The story of America is best told in food. Today we offer to your attention seven lesser-known culinary traditions from across the country that tell tales of entrepreneurs and enterprising immigrants.
- St. Paul Sandwich: St. Louis, Missouri
The St. Paul sandwich is indigenous to St. Louis, where, in the 1970s, cooks at Chinese restaurants essentially reimagined egg foo yong (a fried egg patty with onion and bamboo shoots) for the new world. The result: an egg foo yong patty and beef, pork, chicken, or shrimp pressed between two slices of white bread. There’s iceberg lettuce, sliced tomatoes, dill pickles, a slather of mayo, and a few other all-American accents in there, too.
- Spam Musubi: Hawaii
Spam Musubi is one of the most popular snacks in Hawaii. It is like a sandwich: Fried spam slices flavored with a soy-sugar sauce are layered on top of (or between) carefully shaped blocks of rice sprinkled with furikake, a Japanese seasoning. Traditionally it’s all wrapped up in nori, but these days, it’s also prepared open-faced.
- Steamed Cheeseburger: Connecticut
This is one of the popular Connecticut dishes. It was introduced in 1959. The burger – a meat patty topped with cheese and cooked in a custom steamer – turned Ted’s Restaurant, an unassuming joint in Meriden, into an institution. Currently the restaurant operates Ted’s Steam Machine, a food truck, and other restaurants caught on, so now you can get steamed cheeseburgers throughout the area.
- Fried Brain Sandwich: Evanston, Illinois
This is the most unusual dish. During the Depression, when the southern Illinois was a center of the meatpacking industry, restaurants and butchers would use cows’ brains as sandwich fillers. Then cooks began using mustard, onions, and pickles to temper the offal flavor. It’s said that the large German population kept the dish on menus in area restaurants to this day, although the outbreak of mad cow disease in the 1980s prompted a switch from cows to pigs.
- Garbage Plate: Rochester
The Garbage Plate was created, as legend goes, at Nick Tahou Hots, that was previously best known for its “hots and potatoes,” a dish involving cured franks and tubers. Once a ravenous University of Rochester student requested a plate with “all the garbage on it”. The short-order cook gave him a pile of good-old American proteins (fried ham, burgers, hot dogs, eggs) and sides (home fries, baked beans, macaroni salad) drowned in ketchup, mustard, hot sauce and a few other surprises. Today more refined versions are served around the city, but your best bet will always be at Nick Tahou.
- Snickers Salad: Iowa
Snickers Salad is a tradition that’s immortalized in church cookbooks from throughout the 20th century. The dish is served in a deep bowl and calls for Granny Smith apples, whipped cream, pudding, and the Snickers candy bar.
- Cornish Pasties: Upper Peninsula, Michigan
In Cornwall in the 1700s, miners would carry pasties down into the local tin mines for sustenance during their 12-hour work days. The half-moon-shaped pocket is filled with spiced meat and veggies (usually turnips) and has a thick pinched crust that makes it easy to handle. The Cornish miners brought the pasty to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula in the early 1800s. In Michigan today, pasties are simply known as Yooper food, and bakeries that specialize in them dot the region.