The arty town of Berkeley, and particularly Alice Waters’ legendary Chez Panisse restaurant, can lay claim to being the birthplace of Californian cuisine, whose emphasis on fresh ingredients and fusion of elements from the state’s many gastronomic cultures has influenced restaurant menus the world over. And there are plenty more gastronomic delights to be discovered in the Bay Area: join a culinary walking tour of San Francisco, for example, and you’ll have the chance to explore the backstreet markets and restaurants of Little Italy or Chinatown.
If you’ve got the appetite, you can carry on your gastronomic odyssey across the whole state. Slow Food Groups host regular events showcasing their favourite recipes. Plenty of restaurants espouse the joys of Slow Food too, from Central Market in Petaluma to San Diego’s Market Del Mar, which serves up exquisitely presented sushi each day, alongside the finest fish and meat from nearby farms. Best of all for seafood lovers is a trip to Monterey, where a project between the town’s aquarium and local restaurants ensures that diners can choose establishments serving fish from sustainably harvested stocks.
Perhaps even more than its food, California is famous for its wine. Environmentally friendly wine growers are easy to find via the California Wine Institute, which has a “green” section highlighting tours and tastings. If you’re in Santa Barbara County, meanwhile, where the oenophile film <em>Sideways</em> was set, then you can join dedicated sustainable wine tours showcasing the best the country has to offer.
For a probably short-lived souvenir of your visit, you can buy (and if necessary have shipped home) a few of your favourite wines at many of the vineyards. And if you’d also like to take home a few Californian recipes and cooking tricks then stop off in Santa Barbara, where Laurence Hauben runs the Market Forays cooking course, where she guides visitors around the local markets before returning to her home to teach them how to cook with the ingredients. As she was born and raised in France before moving to California in 1983, you can assume Big Macs won’t be on the menu.
Top image: A wine vineyard near Santa Barbara, California © David M. Schrader/Shutterstock