There are certain dishes you know in your bones, recipes you've made hundreds of times — or watched your grandma make hundreds of times, and happily ate. As we head into the last quarter of the year, and into holiday season, our sentimental connection to these kinds of foods tends to grow.
And those dishes that mean the most to us, that are passed down on crinkled recipe cards, usually have something to do with where you live. Or, at least, where you lived when you were a kid.
This week's issue of Taste explores the idea of regional foods, where they come from and how they get ingrained in our culture so much that even when we move somewhere else, we still crave them. You'll also find ideas for where to locally get some close approximations of certain types of regional foods: Chicago hot dogs, Maryland crab cakes and Buffalo chicken wings.
Whenever we write about these dishes, it tends to cause a stir among our readers. There was the time Times staff writer Brittany Volk got tons of emails in response to her opus on Jersey pork roll, the processed meat her New Jersey family grew up eating. Let us know what you think about our picks, or offer your suggestions for where to get regional food locally, by writing to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Florida is a melting pot of a state, home to folks from all over the country who have strong food feelings for dishes elsewhere. But there are classic Florida dishes. In this story, we talk to Jim Webster, who co-wrote a new book with Mario Batali called Big American Cookbook, which features hundreds of regional dishes from different states. From Florida, there is Key Lime Pie and Devil Crab, "handheld crabby croquettes" that "vendors would hawk" in "bygone days on the streets of Tampa's Ybor City neighborhood." And there is the Fried Grouper Sandwich, the quintessential dish born of the gulf beaches.
Here is what Big American Cookbook has to say about one of our area's most famous dishes:
"Sitting on Clearwater Beach. Facing west. Toes in sand. Sun quickly descending into the far reaches of the Gulf of Mexico. A plastic cup covered in condensation from its frosty contents. If this scene does not also include a Fried Grouper Sandwich, the picture is incomplete and I am unhappy. Be happy. Choose joy. I'll gladly eat these for breakfast any day I can see the magnificent Gulf of Mexico."
Lucky for many of us who live here, that can be every day.