It was developed in the late 1800s by Italian fishermen who settled in the North Beach section of San Francisco. Originally it was made on the boats while out at sea and later became a staple as Italian restaurants proliferated in San Francisco. The name comes from ciuppin, a word in the Ligurian dialect of the port city of Genoa,meaning "to chop" or "chopped" which described the process of making the stew by chopping up various leftovers of the days catch. At least one restaurant in San Francisco, the eponymous Cioppino's, describesan apocryphal story in which the name derived from the heavily Italian-accented cry of the wharf cooks for the fishermen to "chip in" some of their catch to the collective soup pot.
Generally the seafood is cooked in broth and served in the shell, including the crab (if any) that is often served halved or quartered. It therefore requires special utensils, typically a crab fork and cracker. Depending on the restaurant, it may be accompanied by a bib, second possibly damp napkin, or a second bowl for the shells. As a variation, the "lazy man's" cioppino is served with seafood shelled and crab legs cracked.