22 American Foods You've Never Had
Hopefully we're all familiar, by now, with Chicago-style deep-dish pizza. It's supposedly a regional food, but that's a difficult designation to stand by when there's a Pizzeria Uno franchise in about half of the states in the country (and three in Puerto Rico!). It's become an American food, which, while a noble distinction, opens up the spotlight for even more weird and wonderful hyper-regional foods that are hiding around our great nation. Buckle up your giant barrel of frying oil, folks, because we're going on a tour of America's lesser-known food territories.
Oh, and make sure the lid is secure.
Where you can find it: Wyoming & the Dakotas, mainly
Why deep-fried steak isn't everywhere is a mystery, but we're guessing it's because whoever invented it is in a coma. The process for pitchfork fondue -- which you can get at cowboy cookouts and some restaurants -- is pretty simple. You get some big-ass hunks of meat and a vat of hot oil or lard. Then skewer the meat on said pitchfork and BAM! America.
Chow mein sandwich
Where you can find it: Fall River, MA
One Chinese menu item you might not find outside of this small area in Massachusetts is the chow mein sandwich, which takes chow mein (made with a special type of crispy noodle native to the region) and stuffs it into a bun for an even more portable eating experience.
Where you can find it: Utah
One day, at your funeral from eating too many servings of funeral potatoes, people will eat funeral potatoes, because this communal dish of creamy condensed soup, cheese, onions, garlic, and potatoes (that is typically covered with potato chips or corn flakes) is a staple at some pretty morbid functions in Utah.
Where you can find them: Kentucky
You might think lamb fries are French fries covered with delicious lamb, but apparently, you missed the Chevy Chase not-classic Funny Farm. Because they’re lamb testicles. This is the first in a series of entries on this list that will make it glaringly apparent that Kentucky is a strange place.
Where you can find it: Cincinnati, OH
This oft-maligned dish -- there are some who wouldn’t even consider it chili -- is one of the emblematic foods of Cincinnati locals, many of whom are fiercely proud of it, and many of whom won’t touch it either. It usually consists of a meaty, spiced sauce ladled over spaghetti or a hot dog and topped with a mountain of shredded cheddar cheese and beans.
Where you can find it: Massachusetts
The Fluffernutter is the unofficial state sandwich of Massachusetts, and it combines peanut butter and marshmallow fluff on white bread. You won’t soon forget it, and not just because it’s impossible to get off the roof of your mouth.
Tater tot hotdish
Where you can find it: Minnesota/North Dakota
Stemming from the upper Midwestern trend of naming dishes after their temperature and the vessel in which they’re served, hotdishes are a staple dinner casserole, which usually include creamy condensed soup, cheese, meat, and a starchy delivery system, which, in this case, is tater tots.
Bean hole beans
Where you can find them: Maine
Deep in the often-frigid woods of Maine, three things that are necessary for survival are fire, hearty food, and deep holes in the ground (where they can contain said fire and hearty food). Bean hole beans are the sum of that equation, and their age-old tradition calls for a covered cast-iron pot full of beans, ham, molasses, brown sugar, bacon, and mustard that’s cooked for about 8-10 hours.
St. Louis pizza
Where you can find it: Missouri
Cracker-thin pizza crust can be found all over America, but only in St. Louis do the locals top it with a saccharine tomato sauce and Provel, a unique Velveeta-esque processed cheese product (it’s not legally considered cheese, according to stalwart fan Judah Friedlander) made of Swiss, Provolone, and cheddar.
Taylor ham/pork roll
Where you can find it: New Jersey
This distinctly Jersey pork product goes by two names in the state, but both are synonymous with a salty, usually griddled pork slice that is a fixture on breakfast sandwiches from Hoboken to Cherry Hill and everywhere in-between (that’s a distance of less than 100 miles, but still).
Frog eye salad
Where you can find it: Utah
You might expect to find this dish in a lineup of gross-out bowls on Halloween right next to “real brainz [sic],” but it’s actually a sweet pasta salad that doesn’t contain any actual eyes of any kind, but rather a tiny, round noodle called acini de pepe, pineapple, oranges, marshmallow, eggs, and whipped topping.
Where you can find it: Rochester, NY
Contrary to their name, the garbage plates of Rochester, NY are beautiful, intricately constructed… ah, who are we kidding? They’re messy as all get-out, and can contain pretty much anything from home fries to chicken tenders, fried fish, baked beans, or (and?!) hamburger. And they’re delicious.
Fried brain sandwich
Where you can find it: Parts of Indiana and Missouri
The fried brain sandwich isn’t a misleading moniker like the frog eye salad. This thing actually contains fried brains (usually pig or cow) and is served on rye bread. Hey, if you try it -- at the very least -- you’ll have common ground with our future zombie overlords.
Where you can find it: Texas
The Texan kolache is the logical American successor to the doughy Czech pastries that were often filled with poppy seeds or jam. Ours are filled with bacon, sausages, eggs, cheeses… and also sometimes the original flavors, because, hell, this is a country that loves tradition as much as it loves bucking it.
Where you can find it: Hawaii
This hybrid Japanese-American 7-Eleven delicacy dates back to the use of Spam as rations for troops stationed in Hawaii during World War II. The canned meat is covered lightly in teriyaki sauce, placed atop a pillow of rice, and wrapped with nori seaweed. It's found at pretty much every convenience store on the islands.
Where you can find them: Louisville, KY
This one is just a bunch of oysters rolled into a ball, breaded, and deep-fried. See? What’d I tell you about Kentucky?
Where you can find it: Washington, DC
Our nation’s capital is clogged with pork. And we’re not talking about ineffectual government spending here -- we’re talking about hot dogs. Half-smokes are DC’s signature hot-dog variant, and they’re usually (but not exclusively!) made with a half-pork, half-beef sausage that’s smoked and topped with a deep maroon chili and cheese. You can snag them at Ben’s Chili Bowl, or out of the hands of any of the countless senators and congresspeople who love them (you will be prosecuted for this).
Where you can find it: Louisville, KY
The hot brown will tell you that it’s a sandwich. Don’t believe it, but give it a reassuring pat on the back, down the rest of your mint julep, and eat it anyway. This open-faced mess of turkey, bacon, and cheese-loaded Mornay sauce has capped off plenty a late night at Louisville’s Brown Hotel, and it will continue to do so for generations to come. Just use a fork and knife.
Where you can find it: South Dakota
Chislic is essentially pitchfork fondue in miniature (which is to say, on a normal, human scale) -- small-ish cubes of lamb or beef that are deep-fried, seasoned with garlic, and eaten via toothpicks. Chislic's roots are traced back to the Eastern European-settler population of South Dakota, who ate shashlik (meat cubes) on skewers, rather than toothpicks.
Where you can find them: Louisiana
Boudin blanc -- a traditional French and Cajun sausage made from pork, rice, and spices -- embraces its Southern side in the Acadian regions of Louisiana in the form of boudin balls. The sausage ditches its casings, is rolled in breadcrumbs, and are, of course, deep-fried.
Where you can find it: The Carolinas
As if having delicious BBQ wasn’t enough for the Lowcountry, North Carolina, and Virginia, they went and made even their soups meaty (and occasionally smoky). Brunswick stew is the epitome of that -- a tomato-based amalgam of beans, meat (if you wanna get real authentic, use rabbit… or possum), corn, okra, and other veggies.
Where you can find it: Kentucky
OK, so there isn’t one set recipe… or singular common ingredient... behind the Bluegrass State’s unofficial state dish, but what we do know is this: it’s a stew of meat (frequently mutton!) and the last few dregs of whatever vegetables and legumes are remaining in your refrigerator, and it’s best enjoyed with cornbread.
Adam Lapetina is a Food/Drink staff writer at Thrillist, and has enjoyed many Fluffernutters over the course of his life. Read his musings at @adamlapetina.