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Eat Local
May 12, 2009 3:40 AM   Subscribe

Food is just part of the regional culture that's getting neutralized. The national highway system, chain restaurants, and frozen food may have decimated regional delicacies such as Kentucky burgoo, South Carolina perloo, and Wisconsin hoppel poppel but...

... the internet could change that. Here are recipes for most of the dishes mentioned in the article:
Virginia peanut soup, Arkansas cherry bounce, Indiana persimmon pudding, Kentucky burgoo, South Carolina perloo, Wisconsin hoppel poppel, Ohio sauerkraut balls, Vermont sour-milk doughnuts, Korean tacos, and Midwest sour-cream raisin pie.

Bonus: recipes for opossum and squirrel.
posted by twoleftfeet (70 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite

 
Regional food is an interesting mixed bag of "tasty" and "oh gods you eat that?!" - but that is true of most food around the world. I'm reminded of the peahen roasts and pig trotters of my great aunts and uncle's dinner tables as a kid.

Hmpht. A good number of those squirrel recipes are citified. Remove shot? Wuss. My father taught me many of these, using city squirrels - he says they don't taste nearly as good.

One of my great uncles up in central NC used to make snapping turtle casserole for holiday dinners. His recipe involved leaving the turtle, sans lower shell, in the pan whole. I've never seen another one that does that - it was the best thing ever.
posted by strixus at 3:49 AM on May 12, 2009


Sauerkraut balls: best food ever to have with a beer, especially on a cold winter night.
posted by cupcakeninja at 4:01 AM on May 12, 2009


I love the internet as much as anyone, but I don't see how it "saves regional culture". The particular recipes are saved, but at the cost of making them non-regional. The only way to save "regional culture" is to unglobalize, one step of which is dismantling the internet.

Or maybe the regional cultures could be philosophical/tribal rather than geographical. Many online communities have their own cultures already, why not their own cuisines? MeatFilter.
posted by DU at 4:14 AM on May 12, 2009 [3 favorites]


A world in which people basically stay where they were born, so that you can tell which small part of Connecticut anyone comes from by their accent (and their cookery) is not one for which I would actually shed many tears overall - but thanks for the recipes. They themselves are a bit of a mixed bag (In particular: Sugar in bourbon.... No.) but that's all part of the pleasure.
posted by Phanx at 4:19 AM on May 12, 2009


Oh yeah, thanks for the recipes. Although "Korean tacos" kind of proves my point. How does eating Korea's take on Mexico's invention (?) (who themselves are a mix of the Old and New Worlds, btw) constitute "eating local"?
posted by DU at 4:24 AM on May 12, 2009


It is a mischaracterization, in my view, to see this as regional food being neutralized by malign outside forces. Food - by which I mean recipes rather than food production or mass retail - is about as close to a "free" market as you can get: if enough people care about eating the best squirrel dish for miles around, then the person making it make money.

If not, it was never meant to be. Tastes have changed. Maybe beef really is much nicer than squirrel.

Yes, some large players dominate the fast food scene, but nobody's forcing people to go eat there and it is hard to stop competition from appearing. The article kinda makes the same point - the key thing is to make more people actually care about food. There is a generation of Americans who've grown up on homogenous, processed crap (and we Brits aren't far behind, frankly) and I'd love to see the slow food, organic food and local food movements emerge out of their upper middle class enclaves.

I mean, the French and Italians don't all eat pristine artisanal loaves and salad leaves grown by a wrinkly old peasant, but they'd laugh at the idea that regional, unprocessed foods were the preserve of the rich.
posted by MuffinMan at 4:40 AM on May 12, 2009 [4 favorites]


Rant about 'perloo' (more often sold as 'pilau') history deleted. Lemme instead say that just because a tourist can't grab a bowl of chicken bog, it doesn't mean the dish is doomed to extinction.
posted by crataegus at 4:55 AM on May 12, 2009


Are these all native American recipes, or are these dishes localized versions from what was known already elsewhere?

Or, in other words, when or where does the history of this food begin?
posted by ijsbrand at 5:09 AM on May 12, 2009


i don't know what's in those sauerkraut balls, but i'm getting an 'Access Denied by security policy' error.
posted by msconduct at 5:11 AM on May 12, 2009


The authentic regional cooking thing is sort of a emotional hook, but the real meat of the book is to get away from the crap factory processed food and knowing where to eat real food.
posted by stbalbach at 5:20 AM on May 12, 2009


Utah isn't known as a culinary mecca, to say the least. (Unless marshmallows-in-gelatin blow your skirt up.) But we did give the world fry sauce.
posted by Joe Beese at 5:24 AM on May 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


chicken bog

This sounds like the worst geographical feature ever. You're just walking along across the moor, when suddenly the ground turns wet and swampy. You pause, and as the mist clears a little, you see...

...the chickens. They stand stock-still in the chilly ankle-deep water, staring at you with one beady eye. Then suddenly, as one, they all pull knives.

I...I probably need more sleep than I'm getting lately.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 5:26 AM on May 12, 2009 [25 favorites]


New Orleans Cajun and Creole cuisine is in no danger of being extinguished. This is because it is awesome. People love to eat it, and the more authentic it gets, the better it tastes.

Here in RI, we have coffee milk, cabinets, clam cakes, stuffed quahogs (aka stuffies), johnny cakes (three regional varieties), chourico, linquicia, gravy samplers, gaggers, saugies, oriental spaghetti (actually transplanted Guamese cuisine), portuguese sweet bread, French Meat Pie, and strip-pizza. This is all in a state roughly the size of a Wal-Mart parking lot, where French-Canadian, Narragansett, Italian and Portuguese cultures battle it out through food.

Just because you can't get this stuff outside of a hole-in-the-wall diner, clam shack or bakery doesn't mean local cuisine is dead and TGI Fridays rules everything. It means the locals cook this stuff for themselves, mostly... if they're going to eat out at a fancy restaurant, it's because they want something different.
posted by Slap*Happy at 5:33 AM on May 12, 2009 [4 favorites]


I drove from Seattle to LA to Orlando. So many towns that I pulled into seemed like carbon copies of each. Wal-mart, Denny's, and Exxon - that has become the American land-scape.
posted by Flood at 5:41 AM on May 12, 2009


How does eating Korea's take on Mexico's invention (?) (who themselves are a mix of the Old and New Worlds, btw) constitute "eating local"?

Have you ever been to LA?

I'm thinking of a certain few intersections, say, Western Ave and Venice Blvd - where that's about as local as you're going to get. With all those burrito joints rubbing all up on those Korean BBQ joints along Western I can't say I'm surprised at all.
posted by loquacious at 5:52 AM on May 12, 2009


well, i thought i had something to say, but i think a diet of chainshop and fast food has dulled my mind and my palette.
posted by kitchenrat at 5:52 AM on May 12, 2009


I drove from Seattle to LA to Orlando. So many towns that I pulled into seemed like carbon copies of each. Wal-mart, Denny's, and Exxon - that has become the American land-scape.

Really? Did you use the interstate? If so, there's your problem right there. Blue highways...back roads...that's where you still find the dives and diners. The homogenous stuff pops up near highways because they server people passing through and the real estate is hugely expensive.
posted by spicynuts at 6:00 AM on May 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


Those interested in exploring regional food and its survival may want to check out Alton Brown's specials Feasting On Asphalt, wherein he picks a road (say, the road following the Mississippi up to the source, or Rt. 66, or some other two-lane-highway type of road) and follows it, seeking out the mom-and-pop restaurants and regional foods along the way. He is a big advocate of preserving regional food himself.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:03 AM on May 12, 2009 [3 favorites]


A world in which people basically stay where they were born, so that you can tell which small part of Connecticut anyone comes from by their accent (and their cookery) is not one for which I would actually shed many tears overall
As a kid, pepper was pretty spicy in my family. Spaghetti was served with a watery meat sauce and grated cheese from a cardboard box. Mum cooked fish the way she cooked chops, well done on a broiler (well, under the griller for us aussies).
My kids eat a fair green curry (well, a little more palm sugar than we got in Thailand) and their mother just rolled them some vegetarian sushi to take to school in the morning, plus they get the BBQs and roasts that were the good things when I grew up.
I want some folk to stay put, maintain the heritage foods so I can pillage it. Here in Australia, for example, we don't have very good Mexican food. I need those guys to keep at it until we get past our local versions of Taco Bell.
I've never had fried chicken that wasn't from KFC or an imitation, but when I do get to the American South I damn well insist on trying some cooked by an eighty year old who has never left Louisiana!
posted by bystander at 6:13 AM on May 12, 2009


DU, as a whining vegetarian, I'd much rather see FetaMilter than MeatFilter.
posted by davemee at 6:17 AM on May 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


Interesting...I just read Two For the Road by the Sterns.

I don't know about the Internet "saving" regional food, but it helps you find it. My recent trip to New Orleans (and, hopefully, my future trip to London) was built on food recommendations from locals via Chowhound and AskMeFi. I just printed everything and made my own guidebook. (Since I don't have one o' them newfangled iPhones.)
posted by JoanArkham at 6:22 AM on May 12, 2009


FetidFilter
posted by telstar at 6:26 AM on May 12, 2009


I had a neighbor when I was a child. Her name was Lottie. She was born in the mid 1880s and in her early 90s then. This was in a rural hardscrabble farming area nestled in the the Alleghenies portion of the Appalachian mountain range. I was born just after the timber and coal industries collapsed and though the cricks were all sulphur red, the area still had a bit of a reputation for "authentic regional culture." I remember asking Lottie when I was about 4 or 5 to tell me about the good old days.

Her response was what "good old days?" She said they ate rancid butter on stale bread. They only ate fresh beef when the cow couldn't be worked anymore. Her only childhood memories were of working. She told me that I didn't know how good I had it that I could go down to the supermarket, reach into a refrigerated case for fresh milk, have the money to pay for it, and take it back to my well lit home. In fact, my entire childhood there until we moved to the city was filled with tales of sustenance living.

These tales were good training. My father, a carpenter, got caught up on the wrong side of a labor dispute and was blacklisted from union work for a decade. For long stretches, we bought milk, egg noodles, and round steak that my great uncle, who was a butcher, sold to us near his cost. We had a garden for everything else. Both my parents have long family histories in the area and big recipe books filled with traditional Pennsylvania Deutsch and Scots-Irish dishes. But those take time to make, money to buy the ingredients, and the will to put better nutrition over any number of other important but competing needs when families live on the margins of poverty.

So, I appreciate classic regional dishes and artisanal foods as much as the next middle class consumer. I really, really do. And I've know plenty of poor country people who eat very well. And I've taken up making the traditional dishes that I grew up with, but rarely got eat because there were simply too many other things to do than prepare them, particularly when we had the convenience of supermarkets.

But, I also believe that the golden regional culinary fabric that people tend to wax nostalgically about is as much myth as it is reality. Most people have eaten what they had on hand to eat. They did the best with what they had and prepared it in a way that they got the most use from it. We eat these things today and call it something like "regional flavor," and lament that they change with the times, but for the people lived these dishes, it was also about just getting by in the best way possible. And there is a lot of pride to be had in getting by in tough times.

Time to go pickle some cabbage and eggs.
posted by mrmojoflying at 6:32 AM on May 12, 2009 [16 favorites]


And yet, no one outside of Buffalo can make chicken wings. They're on restaurant menus all over the place, these rubbery things that have no relationship to chicken wings in Buffalo, other than that they're shaped the same.

Chicken wings have to be defrosted first. Also, they take forever to cook--longer than you'd think, twenty to thirty minutes. And you have to deep fry like you're not afraid to die.

Frank's hot sauce and butter. That's it. I can't think of another food item with such simple components that gets violated so routinely. Maybe poor old Caesar salad.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 6:41 AM on May 12, 2009 [3 favorites]


And you have to deep fry like you're not afraid to die.

Wanted to add: the sound it makes is deafening. It sounds like giant popcorn kernels popping in a cathedral. There's always a point when I do this where I really am a little frightened, but that's the price you pay.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 6:46 AM on May 12, 2009


Everytime an out-of-towner gets the out of towner below par service and food special; another chain opens a new store, and delivers consistent service and product w/out regard to race/creed/color/appearance/accent/etc. Travellers aren't eating at chains because the food is good; it is because it is reliable.

Regional cusine can be great. Just don't tell me whole fried fish and undercooked chicken is a regionalism. Negative as it is; the service, quality, and consistency issues are what continues to bedevil 'regional' food services. When these simple things are mastered; the chains will be having competition for business again.
posted by buzzman at 6:47 AM on May 12, 2009


I think that, by making people aware of regional foods that they might otherwise never have known about, and getting people to go out and try things rather than sticking to chain restaurants, the Internet can have a positive impact on local food and preserving local culture.

I do a lot of travel, mostly business travel on the U.S. East Coast. I suspect that were it not for the easy ability to research various kinds of local cuisine — find out what an area I'm headed to is known for, and where to get the best examples of local cuisine — I'd probably end up eating at TGIF a lot more. It can be difficult when you're basically airdropped into an unfamiliar area to know what's good and what isn't, and I think that uncertainty leads people to either stick to what they know, or to pick something more or less at random which may not be the best example of local food and then judge it unfairly.

Although I suppose a web site like Yelp really isn't all that different in terms of function from the old AAA tourbooks, there's definitely more of a potential for "long tail" content: lots of restaurants that wouldn't make it into a tourbook get rated or at least listed on Yelp, and there are often multiple, extensive reviews while a tourbook would give you a paragraph or less. I see a lot of potential for the Internet to help expose interested travelers to the best of local culture and cuisine in various areas.
posted by Kadin2048 at 6:49 AM on May 12, 2009


Joe Beese: Fry Sause FTW! Never had it before I moved to eastern WA, think it's the best thing for fries, ever. (even better than high-quality mayo, which I was introduced to in Europe 20 years ago)

Flood:I drove from Seattle to LA to Orlando. So many towns that I pulled into seemed like carbon copies of each. Wal-mart, Denny's, and Exxon - that has become the American land-scape.

Oh, you completely missed out on the Texas Small Town Starter Kit, then. It contains a Dairy Queen, a small Baptist or CoC church, and a gas station. Put these three up at an intersection in the middle of nowhere, and two weeks later you'll have a town of 300 people living there.

I truly miss driving into new territory in the US and visiting a local grocery store and finding all these REALLY peculiar brands of things. Sodas heretofore unsampled, new sorts of baked goods or snack foods or whatever... it was all new and different and worth trying... sometimes I'd find myself loading up the car with a bunch of something because it was excellent and needed to be shared.

Nowadays, the only truly regional thing I find is dairy companies, like brands of ice cream or whatever. Everything else is homogenized. So a good portion of the thrill of driving around the country has disappeared. And in only 20-25 years, too. I'm sure it was even more interesting longer ago, but I wasn't driving then. :)
posted by hippybear at 6:51 AM on May 12, 2009


Scrapple will never die.

No. Really. I'm pretty sure it's still alive.
posted by greekphilosophy at 6:54 AM on May 12, 2009 [4 favorites]


FYI...Just because someone tacked a place name onto the name of a dish doesn't necessarily mean it's a genuine dish enjoyed by denizens of that region. A lot of it, at least these days, seems to be as much foodie trend-mongering as it is any actual traditional regional gastronomy.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:57 AM on May 12, 2009


Fry sauce = salsa golf? Awesome! I must remember this if I am ever in Utah.
posted by JoanArkham at 6:58 AM on May 12, 2009


I have been compulsively taking road trips since the late 90's and I totally agree, the landscape has been overrun with chain restaurants in the last 10 years or so. Sometimes it bothers me, and I miss the "local flavour." Other times I am grateful to be able to pull in and get food I know is vegetarian from a kitchen I am reasonably certain has been cleaned recently and has only a few roaches in it. Standardization can have benefits, but at the cost of individuality.

Locally I only go to independent restaurants, but I know which ones are clean, and which ones are not. When I am out of town and am only going to eat somewhere once, the risk/reward ratio is skewed toward the chain restaurant when I am merely hungry, and not feeling adventurous. So, on the road I usually go chain, at my destination I usually go local. Oddly enough at tourist areas the independent restaurants are cleaner and have better food than their roadside counterparts more often than not.
posted by Antidisestablishmentarianist at 6:59 AM on May 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


In a generation or so, when we have run out of oil, when the world is so hot that the only place wheat will grow is near the Arctic Circle, when there are no fish left to eat in the ocean, and fresh water will be rationed by the spoonful, people will look back at this time and say "Those lousy bastards did this to us" as they eat their "regional cuisine" of weed soup and government-issued protein cubes.
posted by briank at 7:06 AM on May 12, 2009


The national highway system, chain restaurants, and frozen food...

I drove from Seattle to LA to Orlando. So many towns that I pulled into seemed like carbon copies of each. Wal-mart, Denny's, and Exxon - that has become the American land-scape.

I call shenanigans on all of the above. Or at least, significant hyperbole. This whole notion that "America is nothing but bland sameness" is lazy pseudo-intellectual shorthand that, aside from being pretentious, is demonstrably untrue, particularly when it comes to food.

You can eat very well all over the U.S. without ever stepping into a fast food joint or national chain (though you're also allowed to like these too). Someone who has driven from Seattle to LA to Orlando and not found anything regional, independent, or just plain delicious must have ordered every meal from their driver's seat.

If anything, we're experiencing a real renaissance for foodies in the U.S. at every point in the price spectrum. This whole argument that our cuisine has been "decimated" by homogenization is a straw man -- and terribly out of date. You can go to any sizable city or town in the U.S. and find wonderful places to eat, serving at least some things you may not have had (or had that good) anywhere else. Maybe they are local to that region, maybe they are imported from other cultures outside our borders -- but they're there, and they're everywhere.

Not only has the Internet helped interesting food survive by spreading information to every corner of the globe, but even GPS is helping erode the dominance of the interstate. I'm as much a fan of driving 75mph for a few hundred miles without interruption to get where I'm going, but turning off the highway and finding something interesting to eat is, thanks to technology, easier than ever.

To extend this rant like old man Simpson, the whole notion of "authentic" cuisine is meaningless. Nothing is authentic, and everything is. Seek out food you love, and if it matters to you, that is sourced or prepared in ways that you value. But drop the pretense that there is any "pure" cuisine which is not a mongrel of influences filtered through many cultures, times, and places.
posted by thebordella at 7:07 AM on May 12, 2009 [13 favorites]


And yet, no one outside of Buffalo can make chicken wings.

And no one inside of Buffalo can make anything else. Bleah.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 7:12 AM on May 12, 2009



And no one inside of Buffalo can make anything else.



Untrue, they are among the world leaders in foods-that-can-kill you. I'm surprised they didn't come up with fried cheese.

I gain five pounds just going there for the weekend. The staggering amount of beer my people consume kills me on its own. I think I go there and succumb to a death urge or something.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 7:18 AM on May 12, 2009


I've considered (and may still post) a FPP relating to all things tenderloin, but a good friend of mine has been documenting his experiences chasing down pork loin sandwiches around the backroads (and cities) of Iowa for some time at Des Loines.

There are arguments that that particular sandwich has been invented or done better elsewhere, but you'd have to show me particularly good evidence to have me believe it.
posted by mikeh at 7:19 AM on May 12, 2009


thebordella: I don't think anyone is disputing that quality, non-chain restaurants exist across the country. But it is much LESS likely now that, say, entering a specific region of the country, that you will find a local twist on the food there which you cannot find elsewhere.

A case in point, my hometown of Las Cruces, NM. When I left there a decade or more ago, it was difficult to swing a cat without hitting some local eatery which served excellent mexican food, nearly always with a green chile component, as southern NM is known for having perhaps the best green chile in the world.

Now, a lot of places have gone out of business since then, or have changed their menu. And there is an entire new subdivision which has gone in which looks exactly like every other iteration of the same thing I see everywhere -- Best Buy, Red Lobster, Red Robin, Chain X, Chain Y... The result is, less local variety availability because traffic is diverted from what used to be busy local establishments to the mass market chains. And while a chain has the resiliency of scale behind it, it doesn't take a large drop in customer traffic to really adversely affect a little hole-in-the-wall mexican food restaurant.

This is one example of one place I know intimately from my past. I'm sure the same story is playing out all over the country. It isn't that it's impossible to find local places, it is that the localness is gone or subdued.
posted by hippybear at 7:23 AM on May 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


I've never had a problem at all finding regional takes on food.

When I've been in the Midwest, I've found everything to be utterly boring and devoid of anything resembling flavor. An example: mashed potatoes were literally just mashed potatoes. Everything has gravy, or the option of gravy.

When I've been in the Northeast, I've found a lot more cream and butter based dishes, and a lot more seafood. Chowders, bakes, etc.

When I've been in the deep South, I find more of the kinds of food I grew up with. Collards, black-eyed peas, okra. Things that people pretty much make fun of up North.

It is incredibly difficult to get good Mexican food outside of the Southwest US. Good Mexican can be had from Texas clear to California...and each state in the stretch does it a bit differently. Mexican food up North is, by and large, a travesty.

BBQ is incredibly regional. Is it pork or is it beef brisket? How is it smoked? Is it brined? Sauced?

Sweet tea is a Southern thing. And your chances of getting good, properly made sweet tea outside of the south are vanishingly small.

Both Texas and Pennsylvania were primarily settled by Germans, and excellent German food can be had in both...but each has evolved independently since the time of settlement, and there are marked regional differences. Texas German food, for example, will have more pepper and be more heavily spiced than it's Northern cousin, though both are equally meritorious.

And these are just a few examples.
posted by kaseijin at 7:39 AM on May 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


Mid-west: I'll have an open faced roast beef sandwich, extra chewy. With gravy.
posted by buzzman at 7:54 AM on May 12, 2009


hippybear: While I agree with you, I think you're still sort of missing the point a little bit. What's New Mexico's regional cuisine? While I'm not from there, my girlfriend sure is and my dad went to grad school there, and I can tell you that they absolutely rave about how much they miss their chiles. New Mexican cuisine, as I know it, is just about as different as you can get from Mexican and Tex-Mex while having similar flavor profiles -- and it's all based around those chiles.

Regionalism is still alive and kicking in this country, for better or for worse. When I moved to central Texas last August, I encountered loads of weird dishes I'd never even heard of growing up in the DC suburbs. I'm still finding out about odd, very local specialties that I didn't even know were peculiar to this region -- the fusion of Mexican and German food has wrought some interesting (and delicious!) combinations over the last century or two.

In Virginia, we always had Brunswick stew when I was a kid. I don't know how common it was, but I always thought of it as a fairly local food. It was sort of an odd mishmash of a stew, with corn, lima beans, and shredded chicken. I thought it was gross -- a big bowl of stringy chicken glop -- but I also realized that it was a part of the culinary heritage of the place that I lived.

I can understand why some regional cuisines would be dying. But as long as there are people around that love where they live and are interested in preserving the local character and history of the place, I think that regional cuisines can last for probably a lot longer than you would expect. It just takes a lot of hard work and determination, both on the part of cooks and on the part of patrons, to cook and eat great local food based on local ingredients.
posted by malthas at 7:59 AM on May 12, 2009


malthas: but you missed what I said... it's MORE DIFFICULT NOW to find that regional cuisine in southern NM than it was 10 years ago. Much more so. It isn't that it's GONE completely, but that it's obviously fading out. And in Las Cruces, certainly, I can easily link the rise of the very new commercial subdivision which contains many many chain restaurants with the decline in the restaurants which I loved going to when I lived there 10+ years ago.
posted by hippybear at 8:03 AM on May 12, 2009


I'm from north Jersey. I'm pretty sure there's no regional culture here to be nostalgic about.
posted by lullaby at 8:08 AM on May 12, 2009


One person's inauthenticity is the next person's fusion cuisine. Take my home town's regional dish, the Southern-meets-Chinese cashew chicken.

Without an earlier form of globalization Italian food wouldn't have tomatoes and Thai food wouldn't have chili peppers. Foods die and are reborn. It's okay.
posted by Bookhouse at 8:11 AM on May 12, 2009 [3 favorites]


North Jersey? Taylor ham. I'm not a huge fan, but you can't get it around here so I sometimes indulge when I go back to The Motherland.
posted by JoanArkham at 8:19 AM on May 12, 2009


hippybear: Okay, yeah, I did miss that -- I was caught up in thinking about delicious enchiladas and green chile cheeseburgers. If New Mexican cuisine dies out in Las Cruces, of all places, it may be in for a world of hurt. On the other hand, Las Cruces may not be representative of what's going on in the rest of NM... I don't know. But I do know that I'll try to eat lots of delicious local food when I go to Albuquerque later in the summer for a couple of weeks. That's the best I can do, seeing as I don't live there. Wish I could do more.
posted by malthas at 8:23 AM on May 12, 2009


I'm from north Jersey. I'm pretty sure there's no regional culture here to be nostalgic about.

Of course you do! You just don't notice it cause it's all around you. Most of the Mid-Atlantic regional foods (bagels, pizza, lobster, deli meats, chowder, ect) have jersey-centric variants.

New Jerseys has a long obsession with Hot Dogs and produces some of the best in the nation. Try to get a decent deep-fried hot dog anyplace else.

Diner cuisine, real rib-sticking diner cuisine, is still strong in the Garden State and my family would say "we're looking for a Jersey Diner" when on the road to denote a cheap place you could get huge amounts of meat and Italian-American staples. It's also the only place I've seen "Disco Fries" French Fries with melted cheese and gravy, called that.

Pork Rolls, usually fired, also called Taylor Ham, are so associated with New Jersey that I've seen at least two places call a fried pork roll sandwich a "Jersey".

of course, these days New Jersey is home to some of the best Indian food on the East Coast. So there.
posted by The Whelk at 8:27 AM on May 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


If anything, we're experiencing a real renaissance for foodies in the U.S. at every point in the price spectrum. This whole argument that our cuisine has been "decimated" by homogenization is a straw man -- and terribly out of date. You can go to any sizable city or town in the U.S. and find wonderful places to eat, serving at least some things you may not have had (or had that good) anywhere else. Maybe they are local to that region, maybe they are imported from other cultures outside our borders -- but they're there, and they're everywhere.

Quoted for truth. Yes, I see lots of brass'n'fern places everywhere. If what you want is TGI Friday's or Applebee's, you can have it. But I also see lots of independent eateries. I think Americans are eating out more than ever before and the restauants have multiplied to fill the need.

If you stick to the interstates and highways, you are mostly going to find bland options that are the same as in the last 30 towns you were in. But if you make the smallest effort, you will find small local chains and independent restaurants with a lot more variety in both menu and quality. Speaking just to the area I know best, Atlanta metro, the variety and tastiness of food available at independent restaurants has grown tremendously in the last 20 years with the large influx of immigrants as well as folks moving here from all over the country. If you want good Indian, Japanese, Mexican, Peruvian, deli, Ethiopian, Cuban, Chicago pizza, Tex-Mex, German, Greek, Bosnian, whatever, you can find it here. It's a little harder to find the good Southern homestyle cooking and barbecue, but it's still here for those who seek it.

And there's always the internet and recipes for the stuff that's hard to find in restaurants, or only in very particular locales, like ramps and eggs, stuffed nutria butt, and jojos.
posted by notashroom at 8:31 AM on May 12, 2009


kaseijin: You say that you've never had a problem finding regional takes on food, yet you characterize all food in the Midwest as "devoid of anything resembling flavor." I live in Chicago, and I could point you to many places that would happily disabuse you of this notion. (I would start with Hot Doug's. Here, it doesn't get more regional than the Chicago hot dog, and they take it to the next level.)
posted by evisceratordeath at 8:33 AM on May 12, 2009


...you can tell which small part of Connecticut anyone comes from by their accent (and their cookery)...

I grew up in just to the east of the town where they invented Steamed Hamburgers, between that & The River. What is my home town?

My mother grew up in Vermont in the nineteen-teens & -twenties. She described taking freshly-made maple syrup, still hot from the boiling, & dribbling it on snow outside the sugar shack. It would instantly cool & congeal, & she would scoop up a handful, snow & all.

=sigh= It was a world in which not only did one make one's own genuine maple syrup from one's own trees, but where the snow was safe to eat.
posted by Forrest Greene at 8:38 AM on May 12, 2009


Jojos are hard to find? The only hard part is figuring out what the locals call 'em.
posted by box at 8:42 AM on May 12, 2009


evisceratordeath: Oh, I'm not saying that there aren't places where flavorful food can be had. Chicago-style hot dogs and deep dish pizza are certainly fantastic. As are butter burgers which, I believe, hail from Wisconsin. Buffalo wings are another example.

In my experience, however, the bulk of Midwestern food I have had has been boring and bland when compared against food from other regions. To qualify, my experience with such is largely in Ohio.
posted by kaseijin at 8:46 AM on May 12, 2009


" I’m sick of eating hoagies! I want a grinder, a sub, a foot-long hero! I want to LIVE, Marge! Won’t you let me live?”
posted by The Whelk at 8:48 AM on May 12, 2009


...You know, there actually is a regional food item from Eastern Connecticut that I've thought of --

If you say the words "Shady Glen Cheeseburger" to someone from Connecticut, and their eyes glaze over happily, the either lived in or spent a good deal of time in the eastern portion of that state.

There ain't NOTHING like a Shady Glen Cheeseburger anywhere in the country. I have learned this.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:53 AM on May 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


kaseijin: Fair enough. I don't doubt the existence of a general Midwestern trend towards blandness, but having grown up in the Midwest, I do know that there are plenty of exceptions.

As for Ohio, I loved Swenson's, but I can't vouch for Ohio cuisine in general.
posted by evisceratordeath at 8:58 AM on May 12, 2009


Jojos are hard to find? The only hard part is figuring out what the locals call 'em.

They are, here. Every now and again I can find them in a real out-of-the-way place but for the most part, I have to make them if I want them.
posted by notashroom at 8:58 AM on May 12, 2009


And no one inside of Buffalo can make anything else. Bleah.

Nonsense. There's also Mighty Taco.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:18 AM on May 12, 2009


We used to have Swenson's in Denton, Tx, many years ago. It was good stuff, I concur.
posted by kaseijin at 9:32 AM on May 12, 2009


There's also Mighty Taco.

If the taste of shredded newsprint, paste and hot sauce is to your liking, sure. I guess my point was that if the Buffalo wing is the symbol of the best regional cuisine in Western NY, it is a reputation richly deserved. The food is terrible here. But there sure is plenty of it.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 9:43 AM on May 12, 2009


Even the fast-food chains aren't as homogenous as I once thought. Good luck finding an In-N-Out-style burger or a Miguel's Jr.-style bean, rice, & cheese burrito east of Arizona.
posted by designbot at 10:13 AM on May 12, 2009


EmpressCallipygos asserts: "There ain't NOTHING like a Shady Glen Cheeseburger anywhere in the country..."

Currently living twenty minutes away, I can testify she speaks truly. It's the cheese. Save room for a hot fudge sundae. The grilled ham 'n' cheese is true comfort food, too.
posted by Forrest Greene at 10:15 AM on May 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


"Sure, you can drive down a Virginia highway and get Philly cheese steaks, New England clam chowder, buffalo wings and St. Louis-style ribs, but it's almost impossible to find the peanut soup the Old Dominion State was famous for."

Oh, c'mon, it's not that hard. I live in Virginia and have had peanut soup twice (once in my tiny rural town, even) and I wasn't even looking for it!

Also, what Virginia calls a Philly cheesesteak is an abomination.
posted by geeky at 10:35 AM on May 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


kuujjuarapik, you need to recalibrate your sarcasm detector.

Though I kind of like Mighty Taco in the same way that one might like other awful food, and their ads are amusingly aware of their prime clientele.

And soon Wegman's will start having the local corn that was growing yesterday.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:06 AM on May 12, 2009


Even the fast-food chains aren't as homogenous as I once thought. Good luck finding an In-N-Out-style burger or a Miguel's Jr.-style bean, rice, & cheese burrito east of Arizona.

My daughter and I have been driving to the Pacific Northwest every summer since we left there in 2002. We hit the first Taco Time and Burgerville we see. Not the best food in the region by a long shot, but a gustatory signal that we're almost there.
posted by pernoctalian at 11:08 AM on May 12, 2009


kuujjuarapik, you need to recalibrate your sarcasm detector.

For that I need an extended stay in my nasty hometown. The detector is totally out of whack from its everyday exposure to this nice, mid-westy earnestness.
But, yeah, they do grow good food here, they just don't cook it anywhere. Seasonal menu changes are just too challenging for the clientele.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 11:36 AM on May 12, 2009


It is incredibly difficult to get good Mexican food outside of the Southwest US. Good Mexican can be had from Texas clear to California...and each state in the stretch does it a bit differently. Mexican food up North is, by and large, a travesty.

Maybe ten years ago that was still true. It's not anymore, not as Mexicans have settled in a greater number of northern cities and towns. My neighborhood in South Philly has phenomenal Mexican food, thanks to an influx of guys from Puebla running little taquerias for the Mexican community (and the rest of the grateful neighborhood.) I'll pit Taquito de Puebla's tacos al pastor on 9th Street against what you've got anytime.
posted by desuetude at 12:35 PM on May 12, 2009


That sauerkraut ball recipe is completely bogus. Cream cheese? REALLY? No. Sausage? noooo. You squeeze all the juice out of a bag of sauerkraut, mix in some chopped onion and a little garlic and an egg, plus a bit of flour (think potato pancakes) and a cup or more of totally shredded to hell ham (Mom takes all the bits off of any holiday ham and puts them in the food processor til they are very very fine), mix it up, make it into golfball-sized or a little bit smaller balls, roll it in breadcrumbs and fry the hell out of them. Sprinkle white vinegar on top when you're done.

Oh man. I gotta go call my mom now. I'm hungry.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 12:53 PM on May 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


Claiming that good regional cuisine is dying because one traveled only along the interstates and ate only at McDonald's and Applebee's is like claiming there is no good American beer after trying only Coors, Miller, and Budweiser.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 8:22 PM on May 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


Aren't we just concerned here about preserving authentic (made with TLC, developed over time, etc) as opposed to "local" food qua local? We're not really saying that one should only eat good chicken wings in upstate New York, or cheesesteaks in Philadelphia, or peanut soup in Virginia?
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 10:31 PM on May 13, 2009


EmpressCallipygos asserts: "There ain't NOTHING like a Shady Glen Cheeseburger anywhere in the country..."

Currently living twenty minutes away, I can testify she speaks truly. It's the cheese. Save room for a hot fudge sundae.


And a milkshake.

...Wow. Is it possible to get homesick for a restaurant?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:17 AM on May 15, 2009


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