California has contributed so much to the cultural zeitgeist of the entire world, including many culinary inventions that are still consumed to this day.
Below is a list of 10 foods and drinks that were invented and popularized right here in the Golden State.
- Sourdough Bread - San Francisco
- Cioppino - San Francisco
- Mai Tai - Emeryville
- Fortune Cookies - San Francisco
- Rocky Road - Oakland
- Martinis - Martinez
- French Dip - Los Angeles
- Cobb Salad - Hollywood
- Irish coffee - San Francisco
- Ranch Dressing - Santa Barbara
1. Sourdough Bread - San Francisco
Technically sourdough bread was invented in ancient Egypt, however it was popularized in the modern world during the Gold Rush in San Francisco. Boudin, the oldest bakery in the city, has been cranking out sourdough since 1849. They’re known for their clam chowder in a bread bowl.
2. Cioppino - San Francisco
After a long day out on the water, Italian fishermen in San Francisco would take whatever fish they had left over at the end of the day and make a stew they called Cioppino. Traditionally consisting of tomatoes, onions, garlic, herbs, white wine, and fish, it’s the perfect dish to warm you up after a foggy day on the Bay.
* Bonus: It tastes great in a bread bowl!
3. Mai Tai - Trader Vic’s Emeryville
If you’ve ever been to a tiki bar, chances are you have experienced this Bay Area gem. Rumor has it that Victor J. Bergeron, of Trader Vic’s in Emeryville, created this cocktail in 1944, for some visitors from Tahiti. After sampling the cocktail they exclaimed, “Maita’i roa ae!” which translates roughly to “Out of this world.”
4. Fortune Cookies - San Francisco
There are many NorCal versus SoCal rivalries, but none more hotly debated than where the Fortune Cookie was invented. Both San Francisco and Los Angeles claim to have been the originators. In 1983, the issue was sent to the Court of Historical Review and they ruled that it was in fact San Franciscan. Mass production started in Oakland when a University of California, Berkeley graduate invented the cookie folding machine in 1973. The original machine is still on display at Tom’s Bakery in Oakland.
5. Rocky Road - Oakland
Both Fenton’s and Dryer’s claim to have invented Rocky Road ice cream, a combination of chocolate, nuts, and marshmallows, it is undeniably an Oakland creation. Developed during the Great Depression, the name for this combination of flavors and textures was inspired by a hope for a better future ahead. You can still visit Fenton’s Creamery for a scoop!
6. Martinis - Martinez
Legend has it that during the Gold Rush a miner who was celebrating his new fortune walked into a bar in Martinex and asked for champagne. Instead, the bartender mixed up a drink he called the Martinez Special, a dry sauterne wine and gin, and struck gold. Eventually the name was shortened to Martini and the rest is history.
7. French Dip - Los Angeles
There is probably not a more polarizing food debate in the world than who invented the French Dip. Both Phillipe’s and Cole’s downtown Los Angeles claim to have invented the beef sandwich with the quintessential au jus dip.
Phillipe Mathieu opened his restaurant in 1908. According to Philippe’s website, “One day in 1918, while making a sandwich, Mathieu inadvertently dropped the slice of french roll into the roasting pan filled with juice still hot from the oven. The patron, a policeman, said he would take the sandwich anyway.”
Cole’s Pacific Electric Cafe claims to have invented the sandwich in 1908, a full 10 years before Phillipe’s. According to Gitti Beheshti, owner and manager at the time of a 1997 LA Times article, “Mr. Cole was German. He had a friend that was a chef working here. He was in the kitchen when someone wanted a sandwich, then the bread fell into the beef juice and he liked it. The other customer in line behind him asked for the same sandwich.”
Regardless of who invented the sandwich, it is a California staple.
8. Cobb Salad - Hollywood
The Cobb Salad, typically made with chopped salad greens, tomato, crisp bacon, fried chicken breast, hard-boiled eggs, avocado, chives, blue cheese, and red wine vinaigrette, was developed at the Hollywood Brown Derby restaurant. Legend has it that owner Robert Howard Cobb stumbled into the kitchen hungry at midnight and mixed together some leftovers in the kitchen with bacon and french dressing and the Cobb salad was born.
9. Irish Coffee - San Francisco
Stanton Delaplane, who was a travel writer for the San Francisco Chronicle, drank an Irish coffee at the airport while on a trip to Ireland. Some time later, Delaplane along with owner Jack Koeppler of the Buena Vista Café in San Francisco, California, tried to recreate this drink. The method for floating the cream on top of the coffee was suggested to them by Mayor, George Christopher, who told them that the cream should be aged at least 48 hours in order that it would be more apt to float atop the coffee. The Buena Vista Café began serving their Irish Coffee drink on November 10, 1952 and is still cranking out hundreds every day.
10. Ranch Dressing - Santa Barbara
Technically, Steve Hanson, a plumbing contractor in the bush, invented Ranch dressing in Alaska to keep his crews happy. But, in 1956 at the age of 35, Hanson retired and purchased the Sweetwater Ranch in the San Marcos Pass outside of Santa Barbara which he renamed Hidden Valley Ranch. When creating the menu for the ranch kitchen he chose to add the dressing to the menu. By 1957, Hanson was selling a packaged mix to make the dressing at home.