Rice-a-Roni, known by the millions for its captivating 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 food health craze, promoting low sodium and brown rice varieties.
Rice-a-Roni’s story 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 product stand. In 1912, DeDominico’s wife pushed him to start a pasta factory and service delivery, which quickly grew in popularity across the city by rapidly growing by the bay. The company has thrived for decades, and DeDominico’s four children eventually joined him in the factory.
When Charlie Tom DeDominico’s son married a Canadian immigrant named Lois and the two moved into the home of an Armenian landlady, few could imagine that a famous food would soon result. Mrs. Captanian, a survivor of the Armenian genocide, soon began to teach Lois how to make traditional pilaf rice dishes, which in turn introduced Lois to her husband and in-laws. The ingenious sons of Charlie DeDominico who decide to try to combine 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 started regional marketing in 1958 and became nationwide available, and subsequently iconic, four years later.
The original version of Rice-a-Roni & reg rice, pasta, and chicken soup mix combined. There are now about 20 different versions of the side dish box 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 1980 and has been a product of Pepsi-Co since 2001. Food is often touted by supporters as an inexpensive means of providing a side dish of filling, and helping more expensive dishes tend to feed a large group.
With San Francisco’s reputation as a health-food loving city, it may be surprising and questionable some that a combination of carbohydrates and spices in a box is marketed as “The San Francisco Treat.” Indeed, Rice-a-Roni is representative of a long tradition of multiculturalism and fusion cuisine, which has long helped define San Francisco. A food created by combining Canadian, Armenian, and Italian food sensitivity definitely qualifies as San Francisco’s proud icon.