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Cooks' tours of San Francisco: culinary walks take you through Chinatown and North Beach.

ONLY TWO RULES apply on a culinary walking tour through Chinatown or North Beach: arrive with an empty stomach and throw away your map.

Then let yourself be guided by the aroma of cappuccino drifting past cafe curtains, the sweet fragrance of Oriental herbs, and the advice of an expert food guid.

Blending neighborhood history with culinary tips, three local chefs host 3 1/2- to 4-hour feasting adventures through San Francisco's two most visited ethnic communities.

Peek inside a steamy rice noodle factory, where young women carefully wrap pork dumplings between their fingers. Or warm yourself beside the oven in an Italian bakery as the morning's first batch of sourdough rises.


More than 65 trattorias line the black-tiled storefronts of "Little Italy," and food writer Grace Ann Walden knowns each one. Learn where to find the best tiramisu (an Italian dessert layered with chocolate, ladyfingers, and mascarpone) or an eye-opening "Sicilian"--three shots of espresso in one mug. You'll schmooze with the owners of Walden's favorite delis and bakeries while you sample prosciutto, fresh sfogliata (an unusual layered pastry), and mascarpone torta.

Walden shares secrets on finding the best olive oils and offers advice on cooking risotto the old-fashioned way: slowly, adding ladles of chicken stock to a special arborio rice grown in the Po Valley.

Tours are offered the second and fourth Saturdays of each month; groups are limited to 18. Cost is $30. For reservations, call Grand Tours at (510) 654-8824.


Beneath the gaudy tangle of lanterns and neon, a seemingly endless stream of consumers converges on Chinatown's produce, meant, and fish markets. Chef and author Shirley Fong-Torres adds 12 more to the crowd each time she leads a 3 1/2-hour walk she calls "the grazing tour."

After a brief lesson in Chinese greetings, Fong-Torres explains how to cook lotus root, bitter melon, lily stems, and other exotic produce you'll see. In a cookware shop, she explains how to protect meats and vegetables from burning (line the clay pots with cabbage leaves).

As she draws attention to the traditional handwork permeating Asina life, you observe workers at a fortune cooky factory, a pastry shop, and a painter's studio; and--on the darker side--you pass by sweatshops where women sew 12 hours a day at minimum wage.

Sample the vegetarian versions of sweet and sour pork, braised beef, and chicken, and finish with a dim sum lunch at J & J Restaurant.

Groups are limited to 12; cost is $40. Call Wok Wiz Tours at (415) 355-9657.

Chef Ruby Tom offers a tour very similar to Fong-Torres's.

You start in Portsmouth Square, where Asian elders gracefully practice tai chi chuan and poker players prolong their slow games.

Tom performs the tea rites at a relaxing ceremony at Ten Ren Tea Co., offering each guest a tiny cup filled with flavorful green oolong. Afterward, you visit an herbal store, where you'll find the Chinese cure for whatever ails you, or so the sign says: white fungus for a better complexion, winter worm grass for healthier lungs, dried sea horses for increased virility.

Tours cost $30. To reserve, call Glorious Food Culinary Tours at (415) 441-5637.
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Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Date:Nov 1, 1991
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