California is a federal state in the United States and its surface is about 424,000 square kilometers. Once, this area was inhabited by Indian tribes, after which the colonial period came and after that, California became part of the United States. Thus, several cultures were present in this vast area and there is no doubt that this fact has affected many segments of life in California. For example, there is a great influence of different cultures on Californian cuisine, and sometimes it can be difficult to define what is traditional Californian food.
In California, there are restaurants that cook Californian food, but this can actually be called ‘fusion cooking’ because they meet elements of European and Oriental cultures and their specialties. However, despite this mixture of other cultures and their cuisines, it is possible to say that there are certain characteristic foods and dishes for California. So, continue with reading to discover more details about California cuisine.
Fundamental Factors That Affect the California Food
As we have said, California includes a vast area. There is a long ocean coast, mountains, desert and definitely, these factors affect the climate of this federal state and of course, agriculture and the cultivation of plants and animals. For example, in Southern California, oranges, avocados, and other tropical fruits are the most commonly cultivated. In the central part, farmers usually work on the production of prunes, tomatoes, walnuts, and grapes while in the north, you can find broccoli, cauliflowers or artichokes. Of course, we must not forget the coast where the main foods are seafood and various fish species.
The Impact of Ethnic Diversity on California Cuisine
Another thing that has greatly influenced Californian cuisine is ethnic diversity. This area was once inhabited by a large number of Indian tribes. Later, in the 16th century, Spanish colonizers created their settlements and brought their cuisines and traditional food and methods of food preparation. Definitely, one of the most important moments is the Gold Rush, due to which a large number of people began to migrate from various European countries to California, and among the most influential were Italians.
If you look at the menus of some restaurants in California, you will notice that there are a number of pizzas and pasta prepared in the California way. This clearly shows the great influence of Europeans on the cuisine of this area. However, not only European nations have had an impact on California cuisine, but also settlers from Asia who began to arrive in the mid-nineteenth century.
Some of the ingredients used in California cuisine
Although there is obviously a great influence of the people who have moved to California in time, there are certain foods and ingredients that are highly respected by all domestic chefs.
Artichoke is definitely one of the main ingredients when it comes to preparing food in California. Another interesting fact is that this federal state is the largest producer of artichoke in the United States and that most of the quantities produced are eaten right in California. The largest number of plantations and farms are located on the Monterey Peninsula where a town called Castroville is located, which is the self-proclaimed Artichoke Capital of the World.
Another very important and popular food is avocado. This plant is cultivated in areas between San Luis Obispo and the Mexican border. As with artichokes, California is also the largest avocados producer in the United States.
This type of cheese was quite unknown to people in California until Laura Chenel did not present her product to Alice Waters, who owns the famous Chez Penisse restaurant. Very soon, this cheese became extremely popular and with the initial 20 pounds, the demand for the restaurant has risen to even 100 pounds of cheese on a weekly basis. Goat cheese is today an ingredient that is part of specialties such as goat cheese salads or baked goat cheese.
As we have said before, the definitely important products used in California cuisine are seafood. One of these is the Dungeness crab, which is still the favorite specialty of visitors of numerous restaurants in the Bay Area. There are also different ways of preparing these crabs. For example, home chefs prepare them in aromatic herbs and white wine, while in the Chinatown, you can try a different combination with ginger and green onions.
Dry Jack Cheese
There is one very interesting legend related to the dry jack cheese which is an essential part of every salad in California. Namely, during the Second World War, a wholesaler had large quantities of cheese in a warehouse, but he completely has forgotten about it. However, since during the war it became more and more difficult to import cheese from Italy, he recalled his forgotten stocks, which in the meantime became nutty and sweetish. So, we got a dry jack cheese in that way.
Tomatoes that are dried in the sun have roots in Italy, more precisely in Sicily. This technique is a way of preserving this vegetable and there is no doubt that the climate in California was extremely suitable for production and drying. In the beginning, farmers used the whole process for the production of small quantities and mostly performed it in the yards, but in time, the production turned into an industry. Sun-dried tomatoes can be found in foods such as pasta, salads, pizzas.
Classical Californian Food
Now that you know what are the most popular foods and ingredients of California food, let’s look at some classic examples of California dishes.
California roll is a version of sushi. As we mentioned earlier, a large number of Asians came to California in the mid-19th century and brought with them specialties from their homelands. When it comes to sushi, the Americans did not find attractive and tasty to eat raw fish, so it was logical that the traditional way of preparing sushi must be modified. Ichiro Mashita, who was a chef at a restaurant in Los Angeles, replaced the fish with food that was more familiar to Californians, which is avocado. In addition, he decided to change the way of rolling, so this is now done inside-out. His modified sushi quickly became popular in California as well as the United States.
Chinese Chicken Salad
Although it seems that the origin of this meal is in China, this is not actually the case. This dish was designed precisely in California in the 1930s. Over the decades, the recipe has been slightly changed, but the basic ingredients remain the same: crispy fried wontons or crispy noodles, salad greens, cabbage, chicken strips as well as Mandarin orange slices together with ginger dressing.
As you can imagine, California-style pizza is a modified version of the Italian pizza. The man who is responsible for creating pizzas in the Californian way is Ed LaDou. Instead of traditional ingredients, he began to use classic Californian foods such as goat cheese, mustard, artichokes, chunky roasted vegetables, and barbecued meat.
Many chefs are eager to create a meal that will make them famous and recognized by people around the world. Usually, such an invention and success require a lot of work and effort. However, there are also situations in which the chef comes to a perfect combination quite accidentally. That’s exactly what Bob Cobb, who owned the Brown Derby Restaurant, did. Namely, at one night, Cobb was hungry and went to the kitchen to prepare some food and he used the ingredients he had there. Combining hard-boiled egg, avocado, salad greens, bacon, cold chicken breast, tomatoes as well as Roquefort cheese and French dressing, he created a dish that became extremely popular in California.
For the end, we need to say a few words about the oyster cocktail. This specialty has a fairly long history since it was created in the Gold Rush period. According to the legend, the name of the person who created this dish is not known, but it is probably one of the miners. Namely, one miner went to the restaurant to drink and ate something. He ordered a whiskey and a plate of oysters, and in addition, he ordered Worcestershire sauce, horseradish, vinegar, and ketchup. When he drank his whiskey, he mixed all of the aforementioned ingredients and added a little pepper and salt. In this way, this unknown miner-cook created one of the most famous dishes coming from San Francisco.