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Rice-a-Roni®, known to millions by its catchy tag “The San Francisco Treat®,” is a commercial food product made of rice, vermicelli pasta, and many different flavoring agents. A combination of Italian and Armenian influences, the original dish is often credited with popularizing rice as a staple of the American diet. Rice-a-Roni® is available in many different flavors and even makes concessions to the health food craze by promoting low-sodium and brown rice varieties.
The story of Rice-a-Roni® begins in the 19th century, when Italian immigrant Dominico DeDominico — better known as Charlie — moved to the Italian-friendly Mission District of San Francisco and opened a small produce stand. In 1912, DeDominico's wife urged him to start a pasta factory and delivery service, which quickly grew in popularity throughout the fast-growing city by the bay. The business thrived for decades, and DeDominico's four sons eventually joined him in the factory.
When Charlie's son Tom DeDominico married a Canadian immigrant named Lois and the two moved into the home of an Armenian landlady, few could guess that a famous food would soon result. Mrs. Captanian, a survivor of the Armenian genocide, soon began teaching Lois how to make traditional rice pilaf dishes, which Lois in turn introduced to her husband and in-laws. The ingenious sons of Charlie DeDominico deciding to try to combine the rice with their popular vermicelli pasta, and in 1955, after months of testing, the first version of Rice-a-Roni® was born. Rice-a-Roni® began regional marketing in 1958 and became nationally available, and subsequently iconic, four years later.
The original version of Rice-a-Roni® combined rice, pasta, and chicken soup mix. There are now about 20 different versions of the boxed side-dish commercially available in a wide variety of flavors. No longer owned by the DeDominico family, Rice-a-Roni® was purchased by The Quaker Oats Company® in the 1980s and has been a product of Pepsi-Co® since 2001. The food is often touted by proponents as an inexpensive means of providing a filling side dish, and helping pricier main dishes stretch to feed a large group.
With San Francisco's reputation as a health-food loving city, it may be surprising and objectionable to some that a combination of carbohydrates and spices in a box is marketed as “The San Francisco Treat®.” In fact, Rice-a-Roni® is representative of an long tradition of multiculturalism and fusion cuisine that has long helped define San Francisco. A food created by combining Canadian, Armenian, and Italian food sensibility certainly qualifies as a proud San Francisco icon.