A History of San Francisco in its Food

San Francisco Eats on view at the Main Library, December 11, 2010-March 20, 2011

San Francisco is a beacon of gastronomic delight revered by first-time visitors, longtime residents, and blog-obsessed foodies. Through menus, historic photos, ephemera and cookbooks, drawn from San Francisco Public Library collections, along with selected loans from institutions and individuals, the Library’s new exhibition, San Francisco Eats, focuses on the restaurants, street vendors, and recipes that have characterized the City from the Gold Rush through Slow Food.

San Francisco Eats is on view December 11, 2010 through March 20, 2011, in the San Francisco Main Library’s Jewett and Skylight Galleries, 100 Larkin Street, San Francisco. 

The exhibition strives to highlight the major ethnic groups and food trends that led to the City’s recognition as the nation’s culinary pacesetter and explores three themes: immigration, geography and tourism. The exhibition looks at how Spanish and subsequent immigrants to the region brought new ways of eating, but everything changed with the discovery of gold in the Sierra. Newly rich Forty-niners treated themselves to good food in San Francisco, and the City’s reputa­tion for serious eating never waned.  Seeking freedom, fortune, and adventure, immigrants fostered an overall atmosphere of culinary exploration. Whether from Saigon or Seattle, newcomers diversify the food supply.

The City’s geography is also a focal point of the exhibition, as the compact 46.7 square miles of San Francisco has long enabled travel between neighborhoods and inspired adventurous eating. Residents are happy to stand in line for the next taste sensation, from crème brûlée to Korean fish tacos served from a roaming food truck. Another key point is how San Francisco’s year round tourism, including inbound and outbound travelers, adds to the exuberant food culture. Visitors come to San Francisco for adventures in food, signature dishes and new and iconic restaurants.

The exhibition also reflects San Francisco’s food-obsessed culture through the longevity of many restaurants, a handful of which have celebrated their 100th birthdays, as well as the constant churning of new eateries. Many of the City’s restaurants have continued to survive due to the persistence of local owners, individuals and families. Most of these restaurants are homegrown, reflecting the heart of the City, while others cater to the Michelin crowd, achieving the status of internationally renowned eateries. From the earliest menu, dated December 27, 1849 for Ward House, to the September 22, 2010 Slanted Door menu, these and other objects represent the richness and diversity of over 150 years of food history and culture in San Francisco.

Library Programs for San Francisco Eats

Opening Program:

Food for Thought – A lively panel discussion about how food is talked about in San Francisco. Panelists include Joey Altman, author, chef and host of the food-television magazine show, Bay Café; Gene Burns of KGO Radio’s Dining Around with Gene Burns; Sheila Himmel, guest curator of San Francisco Eats; Patricia Unterman, chef, author and owner of Hayes Street Grill; and Melanie Wong, food blogger for Chow­Hound.

December 11, 2:00 - 3:00 p.m., Koret Auditorium, Main Library.

For a list of all related programs please visit sfpl.org/sfeats. Images are available upon request.

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