1. Sourdough Bread
While credit goes to the ancient Egyptians for the original sourdough recipe, it was a family of San Francisco bakers who popularized the loaf during the California Gold Rush. Boudin, the oldest bakery in the city, has been making the golden-crusted bread since 1849. To experience one of San Francisco’s modern-day bread pioneers head to Tartine Bakery.
We all have that dish that scrapes together the last of the contents in the refrigerator, and for the Italian fisherman of San Francisco, that was cioppino. A combination of leftovers from the day’s catch, tomatoes, onions, garlic, herbs and wine, the dish is still served in classic North Beach restaurants like Sotto Mare.
3. Mission Burrito
In case you aren’t aware, the burrito is not a traditional Mexican food, it’s a Mexican-American one. And the super burrito, a glorious forearm-length, tightly foil-wrapped combination of meat, beans, rice, cheese, sour cream, guacamole and hot sauce? That’s thanks to the Mission district of San Francisco. Gustavo Arellano, in his book, Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America, credits Febronio Ontiveros of El Faro with rolling the first one in the 1960s. La Taqueria is a local favorite these days.
4. Mai Tai
Next time you spot an army of safari hats and tropical shirts stumbling out of a tiki bar, you can probably thank Trader Vic’s in Emeryville for that. More specifically, for the creation of the mai tai, a potent combo of rum, curacao, lime and orgeat. Rumor goes that Victor J. Bergeron made the first version for some friends from Tahiti in 1944, to which one of them said, “Maita’i roa ae!” roughly translating to, “out of this world!” For the ultimate tiki experience — tropical thunderstorms and floating band included — head to the Tonga Room at the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco. As with all tiki bars, the characterization of Polynesian culture is fantastical, colorful, and probably offensive to a lot of people.
5. Fortune Cookie
The debate over who invented the fortune cookie was so contentious that it was sent to the Court of Historical Review in San Francisco in 1983. The judge ruled in favor of its origins being San Franciscan and not from Los Angeles, but that still didn’t determine if the cookies were original to Chinese-American or Japanese-American populations (one account is that when Japanese-Americans were forced into internment camps during World War II and their bakeries were closed, Chinese populations popularized the cookie.) But, what we do know is that a University of California at Berkeley graduate invented the fortune cooking folding machine in
Oakland in 1973, which made mass production possible. You can still see a machine in action at Tom’s Bakery in Chinatown Oakland.
6. Rocky Road
Both Fentons Creamery and Dryer’s Ice Cream claim to have invented Rocky Road ice cream, a combo of marshmallows, nuts, and chocolate ice cream. Either way it was invented in Oakland, and it opened the doors for experimentation with textures, styles, and ingredients in ice cream flavors. Launched during the Great Depression, the name was inspired by hopes to make rocky times a little sweeter. You can still get a scoop at Fentons.
The story goes that a gold miner celebrating a new fortune walked into the main bar in the city of Martinez and asked the bartender for champagne. Instead, the bartender put together what he called a Martinez Special — very dry sauterne wine and gin — and struck cocktail gold. The name later evolved to martini. Of course, New York, San Francisco and even a cafe in Paris have all made claims to inventing America’s most classic drink as well. Are you surprised our collective alcohol memory is fuzzy?