We've got flavor -- lots of it. The San Francisco Bay Area has long been a home for dreamers, nonconformists, and creative souls who embody a rich legacy of diverse cultural influences. It's no surprise then, that a wealth of goods, ideas, foods and philosophies can sport a Made in the Bay label. In this, the first article in our newest ongoing blog series, we'll share the fascinating stories behind Bay-born edibles. From breakfast foods to desserts and everything in between, there's sure to be something on our list that gets your mouth watering. There's nothing quite like experiencing the unique flavors of a new place, so while you're here, roll up your sleeves and dig into these Bay Area delicacies. Bon appetit!
Though the exact origins of this salad are debated, it's reported to have been served at a San Francisco restaurant called Solari's at the turn of the twentieth century. We know for certain that it was served there by 1914, as evidenced by historical epicurean reports from the time. Though the ingredients used in a Crab Louie vary, what they share in common is Louie (or Louis) dressing -- a creamy, spiced, mayonnaise-based concoction -- and Dungeness crab, a popular delicacy at the turn of the century. Though the salad's not as popular as it used to be, you can still find a pricey Crab Louie at San Francisco Fisherman's Wharf restaurants like Crabhouse 39.
Better yet, pick up fresh, locally-harvested Dungeness crab from a family-owned business like Alioto-Lazio Fish Company -- just a hop, skip, and a jump away from our San Francisco Fisherman's Wharf Hostel -- and make your own Crab Louie back in the spacious, fully-equipped hostel kitchen.
Chicken and turkey tetrazzini
A casserole-style dish of fowl or seafood, pasta, almonds, and mushrooms in a parmesan cream sauce, the chicken and turkey varieties are reportedly named after famed Italian opera soprano, Luisa Tetrazzini. The dish is believed to have been invented between 1908 and 1912 by Ernest Arbogast, then chef at the Palace Hotel in San Francisco, where Luisa was a long-time resident.
Luisa Tetrazzini, known as “The Florentine Nightingale,” was a favorite of San Francisco audiences, and she too, loved the city dearly. Tetrazzini is the kind of dish that begs for experimentation, so pick a recipe or dream up your own, and wash down this hearty dish with the impressive vocals of the woman for whom it was named.
Cioppino was born in the late 1800's when Italian fisherman who had settled in San Francisco's North Beach area began chopping up seafood leftovers from their daily catch and cooking up a tomato-based seafood stew. Typically a combination of Dungeness crab, clams, shrimp, scallops, squid, mussels and fish combined with fresh tomatoes in a wine sauce, cioppino may have begun on the fisherman's boats but it quickly became a staple in the neighborhoods' rapidly-proliferating Italian restaurants.
Of all the classic San Francisco dishes, cioppino is likely the best-known, and is still served at many local restaurants: Alioto's claims to have served it first, Tadich Grill claims theirs is the best, and Scoma's offers a recipe of the version they serve in house.
These crunchy divining treats are usually associated with Chinese food, but fortune cookies were born in the USA. There's debate over their exact origins, but Japanese American immigrant Makoto Hagiwara is reported to have been the first person to serve the modern version of the cookie in the 1890s or early 1900s at the Japanese Tea Garden in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park. The fortune cookies Makoto served were made by a Japantown bakery, and were modeled after a similar cookie made in Kyoto, Japan as far back as the 19th century. The cookies contained O-mikuji: random fortunes traditionally found at Japanese Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples.
Take a free, Fodor's recommended tour of the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory in Chinatown, and leave with a bagful of cookies, containing either mildly racy "adult" fortunes or more benign ones, for less than $5!
The Hangtown Fry -- a decadent omelette of fried oysters and bacon -- was created during the California Gold Rush and was popular as a status symbol among gold miners who wanted everyone to know they'd struck it rich. Live oysters gathered in the Bay were hauled out to the gold fields in barrels of sea water for a meal that cost approximately $6; a small fortune at the time.
One folk origin of this dish describes a condemned man's request for his last meal. Wanting to stave off the hangman's noose for as long as possible, he asked for a dish whose ingredients would take several days to arrive in Placerville (nee Hangtown), California.
Today, you can find this sumptuous Gold Rush dish on quite a few menus in San Francisco, including at the 160-year-old Tadich Grill -- San Francisco's oldest continuing restaurant. Or, whip up your own with a recipe based on Tadich Grill's version.
The It's-It ice cream sandwich got its start as a carnie food at Playland, an amusement park that drew folks out to San Francisco's westerly Ocean Beach from the late 19th century through 1972. For nearly forty years, Playland was the only place selling It's-Its -- ice cream between two oatmeal cookies, dipped in dark chocolate. After Playland's demolition, there was high public demand for an It's-Its revival. In 1974, a production facility was built near the San Francisco airport, and they've been churning out the delicious ice cream sandwiches ever since.
Bay Area folk tend to be mighty proud of these sweet treats and luckily, It's-Its can be found in most local groceries and corner stores, and even throughout much of the Western US. Though the It's-It flavor spectrum has expanded to include chocolate, mint and cappuccino in addition to the original vanilla, the basic recipe hasn't changed since their invention in 1928.
Also known as San Francisco burritos, Mission style burritos were born and bred in San Francisco's Mission district, and became widely popular during the 1960s. What makes a burrito a Mission burrito? Chiefly, their size: Mission burritos encompass an entire foil-wrapped meal. They typically include Spanish rice, black, pinto or refried beans, a choice of meat, and salsa, encased in a large flour tortilla. The "super" versions add guacamole or avocado, cheese, and sour cream. From these foundations, countless iterations -- including plenty of vegetarian and vegan options -- abound.
Though most locals will fiercely defend their own favorite burrito spot, there really is no one winner -- there are many. Here's a great SF burrito guide to start the culinary adventure to discover your own favorite.
In 1905, Frank Epperson, an 11-year-old kid from Oakland, made a sweet mistake. Frank had been mixing powdered soda and water together with a wooden stir stick when he accidentally left the fruity confection outside overnight. When he discovered a frozen treat the next morning, this entrepreneurial kid knew he'd created something good. For the next 18 years, Frank shared the frozen sweets he called "Epsicles" with his friends, family, and schoolmates before finally applying for a patent in 1923.
Frank's own children constantly wanted one of "Pop's 'sicles" which inspired Frank to rename them Popsicles. Though the Good Humor Company now owns the rights, as you slurp this cool sweet delight, don't forget that it all began with the genius of a local kid!
Our final food is often one folks associate with the San Francisco Bay Area, but as sourdough's fermentation process was almost certainly the first form of leavening available to bakers, it likely originated in Ancient Egypt around 1500 BC. San Francisco sourdough has been in continuous production since 1849, and is the most famous sourdough bread made in the USA today.
Sourdough is a white bread characterized by a sourness that is especially pronounced in the San Francisco variety. In a nod to this, the dominant strain of lactic acid bacteria used in sourdough starters was named Lactobacillus sanfranciscensis. Some local bakeries, like Boudin, can trace their sourdough starters back to California's Gold Rush period. Like Mission burritos, San Francisco's "best" sourdough loaf is hotly debated but in a blind taste test of 12 local loaves,Tartine Bakery's version came out on top.
For a truly locavore experience, we recommend stocking up on some of the best cheese in SF, and conducting your own sourdough tasting while you enjoy a stay in the Bay in one of our unique San Francisco hostels!
Stay at one of our three hostels in San Francisco, and experience a San Francisco not found in guidebooks.