Let the season of food begin. We all have our own comfort foods and this rings true especially during the holidays. Comfort food helps you get through a bad day or feel better when you are sick. Certain foods are even associated with treasured memories.
In a broader sense, different parts of the country have certain foods that are indicative of that region like grits in the South, pasties in Upper Michigan, lobster in Maine, etc. Then there are those off-the-wall regional favorites, many of which you can only love if you are raised with them. Some of these include:
Deep-fried Cheese Curds
Deep-fried cheese curds, popular in the upper Midwest. In Canada, folks relish fresh cheese curds and gravy smothering their fries and also the deep-fried variety. Original deep-fried cheese curds are always the most popular food at the Minnesota State Fair.
Chocolate gravy is made with flour, fat, cocoa powder and varying amounts of sugar. It is more popular in the South, served as a Sunday morning dish over biscuits and gravy. Head to the Ozarks and Appalachia and you are sure to cross paths with this favorite. The first time I encountered it was recently in a restaurant in New Castle, IN. Apparently, it is moving north!
Loco Moco is one of Hawaii’s most popular comfort foods. Expecting it to be something made with pineapple, I was surprised to learn that it is white rice topped with a hamburger patty, fried egg and brown gravy.
Goetta says Cincinnati all over it. Locals refer to the scrapple-like breakfast food as “Cincinnati caviar”. It was originally created as a way for German immigrants to save money and extend their ground pork or beef supply by adding steel-cut oats. The meat and oat mixture is shaped into a loaf and then sliced and fried in pork fat until it is brown and crispy at the edges.
Reindeer hotdogs are a popular treat in Alaska. Mike Anderson of M. A.’s Gourmet Dogs in Anchorage has served this popular street food for 20 years. Made with caribou (reindeer) meat, grilled franks are topped with Coca Cola caramelized onions. The meat is readily available in Alaska and the Alaska Sausage and Seafood ships smoked reindeer sausage spiced with coriander and white pepper so the rest of us in the lower states can also enjoy.
Geoduck is a popular food in the Pacific Northwest. It gets its name from the leathery siphon protruding from the six-inch shell of the Geoduck clam that lives in the waters off Washington and British Columbia. The clams weigh about 3 pounds, can be 100 years old and the edible siphon can grow to lengths of three feet. The tender body meat is sautéed in butter with shiitake mushrooms and asparagus.
Fried Diamondback Rattlesnake
Fried diamondback rattlesnakeis a delicacy in Texas. The world’s largest rattlesnake roundup is in Sweetwater, TX where the snakes are captured in the desert, skinned and then battered and fried. I have heard the word “delicious” used to describe them, however I think I will pass.
Turducken hails from Louisiana. Cajun chef Paul Prudhomme invented this dish of chicken stuffed inside of a duck stuffed inside of a turkey with all bones removed so it slices like a multi-ringed pork loaf. NFL commentator Joe Madden ate one during a New Orleans-Saints game in 1997 and made it famous.
Chitlins, this food also originated in the South. Sometimes known as chitterlings, this traditional soul food dish is made from the small intestines of pigs. After a thorough cleaning, they are slowly simmered until fork-tender and then breaded and deep fried.
Provel is known in St. Louis, MO. It is a Velveeta-like processed cheese product made with mild cheddar, Swiss and provolone cheeses with liquid smoke added. It was first made popular by Imo’s Pizza in St. Louis as a pizza topping. Today, the famous St. Louis style pizza uses Provel cheese on crispy, thin-crusted square slices of pizza.
Pickled Pigs’ Feet
Pickled pigs’ feet, a southern delicacy, are pigs’ feet that are slow-cured in a brine of white vinegar, salt and spices and preserved in a jar. Fans navigate through fat and gristle to find bits of vinegary ham-like meat. They are usually eaten straight from the jar with some hot sauce.
Scrapple is straight from the Pennsylvania Dutch. They were resourceful in creating a farmhouse pate as a way to use up the unpopular parts of a pig such as the head, organ meats and sometimes the skin. These parts are boiled with cornmeal then pressed and baked in a loaf pan. Slices of it are then fried. Pon haus is a cousin of scrapple. Many folks think they are one and the same even though there are slight differences. Usually, folks are fans of one or the other.
Bull testicles, not surprisingly, are popular in the West. Testicles are sliced, battered and deep-fried. Yep, you read that right! Usually bulls or bison supply the meats which are also known as Rocky Mountain oysters or prairie oysters. Whatever the name, it is the same animal part. An annual festival is held in Clinton, MT and is called none other than the Testy Festy!
Hot Brownsis a Kentucky classic started in the 1920’s as a late-night indulgence for revelers at Louisville’s Brown Hotel. It is an open-faced turkey and bacon sandwich topped with creamy Moray sauce.
Stuffies are served in southern New England, especially in Rhode Island and Massachusetts. Stuffies are Qualog clams stuffed with chopped clam, sausage, bread crumbs and herbs.
Acutaq is the Alaskan Eskimo version of ice cream. Its origins date back thousands of years and was created as a portable snack for Alaskan Inuit hunters on extended trips. It is fat rendered from polar bears mixed with seal oil, berries and snow. Modern versions mix shortening, berries, sugar and water (or snow if available).
Frito pie, now popular as fast foods and fair food, originated in Texas. It is a conglomerate of Fritos, chili and cheese, often called a “walking taco”. No matter what you call them, they are the original “messy Marvins”!
Alligator sausage hails from New Orleans and is a mixture of alligator meat and pork. This sausage is usually used in gumbos and stews.
Garbage plate is a concoction from upstate New York. Macaroni salad is combined with potatoes and topped with meat (sausage, steak, meat patties or hot dogs), mustard and chopped onion. Some versions “grow” until they weigh upwards of three pounds…very appropriate name!
Watergate saladis one of the South’s versions of a salad although it is probably as far from healthy as you can get. This southern favorite combines pistachio pudding, crushed pineapple, Cool Whip, mini marshmallows and nuts.
Chaudin hails from the Cajun low country. It is roasted hog stomach stuffed with a sausage mixture and served sliced over rice with Holy Trinity Gravy, which is a local favorite in itself. The gravy is made with flour, browned onion, bell peppers, celery and garlic. The Pennsylvania Dutch have their own version of stuffed pig belly with sausage, cabbage, potatoes and seasonings. I make this quite often although I choose tin foil instead of pig belly.
This list could go on with many more local favorites. Part of the fun of traveling is experiencing local flavor. So, this year you could add some of these regional favorites to your menu…or not. My only suggestion would be to know what is in it before you eat it!