Panaderia Memories

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I live not half a block from Panaderia Flores. I don't go there often enough. When I do though, I am overwhelmed by the smells and sights of memory. All those familiar cookies, rolls, buns, pastries, and cakes. Dusted with sugar, shining with egg wash, or frosted in that semi-sweet crumbly almost-dough goodness colored white, yellow, or pink.

I always bring home armloads of these babies. Every bite takes me back to my childhood. That sometimes dry but never choking dough that crumbles into your mouth with each bite. Perfect for following with a sip of dark rich coffee (currently drinking Blue Krishna from Jack Mormon Coffee Company up in the Avenues).

I am reminded of my visits to my grandmother. Mi abuela. My mother's mother. She lived in San Francisco's Mission District, and she would take me on walks and treat me to the culinary delights the Mission had to offer. Before Tartine. Before Ti Couz. Before any gourmet hipster coffee shops. Back when it was all Mexican working class, and on every block what would today be considered hidden treasures.

Our favorite panaderia (and back then, they had a restaurant attached out back behind the bakery that had the best!!! chile rellenos ever... a taste memory that has yet to be equalled by that dish anywhere else in my adult life) was La Victoria down on 24th St. My grandmother and I would walk there and she would talk to me and tell me stories and describe everything I was seeing as we walked through her barrio. This was my culture she was teaching me, though I didn't really know it at the time. What I did know was that I loved taking those walks. They would culminate at La Victoria where she would proceed to pick through the cases filled with pastries to find just the right ones. Then she would let me pick one or two, and being a child I was always drawn to the most colorful. I would usually grab a big round bun decorated with swirls or tiles of bright pink and a cookie covered in (not sprinkles) pellets of brightly colored sugar that would crunch and pop in your mouth as you chewed.

On the way back to her apartment, we would stop at this little hole in the wall restaurant. I wish I knew the name of the place, as I've never been able to find it again in all my visits to the Mission. It was dimly lit, practically a corridor... the cooks and food and menu board on one side, and a single row of tall tables on the other. Mexican blankets and calendars scattered across the walls... pictures of Aztec warriors with scantily clad maidens draped across their arms. It was here that I would get my ultimate treat: a steaming hot cup of vanilla or chocolate atole... thick and hot and just the right sweetness.

Then we would go back to her apartment. Up that rickety old elevator. The dusty smell of old carpets in those cramped corridors and warm shadows in every nook. We would open her door and the sunlight would bathe us as we walked inside. Where was all this light coming from when everywhere else we seemed to go was so dark? We would sit at her little breakfast table in the kitchen and she would unload our wares and go to town. After eating our pastries, we would finish with grapefruit or mango from one of the grocers down the street.

These memories flood my mind whenever I go to the panaderia, and I can feel my grandmother's smiling face upon me as I sit here typing, eating my pastries, drinking my coffee, and reflecting upon this gift she has given me. It is times like these that I really and truly miss her and appreciate all the experiences she openned me up to.

I can only hope I am giving something similar to those two girls sitting in the living room playing on our Wii with a plate full of my memories sitting in front of them. The first time I ever brought them home, they expressed dissappointment. Where was the sugar and custard and filling and frosting? But as they began to realize, they didn't need any of that. All that sweetness would be lost upon the delicate flavors to be found in this world: almond, sesame, anise, even the wheaty dough itself.

A heaven on earth for me in every bite where my grandmother resides and I am happy.


2 Comments

oohhh that sounds so yummy-- what a sweet gift to your loved ones

Yum!!!!!!!!! I need to find this place!

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This page contains a single entry by Emiliano Silva Lee published on March 22, 2009 10:14 AM.

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