From Spoon University 1/10/16
As a food lover and one who dreams of traveling everywhere on the map and then some, I sought out the defining foods of the United States. Using an unscientific poll, I reached out to college students from across the country and did some research to determine what foods define America, going state by state. With almost 400 responses and hours of road mapping my taste buds, I present the unofficial foods that represent each state:
Alabama: Fried Anything
The fried green tomatoes in Alabama are legendary in their own right, and hundreds of slices are dished out daily throughout the state. To follow, fried catfish, country fried steak, fried dill pickles, fried okra, fried chicken, and fried apple pies are fan favorites that local Alabamans submitted as their defining state foods. For the best foods to bring to your next SEC tailgate, check these out.
Alaska: Local Cold-Water Seafood
As a centerpiece of Alaskan cuisine, local salmon is often served as smoked salmon, cured salmon, salmon jerky, and even sweetened salmon candy. The crab and halibut fishing industry also brings tourists from all over the world, as well as Alaskan hunted game such as moose, caribou, elk, and bear.
And of course there are the famous reindeer sausages, which represent the historic food sources of Alaskan natives when grounds were running dry. You can also find Alaska’s unofficial signature cocktail here.
Rooting from the Mexican cuisine indigenous to Arizona, chimichangas are pretty much burritos dropped into a deep-fryer. Stories go that it was invented in Tuscon, Arizona when a restaurant owner accidentally dropped a pastry into a deep fryer and stopped herself form swearing in Spanish by exclaiming, “chimichanga!” Arizona is also home to one of the best burgers in America.
Arkansas: Southern Fried Catfish
Thanks to the 9,700 miles of rivers, lakes, and streams that provide plenty of catfish a habitat in Arkansas, this dish is a standard on dinner tables throughout the state, usually accompanied by side dishes of hush puppies and green tomatoes.
To represent the health-food trend of this sunny state, avocados encompass the mindset of many in California that Instagram kale and acai bowls as well. Avocados represent the overarching definition of health-conscious California that was overwhelmingly decided to represent the state.
Runner up: On the other end of the spectrum, In-N-Out, the popular food chain has been rated one of the top fast food chains out there are is a staple in Californian cuisine. Two words: animal style. For the full list of foods you can’t leave California without trying, click here.
Colorado: Chile Verde
Chile verde is a staple on menus all over Denver and throughout Colorado, even in some Wal-Marts where the chiles are roasted right in the parking lot. The chile is usually found in chilis (not to get confused for chile), tacos, burritos, roasted cheesy corn, or even a cheeseburger. Denver is also home to a craft beer that smells like weed.
Connecticut: Steamed Burgers
Louis’ Lunch, a New Haven burger joint, invented this Connecticut and American favorite in the late 1800s, and thank goodness the did. Now, over a century later, Connecticuters still celebrate its invention with steamed burgers as a principle menu item.
Runner up: New Haven style pizza is more of a regional representation rather than state-wide, but this white claim classic is one for the books in CT. For the restaurants that are Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives-approved in Connecticut, click here.
A favorite all across the Mid-Atlantic region, scrapple is one of those foods which the ingredients are better off not being shared. But in case you were wondering, pork trimmings are combined with cornmeal and flour to form a loaf, which is then sliced and generally served on a sandwich or for breakfast. Delaware’s RAPA Scrapple company is the world’s biggest scrapple manufacture, and scrapple always makes its presence at the Delaware State Fair.
Runner up: Displaced Delawareans may find it difficult to cope with the idea that ordering fries doesn’t typically include vinegar, and that vinegar french fries are not a standard dish pretty much anywhere else. And don’t forget to stop by Milburn Orchards while you’re there.
Florida: Key Lime Pie
Named after the Florida Keys, where the pie was first invented, Key Lime Pie is not only the official pie of Florida, but a pie known around the world for its sassy and tangy flavor thanks to the Floridian citrus, which accounts for 80% of the US’ citrus products (shoutout to Florida oranges too). And if you happen to catch a football game while you’re in Florida, be sure to try this drinking game.
We’ll all be leaving on a midnight train to Georgia to enjoy everything peach that the state has to offer. Peach cobblers, peach pies, and good old fresh peaches are sweet and find their way as ingredients and sides for Georgian cuisine. The state’s not called The Big Peach for no reason. But if you’re in Georgia and need help locating the best brunch spots, we’ve got you covered.
Enjoyed with eggs and rice, skewered and deep-fried, or even macaroni and cheese, Spam is a fan favorite on this island state, and logistically is a great staple to have since it could likely survive the world ending. Hawaiians are the second largest consumers of Spam in the world, right behind Guam.
Originally brought to Hawaii as a source of protein for locals after fishing around the islands was prohibited during World War II, Spam marks its territory in Hawaiian households and on local menus throughout the islands.
Runners up: Poke (pronounced poke-eh) is the Hawaiian version of Japanese sashimi (usually tuna), and served in bite-sized cubes at poke shops, restaurants, or made in local’s kitchens. Find out what other foods Hawaii natives miss when they come to the mainland here.
Idaho: Finger Steaks
Finger steaks are pretty much exactly what they sound like. Steaks, usually tenderloin, are dipped in a tempura-like batter and deep fried in oil. Invented in Idaho, they are voted most defining for this large and mountainous state. Enjoy with a side of potatoes (shocker) or fries with Idaho fry sauce, which is a specific ratio combination of primarily mayonnaise and ketchup.
Illinois: Chicago-Style Deep Dish Pizza
Almost unanimously voted, Chicago-style deep dish pizza reigned most representative of this cold and windy state. Deep dish pizza is an accurately named food based off of the deep edge pan and endless layers of sauce and cheese piled on to the dough, and is rightfully famous from Illinois.
Importantly noted though, not all pizza in Illinois is Chicago-style nor is it all deep dish. Thin crust pizza and other types of thick-crusted pizzas from around the start are equally and sometimes arguably better than the popular deep-dish that claims the fame. If you’re anywhere near the UIUC campus, be sure to check out these bars and restaurants.
Indiana: Pork Tenderloin
Especially in a sandwich, pork tenderloin is a staple of Indiana flavors. A typical Indiana pork tenderloin sandwich consists of a deep-fried breaded cutlet on a hamburger bun. The meat bulges out of the side of the bread, and the sandwich is dressed with ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise, lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, and onion – the works. And you definitely don’t want to miss Indiana’s first cat cafe.
Iowa: Grilled Sweet Corn on the Cob
Around 2 billion bushels of corn are grown in the state every year, and just one bite of sweet corn on the cob brings you into Iowa’s rolling hills, scenic rivers, and friendly small towns. Enjoy corn on the cob grilled in butter with salt, pepper, and garlic, or add some honey and spices for a sweet and spicy twist. For the list of foods you don’t want to miss in Des Moise, check this out.
In Kansas, BBQ rules the cuisine, and it’s easy to find ribs, and chicken, and sausages pretty much anywhere. The distinctive Kansas City barbecue style is known for its molasses-spiked sweet tomato sauce. Kansas is the third largest beef capital in the US, and there is no doubt that it is cattle country. Kansans can always be found grilling pork, chicken, and hot dogs, and eating traditional breakfasts that include bacon, sausage links, ham and hash browns. If you want to consider yourself a true Kansas fan, be sure to stop in to this coffee shop.
Kentucky: Hot Browns
A Hot Brown Sandwich, also known as a Kentucky Hot Brown, is a hot sandwich originally created in Louisville, Kentucky. It’s an open-faced sandwich of turkey and bacon, covered in Mornay sauce once assembled, entirely baked or broiled until the bread is crisp and the sauce begins to brown. A lot of Hot Browns also include ham with the turkey, and either pimentos or tomatoes over the sauce.
Aside from the stereotypical New Orleans po’ boy and beignet, gumbo is a Louisiana food in relation to the whole state. A stew that originates from southern Louisiana, gumbo consists of primarily a strongly-flavored stock, meat or shellfish (usually shrimp), a thickener, and celery, bell peppers, and onions.
Depending on your background and where in Louisiana you’re from, depends on what type of gumbo you may consider the best, based on what thickener you use: the African vegetable okra, the Choctaw spice filé powder, or roux, the French base bade of flour and fat.
Runner up: The fact that Louisiana even has an official state crustacean is enough of an explanation of why crawfish is pretty defining. And for every foods Louisana natives miss when they’re out of state, click here.
Unanimously submitted, lobster is a true symbol of Maine, whose rocky coastal towns depend on the fishing industry. Whether freshly boiled with a dip of warm butter or orchestrated into a perfect lobster roll, a lobster won’t get any better than in Maine. In fact, lobster used to be considered prison food, but is now a delicacy.
All votes in, almost everyone was for a crab dish. Crab cakes, crab dip, and crab chips all share the stage, but notorious are the crabs that base each of these dishes. The Chesapeake Bay is home of the blue crab, which Maryland claims as its own. Make sure to enjoy boardwalk style and gourmet style crab cakes for a true taste of the Old Line state. If you’re craving take out while you’re in Maryland, be sure to order from one of these locations.
Massachusetts: Clam Chowda’
With the correct spelling and intonation deemed crucial in the characterization of this Massachusetts favorite, clam chowder is a creamy soup made with potatoes, crushed oyster crackers, and chewy chunks of local New England clam. It kept the colonists warm during bitter winters just as it does year-round to Massachusetts locals now.
Like a calzone, but that much better, a pasty is Michigan’s signature food – meat and veggies wrapped in a pocket of crust. The name pasty is a means of association with a pasty from England, which is pretty similar. Back in the day, miners counted on sturdy-crusted pasties, but now crusts are generally more tender and moist. And as long as gravy or ketchup is on hand, this pot pie without the pot is the default recipe from grandma or lunch on-the-go. If you’re craving brunch while in Michigan, check out this location.
Minnesota: Tater Tot Hot Dish
Hotdish is what Minnesotans call a casserole dish, and the tater tot variety is one of the state favorites and staple dishes. With crispy tater tots lining the top of a beef, green beans, and corn filled inside, all held together by cream of mushroom soup, this comfort food dish is crucial to surviving a Minnesota winter.
Mississippi: Mississippi Mud Pie
This riverside state is crazy about Mississippi Mud Pie. It’s well known and well liked all over the country, but it’s not shocking that this sinfully chocolate pie originated in Mississippi and is popular throughout the state.
Missouri: Toasted Ravioli
Although it may be possible that toasted ravioli roots back to Sicily, it is most popularly believed to have been invented in St. Louis. Legends say that a cook in St. Louis’ Italian Hill neighborhood dropped cooked ravioli into hot fat. And since then the world has been enjoying dropping this appetizer into tomato sauce since then. It’s typically served with marinara sauce and cheese sprinkled on top, and may or may not be made with meat.
Montana: Rocky Mountain Oysters
“Oysters” is actually a euphemism. These are actually deep fried bull testicles. Eat this as an appetizer or served with with a cocktail sauce. Also known as “cowboy caviar” and “bull fries,” rocky mountain oysters are a typical Montana dish. Try if you have the balls for it.
Cows are everywhere in Nebraska, it’s even said that they outnumber people in the state 3.5 to 1. But lots of cows means lots of great steaks. Omaha Steaks are what most people have heard about, but any Nebraskan will attest to that the best steaks in town are from the local butcher.
Staying consistent with the state’s obsession with the color red, Nebraska’s red meat is so fresh it will melt in your mouth, making it the best place to get a steak in the world.
Nevada: Hotel Buffets
Although Nevada doesn’t have an official state food, it’s known for its ethnic diversity and accessibility to a whole lot of different foods. If we can’t pick one food for Nevada, why not pick all of them? Along with the lights and casinos, buffets are something Las Vegas is known for, with more than 200 in and around Las Vegas alone.
New Hampshire: Apples
A great place to go apple picking is at a beautiful orchard and New Hampshire is home to over 50 variety of apples. Those from New Hampshire can attest to the best apple pies, apple crisps, and just biting into a crunchy Macintosh.
New Jersey: Taylor Ham, Egg, and Cheese on a Bagel
Home to yours truly, New Jersey is known for the endless amounts of bagel stores throughout the state, with the popular order of Taylor ham and cheese. Whether you’re on-the-go or bringing bagels home for your family on a Saturday morning, this is a go-to breakfast or lunch sandwich for any New Jersey local.
Runners up: New Jersey was one of the few states that had many popular submissions, including hoagies, pork rolls, pizza, tomatoes, sloppy joes, and diner food. A state of many favorites from all over, NJ is home to foods that are [Jersey] shore to please. If you’re looking for the best eats in New Jersey, you can find them here.
New Mexico: Green Chile
Unanimously, New Mexico is perfectly represented by this green chile sauce – made from local Hatch chiles – that locals put on everything, from eggs to burritos to cheeseburgers. Distinctly different than chili (which can be made with chiles), green sauce, jalapeños, and poblanos, green chile is chosen over any of the laters for just about any occasion.
New York: Pizza
Whether it’s lunchtime or closing time, New York pizza is a true Big Apple food. The greasy slice, always folded in half to take a bite, can be found in NYC and suburbs alike, and is the perfect representation of the hustle and bustle of the city that everybody loves. For the full list of foods you can’t leave NYC without trying, click here.
North Carolina: Pulled Pork Sandwich
In the Tarheel state, pulled pork is barbecue style either drowned in a tangy vinegar sauce (“Eastern-style”) or a sweeter, ketchup-spiked sauce (“Western-style”). The whole hog is cooked, thus using both white and dark meat, and a North Carolina pulled pork sandwich is made.
North Dakota: Kuchen
Introduced by German settlers in the Great Plains, this cake with fruit or custard filling has a few known variations but is well understood to be expected at gatherings in North Dakota. There are about as many variations of Kuchen recipes as there are people that make them, and the dessert can be found at bakeries, in the Kuchen Festival in neighboring South Dakota, or on grandma’s kuchen, I mean kitchen table.
These peanut butter balls dipped in chocolate are Ohio’s unofficial state candy, said to resemble the nut of a Buckeye tree, which is Ohio’s state tree. Most Ohioans have their own Buckeye recipes, but they can also be found in virtually every coffee shop in the state. Rumor has it, a buckeye is like a Reese’s cup but with a more particular ratio of peanut butter to chocolate.
Oklahoma: Chicken Fried Steak
With a surprising lack of chicken included, this dish is made of a thinly sliced piece of steak coated with flour and pan-fried. It’s found in many other states, but Oklahoma claims to have some of the best out there.
Oregon: Marionberry Pie
Marionberries are actually a cross between two types of blackberries, predominantly grown in Oregon. Although they are found in jams, candies, and syrups, the tart berries are most popularly eaten in pies.
With 260% more cheesesteak restaurants than the rest of the country, Pennsylvania is rightfully known for this crusty roll filled with juicy beef and typically topped with fried onions, peppers and cheese. Rivalries between local restaurants have existed for nearly 50 years, but there’s no argument that cheesesteaks are a defining dish of the state. For the full list of foods Philly natives miss when they’re out of state, check these out.
Rhode Island: Coffee Milk
America’s smallest state has defined itself with its official state drink, coffee milk. Think of chocolate milk, but with coffee syrup instead. Or really sweet milk, with a hint of coffee. Or coffee ice cream melted and poured over ice. So pretty much if you have a sweet tooth and you like coffee, you should try this Rhode Island staple.
South Carolina: Shrimp and Grits
What started out as a fisherman’s breakfast, this seafood and cornmeal porridge is now an authentic dish in South Carolina. Only within recent decades has shrimp and grits become so popular, but now just about every restaurant along the coast has its own version of shrimp and grits.
South Dakota: Chislic
Chislic, cubed red meat – usually venison, lamb, or deer – that’s deep-fried and salted, is a dish that’s unique to South Dakota. It varies slightly in preparation from region to region within the state, and is generally really easy to prepare. The cubes are eaten with toothpicks, and generally enjoyed with garlic salt.
Enjoyed “wet” with sweet, tomato-based sauce, or “dry” rubbed with spices, Memphis-style ribs are customary in Tennessee. Traditional ribs are cooked over charcoal, and as times have changed, so have the recipes for Tennessee ribs. That pretty much means that they’ve only gotten better and are still evolving to become the best ribs out there.
Texas: Tex-Mex and Mexican
The difference between Tex-Mex and Mexican food is mostly in what ingredients are used. Cumin, for example, is not used nearly as much in Mexico as in Tex-Mex. Meat is more common in Tex-Mex too. One of the biggest differences is the use of starch – the nachos, tacos, and tortilla wraps are more common in Tex-Mex cuisine than typical Mexican cuisine. Regardless, both are popular in Texas – the queso, tacos, BBQ, salsa, chili, and then some. If you want to find the best BBQ in Texas, we’ve got you covered.
Utah: Funeral Potatoes
A baked casserole made with potatoes, canned soup, cheese and a crushed corn-flake topping, funeral potatoes find themselves at pretty much every family gathering in Utah, and got its name because Mormon women usually make large pans to serve grieving families after a funeral. Utahans usually enjoy it traditionally or with added cubed ham, frozen peas, or broccoli florets.
Vermont: Ben & Jerry’s
Ever head of them? America’s two favorite guys started this ice cream company in Burlington, Vermont in 1978. Ben & Jerry’s is known for their elaborate flavors like Phish Food – chocolate ice cream with marshmallow and caramel swirls and fudge fish.
Today, you can get Ben & Jerry’s ice cream all over the world, but the ice cream factory is located in Waterbury, Vermont. The factory includes a Flavor Graveyard to pay a tribute to the flavors that have reached the end of their reign, and the ice cream waste from the factory is given to local farmers to feed their hogs.
With almost more salt that is bearable, slices of pinkish-brown cured country ham are indisputably part of Virginian culture. The motto of Smithfield, Virginia is “Ham, history, and hospitality” and it’s no mistake that ham comes first. The original country style American ham, a favorite of Thomas Jefferson’s, is still the favorite in Virginia. They say it’s so good, that all you need on the side is a simple biscuit. You also don’t want to miss Charlottesville’s Restaurant Week.
A hub of fresh fish, Washington is home to silvery rivers that teem with sockeye salmon. You’ll never have to buy frozen fish in Washington, because there’s fresh seafood everywhere. Salmon can be found on menus all over the state and at fish markets like Pike’s Place in Seattle and surrounding cities. For the foods every Seattle native misses when they’re out of state, check these out.
West Virginia: Pepperoni Rolls
Unanimously voted, pepperoni rolls are a go-to snack in West Virginia, most specifically found in convenience stores around the state. The classic roll is made of fairly soft white bread with pepperoni baked into the middle. Variations of pepperoni rolls have different cheeses, peppers, etc. and make the defining snack a close cousin to a slice of pizza.
Wisconsin: Fried Cheese Curds
Along with cheese in general, fried cheese curds are undeniably representative of this dairy crazed state. Cheese curds are a necessary product of the cheese-making process. Before cheeses like cheddar are made into blocks or wheels, they start out as slightly rubbery and squeaky curds (yes, they squeal when you eat them as a sign of freshness).
Wyoming: Buffalo Jerky
Wyoming’s Yellowstone National park home to one of America’s largest buffalo herds, which makes it a no brainer that this state can be defined by its buffalo style beef jerky. Wyoming Buffalo Company even sells the kind of savory jerky that cowboys were probably chewing on 150 years ago.