Everything You Need to Know About San Francisco's Historic Boudin Bakery
Since 1848, the Boudin bakers have been greeting visitors from across the country and around the world with the tangy embrace of fresh sourdough. Part of the unique, irresistible flavor of Boudin sourdough is attributed to the strain of wild yeast within the mother dough that thrives in the distinct San Francisco weather conditions. It is called Lactobacillus sanfranciscensis. Their family recipe yields a distinct bread like no other, made with yeast culled from the original mother dough starter created by Isidore Boudin in 1849.
History of Boudin Bakery
Boudin Bakery is the oldest continually operating business in San Francisco. The year after the French bakery was established, the city's population rose from 1,000 to 25,000. Many of these newcomers were immigrant prospectors from Europe, no doubt homesick for a fresh-baked taste of the old country. Legend has it that one of these "49ers" was responsible for imparting the infamous mother dough wild yeast to Isidore Boudin in 1849. By 1868 the Boudins were feeling pressure to abandon the mother dough and concede to using the now widespread Fleischmann's cake yeast. They stuck to their time-honored tradition, however, and continued leavening their bread with their wild yeast starter.
The San Francisco earthquake of 1906 caused rampant fires that destroyed over 80 percent of the city. As she was evacuating, Louise Boudin saved the family legacy by gathering up the mother dough and taking it with her in a bucket as she fled to safety.
By the 1960s, the pressure to conform with the times was on once again — this time to succumb to the speedy convenience of chemical dough conditioners. New owner Stefano Giraudo was having none of it. He chose to stay true to the company's lengthy fermentation process. In 1975, Stefano's son Lou opened the Fisherman's Wharf Boudin location, which he specifically designed as a demonstration-style bakery where visitors could witness the sourdough process from beginning to end.
Today, the Boudin company is overseen by master baker Fernando Padilla, who carries on the traditions he learned from his mentor, Stefano.
Boudin Bakery Locations
A visit to a Boudin establishment is one of the must-dos in San Francisco. Each location is distinct, whether it's a bakery, a cafe, a bistro, or a museum.
Fisherman's Wharf offers a three-tiered experience, with the Boudin Museum, a Boudin Bistro, and a Boudin Bakery & Cafe all within the same complex along Jefferson Street between Taylor and Mason Streets. This is where the precious mother dough lives today. It is within walking distance to Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum and the San Francisco Dungeon. Just to the north at PIER 39, a Boudin Bakery and Cafe greets visitors as they enter the giant concourse of shopping, dining and entertainment that reaches out into San Francisco Bay.
Situated in Union Square along O'Farrell Street sits another Boudin Bakery, located within the Macy's department store building and a short jaunt from Union Square Park. While in Macy's be sure to visit San Francisco Travel's Visitor Information Center located on the Cellar level of the store.
The Richmond District is home to a Boudin Bakery as well, located on Geary Boulevard a few blocks east of Park Presidio Boulevard, just south of Mountain Lake Park.
Must-Have Menu Favorites
The Boudin Bakery, cafe and bistro locations are renowned for their sourdough soup bowls: partially hollowed-out round loaves of sourdough bread filled with a serving of soup du jour. Depending on which day of the week it is, visitors can enjoy vegetarian chili, broccoli cheddar, smoked chicken or garlic tomato.
Sourdough bread also features on their compelling breakfast menu: French toast, egg sandwiches, egg scrambles and fresh fruit medleys. Unique menu items include sourdough pizza, baguette burgers and raspberry kougin amann for dessert. The lunchtime and dinner crowds at the cafe and bistro locations will also be intrigued by the chicken club, French dip and California veggie sandwiches, as well as the BBQ chicken salad, the Caesar salad and the cobb salad.
Sourdough bread lovers will be especially excited by the traditional grilled cheese sandwich, with or without bacon, and the grilled brie sandwich with apples and fig jam.
Boudin bread is also part of what has been described as "the quintessential San Francisco meal" — a loaf of Boudin's "round dark" bake, fresh cracked crab and a bottle of chilled white wine. With its compelling legacy of longevity and quality, the Boudin Bakery company offers an experience that is essential to any visit to San Francisco.