“The Cultural Cuisines of Florida”September 28, 2021
When one thinks of the different culinary cuisine in the United States, we tend to associate certain states with certain dishes. Louisiana, for instance, is known for its Cajun flavor, and Maine for its seafood dishes. Another example is New York and Chicago-style pizza or the multi-state battle over which style of barbecue reigns supreme. Typically, Florida is not one of the states associated with a particular type of cooking, but as anyone who has even visited could tell you, the state is a huge mixing pot of different cultural cuisines.
Not many states border an ocean. However, Florida has access to diverse sea life. This makes it much somewhat easier for restaurants in the state to acquire fresh and high-quality seafood, and brings in more exotic ocean fare. However, conch, a large mollusk typically deep-fried into fritters, is a popular dish, but has to be imported from the Caribbean islands due to overfishing in Florida.
In addition to the seasoned fish dishes from the Caribbean and Pacific Islands, plenty of seafood is cooked using styles from all over the American South: including fish fries, and low country boils (mixtures of shrimp, crab, vegetables and sausage) can be found nearly everywhere in the state.
Restaurants, too, offer diverse and unique culinary experiences by putting their own spins on seafood such as: pier restaurants (sometimes referred to as Gulf-to-Table restaurants)- which typically serve as boat landing and launching points. These seafood eateries are a common sight along the beaches and ports along the Florida coast – offering fresh fish caught in the area. Another popular type of seafood restaurant is the fish camp- small restaurants focused on fish and steak that are usually family-owned and located on smaller piers that often double as fishing and docking spots. Fish camps can be found all over the state, even in the most unexpected places. Clark’s Fish Camp, one of my favorites, lurks in the backwoods of Jacksonville and under the bridges of Port Orange with hidden seafood gems like DJ’s or Our Deck Down Under.
Due to Florida’s heritage and early settlement by Spanish explorers, Spanish cooking has also made a major impact on the restaurant culture of the state. It’s easy to find it wherever you go. In addition, some of the food stylings of Florida are inspired by Cuban culture serving a lot of dishes involving rice, fruit, Cuban bread and grilled meat. Desserts like Key West’s Key Lime Pie and orange cake are also part of many menus. While seafood and Spanish cuisine tend to be more common in Florida, if you look hard enough, you can find a variety of food to satisfy any craving – like Anime-themed noodle bars or family-owned Irish pubs.
From upscale steakhouses to typical chain fare, Florida’s culinary climate is as diverse as its culture. In a state where you can find anything to eat, it’s only natural that every so often you are sure to encounter some dishes you would never expect. For more adventurous eaters, it’s possible to track down these unusual snacks at places such as: Ripley’s Believe it or Not Museum in St. Augustine that features edible insects. Clark’s in Jacksonville offers a wide variety of exotic game (ranging from Yak to Ostrich to Kangaroo to Alligator) – fried or grilled. If you visit Florida, you might want to check out these strange establishments.