9 Food Dishes That Are Absolute Symbols of Florida

Written by Jaydee Williams
Published: September 9, 2023
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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. 

Cuban Sandwich

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.

Homemade Traditional Cuban Sandwiches

Cuban sandwiches are made with ham, roasted pork, salami, pickles, and an aioli sauce.

©bhofack2/iStock via Getty Images

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.

Key Lime Pie. Classic traditional American dessert favorite. Key lime pie, raw mixture made with the juice from Key West lime juice, condensed milk sugar and eggs poured into graham cracker crust.

Classic key lime pie is made with sweetened condensed milk because when the dish was first invented there was not any refrigeration available so bakers couldn’t use regular milk as easily.

©Marie Sonmez Photography/Shutterstock.com

Gator Tail

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.

Fried alligator with chili garlic mayonnaise

Gator tail is usually served fried in small pieces with a mayonnaise-based sauce.

©Victoria Avvacumova/iStock via Getty Images

Swamp Cabbage

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.

cabbage palmetto

The cabbage palm has to be cut down to harvest the “heart” that’s inside of the trunk. Most swamp cabbage comes from trees that are around 8-10 feet tall.


Conch Fritters

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. 

Conch fritters

Conch fritters are usually served fried with an aioli, mayonnaise-based sauce, or cocktail sauce.

©&#169 Getty Images/Stockbyte via Getty Images

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. 

High slices of green tomato coated in corn meal, frying in oil in a cast iron skillet odn an electric stove.

Fried green tomatoes always taste best when they are freshly cooked and served with a yummy dipping sauce.

©Zigzag Mountain Art/Shutterstock.com

Publix Subs

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. 


It’s hard to say why pub subs are so inexplicably delicious, but you’ll have to try one to find out!

©badmanproduction/iStock via Getty Images


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!

Oysters close-up. A dozen of raw oysters on a platter

Oysters are best when served fresh, raw, halved, with optional cocktail sauce and Saltine crackers.


Strawberry Shortcake

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. 

Strawberry Short Cake Made with Angel Food Cake and Strawberry Sauce

Strawberry shortcake is usually made with angel food cake, fresh strawberries in sauce, and whipped cream on top!

©pamela_d_mcadams/iStock via Getty Images

Florida’s Most Symbolic Dishes

#Florida DishHow It’s Usually Made
#1Cuban SandwichA pressed sandwich with ham, roasted pork, cheese, and pickles.
#2Key Lime PieA tart pie made with Key Limes and topped with meringue or whipped cream.
#3Gator TailGator meat chopped into bite-size pieces and served fried.
#4Swamp CabbageThe leaves are chopped into small pieces and stewed with meat seasoning.
#5Conch FrittersSnail meat is removed from the shell and fried.
#6Fried Green TomatoesFresh green tomatoes are sliced and coated in batter, then fried.
#7Publix SubsAny way you’d like! Try a chicken tender pub sub for a classic Florida dish.
#8OystersRaw, halved with a side of cocktail sauce and Saltine crackers.
#9Strawberry ShortcakeShortcake, 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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About the Author

Jaydee Williams is a writer at AZ Animals where her primary focus is on gardening, mammals, and travel. She has over 5 years of experience in writing and researching and holds a Master's Degree in English from the American College of Education, which she earned in 2019. A central Florida native, Jaydee loves being on the water, playing music, and petting her cat, Beans.

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