California Roll -2- © 2016 Tim Reckmann

Expedition To California II: Cali Dishes, Global Influences…

After yesterday’s primer on California cuisine – the contemporary phenomenon – it’s time to dive into the actual menu. We’ll serve up a selection of true Cali cuisine showcasing the style’s international roots and its authentic Cali character. All different, and all as Cali as you can get!

Mission Burrito - © 2017 Hillary PollackThe Mission Burrito: Clearly Tex-Mex, classically Cali.

California has hosted a whole slew of immigrants from cultures all over the world since the Spanish first colonized the southern part of what’s now the Golden State. You’d be hard pressed to find another culture that owes so much to those who came from away. As we hinted yesterday, all the dishes we’ll present are classic Cali, but are clearly influenced by far-away cultures…

Contemporary Cali cuisine

Mission Burrito: The Burrito, as a generic style, is Tex Mex in origin. But the Mission Burrito has a specific recipe and presentation that brands it as Cali. It uses a very large flour tortilla, into which is stuffed a generous dose of beans, rice, sour cream, guacamole, salsa, shredded lettuce, and jalapeños. It’s traditionally so fat that it’s wrapped in foil to keep- it from falling apart. It’s just a convenient coincidence that the foil also helps keep it warm. Serve with green or red sauce, either dipped or dripped.

Cobb Salad: We touched on this classic briefly yesterday; it’s a signature example of Cali cuisine. Among the leftovers that Bob Cobb originally threw together one hungry night at the Brown Derby in L.A. were: hard-boiled eggs, salad greens, chicken, avocado, bacon, tomatoes, and Roquefort cheese, with a dressing of olive oil, red vinegar, lemon juice, garlic, and Worcestershire. The salad’s unique striking’striped’ presentation is its single most distinguishing characteristic.

French Dip: Alas, Francophiles: this sammy is not French at all. But it does pay homage in as mush as it’s traditionally made on a baguette and served au jus – that is, with the roast’s cooking juices aside for dipping.

French Dip - ©

The sandwich is stuffed with thinly-sliced Roast Beef, topped with freshly cracked black pepper, mustard and horseradish. Latter-day versions may contain a slice or two of cheese.

Cheeseburger: Yes, this Cali take on a New York classic (which, BTW, can trace it’s origins back hundreds of years to a guy who was late for work and ordered his meat clamped between two slices of bread, to go) owes it genesis to a 16-year-old grill cook named Lionel Clark Sternberger.

Cali Cheeseburger - ©

He was working at The Rite Spot In Pasadena when he serendipitously threw a slice of American (Processed) Cheese on a sizzling patty. The official Cali Cheeszeburger is now said to require the addition of tomatoes, pickles, lettuce, onions and ketchup on a sesame seed bun. Sounds curiously like a McDonald’s Big Mac – if you change out the ketchup for ‘special sauce’ – doesn’t it? Anyway…

Cali Fried Pizza: Italian at first glance, this pie is definitely different – quintessentially Cali – on closer examination. The thing starts with a classic, light, crispy New York thin crust and features what some might call unusual toppings…

Cali Fried Pizza - ©

…ranging from shrimp, salmon, clams, Abalone and other seafoods, to chicken, barbecue sauce, peanut sauce, goat cheese, and pineapple. If the ingredient is fresh, and it’s classic Cali, it can go on a Pizza!

Uramaki: The famous California Roll (see photo, top of page)! This sushi classic never saw Mount Fuji or Tokyo’s Ginza. But it’s totally in tune with the ancient Japanese tradition. It’s popularly known as upside-down Sushi because the sticky rice is on the outside. They cal it ‘California’ because some say it was invented in San Francisco in the 1960s, but others insist it first saw light in Vancouver around the same time. There’s no question that California certainly made it famous. The traditional Nori seaweed is there, but inside, wrapped around fillings including crab, avocado and cucumber.

And that’s the formal Cali menu…

And there’s lots more where that comes from. But there’s another side to the story of California cuisine which we’ll explore tomorrow!

~ Maggie J.