I'm a San Francisco-based freelance writer and blogger with nearly ten years of writing experience behind me.
In the San Franciso Bay Area, you can get pretty much any food that you’d like to indulge in because there are restaurants of every flavor. But there are certain foods that are must-haves because they were originally created right here. Some of these foods (like popsicles!) might surprise you.
Here are some of the foods that were made in the Bay Area and some info on where they came from.
The Popsicle: An East Bay Food
San Francisco is widely known as being a place where it never gets very hot outside, but the surrounding Bay Area doesn’t always have the luxury of the foggy chill in the air that the city itself has. Maybe it’s not so surprising, then, that the favorite of all warm-weather snacks, the Popsicle, was first invented here. What is surprising, though, is that it was invented by an eleven-year-old boy.
In 1905, Frank Epperson put his summer boredom to good use. He began making flavored drinks in his home using combinations of water, soda powder, and different natural and artificial flavors. His curiosity spread and he left some of his new concoctions outside during a cold Bay Area night. As children will do, he had abandoned the project without removing the stirring stick he’d been using, and thus was born the first popsicle. Epperson called it an Epsicle at the time and worked on perfecting its form. He patented it in 1923, but he eventually sold all of the rights to it.
Today, the popsicle can be bought at convenience stores all over, but there are variations of the popsicle which can only be found in the East Bay restaurants where Epperson (a native of Oakland) first developed his treat. For example, try the plum wine sorbet at Angelfish Japanese Restaurant in Alameda, which is just like a wine popsicle without the stick. Or get a more traditional type of Popsicle from the Colusa Market in Kensington. This organic food market sells fruit juice popsicle which can be enjoyed by people of all ages.
Crab Louis: A San Francisco Specialty
There is some debate as to the original inventor of Crab Louis, but those people who worked at Solari’s Restaurant in San Francisco at the turn of the 20th century say that there is no doubt in their minds that the popular seafood salad was first created there. It is known for sure that it was being served in that restaurant by 1914, as evidenced by historical epicurean reports from the time.
The debate may be due to the fact that Crab Louis is a salad that uses a number of different ingredients, so different versions of the salad may have been invented around the same time. What they all share in common is the Louis dressing (which is strikingly similar to Thousand Island but has a bit of a different spice to it) and the use of Dungeness crab, a popular item in San Francisco at the turn of the century.
Solari’s may have been the place to get Crab Louis back when it was first invented, but this local treat quickly spread all over the city and can now be found on the menus of nearly every seafood-serving restaurant there is. From the street vendors of Fisherman’s Wharf to the tourist restaurants at Pier 39, all of the bay view restaurants feature this dish.
For a special experience of the Crab Louis salad, head out to the Cliff House over at Ocean Beach. Not only will you get an excellent dish (which has a shrimp variation for those who don’t want traditional crab), but you will also get a view of the sea lions playing in the ocean, a historic understanding of the Sutro Baths and Cliff House restaurants and a fine dining experience.
Cioppino: A Peninsula Variation
Cioppino is a fish stew that was first developed in ancient Mediterranean times but that owes its current form to the way that it came to be made in the San Francisco Bay Area. Seafood has long been a staple of the area, and several Northern Italian restaurant owners found that they could use whatever fish and even other seafood that was available to create this ever-changing stew. They touted it as featuring the “fish of the day,” but…
Cioppino may be most associated with the restaurants of North Beach (San Francisco’s Little Italy) and the Fisherman’s Wharf area, but the best places to get good cioppino actually exist outside of San Francisco proper. The peninsula is a good place to find cioppino; try Sapore Italiano Restaurant in Burlingame. For a variation on the stew, try the lobstah seafood gazpacho served at the Old Port Lobster Shack in Redwood City.
Fortune Cookie: A Staple of Downtown San Francisco’s Chinatown Restaurants
The history of America, and in particular the history of the frontier, is a history which is dotted with both a mixture of good and bad experience. The excitement of developing a new way of life in a rugged land is marred by the fact that to do so required difficult labor in difficult times. To maintain the energy necessary to move through the bad and get to the good, people in the frontier days had to find simple pleasures where they could.
That is how the fortune cookie was born.
Much of the frontier building in the San Francisco came at the hands of Chinese laborers. Living in isolation camps, they did the best they could to retain some of their culture in the new world. One of the things that they left behind were the moon cakes that were used to celebrate special occasions in China. In an attempt to make their own moon cakes, the laborers came up with the fortune cookie.
You can get fortune cookies nearly anywhere in San Francisco. One great place to check out as a tourist, though, is the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory, where you can see the cookies being made in old-fashioned style.
Chicken Tetrazzini: Delivery From North of San Jose
Some famous people get landmarks named after them. Others get stars on the streets of Hollywood bearing their names. For a time, in the early 20th century, it was popular for chefs to name their newest food creations after famous people of the day. That is how the Chicken Tetrazzini, invented in San Francisco in 1910, got its name.
Luisa Tetrazzini was an Italian opera singer who starred in the San Francisco Opera. Her voice may be what she was known for at the time, but today this dish may be the only way people may have heard of her. The singer had a unique style that was a little bit of this and a little bit of that, and the dish matches that style; it is a little bit pasta, a little bit poultry, and a little bit of casserole.
It’s It: From the Beach to the South Bay
This is one of the newest foods invented in San Francisco. First created in 1928 by George Whitney, this ice cream dessert snack offered a twist on the standard ice cream sandwich. The It’s It consists of two large oatmeal cookies, with ice cream sandwiched between them, all dipped into chocolate—creating a treat that it’s hard not to enjoy!
The It’s It was first created and sold at Playland at the Beach. In fact, that San Francisco amusement park located at Ocean Beach was the only place where San Franciscans could buy the It’s It from the time it was first created until the time when the amusement park closed in 1972.
Playland at the Beach may be gone, but the It’s It remains a part of San Francisco’s favorite dessert snack list. It’s It snacks are now made at a factory located in Burlingame, California, just south of San Francisco. You can go to the factory to pick up packages of It’s Its to enjoy, or you can even have packages delivered to you. Most convenience stores carry this treat, as well.
Martini: Crossing the Bay Bridge, Bond-Style
The martini is perhaps one of the most famous drinks in the world, with numerous references to it in literature and film, the most well-known of which, of course, is James Bond’s “shaken, not stirred” line. There is some argument as to where specifically the martini was first invented, but every single story leads back to somewhere in the Bay Area circa the end of the 19th century.
Many say that the drink was named after Martinez, California, a city in the upper East Bay where the drink may have originated. It is believed that saloon owner Julio Richelieu created the drink in 1870. However, the drink seems to crop up a lot in different histories of the area at the time, including within the city of San Francisco itself. It is known that by 1887, recipes for the Martinez were being printed in drink books and shortly thereafter, the popular drink’s name was shortened to martini.
Cooper Harrison from San Francisco, CA on April 18, 2017:
I knew about It's-It, but the rest of these are news to me - interesting stuff.
idigwebsites from United States on April 02, 2013:
Fortune cookies are invented in SF? Wow I didn't know that. I thought they were of pure Chinese origin. Interesting.
Joanne M Olivieri on February 13, 2013:
Ahh, the memories. I remember frequenting Playland at the beach when I was a kid. We would make a day of it, have lunch at the Hot House Mexican spot and then have those decadent It's It for dessert. Thanks for bringing back those memories to me :) Great info on this hub.
Historysmith on August 23, 2011:
The fortune cookie was not invented by Chinese San Francisans - it was invented by Makoto Hagiwara, a Japanese San Franciscan who built and operated the Japanese Tea Garden (formerly the Japanese Village for the 1894 Midwinter Fair). The Fortune cookie was an Americanized version of the Japanese sembei cookies served at Shinto shrines during the New Year.
philipandrews188 on June 28, 2011:
Interesting!Those foods are mouth-watering. Nice hub.
ChristinCordle12 on May 13, 2011:
Thanks for sharing I love it.
SuMos Party Place from Bay Area California on October 05, 2010:
Nice hub! And nice tour of some tastes of SF! I had no idea Chicken tetrazzini and cioppino are from the Bay Area. I heard about the martini years ago when I was a bartender, I heard that was not true and that it came from England. Who knows, fun article!
Katrina Ariel from The Highlands of British Columbia, Canada on January 11, 2010:
Informative! San Francisco is such an awesome place! I'll still always think of sourdough bread first, though. Mmmm...
Om Paramapoonya on January 11, 2010:
Very interesting and surprising. I just never thought something like chicken tetrazzini or martini were created in SF. The only thing that didn't really surprise me was the fortune cookie!
Georgiakevin from Central Georgia on January 11, 2010:
I am impressed. I have been to San Francisco many times. My sister lives in Mill Valley. I did not know any of the facts that you shared with us so well. San Francisco is a vibrant fascinating city with lots of stories that have been told and need to be told. Even Laura Ingals Wilder wrote a book about San Francisco when she visited her daughter there. Thank you for sharing this.
Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on January 10, 2010:
Very interesting hub and I had no idea that many of the mentioned foods and the martini drink originated in the San Francisco Bay area. You stumped me on the Its It. Never heard of that one! Thanks for the link to my Cliff House and Sutro Baths. Will be happy to link this hub to mine.