The best thing you can do to enlighten your palate when traveling to any new country, state, or city is to try out local foods indigenous to the area. Even though Florida is geographically south, if you’re familiar with Southern cuisine, you’ll find that its native foods are quite different from that of its bordering neighbors, Georgia and Alabama.
So which foods are uniquely Floridian, and what makes them so? We break it down:
Stone Crab Claws
Though the body of the Florida stone crab is not eaten, this naturally sustainable crustacean has the unique ability to regenerate its claws, making it a seasonal prize possession for fisheries from October through May. Seafood fans can't get enough of these sweet, meaty claws served chilled and pre-cracked with a side of mustard sauce.
WATCH: How to Crack and Eat Stone Crab
Though the actual origins of this sandwich are somewhat fuzzy, as workers migrated from Cuba to Florida in the early 1900s, it quickly became a part of everyday lifestyle in cafes across Tampa. Today it's a symbolic piece of food history; traditional Cuban sandwiches consist of roast pork, smoked ham, swiss cheese, pickles and mustard, layered methodically and pressed between crusty-buttered Cuban bread. But only in Tampa you’ll find the addition of salami, where it’s believed that the introduction of this salty, cured meat was influenced by friendships made with Italian immigrants who also called Tampa home during the cigar-industry boom. Get the recipe from Florida’s oldest restaurant.
Florida Rock Shrimp
One of several shrimp species endemic to Florida found in the deep waters along the Gulf coast, as well as the eastern shore off Cape Canaveral, rock shrimp are highly sought after for their uncanny similarity in taste and texture to that of lobster meat. With peak season running June through November, even if you miss the season, they can often be found frozen year-round at local fish markets. Typical preparations can be broiled in butter or fried, but any way you choose to devour these tiny ocean delights, you’ll be hooked!
Key Lime Pie
Produced with Key limes native to the Florida Keys, the distinctly sour juice of these limes sets this tangy, creamy pie apart from any other. Though you've probably sometimes seen it in stores in a bright green color, the pie should always be a pale yellow. Made with fresh, minimal ingredients, it's an easy-to-bake and quintessential taste of Florida. Get the Recipe
Located throughout many southern states, boiled peanuts are very much a part of the northern Florida food scene. Easily found at Florida Gator tailgate parties or mobile trailers off county roads, it's not uncommon to find them as a bar bite at local watering holes. Boiling raw peanuts in their shell for four or more hours in a pot of heavily salted water is the basic method of cooking this southern snack. For an elevated version, you'll also find gourmet recipes featuring them boiled in various spices with the addition of fresh chilies for a peppery kick.
A member of the citrus family, kumquat trees line the yards of many Florida homes. These vibrant-orange olive-size jewels can be eaten whole without the worry of peeling. Its tart center is offset by its sweet thin skin. When you're not popping them in your mouth as a snack, you'll often find them cooked low and slow, and simmered down into thick marmalades and jams. And at the height of citrus season, mark your calendars for the Annual Kumquat Festival in historic Dade City.
Along the northwestern coast of Florida lies Apalachicola Bay, home of the Apalachicola oyster—Florida’s raw jewel. These colossal oysters are sweet and highly valued among bivalve enthusiasts. Sadly, over the past few years, growing environmental issues have put harvests in steady decline though recent federal assistance is hoping to improve these conditions. While lower oyster counts have disrupted the Panhandle community both from an economic and social standpoint, you can still find local restaurants offering a taste of this regionally beloved mollusk.
This warm-water fish boasts over 400 species! Heavy by nature, one of its species named the goliath is known to grow well over 600 pounds. These ocean beasts can be caught on either coast of Florida. There isn't a seafood shack in Florida that won't feature this iconic fish on the menu either fried, broiled, blackened, or grilled. Its mild flavor and firm density makes it ideal for serving in sandwich form, though happiness is had even simply baked with a squeeze of lemon.
The Florida gator population, currently sitting at 1.25 million, has made this high-protein low-fat meat ubiquitous around many of the state's restaurants. While some say the meat has a flavor profile similar to chicken, there is a subtle fishy gaminess to it. Common preparations include marinated ribs cooked on the grill or smoked, and in the form of golden, deep-fried finger-food bites.
Greek Salad of Tarpon Springs
The harmonious relationship of lettuce, feta, olives, cucumbers, tomato, and onions have been a part of American lives for some time now. However, in Tarpon Springs, home to the largest U.S. community of Greek-Americans, you’ll find the unusual supplement of potato salad sneakily hidden at the base of this classic salad. Conflicting reports suggest how this came be. One touts Greek native, Louis Pappas (former army chef) as honoring a tradition he started during World War I where he used potato salad as a way to bulk up meals for the troops. While other stories claim a kitchen worker cobbled it together when his later Tarpon Springs restaurant ran low on basic Greek salad ingredients. No matter which story represents the truth, a meal in Tarpon Springs wouldn’t be complete without an order of the salad! A recipe can be found in the Gasparilla Cookbook.