Florida is known for a lot of things: the “Florida man” news stories, miles of orange groves, and white, sandy beaches. It goes without saying that a state so unique must also have some unique dishes, and that’s very true. If you’re planning to visit Florida, you’ll want to taste some of the flavors that the state has to offer.
One of the best things about Florida is that there are so many different cultural influences on the state. Northern Florida is full of woods, land, small towns, and beaches. Central Florida is popular for having Disney, Universal, and many other theme parks. South Florida is home to Miami, the Everglades, and the Florida Keys.
Because there is so much coastline and fishing is a popular sport in Florida, you’ll find that a majority of this list is made up of seafood dishes. Florida also has a big Spanish influence which is evident in its symbolic dishes.
The Cuban sandwich originated out of Tampa, FL. It gets its name because it was made and eaten by Cuban residents who settled in Ybor City. While something similar was eaten in Cuba for years, the Cuban sandwich as it’s known today wasn’t created until the late 1800s. It caught on quickly and gained popularity amongst workers in cigar factories.
Looking at a Cuban sandwich, you can see the influence of different cultures and consumers. For example, salami was added to the sandwich by Italian bricklayers. They also discovered that laying a hot brick on the sandwich made it taste incredible and pressed it flat, making it easier to eat. As the Cuban, Italian, and German immigrants continued eating the sandwich, they added and removed ingredients to make it what it is today.
Key Lime Pie
Key lime pie was first made in Key West in the 19th century. Because it was made so early, before the invention of refrigeration, a key ingredient in the pie is sweetened condensed milk. The milk stayed good because it’s canned, and added a unique flavor that makes the pie what it is today. You’ll often see key lime pie with a meringue topping, which is made with egg whites, or topped with whipped cream.
While Florida doesn’t have the most gators in the United States, it definitely comes close. That’s probably one of the most unique and representative dishes for the state is gator tail. Usually, gator tail is prepared fried in batter and served as an appetizer or along with other fried game for a meal. Gator meat can be expensive because it’s not accessible to everyone. There is no open hunting season for alligators in Florida, and hunters must obtain a license to harvest them.
Swamp cabbage is also called “heart of palm”, and it’s been eaten for hundreds of years. The leaves and branches of the palm were used in construction and were historically known for being a part of many early forts. In fact, one group of early Americans was able to repel a British army attack because their swamp cabbage fort was so sturdy.
Aside from building, there’s a lot more that makes swamp cabbage unique. It has a high content of iron and contains vitamins A and C, as well as many nutrients. Swamp cabbage isn’t often commercially available, aside from in cans, so you’ll have to meet a true Floridian to help you pull some out of the swamp. It’s usually prepared like collard greens, cut into slices, and stewed with meat and seasoning.
Conch fritters are also known as the “escargot of Florida”. That’s because conch meat is actually a type of snail. It’s usually fried in batter and served with a tartar or aioli dipping sauce. Conch fritters are a delicious, but expensive delicacy. The meat comes from inside a large shell, making it a time-consuming and difficult dish to prepare. But, if it’s prepared and seasoned right, there’s nothing better than some fresh conch fritters!
The dish originates from the Bahamas, but it’s eaten so commonly in the Florida Keys and other parts of the state that it has begun to represent Florida.
Fried Green Tomatoes
Fried green tomatoes are a great representation of southern cooing — taking a food that’s really great for you, and frying it! Southern meals certainly don’t skimp on the batter and oil, and fried green tomatoes are just one great example of this. You can probably gather by the name that the dish is served fried. After frying and draining the excess oil off, the fried tomatoes are usually served with an aioli or remoulade sauce.
It doesn’t get more Florida than Publix and pub subs. The iconic Publix sub sandwich is the chicken tender, which consists of chopping up their deli chicken tenders, slathering on some sauces, and putting them on bread. Beyond the chicken tender, you can get almost any kind of sub that you’d find anywhere else, but they just taste better. There’s just something about a pub sub that you can’t find in any other sandwich shop.
Often served as an appetizer at seafood restaurants, oysters are a love-hate kind of food. If you’ve never tried them, you may be surprised to be served whole, raw oysters for your order. Sometimes oysters are cooked, but true Floridians will tell you that raw, with cocktail sauce, on a Saltine cracker, is the only real way to eat one!
Nicknamed the Winter Strawberry Capital of the World, is Plant City, FL. It’s a smaller town in Hillsborough County, about 15 minutes from the outskirts of Tampa, and just west of Lakeland. Hillsborough County, including Plant City and the surrounding towns and cities, produces 15 percent of the strawberries sold in the United States. The other strawberry capital of the nation is in California, but strawberries don’t grow as well there in the winter. That’s what sets Plant City apart. Almost all of the winter strawberry crop for America is grown in Plant City!
If you visit a local strawberry seller, you’re likely to find some yummy options like strawberry shortcake and strawberry milkshakes on the menu too. There’s no better place than Plant City for finding all of the best strawberry desserts! Every year the city holds the annual “Florida Strawberry Festival”, an 11-day event that occurs during the months of February or March. The event is a fun place to see livestock shows, arts and crafts, and ride carnival rides while eating some delicious strawberry delicacies.
Florida’s Most Symbolic Dishes
|#||Florida Dish||How It’s Usually Made|
|#1||Cuban Sandwich||A pressed sandwich with ham, roasted pork, cheese, and pickles.|
|#2||Key Lime Pie||A tart pie made with Key Limes and topped with meringue or whipped cream.|
|#3||Gator Tail||Gator meat chopped into bite-size pieces and served fried.|
|#4||Swamp Cabbage||The leaves are chopped into small pieces and stewed with meat seasoning.|
|#5||Conch Fritters||Snail meat is removed from the shell and fried.|
|#6||Fried Green Tomatoes||Fresh green tomatoes are sliced and coated in batter, then fried.|
|#7||Publix Subs||Any way you’d like! Try a chicken tender pub sub for a classic Florida dish.|
|#8||Oysters||Raw, halved with a side of cocktail sauce and Saltine crackers.|
|#9||Strawberry Shortcake||Shortcake, strawberry, and whipped cream.|
The photo featured at the top of this post is © pamela_d_mcadams/iStock via Getty Images
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