Bread and Boudin are synonymous in San Francisco. Before today’s famous Fisherman’s Wharf even existed, Boudin Bakery was making bread for the city. The distinctive logo announces this is “the only bread baked fresh on Fisherman’s Wharf”.
The big new (opened 2005) Boudin building complex is on the Wharf, along from Pier 39, at 160 Jefferson Street, very close to the previous Boudin outlet in the parking lot. It’s huge, but has become so popular, such a draw, that it’s actually not really big enough! It has a central entrance hall with café and shop on the left, and the working bakery to the right—with a bistro and a museum upstairs, overlooking the bakery. The shop has some very nice items, related to bread, grilling, cooking, vineyards, olive oil etc. Some great gift ideas, but we can’t carry too much unfortunately.
There is seating for the café outside. It is very crowded, but you can usually find a seat eventually. We found a table next to a gas fire, luckily as the wind was pretty cold the day we were there. So much for warm summer! The classic favorite—soup in a bread bowl—was as delicious as ever.
We decided to visit the Boudin Museum upstairs, and it’s a great way to spend a couple of very informative hours ($3 each, unless you’ve eaten at the bistro upstairs, in which case it’s free). We spent a long time on the self-guided tour and learned a lot, at our own pace. It tells the story of San Francisco, parallel to the two families involved in this bakery (Boudin and Giraudo), as city and bakery both began at almost the same time. There’s a good San Francisco historical story timeline, with snippets about the Gold Rush in 1849, immigrants, the boats that came here etc. One of the immigrants was the original Boudin baker, who realized that all these prospectors and their families needed bread.
There’s also lots of information on the science of bread making, especially this special sourdough and why it is unique—what kind of yeast, what types of flour, how much water, for example. The ‘mother dough’ uses an indigenous natural yeast and lactobacillus, “caught” from the air. Every batch of the bread today uses a portion of the original ‘mother dough’, which has been nurtured since 1849 and has survived for more than 150 years, even through the 1906 earthquake and fire, thanks to the actions of Louise Boudin, who saved it in a bucket and carried it to safety.
A really interesting exhibit is how bread of many different types features in the lives of people in most parts of the world, especially for special days and festivals. Take a fun 10-question quiz here to see what kind of bread you are! Turns out I’m a walnut bread and Rod is a dark rye! Hmmm?!
From the open gallery, we can also watch the actual bread-making process in the bakery below, from measuring out the flour and other ingredients; to the tipping of a huge batch of very elastic dough onto a conveyor belt to go to a machine that divides it and shapes it into rounds or long sausages; to the finished product. Batches of various cooked loaves are loaded into tall baskets that are suspended on a conveyor belt near the ceiling. They go round, from this bakery area, to the big shop and café in the next rooms. An ingenious system and fun to watch. As far as we could tell, the bread is sold almost as soon as it arrives there, either to take home or as part of a sit-in meal.
Boudin is a San Francisco institution, one definitely not to be missed.