3.015 Clam Chowder in a Sourdough Bowl

-Cycle 3, Item 15-
20 (Fri) January 2012

Clam Chowder in a Sourdough Bowl

* * * * *

from Fog City International Cafe

at home

-Oksu, Seoul-

with Wife and Dominic

Sourdough is the bread of choice in the San Francisco Bay Area. Unlike leavened breads made with yeast, the lactobacilli involved in leavening sourdough produces lactic acid that imparts a distinctly sour taste. I mostly ate Wonder Bread while growing up in the South Bay, but I came to love sourdough while I was an undergrad at Berkeley, when sandwiches constituted a large portion of my diet. The bright acidity of the bread, as well as its chew, works especially well with meaty sandwiches. Whenever guests came to town, a default stop on the tour was Fisherman's Wharf, where restaurants serve clam chowder in hollowed out sourdough rounds ("bowls"), the zesty bread providing a perfect counterbalance to the creamy soup, and the dense texture being optimally engineered to absorb the liquid without succumbing to sogginess. Alas, yeast-based breads represent the norm throughout most of the world, including Korea, where sourdough is virtually non-existent.

A few days ago, in response to an earlier post on the outstanding baguettes from the Paris Croissant in the French neighborhood of Seoul (see 1.315 Smoked Salmon with Romaine and Capers on Baguette Slices), a reader informed me that he had "great bread" for sale by delivery. The reader, as I would soon learn, runs a restaurant/bakery in Incheon called Fog City International Cafe (see Fog City International Cafe's website and Facebook page). Sourdough is listed as the first item on the website's delivery menu. The menu also includes clam chowder, as well as a suggestion to eat the chowder with the sourdough in reference to the tradition of Fisherman's Wharf. I couldn't resist the offer.

After several email exchanges, which confirmed our mutual connection to the Bay Area, we agreed on an order for 4 sourdough bread bowls at 10,000 won and 2 orders of clam chowder at 5,000 won each. In addition to the agreed upon (i) 4 sourdough bread bowls and (ii) 2 orders of clam chowder, he delivered (iii) 2 additional large rounds (each the size of 2 bread bowls), (iv) 1 bottle of proprietary salad dressing made with blue cheese imported from the Cowgirl Creamery in Marin County, and (v) 1 bottle of chardonnay from the Napa Valley winery Cartlidge & Brown: all so that I could enjoy a thoroughly Northern California dining experience, as his note in the box explained. "The perks of being a power blogger," the wife said. "Yup!" I said, beaming. "But you're not a power blogger," she said. Bazinga. Anyway, in terms of volume, it was undoubtedly the greatest food value that I've ever purchased, even if I hadn't bargained specifically for it.

Without the freebies, a single loaf of the bread alone would've made the transaction worthwhile. Although a straight-up comparison to the aforementioned Paris Croissant baguette would be unfair, the latter being a yeast-leavened bread and therefore at an inherent disadvantage as far as I'm concerned, the Fog City sourdough now ranks as the best bread that I've ever had in Korea. Prior to tasting it, the tactile sensations-- the powdery flour lightly dusted on the outside, the rough surface of the crust, the rigidity that gave ever-so-slightly when squeezed--all suggested that something special lay within. It crackled when torn apart. Inside, the coarsely yellowish bread was uneven and ugly, like a beautiful handmade bread should be. At first bite, the exquisite tang immediately made my mouth water as the sense memories came flooding back; it's hard to believe that nearly a decade had passed since I last had sourdough. I finished an entire round just standing there over the box. Awesome. The only slight drawback is that, personally, I would've preferred it a bit tangier; I'm wondering if some of the zip had dissipated, the way that sour does over time, in the 24 hours that it had sat around before I got to it (we were away on the day of delivery). Now that I plan to be a life-long customer, I can taste it fresh the next time.

This was the original presentation, but the bread bowl looked better broken open.

The clam chowder was also excellent. Compared to the canned stuff, or even the mass produced stuff found in certain chain restaurants, Fog City's clam chowder was chock full of fresh clams that burst with actual clam flavor upon every bite. The only slight drawback is that, personally, I would've liked it a bit thicker; I'm wondering if it had been bottled somewhat loose to compensate for thickening upon reheating, which it did. And of course, as per the plan, the chowder paired perfectly with the sourdough.

Unfortunately, I couldn't incorporate the salad dressing or the wine into this first meal, but I'll get around to them soon enough. And I still have a lot of bread left.


  1. hmmm interesting... they got burritos too...

    how was the chowder?

  2. the chowder was great, especially the fresh clams.

    i'm wondering if they deliver the other stuff on the menu to seoul, even though i can't imagine anyone wanting a burrito after it travels here from incheon. bob, the proprietor, was careful to inform me that the salad dressing isn't normally available for sale.

    it'll be interesting to visit the restaurant in person someday.

  3. Bob of Fog City here. We currently have available for delivery everything that is on the delivery menu on the website and hope to grow the offering in the near future. Re: burritos, the best way to experience our burritos is at the restaurant. With that said, the next best way is by delivery. We have tried to tailor the recipe for the burritos that we ship to provide the diner with a good experience. The burritos in the restaurant are available with lettuce and guacamole, but the ones we sell for delivery are not. The burritos are vacuum packed as soon as they are made and then frozen. They are delivered to the customer on the next day. Given the dearth of good burritos available in Korea, we think our customers will enjoy our offering. Re: a visit to Fog City in Incheon - Come on down. We'd love to meet you and give you the opportunity to enjoy or food straight from the kitchen. We are right down the street from the 분토 Chinese Restaurant on the East side of China Town.

  4. well, here's another offer I can't refuse. i'm going to have to try one of these delivery burritos. bob, i'll make my order on your FB page.

    and i promise to visit the restaurant next time i'm in incheon....

  5. OH my goodness, I think the first time I had a sourdough bread bowl was with you and Dan in SF. awesome that you recreated it here! I seem to remember you kept referring to it as just Clam Chowder in Bread Bowl, not "a" bread bowl. Weirdo!

  6. yes, you were one of those guests from out of town!

    funny u should mention, and even remember!!, the thing about how we'd refer to the dish in that grammatically awkward way. it started when a friend from high school came to visit us. even though he speaks perfect english, he would sometimes make inexplicable errors in speech. he kept calling it "clam chowder in sourdough bowl," and we thought it was funny, so it became an inside-joke within our group.

    even after all these years, the error still feels more comfortable. as i was writing this post, adding the "a" actually felt strange. i even considered calling it "Sourdough Bowl Clam Chowder."

  7. the first thought that i had when reading this was "what's with the 'a'?"

    we generally went to "Chowders" at pier 39. i'm not sure why as their clam chowder in sourdough bowl wasn't necessarily any better than the other places. in fact, i believe that the other places were much better known for their bread while the chowder was an afterthought but at chowders, it seemed to place more emphasis on the chowder and the bread was an afterthought.

    there was one time when we went and i noticed a "boston" style red clam chowder on the menu. i asked you if you had ever thought of trying it and you said "no but that's exactly what i was thinking right now." we were with hahn so we did that hand thing (up/down) and odd man out would have to get the red clam chowder. of course hahn was the odd man out so he got the red while bitterly complaining "but i'm not even the one who was curious about the red"...he later deemed it as unsatisfactory.

    glad you found a nice place in Korea. did fog city international cafe receive any inspiration in the name from fog city diner in SF?

  8. Clam Chowder in Sourdough Bowl is the correct term.

    Still annoyed by the Boston Clam Chowder incident. I got stuck in the crossfire.

  9. gonna get me some clam chowder in sourdough bowl when i'm in SF this weekend...

  10. damn, now that i think about it, i should've stayed true to myself and gone with "in sourdough bowl" and then explained the story as above. next time....

    it wasn't "boston" clam chowder but "manhattan" (wouldn't boston = new england?). i was vaguely thinking about that incident as i wrote this post, just that we'd once tried the red stuff, but i'd totally forgotten how we got hahn to do it. and the best part is that he kept complaining, exactly as you describe, like "why am i the one?!", all angry with himself.

    chowders. that's the name. come to think of it, i don't think i've ever had clam chowder in sourdough bowl anywhere else.

  11. you should change the name of your post. hearing the phrase "clam chowder in sourdough/bread bowl" (I keep remembering it as "bread bowl," not "sourdough bowl") is something I've never forgotten - 1) because it sounds so odd and feels so strange when spoken aloud, and 2) because you two insisted that I drop the "a" before you would even discuss what we would be eating!

    Btw, if you ever want to try some excellent clam chowder you should get the one they sell at Giants games. I think it's called Boudin? REALLY really good.

  12. @DC - Busted! The suggestion for the name of our restaurant came from our son, who was unaware of the Fog City Diner in SF, but I can't claim that ignorance, having worked in the Financial District for 25 years. He suggested the name because we had experienced a few days of fog in Incheon, where the restaurant is located, which made him feel a little bit like we were back in the Bay Area. We decided that Fog City represented our past in SF and our future in Incheon, so we modified the name to include our international status as a family and community (the restaurant is located on the southern border of Chinatown) and the "cafe" part was intended to indicate a limited menu. We don't think anyone will mistake our Fog City for the one in SF, but we can't avoid the obvious comparison. As an aside, we didn't anticipate the Korean pronunciation "Pok Sitty", which sometimes sounds like an obscenity.

  13. i'll use the "proper" name next time.

    as for "fog city," now that bob has explained the origins of the name, i think it's inspired! i've been camping on the islands off the coast of incheon, and fog is a major problem--we were once stuck on an island for an extra day because the boats couldn't operate because the fog was so thick, maybe even thicker than SF.

    "pok citty" -- aah, the name is great on so many levels.