Series of recipes developed on a salad theme.
What is Californian Cuisine?
It’s a good question. I’m Californian, and I’m not sure…
Is Californian cuisine just another regional cuisine of America? America already boasts regional cuisines, such as Cajun cuisine of Louisiana, the Tex-Mex cuisine of Texas and Arizona, the Pennsylvanian Dutch of the Midwestern states, and New England cuisine. If so, where is the Californian standout signature dish, such as Cajun gumbo, Chilli con carne, or Boston Baked beans?
According to informed sources, Californian cuisine is a fusion cuisine, influenced by Italy, France, Mexico, European delicatessens and Eastern Asia, where traditional regional cuisines are represented using local ingredients and flavours from California.
One criteria for Californian culinary status is the prevalence of fresh and varied vegetables. California has some of the most fertile land in America and a benevolent Mediterranean climate. The agricultural activity, may slip under the radar, but visit any supermarket and head for the outside walls to the fresh produce – here is the real treasure of California, a bounty of the highest quality locally grown vegetables.
We lived in Monterey, near Castroville, the artichoke capital of the world; inland, is the Sacramento valley, running through the heart of the state, growing every imaginable arable crop including fruit and nuts. In Orange County – our last domicile – there was still the rare orchard of oranges, but plenty of corn and bean fields in the surrounding towns. With the Pacific Ocean forming a coastline along the entire length of the state, there is also an abundance of fresh seafood. It’s still possible to see fishing boats haul their catches at local piers, their boats full of bonito, striped marlin and calico bass or crab.
The Californian cuisine of our family consisted primarily on an amazing selection of fresh produce, simply cooked without fuss. However, it is true that we also enjoyed a fusion of cultures in the food we ate. A favourite takeaway was Giovanni’s Italian meatball submarine sandwiches. Dinner at home often involved teriyaki style cooking or sitting around a hotpot eating sukiyaki with chopsticks. Even when we eat hamburgers and hot dogs, it was always with German mustard and sauerkraut.
Of course, the biggest influence on Californian cuisine is the food of Mexico. The Mexican influence is felt not just in the ubiquitous taco and burrito outlets, but in the Mexican staples of corn and beans which can be found in endless American family and community pot luck salads. America has adopted many Mexican recipes, such as fish tacos, chilli rellenos and heuvos rancheros and made them part of their own culinary landscape. Guacamole, pico de gallo (tomato salsa) and the tortilla chip are never far from the start of any Californian meal.
So it seems that we can begin to define Californian cuisine as a way of cooking and eating based on fresh Californian ingredients but influenced by national cuisines. And in this way perhaps we can begin to construct a signature dish for California. Take a specialty snack from Naples and top it with local Californian garden vegetables and there you have it: The ‘Californian’ pizza.