What Is California Cuisine? How Did It Come About?


California has an interesting cuisine although it’s perhaps not the best-known American cuisine, and there is some misunderstanding about what Californians like to eat as well as what can be grown or produced locally. There are different micro-climates in California as well as modern, super-health-conscious lifestyles and other factors affecting the cuisine. The influences of France, Italy and the Mediterranean are apparent in the North with its nearby wine country, and you will find plenty of Asian food there as well. A lot of the local eateries use locally grown fresh produce in their dishes and might change their menus weekly or even daily depending what is available from the farmers’ markets and what is in season.

Head out to California’s coastline and you will find plenty of delicious fish and seafood options to tantalize your taste buds. Deep-frying and battering is not so common in California unless you’re talking about tempura, French fries or fish tacos. Southern California offers plenty of fast food restaurants like McDonalds, Del Taco and Panda Express, partly because of the area’s reliance on cars for transport and drive-thru restaurants. You will find gourmet burgers in California as well as the regular kind.

The Latin Influence

Cali-Mex, or California style Mexican fusion, is also popular there thanks to the colonial Spanish roots, original Meso-American population, Mexican ranchers, Spanish colonizers and Mexican territorial history which has added Spanish, Mexican and Latin flavors to the menu.

This type of food is especially prevalent in the South and you can find gastronomic delights from South of the border like tortas, tacos, quesadillas, burritos and nachos. Traditional Mexican food is harder to find than the Cali-Mex style, but you can still find it in the ethnic Mexican-American border communities of the San Francisco Bay area, the L.A. metropolitan area, San Diego and other locations. If you enjoy Central American food, there is plenty more besides Mexican to choose from, such as El Salvador food.

Baja-style Mexican food, or ‘Fresh Mex’ as it’s also known, boasts plenty of fresh produce and often seafood. La Salsa, Chipotle, Rubio’s Fresh Mexican Grill and Wahoo’s Fish Taco are some examples of this style of food. Seafood fans enjoy the abundant Dungeness crab in Northern California. Before the decline in fish stocks, salmon and sardines were very common on local menus.

A Touch of the Orient

California is one of the closest American states to Oceania and Asia, one reason why Asian food is popular there. Americanized sushi hit California first of all, including delights like the California roll, which is made with imitation crab and avocado. California roll sushi isn’t traditionally Japanese but it’s an American take on sushi. Boba and mochi ice cream are also popular.

Californians love fusion cuisine and enjoy using locally sourced fresh ingredients, often from farmers’ markets. California style pizza uses lots of non-traditional ingredients such as barbecued meat, fresh fruit and vegetables, seafood and avocado, even eggs.

Tasty Meaty Dishes

Mexicans have enjoyed barbecue since the time of the 19th century barbecue pits introduced by the Mexicans. Trip-tip is popular in Santa Maria, and this cut of steak can be baked, braised, roasted or grilled. Migrants from Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico and Arizona introduced their own Southwestern style of barbecue to the area.

Beef ribs, steaks, sausages and chicken can be smoked in a pit or grilled, and Californians are partial to a tomato-based barbecue sauce. Head to Santa Marina though and they don’t serve sauce. Whichever California dishes you want to try first though, one thing is for sure, and that’s you will love the fresh ingredients and exotic touches in authentic California food.

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