Before Florida started evolving into a bona fide gastronomic destination, one respected by eaters and chefs alike, when one used the word food in the same sentence as The Sunshine State, one of two things may have come to mind -- oranges and early bird. And while both still play a very important role in the state's reputation, pop culturally or otherwise, there's a lot more to Florida food than just citrus and $3.99 prime rib, and as the locavore craze continues in which people prefer to eat or cook with only local ingredients, the following list of foods indigenous to the state can be considered the holy grail for Florida gourmands. If it's true Florida cuisine you are looking for, these are the ingredients you'll want to have, whether in some fancy, five star fusion restaurant or a hands on sea shanty with ice cold beer, paper napkins, and plastic cutlery.
- Key lime
- Hearts of palm
- Passion fruit
- Spiny lobster
- Stone crabs
As for the unofficial term "Florida Cuisine," it can mean many things, but we suppose Floribbean, the fusion of Caribbean and Latin flavors with the aforementioned local Florida flavors, says it best, especially down in South Florida and in Tampa where the Latin influences are so enormous. Some food snobs shudder at the term and prefer the phrase New World Cuisine, the product of Miami-based chef Norman Van Aken. But it's all semantics. Think crack conch chowder with orange, saffron, and coconut. Or spiny lobster salad with mango.
But Florida cuisine really does vary by region. The farther north you go, the closer to the Deep South you are, and instead of Latin influences, you'll see more of a Southern comfort twist on Florida cuisine -- a locally caught fish with, say, hush puppies and collard greens. Or, gator tail with grits and butter. Over on the Gulf Coast, you tend to see a lot of smoked fish, most commonly mullet, in many incarnations but most ubiquitously as a dip or spread eaten with crackers and, if you dare, hot sauce. Near Lake Okeechobee, the fish is usually catfish, and it's almost always fried.
The following is a good, but by no means comprehensive, list of typical (or atypical, rather) South Florida cuisine:
- Cuban Sandwiches (also known as medianoche, translation: "at midnight"): some say they were originated in Miami, others say Tampa, but wherever it was, it's a delicious combo of ham, roasted pork, Swiss, pickles, mustard, and, depending on where you are, sometimes salami on crispy, crusty, toasted "Cuban bread," whose origin is still questionable.
- Grouper Sandwiches: Or pretty much any fish (snapper, mahimahi, pompano, and so on) sandwich, though grouper is the Ryan Seacrest of Florida fish, appearing on many menus in many incarnations, from grilled and fried to blackened or jerked.
- Mango Salsa: A Floribbean staple much like ketchup is to BBQ.
- Conch Fritters: Fried balls of chewy conch, usually found in the Keys or anywhere where there's water views.
- Key Lime Pie: Made from those luscious limes found, yes, in the Keys, these pies are everywhere throughout the region, and everywhere claims to have the best. You be the judge.
- Hearts of Palm Salad: Often found in old school $6.99 prime rib, steak, and lobster houses, though often found in chichi eateries as well.
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