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Foods in Florida: Savor the Popular Florida Food

The Foods Florida is Known For

It’s no secret that Florida is afoods in florida - popular Florida foods large state. From Pensacola in the panhandle to Key West in the Keys is over 800 miles. This distance traverses the forests and springs in North Florida and the beaches and swamps of South Florida.

While the distance from end to end of the Sunshine State is significant, the differences in food and culture from one end of the state to the other is just as significant. The list of most popular foods in Florida is a long one.

Florida’s iconic food scene is broad. There may not be any other state in this great country that has such a diverse menu from one region to another.

There are many reasons for the immense differences including cultural influences, heritage, agricultural requisites and regional terrain. Therein lies the reason for such a long list of iconic foods in Florida.

Florida Travel Blog has outlined the Famous Foods in Florida based on two regions – North Florida and South Florida. You will find broad differences in the popular foods in Florida regions.

Northern Region Foods in Florida

North Florida, like the rest of the state, has a rich culinary landscape influenced by Southern, Creole, and coastal flavors.

Here are some of the best foods to try in North Florida:

  • Grits: A Southern staple,
    foods in Florida - Grits
    These are grits, but Florida Cracker style. Floridians add everything to grits – cheese, shrimps, peppers and other veggies.
    grits are often served as a side dish or a main course. They are made from ground corn and can be enjoyed with various toppings like shrimp, cheese, or gravy.

Evidence suggests the Muscogee tribe developed grits around 10,000 years ago by grinding dried corn kernels into a coarse meal. The name “grits” is believed to be derived from the Muscogee word “kasita,” meaning “coarsely ground. This meal, known as sofki, was a staple food for the Muscogee people, boiled and served with various meats, vegetables, and herbs.

  • Gator Tail: Given Florida’s abundant alligator population, gator tail is a unique local delicacy. It’s often breaded and fried, resembling the taste and texture of chicken or fish. You can also find raw gator tail in many fresh seafood stores.

Native American tribes living in the southeastern United States, where alligators are native, historically included alligator meat in their diets. They utilized various parts of the alligator, such as the meat, hide, and bones, for sustenance, clothing, and tools.

  • Mayport ShrimpMayport, a historic fishing village 
    foods in florida - Mayport Shrimp
    Mayport shrimp are fresh local shrimp caught in northeast Florida.
    near Jacksonville, is known for its delicious shrimp. Local restaurants often serve shrimp in various dishes, including shrimp and grits or fried shrimp baskets. This regional shrimp dish is generally shrimp found in the waters off Northeast Florida.

While this regional dish is called “Mayport” shrimp, the reason is its freshness since it comes from the famous shrimp docks around Mayport. Most shrimp in Florida is or has been frozen. Fresh is what Mayport shrimp stand for.

  • Collard Greens: A classic Southern side dish, collard greens are often simmered with ham hocks or smoked turkey for added flavor. They are a staple on many North Florida tables and those throughout the South. Recipes are passed down through the families for decades.

Collard greens (Brassica oleracea) are believed to have originated in the Mediterranean region and were likely cultivated by the ancient Greeks and Romans. The cabbage family, to which collards belong, includes various leafy greens with a long history of cultivation for culinary purposes.

  • Minorcan Clam Chowder: A regional
    foods in Florida - Minorcan Calm Chowder
    Minorcan Clam Chowder
    specialty in St. Augustine and the surrounding areas, Minorcan clam chowder is known for its spicy kick. It features a tomato-based broth, clams, vegetables, and datil peppers.

Minorcan clam chowder is a unique and flavorful seafood stew originating from the island of Minorca off the coast of Spain and brought to life in St. Augustine, Florida, by Minorcan settlers in the 18th century.

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It’s a distinct contrast to the more familiar New England and Manhattan clam chowders, offering a taste of history and coastal sunshine in every bowl. The key difference is the datil peppers primarily grown around St. Augustine.

  • Florida Blueberries: North Florida is known for its blueberry farms. During the peak season, usually from April to June, you can enjoy fresh, plump blueberries in various dishes, from pancakes to desserts. Many farms in the north Florida area have “U-Pick-Em” seasons where people come to gather their own blueberries.
  • Pecan Pie: Pecan pie is a classic Southern dessert, and North Florida is no exception. Made with locally harvested pecans, this sweet treat is often enjoyed during holidays and special occasions. Remember, Florida borders Georgia, a state well know for pecans.

Anyone who hasn’t enjoyed a piece of pecan pie at Christmas or Thanksgiving is missing a real American treat.

  • Cuban Sandwich: With
    foods in Florida - Cuban Sandwich
    There are lots of liberties taken with the Cuban sandwich. Common ingredients include ham, roast pork, Swiss cheese, pickles and yellow mustard. Common variations include salami, mayo and authentic Cuban Bread.
    its proximity to Cuba, North Florida, especially the Jacksonville and Tampa areas, has a strong Cuban influence. The Cuban sandwich, featuring ham, roasted pork, Swiss cheese, pickles, mustard, and sometimes salami, is a popular choice.

The exact origin of the iconic Cuban sandwich, a flavorful masterpiece and toasted Cuban bread, is a delightful historical debate with multiple contenders! The three places food historians argue over is Tampa, Key West and straight from Cuba.

  • Jacksonville-Style BBQ: North Florida has its own style of barbecue, often characterized by a mustard-based sauce. Pulled pork sandwiches and ribs are popular choices at local barbecue joints.

These are just a few examples of the diverse and flavorful foods you can find in North Florida. Local markets, seafood shacks, and Southern-style restaurants are great places to explore the region’s culinary offerings.

South Region Foods in Florida

South Florida, with its vibrant cultural diversity and proximity to the Caribbean and Latin America, boasts a unique and iconic culinary scene.

Here are some of the best iconic Florida foods from the southern part of the state – note that some are also in the north:

  • Cuban Sandwich: Miami is known for its delicious Cuban sandwiches, featuring layers of ham, roasted pork, Swiss cheese, pickles, mustard, and sometimes salami, all pressed between Cuban bread.

The exact origin of the iconic Cuban sandwich, a flavorful masterpiece and toasted Cuban bread, is a delightful historical debate with multiple contenders! The three places food historians argue over is Tampa, Key West and straight from Cuba.

  • Key Lime Pie: Arguably,
    popular foods in Florida - Key Lime Pie
    There seems to be a competition for the very simply made Key Lime Pie.
    originating from the Florida Keys, Key Lime Pie is a classic dessert made with a tangy key lime filling in a graham cracker crust, topped with whipped cream or meringue. It’s a refreshing and iconic treat.

Evidence suggests lime pies existed in the Florida Keys as early as the late 19th century. Recipes for “Key Lime Pie” or “Key Lime Tart” began appearing in print around this time, often using condensed milk as a convenient ingredient in the isolated Keys.

Some stories attribute the invention to “Aunt Sally,” a woman who ran a popular pie stand in Key West. However, historical documentation is scarce, and this remains a charming legend rather than a confirmed origin story.

The use of condensed milk, readily available and requiring no refrigeration, played a crucial role in the pie’s popularity. It helped create a smooth and creamy filling without the challenges of fresh milk in the island setting.

The 1930s and 40s saw a surge in Key lime pie’s fame. Promotional campaigns by condensed milk companies, featuring recipes for “Magic Lemon Cream Pie,” likely inspired versions using key limes, further spreading the pie’s appeal.

Key West embraced the pie as a local treasure, and restaurants began offering their own unique takes on the recipe, adding to its regional variations and charm.

  • Conch Fritters: Conch fritters, a popular dish in the Florida Keys and the broader South Florida region, are made from conch meat, vegetables, and batter, deep-fried to golden perfection. They are often served with a dipping sauce.

Conch fritters are believed to have originated in the Bahamas, a country in the Atlantic Ocean made up of over 700 islands, cays, and islets. The conch, a type of large sea snail with a spiral shell, is a popular ingredient in Bahamian cuisine.

popular foods in Florida - Conch Fritters
The Conch Shack in Key West is famous for their conch fritters.

The dish likely has roots in traditional Bahamian and Caribbean cooking, where conch is abundant and used in various culinary preparations. Conch fritters are made by chopping or grinding conch meat and combining it with a batter that typically includes flour, water or milk, various seasonings, and sometimes vegetables like bell peppers and onions. The mixture is then deep-fried until golden brown.

  • Stone Crab Claws: South Florida, particularly the Miami area, is famous for its stone crab claws. Served chilled with mustard sauce, these succulent claws are a delicacy available during the stone crab season from October 15 to May 15.

Perhaps, the town of Everglades City is the Capital of Stone Crabs. The many tons of stone crab caught in south Florida are shipped all over the eastern United States. In fact, one of the biggest users is the Famous Joe’s Stone Crab Restaurant in Miami and other locations.

  • Grouper Sandwich: Freshly caught grouper, grilled or fried, piled onto a toasted bun with lettuce, tomato, and tartar sauce is a quintessential South Florida lunch. Grouper has most recently (last decade) become a delicacy found in northern restaurants from Chicago to New York.

Over 6 million pounds of grouper are harvested annually. The three most popular species are red grouper, black grouper and gag grouper. All three are excellent table fare. Many people believe black grouper is the best-eating fish in Florida.

  • Alligator Bites: With Florida’s abundant alligator population, it’s not uncommon to find alligator on the menu. Alligator bites, typically breaded and fried, offer a unique taste of the region. We have seen a trend of blackened alligator bites becoming a popular
    Famous food in Florida - Alligator Bites
    Alligator bites are served all over Florida. Fried or blacked tail meat is what usually is offered.
    Florida food throughout south Florida coastal restaurants.

While alligator is also a north Florida food, the Everglades has traditionally been the home of the most alligators in Florida.

  • Mangoes: Mangoes thrive in the tropical and subtropical climate of South Florida, making the region well-suited for mango cultivation. The mango season in South Florida typically runs from late spring to early fall, with peak production occurring in the summer months.

South Florida is home to a variety of mango cultivars, each with its unique flavor profile, size, and color. Some popular varieties grown in the region include the Haden, Kent, Tommy Atkins, Ataulfo (also known as Honey or Champagne mango), and Keitt.

Mangoes from South Florida are celebrated for their rich and diverse flavors. Depending on the variety, mangoes can range from sweet and tropical to slightly tart. The Haden mango, for example, is known for its sweet and fruity flavor, while the Tommy Atkins is often more robust and less sweet.

Mangoes are a versatile fruit that can be enjoyed in a variety of culinary applications. In South Florida, mangoes are used in salads, salsas, smoothies, desserts, and even savory dishes. Their sweet and tropical flavor adds a delightful touch to both sweet and savory recipes.

Go to Pine Island in south Florida where thousands of Mango trees line the roadways. We have seen mangoes on sale at farms for half the grocery price.

  • Florida Oranges: While
    famous florida foods - oranges
    Very few foods in Florida are any more famous than Florida oranges.
    citrus is grown throughout the state, and North Florida is home to a few citrus orchards, South Florida has most of the citrus orchards. Enjoy fresh-squeezed orange juice or indulge in citrus-flavored desserts and dishes throughout Florida.

Oranges were brought to the Americas by European explorers and settlers. Spanish explorers are credited with introducing oranges to the Caribbean and parts of North and South America during the Age of Exploration.

The orange industry in Florida played a significant role in the spread of orange cultivation in the United States. The first orange groves in Florida were established in the 19th century, and Florida became a major citrus-producing state.

Spanish and Latin American Influenced Foods in Florida

  • Arepa: A popular Venezuelan and Colombian dish, arepas have become a staple in South Florida. These cornmeal patties are often split and filled with various ingredients such as cheese, meat, or avocado.
  • Colada and Pastelitos:
    famous foods in Florida - pastelitos
    Pastelitos are layered dough with sweet or savory filling.
    Miami’s strong Cuban influence is evident in the popularity of colada, a strong and sweet Cuban coffee often served in small cups for sharing. Pastelitos, flaky pastries filled with guava and cream cheese or meat, are commonly enjoyed with colada.
  • Haitian Griot: Reflecting South Florida’s Haitian community, griot is a flavorful dish consisting of marinated and fried pork, often served with pikliz (spicy slaw) and fried plantains.
  • Ceviche: Given the influence of Latin American and Caribbean cuisines, ceviche is a popular dish in South Florida. Ceviche is a dish that has roots in the coastal regions of Latin America, and its exact origins are somewhat disputed. It is generally agreed that ceviche originated in Peru, where it has a long history and is considered a national dish. The term “ceviche” itself is derived from the Spanish word “cebiche” or “escabeche,” referring to the process of pickling or marinating fish or seafood.
    foods in Florida Citrus Ceviche
    Ceviche in Florida can be made with local citrus and fresh caught seafood like shrimp.

Peruvian ceviche is typically made with fresh raw fish or seafood, which is marinated in citrus juice, often lime or lemon, along with various seasonings such as chili peppers, onions, salt, and cilantro. The acid in the citrus juice effectively “cooks” the fish or seafood, denaturing the proteins and giving it a firm texture without applying heat.

  • Empanadas: South Florida’s diverse culinary scene includes delicious empanadas, which are pastry turnovers filled with a variety of ingredients such as beef, chicken, cheese, or vegetables. Empanadas, a popular and versatile dish consisting of filled pastries, have a diverse origin with variations found in various cultures. The concept of wrapping a filling in dough and cooking it is found in many culinary traditions worldwide. The word “empanada” itself comes from the Spanish verb “empanar,” which means to wrap or coat in bread.

The exact origin of empanadas is challenging to pinpoint, as similar dishes have emerged independently in different cultures throughout history.

These iconic foods showcase the cultural richness and diversity of South Florida’s culinary offerings. Exploring local markets, food festivals, and neighborhood eateries is a great way to experience the unique flavors of the region.

Native American Influenced Foods in Florida

Florida is home to several Native American tribes, including the Seminole and Miccosukee. While traditional Native American cuisine might not be as widely recognized or commercially available as some other culinary traditions, there are certain foods that have historical and cultural significance in the region.

Here are a few examples:

  • Sofkee: Also known as
    foods in Florida - sofkee
    Sofkee is much like grits, but made with hominy and sometimes used as a warm drink.
    sofkey, this is a traditional Native American dish made from hominy (dried corn kernels that have been treated with an alkali), water, and sometimes a small amount of fat. It’s a simple and nourishing porridge that has been a staple in Native American diets.
  • Fry Bread: Fry bread is a versatile and popular food in Native American cuisine. It is made by frying a simple dough of flour, water, salt, and sometimes baking powder. It can be served as a base for both sweet and savory toppings, such as honey, powdered sugar, taco ingredients, or beans.
  • Indian Tacos: Built on fry bread, Indian tacos are a popular contemporary dish that consists of fry bread topped with seasoned ground meat (often beef or bison), beans, lettuce, tomatoes, cheese, and other toppings. The combination of crispy fry bread and savory toppings makes for a delicious and hearty meal.
    local foods in Florida - Indian tacos
    Indian tacos have become a popular food in Florida. They are made with fry bread that Native Americans commonly made.
  • Venison and Game: Traditional Native American diets often included game meat such as venison, rabbit, and alligator. These meats were hunted and prepared in various ways, including grilling, smoking, or stewing.
  • Corn Dishes: Corn has always held great significance in Native American cultures. Dishes such as cornbread, corn pudding, and succotash (a dish consisting of lima beans and corn) are examples of how corn has been incorporated into Native American cuisine.
  • Seminole Pumpkin Soup: Pumpkin was a vital crop for Native American tribes, and pumpkin soup is a dish that has been passed down through generations. It typically involves combining pumpkin with other ingredients like corn, beans, and meat to create a hearty and flavorful soup.
famous foods of Florida - Seminole Pumpkin Soup
Seminole pumpkin soup was as simple as it looked. Puree of pumpkin, spices, sometimes sugar, perhaps milk, or other liquids.

It’s important to note that Native American cuisine varies among tribes, and traditional dishes often reflect the local environment and available resources. While some of these dishes may be available at cultural events or special gatherings, it’s also important to approach Native American cuisine with respect for the cultural context and history associated with these foods.

History tells us that Native Americans helped the first settlers survive in a new world. Once explorers exhausted their food stores brought with them from Europe, they had to rely on the experience and ingenuity of Native Americans on how to survive.

Why Are There So Many Famous Foods in Florida

Florida is home to a diverse culinary scene that contributes to the reputation of the state for offering some of the best food. Several factors contribute to the richness and variety of Florida’s cuisine:

  • Cultural Diversity: Florida’s population is a melting pot of various cultures, including Cuban, Caribbean, Latin American, and Southern influences. The fusion of diverse culinary traditions has led to a unique and vibrant food culture. Cities like Miami, with its strong Latin American influence, and areas with a significant Caribbean population, contribute to the variety of flavors and dishes.
  • Access to Fresh Ingredients: Florida’s climate and geography provide an abundance of fresh, locally sourced ingredients. The state’s coastal areas offer a rich selection of seafood, including grouper, snapper, stone crab, and various shellfish. The warm climate also allows for the cultivation of a wide range of fruits and vegetables throughout the year.
  • Farm-to-Table Movement: Florida has embraced the farm-to-table movement, emphasizing the use of locally grown and sourced ingredients in restaurants. This commitment to freshness and sustainability enhances
    Florida famous foods - crops
    People don’t realize how big farming is in Florida. A drive down to Homestead Florida is eye opening. Every vegetable you can imagine is grown there.
    the quality of dishes and supports local farmers and producers.
  • Influence of Agriculture: Florida is a major agricultural state, producing a variety of crops such as oranges, strawberries, tomatoes, and more. The state’s agricultural richness contributes to a wide array of fresh produce and agricultural products that find their way into local dishes.
  • Culinary Innovation: Florida has a dynamic and innovative culinary scene, with chefs experimenting with flavors and techniques. The willingness to push culinary boundaries and experiment with ingredients contributes to the creation of unique and exciting dishes.
  • Tourism and International Influence: Florida is a top tourist destination, attracting visitors from around the world. The influx of diverse cultures and international visitors has influenced the state’s culinary landscape. Popular tourist destinations like Miami and Orlando have become culinary hubs with a wide range of international cuisines.
  • Seafood Variety: With its
    foods famous in Florida - oysters
    Oysters are just one of a dozen different seafoods that come in each day at Florida docks.
    extensive coastline, Florida has access to a variety of seafood, including some unique species that may not be as readily available in other parts of the country. This abundance of fresh seafood contributes to the quality and diversity of Florida’s culinary offerings.

The combination of cultural diversity, access to fresh and diverse ingredients, a commitment to sustainability, and culinary innovation all contribute to Florida’s reputation for offering some of the best food. The state’s culinary landscape reflects its rich cultural heritage and embraces a forward-thinking approach to food.

The Last Serving of Foods in Florida

The state of Florida has so many different terrains, cultures, and historical ethnicities that it is natural that there would be a multitude of foods in Florida that the state would be known for.

Just drive across the Old Spanish Trail in the north and compare it to driving across the Tamiami Trail in the south. You feel like you are two different parts of the country. Florida is a wonderful state to live in and exciting to visit – taste the differences for fun!

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