Regional Foods That Make Me Never Wanna Leave My Favorite Places

I love food. It's just about the only thing out there that we can experience on a regular basis that engages all five senses ("What about smell?" you might ask, if you're a smart-mouth. To that I can only say, um, have you ever heard the hissing of a fajita and not loosed a few ounces of drool?), and it plucks the full suite of emotional nerves. Food is family, it's comfort and guilt and sadness and simplicity, it's birthdays and holidays and just plain ol' days. It's also just plain delicious.

One of my favorite aspects of food, though, is that it can tie you so strongly to a sense of place. Here are a few regional foods that I always carry with me:

Barbecue: I spent my youth in central coastal California, which -- little-known fact -- is the barbecue oasis in the grilled-meat wasteland of the Pacific states. In the little town where I grew up, tri-tip was the cut of choice, usually accompanied by an ear of sweet corn right from the grill, and none of this dry-rub stuff: we take our meat saucier than the secretary in a '60s film.

Sweet Potato Tacos: I'll be straight-up with you: when I lived in the Bay Area, sometimes I'd give myself a hangover just so I had an excuse to fully appreciate these little devils. Sweet potatoes! Caramelized onions! A slightly sweet, smoky salsa! They're candy in a tortilla.

Whoopie Pies: Some days these are the only thing keeping me in New England. Soft cakey cookies, sandwiching a hearty daub of frosting (preferably cream cheese frosting, for this dude). Um, why do people get so excited over mere cupcakes, when whoopie pies are an option?! And if you're asking yourself, "Wait, could those possibly get even better?!" Happy to inform you: YES! A little wiki sleuthing reveals they were originally called "hucklebucks". Did you -- did you just swoon a little from all the cute?!

Okay, my list is meager because I grew up in young upstart cities. Help me out, y'all! What are some regional foods you couldn't live without? The kookier, the better -- when I travel, the first (okay, okay, ONLY) thing I like to do is try the local cuisine. Give me a reason to visit every state on the map!

Posted by TKOG of Not That Kind of Girl.


Abby said...

Tons of cool foods in upstate NY -- salt potatoes and spiedies at the top of the list (If you're interested, I posted about it during a trip home a couple of years ago: )

magnolia said...

oh, my lord. it's like you knew i was reading today. this gulf-coast girl, with louisiana ties, has a list a mile and a half long:

crawfish etouffee
king cake
bread pudding
shrimp creole
monsoons (every rum imaginable, mixed with pineapple juice and grenadine)
crawfish pie
boudin balls

other foods that remind me of places i've loved:
grouper sandwich - pinellas county, FL
moon pies - mobile, AL
spoon bread - central VA
half-smokes - DC
blueberries - central NY
giant slices of pizza - NYC

i should stop. i'm gonna go on forever.

ashley said...

Ju(i)cy Lucys hamburgers in the Twin Cities. The spelling is debated (purist say it's Jucy Lucy, not Juicy Lucy), but all that is forgotten when you take a bite into the patty and molten cheese comes spilling out from the inside. Nearly every place that serves burgers in the St. Paul/MPLS area has their own version, but the original is found at either Matt's Bar or the 5-8 Club in Mpls.

Also, whitefish livers in Northern Wisconsin. The whitefish is caught in Lake Superior, and Maggie's restaurant in Bayfield, Wi serves 'em up best.

Polly said...

I'm from England, the foods I miss most if I'm away any length of time are proper sandwiches/toast with marmite - no other country understands how to make sliced bread just right. They either make it all sweet or too springy or the crust is soft.

Pizza in NYC is better than pizza anywhere else in the world though, and that's a fact.

Sarah said...

Here in Texas BBQ is definitely a local favorite, but we also have these amazing little candies called Chick-O-Sticks that are to die for!!

Laura Dick said...

Ted Drewes frozen custard is everything good in St. Louis in a cup. It's smooth, creamy, able to be turned upside down (why it's called a concrete), and is mixed with tons of your flavor of choice-- I personally am loyal to the tart cherry, and will stab anyone who snipes one of my cherries, but my dad is partial to the fresh peach (only served in season) and my mom likes the cindermint, with crushed peppermint candies in it. From February until December people will be lined up to the road at all hours of day and night for this vintage route 66 deliciousness... this is making me miss home!

Mandy said...

Whoa whoa're from the central coast?! Me too! Sorry, no one seems to know where that even is, so I get a bit excited when I read about someone being from there.

And yes -- tri tip, especially in sandwiches. I swear that was at every school football game/fundraiser/family party, and it was always delicious.

Los Angeles - California, fresh style foods with fresh fruit and avocado on everything!
Scoops ice cream! Locally made, delicious, weird flavored ice cream. Brown bread and salty chocolate are my faves.

I lived in England for a couple years, and the list of things I miss from there is very long:
Cheap, good, sharp cheddar cheese
Cadburys chocolate...well, any chocolate really
Vinegar on everything
Cream teas
Roasted parsnips (they're so much harder to find here in California!)
Cheesy leeks (so bad for you, but oh so good)
Hobnobs and McVities biscuits
Rachel's Greek Style Coconut Yogurt. (We have some Rachel's yogurt in the States but not this one. I crave it about 3 times a week, conservatively. WHY ISN'T IT HERE. WHY?)

...hungry now.

Sam said...

Oooh there is so much food that I miss from where I live.

Pittsburgh: slaw burgers. They also put fries on everything there. It tastes better than it sounds.

Pennsylvania: I grew up in north eastern PA and pizza is hands down the best there. It is something about the crust, sauce and cheese that they know how to get right. Everywhere I go I compare pizza from my home state and it falls short.

California: Pinkberry, pinkberry, and more pinkberry.

Seattle: This one is hard since I haven't eaten anything here that I don't like. However the signature food here is coffee and seafood. I'm a huge fan of Hammershead and Vivace coffee. Also eggnog latte is a Seattle invention that appears around Christmas.

Hawaii: Avocado toast. It is avocado mixed with sugar on buttered toast. So far I have been told by a few natives that I am the only mainlander who has ever liked it.

Fry bread: I got it at a pow wow in Seattle, but it belongs to the Native Americans.

KittenMittens said...

In lurvely Canadaland, Calgary to be specific my favourite foods are:

Belfast Poutine from Jamesons Pub: the fries were those rippled disk type potatoes, covered in mozzarella, gravy, green onion and BACON!

My dad's bannock with raspberry jam. Or the stuff you can buy from the indian village at the Cgy Stampede. But dad's is better b/c it doesn't cost you $5 :)

Pizza with tandoori chicken on it from Pizza 3000. Sounds kind of odd, but holy crap is it good. We did stop ordering there when they botched our order and demand we pay for what we didn't want. No dealio.

Funnel cakes from Calaway Park. Deep fried in awesome, sprinkled with icing sugar. I remember getting chased by a wasp, but I would totally get chased by more to have another.

Meat Pies from the Mediterranean Bakery. I still have no idea what the meat is but I think "sfiha" was the closest I could find on google and recipes use either beef or lamb. Load it up with cheese (I think they use feta, this is the only way I'll eat that cheese) and then squirt some pepper sauce and when your eyes are watering and you can't stop sweating, you did it right.

In Winnipeg...still looking...3 years and still looking...
Time to go find dinner now.

Damsel said...

homemade yorkshire puddings. FTW

Boston Cube said...

New England: Going to the market at the marina wharf in Sandwich, Cape Cod and buying hunks of cleaned lobster meat, right off the boat and making lobster rolls. Also...

Clam Bakes on the beach.

Yankee Sunday Suppers: That molasses brown circular brown bread with baked beans and fried fish cakes.

The salad bar and breads at the former Stockpot in Cambridge.

Pilot crackers.


Necco Wafers. (The New England Confectionary Company.) Valentine hearts, ditto.


Oysters and crabs fixed as simply as possible. Getting up before dawn to lay traps baited with bull tongue, then going back to empty them of crabs and cook them in a huge pot in the back yard with a brick rise and beer.

UTZ potato chips.

Old Bay seasoning.

Rock Creek sodas.

Lady Baltimore Cake.

Grilled baby artichokes with lemon aioli.

Sitting at a bar drinking cocktails and eating mussels or oysters.

Homemade absinthe.


Chicken and dumplings (the strips of dough, not the clumps).

Homemade jellies: Peach, Damson Plum.

Chow Chow relish (my uncle's)

Pecan Pie (my mother's)

Ice Cream suppers at the local church

Dessert parties (Southerners surely love to entertain with the good china and silver.)

Corn fresh from the field.

Tomato sandwiches with mayonnaise.

Fried chicken.

Cheer Wine soda.

Florida and beyond: Seafood anything including stone crab claws and key lime anything including martinis.

New Orleans: Don't eat. Tell everyone you're dieting. Get chickens, but only to kill and leave nailed to someone's door as a curse. Gris Gris Gumbo Ya Ya.

Midwest: Nothing special comes to mind, except the local restaurants where they serve Mom and Pop dinners and local dairies that sell ice cream.

In some of those rust belts towns? Italian and Greek food: Wedding soup, Italian cream cake, meatballs the size of a softball.

Northwest: Salmon and seafood and any coffee not Starbucks.

Monster crab legs.

These weird Swedish cookies that have some kind of ammonia ingredient in them that sounds horrible, but it works.

West: Really fresh food.

Hispanic food from trucks.

Going to a "in" restaurant and eating only one thing on the plate that measures about one-inch.

Homemade tequila.

Be seen swigging from a bottle of champagne as you weave your Bentley. Once you're booked, have Pinks deliver hot dogs for you and the jail.

Texas? If you can eat this (anything that weighs a ton) you don't have to pay for it.

Uchi Japanese restaurant in Austin. Really nouveau thinking.

Fritos--at least one when you tour the factory.

Dr. Pepper with everything.

Suniverse said...

Arabic food. Yummy.

Also, dried lamb. So tasty I can't even explain it to you.

Anonymous said...

Chicago girl here. My hometown's deep dish pizza is the best in the world, hands down. Also, Italian beef sandwiches, pizza puffs and White Castle Hamburgers. Delish.

I lived in Providence for a couple years and my favorite things about that area were the cheesburg grinders, Del's frozen lemonade and fries with vinegar and ketchup... mmm!

2 chances said...

Holy God, was somebody in New Orleans AND DIDN'T EAT???? Have they lost their minds? Dear God, gumbo! Hush puppies! Jambalaya, crawfish pie, dirty rice, crawfish etouffee, just plain boiled crawfish! Beignets, Cafe du Monde coffee that makes your heart race and your brain explode with joy! Hummingbird cake! I WILL NEVER LEAVE LOUISIANA WHILE THERE ARE TASTE BUDS IN MY MOUTH.

Rebecca said...

Maryland Crabs!

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