Would you believe that the martini was originally concocted as a substitute for Champagne? There are plenty of stories about how the martini was invented, but one small town in Northern California shares a pretty compelling claim. During California’s Gold Rush, people flocked to the hills to find their fortunes. Most weren’t successful, but the few that struck it rich were eager to celebrate. When one lucky miner hit the jackpot, he walked into a bar in Martinez and asked for a glass of bubbly to celebrate. The bartender didn’t have Champagne on hand, so he had to get a little creative. He instead mixed Sauternes wine (which is similar to vermouth) with gin and called it the Martinez Special. The miner bought a round for the bar, the drink stuck around, and the name eventually evolved to “martini.”
Mai Tai Cocktail (Emeryville)
The mai tai cocktail serves up some serious tropical vacay vibes. In fact, you’d probably expect the recipe to be from an exotic island—not the East Bay town of Emeryville. The cocktail was created at Trader Vic’s to showcase a fancy rum that he had just gotten in stock. Vic served his concoction to some friends who were visiting from Tahiti. After tasting a sip, they exclaimed “Maita’i roa a’e," which means “out of this world, the best.” That’s a bit of a mouthful, so Vic shortened the name to “mai tai.” Fun fact: Mai tais were so popular in the 1940s and ‘50s that they reportedly depleted the world’s rum supply.
What’s in a name? Everything. One chilly Oakland night, 11-year-old Frank Epperson left a pitcher filled with a sugary drink outside overnight and it froze with the stick in it. Frank called his accidental invention an “Ep-sicle” (a mix of his last name and icicle). Years later, his kids changed the name to “popsicle.” The catchier moniker stuck, and the popsicle is now a summer staple.
Cioppino (San Francisco)
This Italian fish stew definitely originated on Fisherman’s Wharf back in the late 1800s. The origin of the name “cioppino,” however, is a bit of a mystery. The most popular story claims that fishermen would walk down the dock with an empty bucket asking others to “chip in” some of their catch to make a communal stew. Some historians take issue with that claim. They argue that the name “cioppino” was most likely derived from the Northern Italian word “cuippin,” which means “fish stew.” That might be a less interesting origin story, but it doesn’t make the stew any less delicious.
Jack Cheese (Pacifica)
You’ve probably heard of Jack cheese referred to as “Monterey Jack.” For years, many believed that the mild, semi-hard cheese was invented there. Turns out that might not have been the case. Kathleen Manning, an avid collector of antique cookbooks, came across a copy of a 1937 edition of Eating Across San Francisco. The book details how Jack cheese was originally invented at Ray Mori’s Place in Pacifica—and includes his original recipe. It even details how Ray shared his recipe with a family friend named Baldocchi, who then went on to manufacture the cheese on the Jack Ranch in Monterey. The story makes sense, but almost every detail about the origin of Jack cheese is fiercely contested. Here’s what we know for sure: It was the first cheese commercially produced in the Golden State.
Hidden Valley Ranch Dressing (Santa Barbara)
Did you know that “Hidden Valley Ranch” isn’t simply a brand or a clever marketing ploy? It’s a real place in Santa Barbara. In the 1950s, a retired plumber named Steve Henson bought a dude ranch on the Central Coast and his signature buttermilk dressing became a staple at nightly communal dinners. Guests and locals began to ask for the recipe and word of mouth spread. Henson eventually sold his recipe—and rights to the name—for a cool $8 million. Today, ranch dressing is the most popular salad dressing in the nation!
One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. In 1924, 16-year-old Lionel Sternberger was working at his father’s Pasadena restaurant, The Rite Spot, when he accidentally burnt one side of a hamburger patty. Instead of throwing it out, he slapped a slice of cheese on top to hide his mistake. (What else would you expect from a teenager?) Almost 100 years later, three out of four Americans add a slice of cheese to their burgers—whether they’re burned or not.
California Roll (Los Angeles)
Back in the 1960s, sushi would have been considered a bit exotic for most American diners. So Chef Ichiro Mashita of the Los Angeles restaurant Tokyo Taikan created a variation of the Japanese staple that was more palatable to a SoCal crowd. He swapped the typical raw tuna for cooked crab, and covered the seaweed wrap with rice. The California Roll exploded in popularity—and helped introduce sushi to a hungry nation.
French Dip Sandwich (Los Angeles)
The French dip sandwich, much like French fries, isn't actually from France. There’s no dispute that this meaty masterpiece was invented in Los Angeles, but exactly who came up with the creation is hotly debated. One of the more interesting tales: Chef Phillipe Mathieu of Phillipe The Original "invented” the French dip after accidentally dropping his sandwich into a vat of broth. Unfazed, he salvaged his sandwich and was pleasantly surprised. We wouldn’t typically approve of a chef taking advantage of the five-second rule, but in this case, we’ll make an exception.
Much of Disneyland’s iconic fare has garnered quite a cult following—think Dole Whip, churros, and Mickey-shaped pretzels. But the most famous food product to come out of Disneyland is probably Doritos. When Disneyland first opened in 1955, the park’s sole Mexican food restaurant was called Casa de Frito, which was sponsored by snack-food giant Frito Lay. One day, a sales rep noticed a pile of stale tortillas in the trash and made a very practical suggestion: why not fry them instead? The unflavored tortilla chips were a hit with the Disney crowd and before long, became part of the Frito Lay lineup. Archibald Clark West, a Frito Lay marketing executive, coined the name “Doritos,” which means “little golden things.” Fun fact: West loved the snack so much that his family actually tossed Doritos into his grave upon his demise.
Taquitos (San Diego)
Because San Diego is situated on the border, it’s home to some really amazing Mexican food joints. Some stick to traditions, but others like to get a little creative. In the 1950s, the kitchen staff at El Indio decided to take a few liberties with the traditional taco. Instead of folding the shell, they rolled up the fillings into a tortilla before frying it whole, calling it a “taquito.” Appetizer menus across the country would never be the same.These are just a few of the fun foods that were invented right here in the Golden State. Hungry for more? Sign up to receive the free e-book, Iconic California Dishes to Celebrate California Wine Month.
These are just a few of the fun foods that were invented right here in the Golden State. Hungry for more? Sign up to receive the free e-book, Iconic California Dishes to Celebrate California Wine Month.