There are some foods so quintessentially Californian they hardly call for introduction: the California raisin, for example, both food and fictional rock band, or the California roll, which fuses Asian influence with California-grown avocados to give this popular sushi dish its own local appeal. Then there’s California-style pizza, an oven-baked dish that in state comes served with a list of fresh and non-traditional toppings (also locally grown), the inspiration for a mouth-watering selection of California-style pizzerias.
But beyond these well publicized favorites, California’s Mediterranean climate also makes it ideal for growing produce you won’t find commercially anywhere else in the United States, from almonds, artichokes, figs and persimmons, to pomegranates, prunes, walnuts and olives. Not surprisingly, farmers markets flourish in these parts, particularly in the Central Valley where orchards, grain fields and dairy farms demonstrate that this, the “Golden State” isn’t all gridlock; California might be the nation’s most populous state but it also happens to produce 80% of our veggies and fruit, forget pre-packaged goods. Think fresh, in other words.
For the hungry traveler taking in the sights and sensory delights of Southern California, father away from the fields, a multi-cultural scene dominates, though one need not look hard or far to find a cafe dishing up tasty fish tacos, of association with San Diego, or a colorful Cobb Salad, with roots in a Los Angeles restaurant chain. Santa Barbara’s wineries make for a peaceful tippling trip for those sticking to the southern side of the state, but venture up the coast and experience the Western version of barbeque, tri-tips done to succulent perfection in Santa Maria or this close to the Pacific, sample the day’s catch and gourmet California red abalone as part of your regional tasting tour.
From the Bay Area, warmed by a bowl of Cioppino, a slab of sourdough bread, and a wedge of Monterey Jack cheese, it’s an easy detour out to California Wine Country, known, of course, for the many wineries which dot the rolling, vineyard flocked hills. Though languid sunny afternoons spent sipping around might set the pace, the region deserves another nod for its focus on fine foods, from organic produce grown on family farms to savory artisan cheeses.
For a better introduction to California’s culinary side, look for a weekly farmers market, or plan a trip to one of the state’s many food-oriented festivals, a good way to mix with the locals over a plate of the local finest.