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Interns Notebook
julia plevin

I’m a student from Dartmouth College and I have been interning with the Kitchen Sisters in San Francisco. I have had the chance to help brainstorm ideas, research stories, and find contacts for the various stories that the Kitchen Sisters are working on. Every day is something new and exciting. Once I start thinking about a story, I find hidden kitchens and secret lives on every street corner. Researching for The Sheepherder’s Ball has made me discover Basque culture in San Francisco. Here are some of my thoughts.
Enjoy! — Julia Plevin


Basques in San Francisco
From Traditional Sheepherders to Cosmopolitan Restaurants

            Wedged like a petite Basque cheese between Chinatown and the Financial District, the spunky North Beach neighborhood has had a rich ethnic history. In between being a home for a colorful assortment of criminals known as The Barbary Coast and being the Jack-Kerouac-meets-Little-Italy conclave it is today, the neighborhood was home to immigrant populations and there was an important Basque presence. In 1906, the first Basque boardinghouse in the area opened, catering to herders who lived on ranches to the North and East. Other hotels followed suit and by the 1950s and 1960s, there was a vibrant Basque hotel scene on San Francisco’s Broadway. Obrero Hotel, Hotel Pyrenees, and the Basque hotel are some of the boardinghouses on Broadway remembered for their family-style cooking and hearty, welcoming meals.

            In the Basque-owned boardinghouses and restaurants throughout the American West, each meal consists of overflowing platters of food. The daily meals at these boardinghouses are an adaptation of the festive holiday meals in Basque country, an area between France and Spain. Most of the Basque boardinghouses and restaurants in San Francisco have closed and most Basque cultural events now take place in the San Francisco Basque Cultural Center and not around North Beach.

            While some may think that the existence of Basque cuisine in San Francisco, a symbol of simpler sheepherding days, is dwindling into disappearance, a new era is just beginning. The old-style eateries on Broadway have been replaced with new Basque restaurants that blend seamlessly into the city.  

            In 1991, renowned chef Gerald Hirigoyen opened Fringale, which means the “urge to eat” in French, with J.B. Lorda. The restaurant was an instant success. In 2002, he proceeded to open Piperade, a restaurant named for a signature Basque dish and blends traditional Basque cuisine with Californian ideals. Hirigoyen grew up in Basque country and moved to Paris before finding his home in San Francisco. He has opened other establishments since, including Bocadillos, a wine and tapas bar near the original Basque hotels.

            Basques understand the importance of preserving their rich culture and tradition. You can take part by making your own Basque food or visiting a Basque festival, restaurant, or bakery. Here are some helpful resources:

The Basque Kitchen: Tempting Food from the Pyrenees by Gerald Hirigoyen

Restaurants throughout the American West

A Travel Guide to Basque America by Nancy Zubiri

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