Tom’s Garden

Growing by the Bay

Hangtown Fry

Sometimes in San Francisco one encounters something called a “hangtown fry.” What is it? It’s a sort of omelet composed of oysters, eggs, and bacon. Some say the hangtown fry, which was served in 19th-century gold mining camps (the oysters were transported in barrels of sea water), is the first true California cuisine. It was an expensive meal, a signal that one had struck a rich vein.

The dish gets its name from Placerville, which was known colloquially as Hangtown because it was the site of a famous hanging of outlaws. Recently a Placerville group known as the “Hangtown Fryers” has tried to promote the dish as the official dish of the state of California.

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5 Comments

  1. gudtimegrl

    That combination sounds a bit “iffy” to me. I enjoy oysters baked or grilled but in an Omelet-with bacon??? GuRgLe……………

  2. Nancy

    Welcome back! I have missed your posts – and now, you start off with a favorite one of mine. Hangtown Fry. There’s a restaurant in Oakland called “Home” which makes the best hangtown fries outside of Placerville that I know about. However, I heard that the original hangtown fries weren’t composed of oysters but the private parts of (fill in the blank). It makes sense because transporting oysters in the 19th century – before refrigeration – would have been a bit risky.

  3. tom

    Hey, thanks! I haven’t commented at your namastenancy blog lately, Nancy, but I’ve been reading and enjoying it as usual. (It’s taking me a while to get caught up. I was away in the Yucatan, which was wonderful.) Interesting about the original recipe.

    Gudtimegrl, I agree it is a dish that gives one pause. I think part of the idea of it originally was just pure ostentation.

    I suppose one might wash it down with a little Frisco Pisco.

  4. Penny

    My grandmother made a breakfast dish she called Hangtown Fry which was a loaf of SF sourdough bread hollowed out and filled with fried oysters raw eggs, fried bacon and spices baked in an oven and served for Sunday Breakfast.

    Is there a formal recipe for this version?

    Vallejo CA in the 1950s

  5. Jen

    Transporting oysters in the 19th century – before refrigeration – was not that risky if you had ice.

    How to do it? Harvest some of the then plentiful oysters in San Francisco Bay — a very risky thing to do today due to pollution, if you can find any — and take them inland on ice, which was just as cold back then as it is today, or in barrels of seawater.

    Also, miners weren’t timid people.

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