For some reason, the food perhaps most synonymous with San Francisco is the clam chowder bread bowl. It’s not something most locals eat … well, really ever. But if you’ve ever visited San Francisco as a tourist, I guarantee you’ve chowed down on one of these bad boys while dodging dive-bombing seagulls.

I, too, was once a San Francisco tourist shivering in the fog while slurping down spoonfuls of the hot beige stuff. But it’s been years since then. Even though it hasn’t felt like enough time has passed since I last faced Fisherman’s Wharf, I decided the time was right for a bread bowl reevaluation. Into the clammy belly of the beast I went: the Boudin Bakery Cafe.

On a buzzing Friday afternoon, Boudin’s flagship location, decked out with sourdough loaves twisted into impressive animal shapes, immediately overwhelmed my senses. The Wharf tourists were out in full force, coaxed inside from their eventful days of zipping around in tiny yellow GoCars and gawking at the sea lions at Pier 39 by the enticing smell of freshly baked bread.


The Boudin Bakery Cafe, on Jefferson Street at Fisherman’s Wharf, on Friday, April 22, 2022.


Charles Russo/SFGATE

Freshly-baked loaves of bread inside the Boudin Bakery Cafe, at Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco.

Freshly-baked loaves of bread inside the Boudin Bakery Cafe, at Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco.


Charles Russo/SFGATE

Bread loaves shaped liked animals inside the Boudin Bakery Cafe, at Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco.

Bread loaves shaped liked animals inside the Boudin Bakery Cafe, at Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco.


Charles Russo/SFGATE

The Boudin Bakery Cafe, on Jefferson Street at Fisherman's Wharf, on Friday, April 22, 2022.

The Boudin Bakery Cafe, on Jefferson Street at Fisherman’s Wharf, on Friday, April 22, 2022.


Charles Russo/SFGATE


Inside the Boudin Bakery Cafe at Fisherman’s Wharf on Friday, April 22.

I ordered my bread bowl ($10.99) at the counter, and it arrived almost instantly. I followed the march of tourists to the tables outside, sat down and took stock of the carbacious orb before me. It was a little blustery out, so the steam rising from the bowl looked inviting enough. I dug in.

The bread was the highlight, with that tangy San Francisco sourdough adding a nice little zing to the one-note creaminess of the chowder. As for the chowder — I can’t really say it was much better than a can of Campbell’s.

Boudin's famous clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl.

Boudin’s famous clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl.

Charles Russo/SFGATE

I mean, it was fine. It got the job done. It was salty and creamy and warmed me up. But it didn’t really taste like clams. It tasted like cream and potatoes, and not much else. Maybe I’m a snob, but it’s hard to wax poetic on this very run-of-the-mill chowder when you’ve had the incredibly fresh, impeccably seasoned clam chowders at the likes of the Marshall Store and the William Tell House in West Marin (for the same price, too, albeit minus the bread bowl).

But my real quibble here is not with Boudin’s chowder recipe. No, the fight I’d like to pick here is a different one altogether. Are you ready?

OK, here it is: Bread bowls are stupid.

It’s just too much bread. The soup-to-bread ratio is all wrong, especially at Boudin. I think I had about five good spoonfuls before my soup was completely gone.

Meanwhile, by the time I’d finished my soup, the only dent I’d been able to make in the bread was the bread bowl lid. Leaving me with, yep, you guessed it: an entire loaf of soggy leftover bread.

SFGATE food reporter Madeline Wells struggles with the bread-to-chowder ratio at the Boudin Bakery Cafe on Friday, April 22.

SFGATE food reporter Madeline Wells struggles with the bread-to-chowder ratio at the Boudin Bakery Cafe on Friday, April 22.

Charles Russo/SFGATE

I don’t know about you, but the sourdough gets a lot less enticing when there’s no soup left to dip it in. And it’s not like it would be that appetizing to save and take home. It was soggier than a wet dog, even after my feeble attempts to scrape up the chowder-soaked innards with my spoon.

My colleague, who is a better person than I am, took his leftover bread bowl home with plans to toast it in the oven and feed it to his teenage children. Mine went in the compost (as most Boudin bread bowls probably do — show me one person who can finish all that bread), leaving me with lingering food waste guilt.

I can’t help but wonder how much happier San Francisco tourists would be if we did not chain them to the tyranny of the bread bowl. Is it not so much more pleasurable to eat a generous portion of chowder in a regular ceramic bowl, accompanied by a few slices of sourdough for dipping? Why have we, the city of San Francisco, made ruining the pure joy of eating soup our trademark?

The Boudin Bakery Cafe on Jefferson Street at Fisherman's Wharf on Friday, April 22.

The Boudin Bakery Cafe on Jefferson Street at Fisherman’s Wharf on Friday, April 22.

Charles Russo/SFGATE

I’d like to give all you SF tourists permission to say no to the clam chowder bread bowl. Go forth and place your normal orders of clam chowder with a side of bread in peace, free from the obligations of getting the “true San Francisco experience.” It’s not like you were going to find the true San Francisco experience at Pier 39, anyway.


Boudin Bakery Cafe, 160 Jefferson St., Baker’s Hall, San Francisco. Open Sunday through Thursday, 8 am to 8 pm; Friday through Saturday, 8 am to 9 pm

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