Saturday, June 18, 2005

The Swan Oyster Depot, San Francisco


This place is part of my regular routine now whenever I land in San Francisco. United usually lands in the morning, so I go straight through immigration and customs (which were abnormally fast today, BTW) to the rental car and right on into the city at California and Polk. And wow - there was a line forming already. I waited in line for about 45 minutes (longer than immigration at SFO!), but I finally got in.

And then I was in heaven.


The most important item: Anchor Steam Beer, brewed in San Francisco, with a taste that I miss so much. Next: clam chowder - a much thinner version than most (those darned Progresso guys messed up my head!) but incredibly tasty all the same. Then: a half dozen raw oysters on the half shell, both local (smaller, tastier) as well as from the east coast (bigger). Finally: a cold half cracked Dungeness crab. Add a little local San Francisco sourdough bread and butter, and voila: paradise.

Even though I can get certain hometown things in Singapore like Mexican food, juicy hamburgers, etc, the one thing from California that I can't get in Singapore is Dungeness Crab. The shell and meat are much more finer than that crude Sri Lankan crab used in Singapore. The meat is so nice that it's best eaten without any seasoning or sauces at all - just its pure taste after being dunked in boiling water. American seafood is one thing we can't get in Singapore - the most simple preparation, usually involving steaming or grilling, with maybe only a little butter or cocktail sauce to taste. I'm gonna eat as much of this as I can before heading back.


Marc said...

My interpretation of eating seafood is totally different though:

In Singapore we emphasise freshness and simplicity, especially for home cooking. For example, crab is usually just steamed with a little soy sauce or sometimes just garlic. Most crustaceans are in fact prepared like that.

In the US however, seafood is normally served cold, implying their being chilled for a period of time before they are served. Really fresh-tasting seafood is thus so hard to come by, no?

bma said...

Yeah, Cantonese fish is often just done with hot oil, soy sauce, and scallions, and hence is something that I like (I'm also a fan of simple Teochew steamed fish). But things like chili crab, while definitely very good in its own right, are far more complex than a simple American grilling or steaming. I enjoy the latter precisely because there is no sauce to cover up the taste of the seafood to begin with.

And just because food is served cold doesn't mean it's not fresh. In some cases, it's fresher, as seen in things like oysters shucked just minutes ago and served on a bed of ice.

Anonymous said...

I won't join in on the argument about the merit of Singaporean food. As far as I'm concerned it's about as meaningful as comparing apples with oranges. I would say, though, that it's not entirely true that American seafood is all about the freshness of the food. There's far too much butter and cream, which masks the delicate taste of seafood imo. For pure seafood flavours, I tend to go for Japanese.

This post on Swan Oyster Depot reminded me of my summer studies in Berkeley, and the one time when I brought my mother to Swan Oyster Depot early in the morning while the line was manageable.

We skipped the Dungeness crab (am not much of a fan of crab), but the oysters and scallops were to die for, as was the clam chowder. Together with the fresh Anchor Steam beer, it was truly memorable, and was much more reminiscent of a Japanese sushi pilgrimmage than anything else, really.