Scoop SF: Out The Door
As a kid, I spent my Saturdays at a children’s ceramics studio in Berkeley. I started working with clay and on the potter’s wheel when I was five years old and continued through high school and college. A few of the many ceramic pieces I created included a life-size character from The Hobbit, a sculpture of a fish glazed in the ancient Japanese Raku style, as well as many bowls and vases. I went to “clay class” weekly during the school year. One of our teachers at the studio lived in Oakland Chinatown and she would always bring us steamed pork buns to eat, a tradition which came to be one of my favorite food memories.
These steamed pork buns, if you haven’t had them before, are sweet fluffy dough rounds filled with Chinese style sweet barbecue pork. They usually have a piece of paper on the bottom to keep them from sticking to the bamboo steamer. I looked forward to this Saturday treat as a kid and ever since then, I’ve had a fondness for steamed pork buns.
My favorite steamed pork bun in San Francisco is from Out The Door in the Ferry Building Marketplace at Embarcadero. The Ferry Building is an indoor/outdoor space located right on the water with a fantastic view of the Bay Bridge and Treasure Island. Out of the many eateries and specialty food stores, some highlights include Far West Fungi, Boccalone (“Tasty Salted Pig Parts”), Humphry Slocombe Ice Cream, Blue Bottle Coffee, and the farmer’s market on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. Out The Door has the same owner as The Slanted Door, an acclaimed Vietnamese restaurant located just a few yards away. Out The Door offers to-go noodles, dishes, and snacks as well as boba drinks and daily specials.
I ordered a steamed pork bun, a steamed vegetarian sticky rice, and a taro milk with boba. The food was delivered piping hot just after I ordered it and the boba was made fresh. I walked out of the building and sat on a bench facing the Bay. After watching a few sailboats pass by, I started with the pork bun. The reason that their pork buns are my favorite is that they are delicious and they are clearly made with quality ingredients. The bun was fresh and not too chewy. The barbecue pork’s flavor was balanced—sweet and savory. After the bun, I opened the sticky rice. The sticky rice comes wrapped in lotus leaves which keep the food together. The rice itself is very glutinous. It surrounds starchy vegetables and mushrooms cooked together to make for a umami-rich flavor-set. There was a dipping sauce that seemed to be a combination of fish sauce and soy sauce.
Of the three things I ordered, the boba was the most interesting. A starchy root vegetable, taro has a mild and identifiable taste. I would describe the taste as closest to a combination of sweet potato with coconut, though taro is not very sweet itself. The drink was not sweetened, so the flavor of taro was subtle and well paired with the milk and tapioca. This boba drink has no caffeine, since it was not made with tea, which is nice if you don’t like caffeine or—like me—already had a very strong cup of drip coffee earlier in the day.
I recommend Out The Door as a fun stop if you’re at the Ferry Building and you want to pick up good quality food. The prices range from $3.50 for small items to $14 for bigger dishes and they have a board with daily specials in addition to their main menu. There is limited seating at their counter, but if it’s nice out I definitely suggest sitting outside and checking out the view.