Salvador Dalí and 19th-Century San Franciscans Were Eating Avocado Toast Long Before It Was A 'Thing'
Since the avocado toast trend blew up a few years back, many have tried to trace its sudden, lightly-seasoned rise. In its modern form—topped with chic salts, drizzled with oil, and allegedly crippling the Millennial housing market with its exorbitant price tag—people seem to agree avocado toast first hit our collective Instagram feed as a verified craze in the early 2000s.
The concept of serving avocado on bread, however, is actually nothing new. Sure, 2013 was the year high-end domestic trendsetter Gwyneth Paltrow included a recipe for the dish in her cookbook It's All Good and foodies ran with it, but the tasty combination has been around in some iteration in different corners of the world for more than a century.
Many credit the Australians with bringing avocado toast to U.S. eateries. New York City's Cafe Gitane, helmed by an Australian chef, first featured it on their menu sometime between 2000 and 2005, though it had been served at a restaurant in Sydney as far back as 1993.
Generally, that's the point where the toast's current ubiquitousness on restaurant menus seems to have taken off. Before then, it wasn't necessarily something one ordered at brunch (or at any variety of chain coffee shops), but it had its place. Cafe Gitane's chef Chloe Osborne told Broadly that she remembers eating avocado toast (and it being considered, even back then, "expensive" and "exotic") as a child in Australia in the mid-1970s. That history's author also cites her own mother consuming a variation on the dish around the same time in Southern California. In fact, California looks to have had the longest documented love affair with bread slathered in the green stuff.
The relationship makes sense when you consider how the States fell for the avocado in the first place. The fruit (yes, avocado is a fruit) arrived from its native Mexico in 1833. Anyone who's ever waited for those bumpy ovoids to ripen—only to toss them for turning to mush far too quickly—can tell you avocados are a delicate sort of food. Because of that, they were only available in warm-weather locations like Florida and California. In 1914, the American market was dealt a harsh blow: Mexican avocados, which were deemed pest-magnets, were banned as an import to the United States. California became the biggest producer of avocados in the country, and the Mexican import ban remained in place for more than 80 years.
However, against the wishes of many American avocado growers, the ban was lifted in 1997 (though it remained in effect in California, Florida, and Hawaii for another decade). So, to any Americans living in the Midwest or northern coastal states, the sudden trendiness of the food could be easily explained by economics—the supply simply spiked, and availability made the "exotic" food far more accessible.
In balmy California, where the avocado train never slowed once it arrived in the late 19th century, documented proof of avocado toast (or something like it) dates back to at least 1885. A 1931 column in the Los Angeles Times, for instance, referenced ritzy women enjoying avocado on toast during "delightful luncheons" at the Clark Hotel. Even earlier, the San Francisco Chronicle printed a recipe for avocado mashed and "spread thickly on toast or between two slices of thin bread" in 1927.
But perhaps the earliest example of avocado toast appeared in a November 1885 issue of San Francisco's Daily Alta California. "Avocado pears, commonly called 'Alligator,' are delicious for breakfast or lunch," it read. "Quarter them, and remove the pulp with a silver knife; spread it on slices of bread, and season with salt and pepper to taste."
Whether newspaper and cookbook shout-outs through the years are enough to qualify avocado toast as having had a previous Golden Age remains to be seen. But people were clearly eating and talking about it in the pre-social media era. Spanish artist Salvador Dalí even gave the stuff his surreal stamp of approval. When Dalí's 1973 cookbook Les Diners de Gala was reissued in 2016, people noted it included an avocado toast recipe, albeit a strange one. Dalí liked his toast topped with almonds, tequila, and lamb brains. If only he'd had Instagram back then.