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San Francisco

A Food Biography

Erica J. Peters

San Francisco is a relatively young city with a well-deserved reputation as a food destination, situated near lush farmland and a busy port. San Francisco's famous restaurant scene has been the subject of books but the full complexity of the city's culinary history is revealed here for the first time. This food biography presents the story of how food traveled from farms to markets, from markets to kitchens, and from kitchens to tables, focusing on how people experienced the bounty of the City by the Bay. « less more »
AltaMira Press
Pages: 230Size: 6 x 9
978-0-7591-2151-5 • Hardback • August 2013 • $44.00 • (£29.95)
978-0-7591-2153-9 • eBook • August 2013 • $43.99 • (£29.95)
Erica J. Peters is the author of Appetites and Aspirations in Vietnam: Food and Drink in the Long Nineteenth Century (AltaMira, 2011). She lives in the Bay Area and is director and co-founder of the Culinary Historians of Northern California.
San Francisco’s inspired chefs; its markets packed with foodstuffs from nearby farmers, ranchers, and vintners; and its influential food writers have made the city the West’s gastronomic capital. In many ways,it serves as inspiration for most all contemporary American cooking. So this history of the city’s markets, restaurants, cookbooks, and signature dishes comes at the perfect moment. Piling up often-overlooked details, Peters catalogs how various immigrant groups have contributed to San Francisco’s cuisine while giving due credit to Native American ingredients and influences. She describes how the 1906 earthquake upended lives briefly before the city roared back. She relates stories of individual restaurants and food retailers, and she inventories specialties such as cioppino and Rice-A-Roni. Peters’ engaging explorations take her beyond the city proper to explain the national influence of Oakland’s Trader Vic’s and Berkeley’s Chez Panisse. Not just for regional collections, this treatise appeals to anyone who savors San Francisco past and present.

Perched on the edge of a continent with connections east and west, San Francisco is both grittily genuine and breezily cosmopolitan. Food historian Peters examines how the diverse factors of geography and culture formed the city’s foodways and in turn how the food culture of San Francisco influenced the world. Blessed with abundant natural resources and an excellent climate, the City by the Bay has seen both boom and bust. Well-documented chapters consider foods, the impact of immigrants on cuisine, signature restaurants and/or dishes, and other unique aspects of the city’s culinary history, covering topics from the earliest Native American inhabitants through the modern city’s rough-and-tumble beginnings in the Gold Rush days and its history as a sort of ground zero for counterculture. VERDICT Scholarly yet readable, this aptly titled “food biography” of the city traces the development of its restaurants and food culture, reflecting its complex fabric of customs and ethnicities.
Library Journal

There has never been a history of San Francisco cuisine that covers two centuries of our raucous restaurants, floorboard-squeaking saloons, and self-righteous food movements, until now. Erica Peters' book covers the gamut of San Francisco's food history, and makes me proud to call myself a San Francisco native. Peters navigates San Francisco's storied food scene as no other author ever has.
Celia Sack, Omnivore Books on Food

In the rigorously researched San Francisco: A Food Biography, Erica J. Peters shows how food is culture, as lived day to day. From the native inhabitants to the missionaries to waves of immigrants: “In California, the epicureans are not the favored few, but the great democracy.” The fixation on local ingredients, the diversity of restaurants, the prejudices --- this book overflows with goodies that will surprise and delight.
Sheila Himmel, San Francisco Bay Area food journalist

For anyone curious about how San Francisco’s foods and restaurants became world-recognized icons of American regional cuisine, this book is a terrific place to begin.
Marion Nestle, professor of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health, New York University; author of What to Eat

Erica Peters takes us on a delightful culinary tour through San Francisco by mapping the city and the larger Bay Area through the flavors, aromas, and histories of its food cultures. This is not merely voyeuristic tourism but a serious and seriously pleasurable encounter with the many people who have made San Francisco home over the past several centuries and whose food traditions have turned the City into a diverse culinary scene that has in turn shaped California cuisine and culinary traditions around the world. This delectable journey is just as satisfying as being able to sample San Francisco's culinary bounties in person.
Melissa L. Caldwell, professor of Anthropology, Co-Director of the UC Multi-Campus Research Program on Studies of Food and the Body, University of California, Santa Cruz

In this book, the second in the 'Big City Food Biographies' series (see also New Orleans: A Food Biography by Elizabeth Williams, CH, Aug'13, 50-6732), Peters (Culinary Historians of Northern California) celebrates the history of San Francisco as a culinary destination. Chapters include 'The Material Resources,' 'Native American Foodways,' 'Immigrants and Ethnic Neighborhoods,' 'Food Markets and Retailing,' 'Famous Restaurants,' 'San Francisco Cookbooks,' and 'Signature Dishes.' The food of San Francisco comes alive through visitors' journal entries, menus, recipes, and photographs, as well as an accessible historical narrative. The largest chapter, which focuses on the immigrant contributions to San Franciscan cuisine, is most impressive. Peters leaves no stone unturned in that chapter; she even includes a section on the rise of the gay neighborhood in San Francisco and its well-known restaurants and bars. Anyone who has visited San Francisco or who currently lives there will be impressed by this well-researched, comprehensive survey of this city's culinary history in such a small book. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All undergraduate, general, and professional culinary collections and California history collections.

Rarely is history so delicious. Billed as a real urban biography of the 'full food culture of a city,' San Francisco: A Food Biography – the second in the Big City Food Biographies Series – is a mouth-watering celebration of the City by the Bay’s epicurean history, resources, and people as told through its markets, restaurants, dishes, and cookbooks. Author Erica J. Peters, director of the Culinary Historians of Northern California, cooks up a tasty tale that begins with the Native American foodways of the indigenous Ohlone people and ends in San Francisco’s celebrated dining rooms and diners. . . .In her role as culinary historian, Peters is the perfect guide to San Francisco’s greasy spoons and gourmet grottoes. Whether you’re a history buff or a food saveur, whether you’re a fan of It’s-It ice cream or a Rice-a-Roni junky, San Francisco: A Food Biography is sure to feed the foodie in you.