Before I left San Francisco, I made it my goal to savor every second I had left in the City.
Thus, I spent several afternoons laying in Golden Gate Park, gazing longingly at the full-bodied cumulus humilis cloud formations in the pristine sky. . .
I rode the MUNI bus line across San Francisco, peacefully listening to the soft humming, buzzing, sputtering, and zipping noises common to the electrified MUNI buses. . .
And I visited the place where most journeys to San Francisco begin, Fisherman's Wharf. My goal there was to enjoy two foods that epitomize the bounty of San Francisco's waters: (1) cioppino (pronounced "chip-ee-no" or "chuh-pee-no") and (2) clam chowder.
Cioppino is a hearty fish stew that originated in San Francisco. Legend has it, that after a tiring morning in the rough waters of the bay, the fisherman gathered their catch and congregated on their fishing boats to eat lunch with one another. Each fisherman contributed or "chipped in" their "catch" for the shared meal, be it fish, crab, clams, shrimp, scallops, squid, or other delicious morsels from the sea. The ingredients would be combined and cooked in a communal pot, with wine, tomato sauce, and a smattering of different herbs and seasonings. As the dish evolved, so did the name, and the Italiano-fied pronunciation of "chip in" became the fish stew, "cioppino."
Usually, the seafood in cioppino is served in its unadulterated glory, meaning, it is served with shells and everything. Therefore, an authentic cioppino will be served with a disposable bib, mallets, crab crackers, metal picks, and a wet-nap. Cioppino is generally cooked in a thin (very liquid) fennel-infused tomato soup diluted with white wine, so expect a significant amount of messy splattering during your eager consumption.
In San Francisco, you will find a dozen or so restaurants with Cioppino in their names, and although I haven't tried all of them, I believe if they serve cioppino, they have to be good. If you order the cioppino at Cioppino's on the Wharf, expect a bountiful seafood extravaganza of braised dungeness crab, clams, mussels, rock cod, calamari, and shrimp in a steaming fennel and tomato stew.
And now to San Francisco's ubiquitous clam chowder. Although San Francisco serves "New England" clam chowder, the one thing makes the thick calorie-laden cream soup distinctly San Franciscan is that it is served in a crusty and chewy sourdough bread bowl. You can't get that in New England! Okay, my friends and I didn't get the bread bowl for the clam chowder we ordered at Cioppino's on the Wharf (as shown in this picture), but you know what I mean.
If you are in the tourist-infested Fisherman's Wharf, I encourage you to stop by the tourist magnet Cioppino's on the Wharf, to try two of my favorite San Francisco seafood dishes.