San Francisco: A Food Biography Tells the Story of the Bay Area's Rise to Culinary Nirvana

Ever since I moved to San Francisco, I've been looking for a certain resource -- a history of the food of the region, from the Native American times to more or less the present. And it wasn't until I received food historian Erica J. Peters' new book, San Francisco: A Food Biography, that I realized I hadn't been able to find it before because it hadn't been written yet.

It's a dense historical volume, more suited to dipping into as a resource than sitting and reading from cover to cover, but it's packed with fascinating information about the formations of the Bay Area's rich food culture. Whether you want to learn about the origins of Rice-a-Roni (originally a Lebanese treat), the rise of tamales in the Mission, or the actual history of some of S.F.'s oldest restaurants, it's in the book -- as well as an outline of the diverse immigrant groups that came to the city and influenced its cuisine.

See also: Wednesday Taste Talk at SFCS: What Does California Cuisine Mean, Anyways?
Was The Mimosa Invented in S.F.?
Re-Visiting the Hangtown Fry, the Dish That Epitomizes Gold Rush California

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Top 30 Archaic Phrases For Being Absolutely Shitfaced

Looks like someone's been too free with Sir John Barleycorn.
The Drunktionary is a wonderful Internet gem that music editor Ian S. Port unearthed yesterday when we were brainstorming names for SF Weekly's new bar column, debuting next Wednesday. It's a compilation of the hundreds, nay, thousands of delightful historical euphemisms for "being really drunk." There's a lot of great language in there (I'm partial to the nautical terms and Cockney rhyming slang), and the whole collection is a reminder that extreme inebriation is a universal human folly. Here are a few of our favorites -- use one or two on your next night out, and your friends are guaranteed to be impressed.

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Wednesday Taste Talk at SFCS: What Does California Cuisine Mean, Anyways?

Courtesy of San Francisco Cooking School
San Francisco Cooking School
Once you've gobbled up Joyce Goldstein's latest book, Inside the California Food Revolution, you may find yourself wanting to mull over the weighty topics with others -- what does California cuisine really mean, anyways, and does it depend on who you ask? Tomorrow night at a Taste Talk event at the San Francisco Cooking School, check out a fun and bookish event that promises face time with area culinary stars and a coffee and dessert bar from Neighbor Bakehouse and Crumb.

See also: Inside the California Food Revolution with Joyce Goldstein

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Meet Debbie Ward, S.F.'s Queen of Corned Beef

Rhys Alvarado
Debbie Ward continues the 103-year-old family tradition of curing beef.
There have been too many a long and drunken night where I've floundered into hofbraus like Lefty O' Doul's with just enough singles to get me a corned beef sandwich to smooth out the inevitable rocky morning after.

No insight as to where this hangover savior has come from. No care but for my own, wasted well being. No idea of the unique history that corned beef has in this city.

So it must have been fate that led me to Debbie Ward in the upstairs office of the city's oldest corned beef plant, adorned with throwback deli photos of sky-high pastrami sandwiches, shamrock clocks, and dated menus of days when the stuff would cost but 25 cents a pound. For the past 103 years, Roberts Corned Meats has been providing corned beef and pastrami to Lefty O'Douls, Mel's Drive Inn, Tommy's Joynt, and a long list of big hitters in the city and around the bay.

"We've weathered the time because we're a specialty house," Ward says.

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Was The Mimosa Invented in S.F.?

The Bold Italic has a fun blog post today with six things you never knew were invented in San Francisco, and one of them took us completely by surprise: the mimosa. As the cited story goes, everyone's favorite brunch drink was invented by the Master of Suspense himself, Alfred Hitchcock, on a rough morning after a night of drinking at Jeanty at Jack's. (He must've been in town a lot -- Vertigo, The Birds, and Shadow of a Doubt were all filmed in or near San Francisco.)

See also: Re-Visiting the Hangtown Fry, the Dish That Epitomizes Gold Rush California
The 20 Most Significant Food Inventions in History
Step Inside S.F.'s Oldest Restaurants With New Interactive Book

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Talking Life, Work, and Herring With Mark Russ Federman of Russ and Daughters

russ daughters cover.jpg
Russ and Daughters is one of those iconic New York food spots that has cultural capital well outside the five boroughs. From its uber-humble beginnings as a herring pushcart in 1907, the "appetizing store" has become a Jewish food juggernaut, shipping millions of fish around the world, gaining the die-hard loyalty of foodies ranging from Anthony Bourdain to Calvin Trillin, and making a guest appearance this season on Louie.

Mark Russ Federman, author of the new memoir Russ and Daughters: The House That Herring Built, recently hosted a brunch at the JCCSF. The event sold out well in advance, a testament to the dearth of appetizing stores in the Bay Area. SFoodie caught up with Federman, a "born schmoozer," for a lengthy discussion of smoked fish, perceptions of ethnic food, and gentrification.

See also: Q&A with Evan Bloom of Wise Sons Jewish Deli
Beauty's Bagel Shop Begins Baking Montreal-Style Bagels

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Nerding Out With an Heirloom Seed Catalog

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Even if you don't have a green thumb, the Baker Creek Seed Catalog is a fascinating read. Bear with me. Now in its 15th year, the catalog contains listings for 1,450 seeds for vegetables, flowers, and herbs from more than 70 countries, many of them with super-interesting backstories. For a food history nerd such as myself, just reading entries at random is enough transport you to the markets of nineteenth century Paris or Thomas Jefferson's gardens at Monticello, emphasizing the way food acts as a through-line between present and past civilizations.

See also: Revisiting My Side of the Mountain in the Locavore Era
Re-Visiting the Hangtown Fry, the Dish That Epitomizes Gold Rush California

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Re-Visiting the Hangtown Fry, the Dish That Epitomizes Gold Rush California

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Anna Roth
The excellent Hangtown Fry at Brenda's French Soul Food.
I woke up this morning with Hangtown Fry on the brain. On the way to and from Tahoe last weekend I passed through the original Hangtown, now called Placerville (the town's first name came from the dubious distinction of being the first spot in Gold Country to hang some desperadoes, and when it incorporated in 1854 the residents opted for a more genteel moniker). It reminded me of the dish that still bears the Old West name.

Legend has it that a prospector came into the now-defunct El Dorado Hotel one day hot off a lucky strike and asked for the most expensive meal in the house, which the cook obligingly made from the priciest ingredients in the kitchen: eggs (which had to be transported overland from San Francisco), oysters (which had to be packed in ice and shipped every day from San Francisco Bay), and bacon (which was shipped by sea from back East). The resulting concoction became known as the Hangtown Fry, and is one of the first culinary inventions of U.S.-owned California.

But truth be told, though I've spent my entire life in the West I've never eaten this particular dish -- something about the texture of cooked oysters and eggs always turned me off. I was determined to change all that this morning.

See also:
- Step Inside S.F.'s Oldest Restaurants With New Interactive Book
- New Cookbook Explores California's Culinary Past
- The 20 Most Significant Food Inventions in History

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Turkey Leftovers Inspired the Invention of the TV Dinner

As you stare into the abyss of your refrigerator today, contemplating days of turkey leftovers with equal parts glee (as long as the stuffing and gravy hold out) and dread (everything that happens after that), be glad that you don't have 520,000 pounds of frozen turkeys to dispose of, like Swanson did in 1953. As the story goes, the frozen food company had massively overestimated the number of turkeys Americans would buy and eat that year and didn't know what they were going to do with the surplus. The only way to keep the turkeys frozen was to keep them on refrigerated railroad cars, which needed to remain in constant motion to keep their electricity on. Clearly, something needed to be done, so the company challenged its employees to come up with a solution.

See also:
- The 20 Most Significant Food Inventions in History
- Great Moments in San Francisco Food History: Popsicles
- Was Diet Responsible for the Salem Witch Trials?

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Step Inside S.F.'s Oldest Restaurants With New Interactive Book

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Tandemvines Publishing
Food history buffs, take note: a new digital book available for the iPad through Apple's iBookstore takes a behind-the-scenes look at some of the city's oldest restaurants that opened in the years after the 1906 earthquake. In Tables From the Rubble, author Denise E. Clifton steps inside five iconic San Francisco restaurants -- Swan Oyster Depot, Liguria Bakery, Sam Wo, The Palace Hotel, and House of Shields bar -- and tells their stories through historic and new photographs, menus, recipes, stories, and more.

See also:
- San Francisco is Home to Two of the Oldest Bars in the U.S.: Can You Guess Which Ones?
- Great Moments in San Francisco Food History: Green Goddess
- Cookbook Explores California's Culinary Past

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