enjoyable meals we have eaten have been in the rooms and apartments of our Bohemian friends, and these meals were prepared generally by each one present doing his or her part in making it a success. One would make the salad, another the main dish, and others do various forms of scullery work, and in the end we would have a meal that would often put to blush the efforts of many of the renowned chefs.
Many people who come to San Francisco will wish to conserve their finances as much as possible, and they will wish to enjoy life in their apartments. There are also many people who live in San Francisco who need a little advice on how to get the best out of life, and we are going to whisper a few words to all such as these we have mentioned.
You can be a Bohemian and have the very best sort of living in your own room for less than half the money it will take to live at the hotels and restaurants, and we are sure many of you would like to know something about how to do it. It is not necessary to confine yourself to the few things in your limited experience. If you are going to be in San Francisco for more than a week, you will find that a little apartment, furnished ready for housekeeping, will give you opportunity to be independent and free. You will get your own breakfasts, when and how you want them. Your luncheons and dinners can be gotten in your rooms or at the restaurants just as you are inclined.
You will find delight and education in visiting the markets, and the foreign stores where all the strange and unusual foods of all nations are to be found. You will discover better articles at less prices at the little Italian, French, Mexican or Chinese stores and stalls than can be had in the most aristocratic stores in the city. Above all you will find a joy of invention and will be surprised at the delectable dishes you can prepare at a minimum of cost.
When you visit San Francisco you are desirous of so arranging your finances that you may see the most for the least outlay of money. After a strenuous day of sight-seeing you will scarcely feel like getting up a good meal, consequently then you will follow the ideas suggested in this book and visit the various restaurants, thus obtaining a variety both in foods and in information of an educational nature. But sometimes you will not be tired, or you will wish to get up a little late supper after theatre, and it is then that you will be glad of the opportunity afforded by having your own kitchen arrangements so that you can carry out your tastes, and cook some of the strange and new foods that you have discovered in your rambles through the foreign quarters.
Take the simple matter of sausage, for instance. Ordinarily we know of but three kinds - pork sausage, frankfurter and bologna - neither very appetizing or appealing, except sometimes the pork sausage for breakfast. Over in the little Italian and French shops you will find some of the most wonderful sausages that mind can conceive of. Some of these are so elaborate in their preparation that they cost even in that inexpensive part of the city, seventy cents a pound, and the variety is almost as infinite as that of the pastes. In the Mexican stores you will find a sausage that gives a delightful flavor to anything it is cooked with, and it is when you see these sausages that your eyes begin to be opened.
You now take cognizance of many things that heretofore escaped your observation. You see new canned goods; a wonderful variety of cheeses; strange dried vegetables and delicacies unheard of; preserved vegetables and fish and meats in oil; queer fish pickled and dried. You begin to learn of the many uses of olive oil in cooking and in food preparation. You see the queer shapes of bread, and note the numerous kinds of cakes and pastry that you never saw or heard of before. You see boxes of dried herbs, and begin to realize why you have never been able to reproduce certain flavors you have tasted in restaurants. You see strange-looking, flat hams, and are told that they are Italian hams, and if you buy some you will find that they cut the ham the wrong way, and instead of slicing it across the grain they cut in very thin slices down the length of the bone. Their flavor is more delicious than that of any ham you have tasted since you used to get the old-time, genuine country smoked hams. But if you investigate a little deeper you will learn that these hams were not put up in Italy at all, but that it is a special brand that is prepared in Virginia for the Italians.
In the French stores you will find preserved cockscombs, snails, marvelous blood sausages with nuts in them, rare cheeses, prepared meats in jellies, and hundreds of delicacies unknown to you. You can spend days in these stores, finding something new all the time. We have been going there for years and still run across new things.
Remember that to the people of the Latin Quarter these things are all usual consequently they think you know as much about them as they do, and will volunteer no information regarding them. Possibly they will smile at your ignorance when you ask them questions, but do not hesitate to ask, for they are courteous and that is the only way you can find out things, and learn what all these new edibles are and what they are good for. There is no greater possibility of interest than is to be found in the stores of San Francisco's Latin Quarter, and we mean by this the stores that cater to the people of the Quarter. In stores and restaurants frequented by Americans they cater to American tastes and lose much of the foreign flavor.
It is also well to bear in mind that it is not in the largest stores that you find the greatest variety when it comes to odd and new goods. A little shop, barely large enough to turn around in between counter and wall, may have enough of interest to entertain you for half an hour, and here the prices will be remarkably low, for these people have so little of the outside trade that they have not learned to add to their prices when they see an American face coming.
What is true of the stores is also true of the vegetable stands, the meat shops, the fish stalls, and bakeries. Here you will find better and fresher food supplies than in any of the similar places in other parts of the city, and the price is generally one-third less. The high cost of living has not reached this thrifty people with their inborn knowledge of the values of foods. They live twice as well as the average American family at half the cost. They combine knowledge of food values with the art of preparation and have a resultant meal that is tasty, full flavored, and nourishing at a minimum of expense.
Perhaps you want a meal. Your thoughts at once run to steaks and chops, and fried potatoes. Nothing but a porterhouse or tenderloin steak or a kidney chop will do. It is the most expensive meat and you think that of course it is the best and most nourishing. If the knowledge of food values were with you, you would get the less expensive and more nourishing cuts. A flank steak, perhaps, prepared en casserole, and you would have a fine dish for half the money. As it is in meats so it is in all foods. For ten cents two people can have a dinner of tagliarini that is at once nourishing and satisfying in flavor. Of course all this requires knowledge, but that is easily acquired, and it adds to the zest of life to know that you can do that which lifts eating from the plane of feeding to that of dining; that you can change existence into living. All because you dare to break away from conventionalities which make so many people affect ignorance of how to live because they imagine it is an evidence of refinement. If they but knew it, their affectation and their ignorance is the hall mark of low caste.
Now about this whisper: We have a friend who has a little apartment where he has kept bachelor's hall for many years. Here some of our most pleasant evenings have been spent, and we never fear to go on account of the possibility that he may be embarrassed or inconvenienced through lack of something to eat or drink, for he is never at a loss to prepare something dainty and appetizing for us, and it really seems, sometimes, that he makes a meal out of nothing. Often Charlie telephones us that he has discovered a new dish and hurries us over to pass judgment on it. And, by the way, many of the good dishes of Bohemia are the result of accident rather than design.