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.


QM2 Arrives in San Francisco


Port View Park, Oakland


  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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