(Mirror) We have become such a homogenized society that it’s easy to forget that just a generation ago traveling from state to state was similar to traveling from continent to continent today.
It used to be that there were regional department stores that were theplaces to shop when you went from one city to the next. Stopping in Chicago? You must shop at Marshall Field’s. Boston? Filene’s. Now every mall has the same 30 or so chains; Macy’s Bloomingdale’s, Forever 21, the list goes on. Victoria’s Secret is no secret anymore.
The same can be said of regional foods.
Stop in any mall restaurant and you can now get a Maine lobster roll, with a side of poutine, wash it down with a Dr. Brown’s soda and finish your meal with Key lime pie.
Some foods that used to be regional favorites are gaining in popularity. In Hawaii, everyone has their own family recipe for poke, much like potato salad in the Midwest.
When you travel, there are some specialties that are indigenous to certain areas and are dishes you must try if you want to feel like a local. Here are a few that haven’t been adopted by the masses yet.
Hawaii’s penchant for poke is out of the bag, but there are still two favorites that haven’t popped up all over the mainland. is a favorite dish, especially when you’ve had a little bit too much to drink. It is essentially a mound of white rice topped with a hamburger patty, fried egg, and brown gravy. Another favorite on the islands is. Spam is popular throughout the state - for many years it was one of the few meat products readily available -and Spam musubi capsulizes Hawaii’s East-meets-West cuisine. It is a cube of grilled Spam on sushi rice, wrapped with a strip of nori (dried seaweed).
In Louisville, Kentucky during Prohibition, the Brown Hotel had a basement speakeasy. Revelers asked for a late-night treat and the kitchen staff took what it had on hand; turkey, bacon and bread, topped it with mornay sauce (béchamel that includes grated cheese), slipped it under the broiler and dished it out to the throngs. The dish, dubbed the Hot Brown became an instant favorite. It is becoming better known throughout the country and was just featured on “Top Chef,” so don’t be surprised to see it on a menu near you soon.
Salt Lake City is not exactly known as a culinary capital, but a Utah-based fast-food chain created a burger that is the unofficial state dish, the Crown Burger. It’s basically a cheeseburger topped with hot pastrami. A variation is available here in Fort Lauderdale at B Squared.
If you’ve ever eaten a Sloppy Joe and thought, “This would be much better without this tasty sauce.”, then you’ll love Iowa’s favorite, the Loose Meat Sandwich. It supposedly was created by the "Maid Rite" burger chain, which began serving the sandwich more than 80 years ago.
Leave it to L.A., the ultimate melting pot of a city to merge dishes from China and Mexico to create Shandong Beef Rolls. Similar to a burrito, but substituting a fried Asian pancake smeared with bean paste, then stuffed with sliced beef, scallions, and cilantro. The whole thing is rolled up and sliced into rounds for easy handling.
Mystic, Connecticut may be famous for its pizza thanks to the Julia Roberts movie, “Mystic Pizza,” but over in New Haven ‘Apizza,' a thin-crusted take, invented by Italian immigrant bakers in the 1920s is topped with white clams. The creamy garlic-laden sauce subs for tomato sauce and the pie is studded with chewy, salty clams.
Wisconsin is the Dairy State (It’s been suggested that their motto should be, “Come and smell our dairy air!”) so it’s no shock that the food that you can find throughout the state is made from cheese. Cheese Curds to be exact. If you eat them raw, the dice-sized nuggets squeak when you bite into them. But you really should enjoy them the way everything in Wisconsin is prepared: battered and fried.
You hear a lot about Chicago-style pizza and hot dogs, but the Italian Beef is still a mystery to many. It is similar to a French dip, but with Italian seasonings on the thinly sliced beef, which is soaked in Italian-spiced au jus. The beef is piled inside a section of crusty Italian bread, and is then topped with peppers, either “sweet” (cooked bell peppers) or “hot” (giardiniera, a tart and spicy vegetable blend). Those in the know order it “wet,”meaning that the entire sandwich is dunked in the au jus, making it a sodden mess, and absolutely delicious.
It’s made from everything you shouldn’t eat - flour, butter, sugar, eggs and more sugar - but that’s what makes Gooey Butter Cake, a St. Louis specialty, so delicious. The flat, dense cake originated in the 1930s and is found in just about every grocery store in the area.
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