The History of San Francisco’s Oyster Loaf

Eat Like a San Franciscan

The “Peace Keeper”, AKA The Oyster Loaf

Oysters have always been an important part of San Francisco’s culinary landscape. In the 18th, 19th and early 20th Centuries, the San Francisco Bay was a popular spot for oysters. The Olympia Oyster, native to the San Francisco Bay, was extremely popular with the influx of European immigrants that built the city, following the gold rush. The growing demand for oysters in the 19th Century, resulted in the cultivation of non-native, east coast species of oysters that adapted well to the environment of the Bay, as well. The late 19th and early 20th Centuries saw an oyster boom and the waterfront was filled with oyster bars and seafood markets. The commercial oyster industry was booming.

The history of San Francisco is certainly a tale of the wild, wild west. During the years following the gold rush and the rise of the area known as the “Barbary Coast” the city was wild and lawless. There were street gangs, drinking and gambling saloons, brothels and all kinds of debouchery being carried out, at all hours of the day.The oyster loaf is rumored to have been created a way to appease the angry wives of heavy drinking and gambling men, who stayed out inappropriately late and got into all kinds of mischief. In the 19th Century, take-out containers were not in existence, To go food was not yet a societal norm. The oyster loaf was invented as a way to transport delicious, fresh, fried oysters home, after a night of misbehaving, as a peace offering to a pissed off wife. This is how the dish gained the nick name, “The Peacemaker”.

A square loaf, of sturdy, crusty San Francisco sour dough bread would have the top cut off and the inside hollowed out with a knife. The piping hot oysters would be placed inside the bread and the top placed over them to act as a wide. The loaf was then wrapped in paper and tied with a white ribbon. The bread was originally just a container to carry the oysters in and to keep them hot. Soon it became a wildly popular dish. It was served all over the city. It was delicious, filling and cheap to make. The Oyster Loaf became so common that eventually a restaurant named the Oyster Loaf was opened in the area we call Soma today.

Eventually solution and over fishing put an end to the oyster boom and today oysters are no longer commercially harvested from the San Francisco Bay. The oyster loaf is nowhere to be found on modern menus. It is believed, however, that the oyster loaf was a precursor to New Orleans famous Po’ Boy Sandwich. In Louisiana some people still call oyster po’ boys “oyster loaves” today.

There have been conservation efforts in recent decades in the San Francisco Bay. Efforts have been made to restore the Olympia Oyster beds and to clean up the bay. Who knows? Maybe we will see a return of San Francisco oysters in upcoming decades and, perhaps, the oyster loaf will make its comeback. It is a delicious dish. Hopefully a local chef will bring this old but delicious dish back on the culinary scene of the city by the bay.