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San Francisco: Food Firsts and Facts

San Francisco is as famous for its restaurants and food trends as it is for its Golden Gate Bridge and cable cars. Among the unique or regionally typical foods to be sampled in San Francisco are abalone, Dungeness crab, sand dabs, bay shrimp and crusty sourdough French bread.

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San Francisco is as famous for its restaurants and food trends as it is for its Golden Gate Bridge and cable cars.

Among the unique or regionally typical foods to be sampled in San Francisco are abalone, Dungeness crab, sand dabs, bay shrimp and crusty sourdough French bread.

Many local restaurants serve Joe’s Special. This dish originated in 1932 at New Joe’s when the chef told a local bandleader after a late show that there was nothing left but spinach, onions, mushrooms, ground beef and eggs. “Mix ‘em together,” said the bandleader and Joe’s Special has been a local favorite ever since.

Hangtown Fry, a Gold Rush favorite, combines scrambled eggs, oysters and bacon. The concoction originated in Placerville, known then as Hangtown. Sources credit the name to either a lucky miner’s idea of a luxurious treat or a condemned man’s request for a last meal whose ingredients were not easily procured.

It’s It, the other San Francisco treat, debuted in 1928 at George Whitney’s famous amusement park, Playland at the Beach. This mouth-watering dessert is a combination of chocolate coating, and a scoop of vanilla ice cream sandwiched between oatmeal cookies. Since its inception the flavor choices have expanded to include chocolate, mint and cappuccino.

These “food firsts” also started here or “within a fog horn’s sound of the Golden Gate,” as one writer put it:

Green Goddess Salad Dressing Martinis Cioppino The Popsicle Chicken Tetrazzini Celery Victor Crab Louis Irish Coffee Mai Tais Fortune Cookies

Other food facts:

  • Forty percent of visitors to San Francisco cite restaurants as a factor affecting their decision to visit. San Francisco has two chefs, the most of any destination, competing in the “The Next Iron Chef,” a new reality series starting Oct. 7, 2007 on the Food Network. The field of eight contenders includes Chris Cosentino, executive chef, Incanto and Traci Des Jardins, executive chef and co-owner of Jardiniere, Mijita and Acme Chophouse.
  • San Francisco is home to Ron Siegel, the first and only American chef to unanimously win the Japanese Iron Chef competition in 1999.
  • With some 3,489 places to eat, more per capita than any other major city in the United States, it’s no wonder that after scenery the second most popular reason for visiting this 47-square-mile culinary crossroads is “restaurants.”
  • From the days of the Gold Rush, the smell of roasting coffee infused the San Francisco air. Three of the major coffee firms in the United States started here. The java giants included J.A. Folger & Co., M.J.B. and Hills Bros.
  • Fior d’Italia is the oldest Italian restaurant in the U.S. and San Francisco’s oldest restaurant is Tadich Grill, one of several that pre-date 1900 (Cliff House, Old Clam House and Schroeder’s).
  • In 2006 San Francisco and the Bay Area became the second U.S. destination and only West Coast city to have a Michelin guide, with more than 300 restaurants receiving the coveted stars or making the cut to be included in the prestigious guide.
  • San Francisco has been at the forefront of such trends as Asian fusion cuisine, exotic greens, heirloom tomatoes and pedigree produce.
  • Access to fresh and plentiful local ingredients is a major inspiration for local chefs. Nine farmers markets operate in the city including the renowned Ferry Plaza Farmers Market, operated by the Center for Urban Education About Sustainable Agriculture (CUESA).
  • San Francisco has the oldest Slow Food chapter in the United States; Slow Food Nation will meet at Fort Mason Center.
  • Many of San Francisco chefs personally visit to the San Francisco Farmer’s Market at the Ferry Building on Tuesday and Saturday mornings to pick up their produce and decide what to feature on their menus. The Farmer’s Market farmers practice sustainable agriculture –integrating three main goals--environmental health, economic profitability, and social and economic equity. Sustainability rests on the principle that we must meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Therefore, stewardship of both natural and human resources is of prime importance. Stewardship of human resources includes consideration of social responsibilities such as working and living conditions of laborers, the needs of rural communities, and consumer health and safety both in the present and the future.
  • The Center for Urban Education and Sustainable Agriculture (CUESA) operates the Farmer’s Market at the Ferry Building. Since its beginning in 1993, the Market has been a crucial link between San Francisco residents and the farmers who practice sustainable agriculture in our region. CUESA hosts events and programs such as “Meet the Farmer,” or cooking demonstrations from local chefs.

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