February 08, 2010

China Camp on San Pablo Bay

click photo for full-size image
photo by Donald Kinney

Except for early in the morning I avoid China Camp on weekends -- just a few too many people out and about -- but I am told that Frank Quan sometimes -- when he feels like it -- opens up and runs the tiny China Camp Cafe part of the day -- no real specific time -- on Saturday and Sunday.

But I wouldn't ask for fresh cooked crabs because I know he doesn't have any, and I really doubt if Frank will have all the ingredients on hand to make your favorite designer sandwich.

About 40 years ago I went in the cafe with some friends and we ordered shrimp cocktails, but to our amazement we ended up paying an exorbitant price for those little fancy glass jars of shrimp-cocktail -- the same ones that you can buy at the supermarket -- the jars with more catchup than shrimp.

For the past few weeks there's been a sign in the window advertising Clam Chowder. And I don't know, but I don't think there are a whole lot of clams at China Camp, so I'm going to bet that Frank's chowder comes from the supermarket too.

click photo for full-size image
photo by Donald Kinney

This is the Sea Breeze -- and judging from the number of holes in her sides, she isn't going anywhere soon.

So what is this China Camp?   Well, dating back to the 1880's, it used to be a busy place -- netting shrimp was one of the few businesses Chinese immigrants were allowed to operate.

Nearly 500 people, originally from Canton, China, lived in the village.   In its heyday, there were three general stores, a marine supply store and a barber shop.   The surrounding hills were covered with the tiny Bay Shrimp drying in the sun.

Fisherman by trade in their native country, they gravitated to the work they knew best.   Most of the shrimp they netted were dried and shipped to China or Chinese communities throughout the U.S.   Today shrimp is still caught, but the catches are not nearly as large as they used to be.

These days, water from the Sierras that would normally flow into the Delta and on to San Pablo Bay (((the northern thumb of San Francisco Bay))) is largely diverted for agriculture in the Central Valley, and this has caused the salinity levels of San Pablo Bay to become elevated -- which is something shrimp don't like -- their numbers have diminished drastically over the past several decades.

click photo for full-size image
photo by Donald Kinney

That's Frank Quan's shrimping boat -- she's a bit funky but she sets and pulls in Frank's nets just fine.   CLICK to see a photo of Frank Quan.

click photo for full-size image
photo by Donald Kinney

I suppose that Frank will get in and scrape off all those barnacles just as soon as he runs out of other projects and/or needs to use the boat.

click photo for full-size image
photo by Donald Kinney

I would imagine this rusty old Seven-Up sign on the side of the cafe gets it's photo snapped a lot.   I've never been able to resist rust.   In fact I love rust, and I bet you do too...

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photowannabe said...

You know I just love rust too. I unfortunately haven't made it to China Camp. It looks like one photo op after another. Love the barnacles, the air conditioned boat and the funky restaurant with the bottled shrimp cocktails.

Rhett Redelings said...

I bet Frank buys his beer at the supermarket too but I'd be willing to pay his price just to enjoy it in that funky old cafe of his.

Louise said...

Terrific little documentary! And restaurant review. I really like the picture of the Sea Breeze--all of it--the composition is perfect.

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