After writing for NOSH about the first Dishcrawl, Serena and Gretchen, the founders of Localite Food Tours, invited me to join them on one of their five tours they have. You can choose between the Pork Tour, The Retro Cocktail Tour, Urban Nature, Handmade Tour, and the Enchanting Dinner Tour. I, unfortunately, have such a busy schedule I was only able to attend the Pork Tour anytime soon. Tragedy, I know. Little did I know I was bout to take a journey through time and pork and would come out the other end feeling like I had just went on the best food tour Oakland has to offer (and possibly better than some of the other recent mentions in the news lately).
This food tour does everything right and nothing wrong. Other food tours like Dishcrawl made me feel like I was constantly trying to find my circle of friends, Localite Tours are maxed out at 14 people (unless you book a private group!), with ours being 8 total for the day. Although it didn’t guarantee a Breakfast Club group by the end, it definitely allowed for us to all becomes at least foodie friends with each other without having to place the social circle game. The other important factor is that this Pork tour did an entire tour, without ever once taking advantage of the Pork Belly craze! Eat that SF foodies, we got no food snobs here!
I arrived promptly on time for the event and was greeted by both founders of the Localite Food Tours. We chatted about their ambitious line up of food tours for the summer and I was excited from the moment I met them. It didn’t take long to realize just how serious this food tour was as Gretchen pulled out a box of pork buns from Bread of Life and begun telling us the story of Broadway and Oakland. They reminded of how Oakland got its name (the oaks, duh) and how Broadway was the first main boulevard in Oakland. I enjoyed gaining knowledge alongside the calories and fortunately this type of storytelling continued throughout the evening.
Broadway remained our focal point as we walked back and forth to various Old Oakland establishments learning the significance of pork to the area. Pork had an impact onthe beginnings of many of the local establishments like Ratto’s, still with it’s old sign, to Swan’s Market, built to handle the long tables full of various meats and cuts of pork that various immigrants of Oakland were craving from their home countries. Ratto’s served up various cured meats paired with white wine while the owner came out to share the history of her establishment, which has been passed down from generation to generation. We followed this with a quick stop at Battambang where the wonderful owner told us how she pickled daily, something definitely noticed while enjoying the fresh and delish pork spring rolls. The next stop was Swan’s Market, which was exciting for me as I have wanted to try Rosamunde since hearing about this Brooklyn transplant. The interesting fact about their meats was their choice to make small, thinner sausages as they believed they capture more taste and juices inside. Our wild boar sausages came as two and were served alongside a plethora of homemade, tasty condiments. From the homemade mustard to the spicy marmalade, I made unique bites each time and never concluded which one was my favorite before finishing. I know it was good enough to bring all the remaining condiments home with me when our group was finished!
The next stop was fortunately a little bit of a walk to visit Tina Tamale and La Borinquena Mexicatessan in the area that I learned used to be the true spanish area of Oakland. It wasn’t until Oakland decided to put in BART and freeway that the spanish population decided to move (not sure it was quite this simple, maybe ‘made their way?’) south and make Fruitvale the area it is today. Tina Tamale and her family have been serving the local community for generations and Tina is truly the first one of her family to embrace technology and social media and take the restaurant/catering business to the next level. We first started working side by side at the Oakland Art Murmur, where eventually she purchased the truck of the former Guerilla Grub to bring Tina Tamale to the next level . Now you can find her and her truck all over the place including Bites Off Broadway and the Oakland Indie Awards. She took our group on a personal tour of the restaurant and showed us the old stone miller and talked about the insane numbers of tamales that are made during the holiday season. One of the more interesting stories shared took place right outside her spot on the sidewalk where a placard marks the 10,000 steps project (including one in front of Ratto!) The project involves tryign to collect all the stories and history of the Old Oakland area and placards have been scattered throughout to show areas of interest. It is a great idea that reminds me of the current payphone project going on in NYC right now.
We followed up this part by going to an area that is present in every major city, and that is Chinatown. Here I learned that Oakland’s Chinatown is a little different and atypical as it does not have any main gate as most do. I pondered this interesting fact while enjoying pork dumplings from Shan Dong and asking my fellow foodies if they knew if other Chinatowns had the everywhichway crosswalks like Oakland did. Apparantly they do. The guides walked us around the area, one of my favorite places to bike to and get dim sum on Sundays, and concluded the area with a tour of the Asian library in the center of Chinatown. They took us to the back to show us that they actually carried a considerably sized library of Asian cookbooks that were written in English. Definitely a great resource that I would not think to seek out if it wasn’t for the food tour!
As we headed to our final location, our guides gave us a sample of Phat Matt’s BBQ’s candied bacon that was somewhat hard to go for at this point (at least for me). We munched our little snack as we walked past the PopUp Hood area and were told various stories about the people who have made it the place today, including the cobblestone sidewalks the whole way!
We were about to head into El Borgo Italia where a secuirty told us we could not enter due to an “incident”. A steamed employee came oustside while police stood inside and proceeded to vent about the owner shafting him and his staff after he put his family’s recipes and furniture into the place. We quickly diverted to the Trappist to enjoy a refreshing beer and a little cruidite to end the tour. By this point everyone on my tour was full, happy, and fully engaged about the history and stories they had learned about Old Oakland. I felt that at the end of this tour, we had not only become better fooodies of the Old Oakland area, but better citizens and residents who could appreciate all the people had come before us to make this area the porky place it is today.
I definitely felt this tour was the best one I have been on yet for it’s mix of both food and story, both in excess, but just enough that you could walk away without waddling and without feeling you had just sat through a boring lecture. They have 5 total tours for this summer that all focus on different areas and topics and I truly hope to get to hit them all up before summers out!
Check out some additional photos below:
ps – you might be asking yourself, Cheesus Crust, why are there not a lot of pork pictures from this pork tour? The answer my son is that at the times that were porkiest, I was too busy eating. My sincerest apologies. It just means you will have to take the tour!