If you missed our TenderNight last week, then you missed the story Julie told on where she found the inspiration for her wonderful I live here: SF project. The short answer is: at Queen of Sheba, a Middle Eastern store at the corner of Sutter and Larkin run by this lovely Yemeni lady named Ghalyia. For those not up on history, the Queen of Sheba was a legendary story with a ruler that was thought to be from any number of places including Yemen, thus the association.
The long story goes something like this:
I meant to go to the Castro, but instead I ended up in the Tenderloin (again).
Walking up Sutter Street, it started to drizzle and I tucked my camera inside my coat. I’m learning. I’m not getting my camera wet anymore.
Across the street from a pawnshop was a corner market where most of the writing on the awning had faded or was rubbed out. But you could see where it said Middle Eastern Foods. That was enough to get me across the street. The open door with the smell of spices got me inside.
Near the doorway were three older women wearing long tunics and headscarves. The eldest woman had a blue painted line running vertically from her lower lip down her chin. (I am not sure what that marking means, if anyone else does, please enlighten me.)
A television was playing in Arabic.
Feeling somewhat shy, I ducked around the back of the store to see if I could find some of my favorite coffee. I love my Cafe Najjar with cardamom, and it’s hard to find. And I was enjoying wandering the narrow aisles, looking at all of the juices (blueberry, mango, pomegranate, tamarind) and packets of spice blends (kebab, za’ atar, baharat).
I came up to the counter with my little bag of coffee, and noticed near the register boxes of Turkish delight, and little candied fruits wrapped in plastic.
The woman behind the counter beams as I finger the candies. “Oh my God,” she says, with a little lust in her voice. “I love those so much. I eat too many of them.”
That’s all I need for a testimonial, so I choose one of each. She takes an apricot. “Oh my God, this one is my favorite.” She unwraps it and takes a bite of it like it’s her last meal.
“You like cardamom?” she asks, looking at the coffee.
I love cardamom, I tell her.
You like tea? she asks.
Just tell me what to buy and I’ll get it, I tell her.
Come with me, she says, and I follow her to the back of the store. She disappears into the back room and then emerges with a sizeable tub of black tea leaves.
She smiles as she takes the plastic lid off of the tub.
Smell this, she says knowingly. She makes it herself, she tells me proudly, mixing four different kinds of tea with cardamom.
OH my god, I think. It smells like heaven.
Unfortunately, now you won’t be able to find Ghaliya at the Queen of Sheba Market anymore. She had to retire due to some knee problems, that require surgery. It’s sad to be losing such a person in the neighborhood, but as they say, that is life. The store has a new owner now (a big Palestinian fellow with a deep voice named Nasser). It’s been remodeled and is now called the Jerusalem Market, but more on that later.