What we call “regions” in the United States can be very general at some times (“the West”) and very specific (“Lowcountry South Carolina”) at others, but according to the United States Census Bureau, there are four official statistical regions (Northeast, Midwest, South, West) of the United States, and nine divisions within these areas.
We are here to tell you the foods you absolutely must eat at each one of these key regions of our great country.
While these divisions of regions may work well for the Census Bureau, they’re a little tricky when it comes to mapping out the country for food lovers. Take the West South Central region of the South, for example, which consists of Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Texas. Louisiana alone is home to a very rich, unique culinary culture. You can probably leave Arkansas without eating gumbo, but it would be criminal to do so in New Orleans.
Therefore, for some regions, we chose foods that are typical to multiple states of a particular region and well known around the country, such as clam chowder in New England. However, for others, we zeroed in on particular dishes you can probably only find in one state, such as chislic in South Dakota. Just to keep things interesting, you know.
You might be surprised to learn how many American dishes you probably had no idea even existed. It makes sense, though. So many different cultures have influenced American cuisine. Native American influences can be seen in various regional American cuisines, as can Japanese, German, Spanish, Scandinavian, French, and more.
So take a look at a few different foods you can find across America. Keep in mind that this is just a tiny snippet of the magnitude of what we call “American food.”
1. Northeast (New England): Clam Chowder
There’s a reason so many of America’s 40 Best Seafood Shacks are in New England: nobody does no-frills fried or buttery seafood better than this division of the Northeast. If you’re in Boston or Newport, Rhode Island, enjoy perfectly dense clam chowder at the Barking Crab.
2. Northeast (Mid-Atlantic): Soft Pretzel
Yes, pretzels were made in Europe long before the United States existed, and there are many variations around the world, but the Pennsylvania is where 80 percent of the pretzels in America are baked. You can get hard pretzels anywhere, but you want to eat a large, soft, Philly-style pretzel at Center City Pretzel Co. in Philadelphia for the most authentic experience.
3. Midwest (East North Central): Fried Cheese Curds
In Wisconsin, cheese curds, especially deep-fried cheese curds, are an absolute must for any visitor. Graze in Madison fries the tangy goodness in vodka batter.
4. Midwest (West North Central): Chislic
Not seen too much outside South Dakota, chislic is a dish of cubed red meat (usually beef, mutton, or venison) that’s deep-fried or grilled and served on skewers. (The curious name is an Americanization of shashlik, the Russian word for shish kebab.) Indigo Pallette, and art gallery–cum–live music venue–cum–restaurant in Sioux City, serves a version with sirloin.
5. South (South Atlantic): Shrimp and Grits
Originally a breakfast staple of South Carolina fishermen in the Lowcountry, shrimp and grits is at home on most menus in the South. Go to Rita’s Seaside Grill in Folly Beach, South Carolina, which serves classics like shrimp and grits along with out-of-the-box items like blackened tuna nachos with watermelon pico de gallo.
Check out more of the most iconic regional foods.
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