Because of the close proximity of Pittsburgh to my hometown (and the fondness it brings me), I will begin in good ole Western Pennsylvania.
Pittsburgh, PA – Primanti Brothers
I’m talking about Primanti Brothers, located in the Strip District of Pittsburgh, PA. Primanti Bros. serves up ginormous sandwiches that are stuffed with coleslaw, french fries and whatever meat/cheese combo (or veggie) you’d like on killer Italian bread. I am a person that thinks bread makes or breaks a sandwich, Primanti’s does no wrong with their delicious, soft slices. Ohhhhhh, what I would do for one of these right now…
New Jersey – The Ripper
Moving East into New Jersey we have found the Ripper. A ripper is a deep fried hotdog, named because the outer skin rips while it ‘s bubbling away in the deep fryer. Yeah… count me in. Really! Your ripper is often adorned with spicy mustard, raw onions and a chili sauce or relish. I, for one, have never met a hot dog (or any encased, tubular meat) that I didn’t like. I do not think the ripper would be an exception. It looks very appetizing.
Apparently, the place to go get one is Rutt’s Hut. Get one. Please, I’d like to live vicariously through you.
Maine – Lobster Roll
Up in the Northeast there is an affinity for seafood. In particular, lobster rolls.
I might catch some flak for this, but I do not care for lobster. Now, that being said, lobster rolls look unbelievably scrumptious to me. For those not in the know, a (true Maine) lobster roll is large chunks of lobster tossed with a touch of mayonnaise on a buttered and toasted hot dog roll. That’s it. There is some variation though that includes chopped celery, scallion or lettuce, but don’t even think of making that variation for a Mainer! You will be mercilessly laughed at, possibly for the rest of your life.
Maryland – Blue Crabs
Since we are talking about crustaceans , lets move into the Baltimore area. Marylanders are widely known for their attraction to blue crabs. Soft shells, hard shells, crab cakes, crab dip… yikes I sound like Bubba Blue! But it’s true, come to Baltimore and find out. When Spring hits, Baltimorians start salivating for their crabs. My mother-in-law is known to eat Old Bay seasoning on saltines in the Winter just to get a little fix, I’m sure she is not alone in doing this.
Picking crabs is an event. It’s eating, drinking, and catching up with friends for hours (because that’s how long it’s going to take you to eat a couple dozen). It’s really a fun time, but get a lesson if you aren’t familiar. Crabs are quite expensive and you don’t want to leave the majority of the meat inside that little bugger.
Chicago, IL – Pizza, Italian Beef & Hot Dogs
Chicago has many food specialties, three of which, I love. Deep dish pizza, Italian beef sandwiches and Chicago-style hot dogs.
Deep dish pizza is a hotly debated item. Some declare that it shouldn’t even be called pizza. Should NY style pizza be called pizza then? I mean, if we are going to get picky, how about the only real pizza is neapolitan pizza from Italy?? Though, I digress…
I loved Chicago deep dish pizza the first time I tried it (which happened to be at Pizzeria Uno). The chunky tomato sauce and gooey cheese was delish. Compared to other pizza styles, the crust is the biggest difference on a Chicago-Style pie. It’s thick and buttery and requires a fork and knife to eat.
Pizza is one of my favorite foods, in any form, so I’m all over this caloric pleasantness.
Chicago dogs. NOM. I try to make these at home, but usually can’t find the poppy seed buns, rendering them mediocre. If you are not familiar with the wonderfulness that is a Chicago dog, let me inform you.
A Chicago hot dog is typically a Vienna beef frankfurter, yellow mustard, white onions, a strange neon-green relish, sport peppers, tomato slices, a dill pickle spear and celery salt, all atop a poppy seed roll. They are superb. Every hot dog I eat now has at least a pickle spear and mustard slathered on top. The list of ingredients comes together flawlessly. If you haven’t tried one, you must find a way to make it happen.
The last stop of our Chicago food tour is the Italian beef sandwich. The Italian beef reminds me of a french dip, served on a nice, sturdy roll (remember, bread makes a sandwich) and loaded with juicy roast beef, the sandwich is then topped with giardiniera, preferably homemade and sometimes dipped in more juice. The juicy meat soaks into the roll making it a sloppy yet delicious meal. The giardiniera really makes this sandwich though. It gives it a nice bite that cuts through the soft roll and meat. Not to be missed, my friends.
Texas – Tex-Mex Food
Texas isn’t all beef.
The close proximity to Mexico has done nothing but wonders for Texas cuisine. Tex-Mex food, yummy! I’ve heard people scoffing at Tex-Mex in the past but it’s not trying to be Mexican food by any standards, it’s Tex-Mex, which is different and very delicious.
Tex-Mex is exactly what it sounds like, a hybrid of Mexican/Texan cooking that was adapted as more Mexicans moved into the United States during the twentieth century. It is quite similar to Mexican food, with a little American influence thrown in. I haven’t traveled down South to try any, but the Tex-Mex I’ve found in other parts of the country has been wonderfully tasty.
New Orleans, LA – King Cake
We have a sweet traditional food from New Orleans next. Not beignets, I’m talking about king cake!
Growing up as a Catholic girl, my first experience with king cake was in my catechism class when I was in grade school. The cake is similar to a brioche and is doused with icing. Generally the cakes are decorated with gold, green and purple colors since they are a festive treat eaten during Mardi Gras and these are the colors of Mardi Gras.
The king cake is baked with a tiny, plastic baby (sometimes Jesus) inside. Whoever is lucky enough to get the slice with the baby inside gets a chipped tooth! Just kidding, they are typically given a small present from the cake baker and also earn the duty of providing the cake at next years celebration.
A very religious cake in nature, the purple represents the passion of Christ, the green represents hope and the gold the rewards of leading a Christian life. If you’re giving up sweets for Lent, this may be the last sweet treat you’ll have for 40 days.
Idaho – Smoked Trout
Up in Idaho you’ll find smoked trout. If you are smoking trout, frequently it will be hot-smoked. Once you hot-smoke something, it is usually safe to eat, cold or heated, since it’s already been cooked in the hot smoker.
Smoking fish and meats began when refrigeration was non-existent. Now, people smoke their meats and fish for the taste factor. Tasty it is.
I can’t imagine a better place to stuff your face with smoked fish than in the Pacific Northwest. As someone who loves to fly fish, I would love to smoke my own trout. My mouth is watering at the thought! Though if you can’t, I bet getting some smoked fish from Idaho will make you happy, it’s such a popular dish there and the quality is likely second to none…
Hawaii – Spam
Crossing the vast Pacific we come to our last regional food find located in the fabulous state of Hawaii. This food item may not have originated in our 50th state but it certainly is more popular there than anywhere else. What am I referring to? Spam. So popular, spam is often dubbed Hawaiian Steak.
Now, call me crazy, but I’ve never eaten spam and very stubbornly plan to keep it that way. I’m sure it tastes just fine and a lot of people enjoy it so I’m not really judging, I’m just a bit picky I guess.
Spam gained its popularity in Hawaii (and other Pacific islands) during WWII. GI’s brought spam with them while stationed on these islands since fresh meat was hard to come by. With the surplus of spam, locals began to enjoy it and the rest is history.
I hope you’ve enjoyed our regional food tour! It has made me quite hungry for all these specialty treats. I know there are many, many more regional favorites. Fill me in on some of your favorites!