Story and photos by Meredith Pakier
Part art, part alchemy, and pure patience, food fermentation is an ancient process that humans have relied on and reveled in throughout the ages. Here are some notable East Bay spots where food artisans keep the microbial process percolating.
Look for unique applications of fermented foods throughout the menu at Daytrip, where you might try a pasta dressed in a butter sauce laced with miso (a soybean ferment) from San Francisco’s Shared Cultures or a chocolate cake accented with shoyu (another soy ferment). A house highlight is a dish of nixtamalized yams with maitake mushrooms. Though nixtamalization is chemical rather than microbial, it’s an ancient process that unlocks desired nutrients from ingredients. (Traditionally, the process is used on maize.) 4316 Telegraph Ave, Oakland
Fans might stop by the cavernous West Berkeley kitchen of The Cultured Pickle Shop for meal ingredients like a kumquat koshō (fermented chile, citrus, and salt paste) or a wheatgrass and nettle kombucha, and some reserve a seat for the Rice & Pickles lunch. That unique three-course meal stars a bowl of brown rice topped with house-cured eggs and a towering assortment of house-made ferments like parsnip coated in white miso and red cabbage spiked with umeboshi (salt-cured plums). A dessert of squash and amazake macaroons goes well with a glass of amazake, a fermented rice drink. 800 Bancroft Way, Ste #105, Berkeley
At worker-owned cooperative kitchen and retail shop Three Stone Hearth, lacto-fermented krauts are always brewing next to a nutrient-rich rainbow of fermented kombuchas, kefirs, kvasses, juns, shrubs, and a delicious root beer brewed from real roots. Herbs like sage, fennel, cardamom, and nettles add purported medicinal properties, but one needs only a small pour of their rich-purple beet kvass to feel the invigorating effects. 1581 University Ave, Berkeley
Sourdough breads owe their characteristic tang to the jumble of ambient (wild) yeasts and good bacteria that inhabit the starter. The rich taste is evident among the diverse set of slow-fermented sourdough loaves at As Kneaded Bakery, some made with whole grains like spelt and rye. The Honey Rye Porridge Loaf made perfect pairings back home with everything from tomato soup to cheese and jam. 585 Victoria Ct, San Leandro
All pizza dough undergoes some hours of fermentation, but the incredibly light, airy, and ultra-crisp crust at Pollara Pizza comes about through an unconventional 72 hours of cold fermentation. The rectangular pies are fashioned after pizza al taglio, a Roman street food. Ask to try the house-cured prosciutto. 1788 Fourth St, Berkeley (Editor’s note: We were sorry to learn from this SF Chron story that Pollara Pizza is closing as of June 25, 2023.)
Pillow-soft handmade Korean-style tofu (dooboo) is the draw at Joodooboo, Steve Joo’s tofu factory and deli, but his banchan (side dishes) add appeal for those who crave pickled and fermented flavors. Sidle up to the bar to watch the dooboo-making as you enjoy bites of rice and dooboo with house-made kimchi and veggies pickled in soy vinegar. 4201 Market St, Oakland
If you’re stocking up on DIY fermentation supplies at Preserved, take some time to peruse the curated selection of ferments, many of them local, like the rosé vinegar made by Russell Moore, chef/owner of former Oakland restaurant Camino, or Berkeley-made Yumé Boshi umeboshi and vinegar. Don’t miss the gochujang (jujube-infused fermented red chile paste) and dwenjang (jujube-infused fermented soybean paste) made in the Sierra Foothills by Queens San Francisco. 5032 Telegraph Ave, Oakland ♦
When Meredith Pakier is not writing as part of the Market Hall Foods marketing and communications team, she’s hiking with her dog, Nico, and dreaming about starting a garden.