If you’re visiting America for the first time or just vacationing in a different part of this fine country, be sure to try some of the regional cuisine. It’s all about the experience: If somehow you manage to go to Texas without trying some Texas barbecue or to New Orleans and not tasting some authentic jambalaya, you’re missing out. Here’s 10 regional dishes to try:
- Lobster Rolls in Maine. The Official State Sandwich of Maine comes with hefty chunks of lobster tossed in mayonnaise and served on a toasted hot dog bun. Best restaurants to find this sandwich are Shaw’s Fish & Lobster Wharf in New Harbor, Bagaduce Lunch in Brooksville, and Waterman’s Beach Lobster in South Thomaston.
- Sourdough Bread in San Francisco. Legend has it that sourdough bread originated with the “Forty-Niners” who rushed to California in 1849 to find gold. They brought along bread “starters” to bake bread with along the way and discovered that the bread they baked in San Francisco had a distinct sour flavor. A French baker named Isidore Boudin combined French baking techniques with the sourdough starters to create the sourdough bread we are familiar with today, and you can still buy his bread at the Boudin Bakery.
- Po-boy Sandwich in New Orleans. The most popular version of this sandwich is served on French bread with deep fried Gulf shrimp, lettuce, tomatoes, and hot sauce. It is believed, however, that the original version was made with leftover beef and gravy to feed poor workers who went on strike in the 1920s. Restaurants serving po-boys are found all over New Orleans; one of the best is Johnny’s Po-Boys.
- Bagels in New York City. Brought to the East Coast by Eastern-European Jewish immigrants during the 1880s, the New York version is made with salt and malt, and boiled before it is baked. There is debate among New York bagel lovers over whether the bagel should be toasted or not. Visitors can find a good bagel at the H&H or Ess-a-Bagel, or scout around for a good, lesser-known bagel vendor.
- Key Lime Pie in Key West. Associated with southern Florida, Key Lime Pie was one result of Borden’s invention of sweetened condensed milk. Fresh milk was hard to come by in certain places, such as Key West, so someone baked a pie using condensed milk, local key lime juice, egg yolks, and sugar poured over a graham cracker crust and the idea caught on.
- Philly Cheese Steak in Philadelphia. While some variations of this sandwich use provolone cheese and added peppers and onions, the original version was made with grilled, thinly sliced rib eye steak and smothered in neon orange Cheez Wiz. Several restaurants in Philadelphia spar to see who can create the best Philly Cheese Steak sandwich.
- Deep Dish Pizza in Chicago. This pizza put Chicago on the food map with its thick layers of ingredients topped with pizza sauce. No one is sure who created the first one, but the modern version is believed to originated at the restaurant now called Pizzeria Uno on East Ohio Street in 1943.
- Barbecue. If I say one region does it better than another, I’ll probably start a fight among barbecue enthusiasts across the country. North Carolina, Memphis, Kansas City, and Texas each have their own distinct variety. Memphis is known for its pulled pork shoulder slathered in a sweet tomato sauce and served with or without a bun; Kansas City revels in dry-rubbed ribs; Texas loves all things meat, from mesquite-grilled brisket to pulled pork; and North Carolina is all about the whole hog, smoked in a vinegar-based sauce. Barbecue experts each have their own way of slow-roasting and/or grilling the meat, resulting in many tasty ways to have a barbecue.
- Crab Cakes in Maryland. Variations on the crab cake are thought to have been made as long as mankind has been eating seafood. The Maryland version is influenced by English recipes and includes native blue crab, bread crumbs, Worcestershire sauce, and a few binding ingredients before being formed into a patty and fried in butter. There are many varieties, of course, ranging from upscale restaurants to sandwich shops.
- Cheese Curds in Wisconsin Created during the cheese making process just before the cheese is processed into blocks, fresh cheese curds are slightly salty and squeak a bit when you bite into them. Mars’ Cheese Castle in Kenosha is the most popular place to get them.
Taste Some Regional Cooking At Home!
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