America is a huge country with immense variation in climate and topography and a diverse population drawn from hundreds of nations around the world. These factors add up to incredible variety in what we eat.
Despite the unstoppable expansion of homogenous fast-food places across the land, every region, every state, probably almost every town and city has its own way of cooking and combining foods and discovering things to eat that other places disdain or ignore. (Strange or otherwise, here’s a list of the most iconic dish from every state.)
The most vivid showcases for American regional food variations – and imagination – are state and county fairs, known for their sometimes silly but often tasty (and frequently heart-burning) inventions.
24/7 Tempo has assembled a list of some of the strangest foods not just at fairs but in America in general, state by state, by reviewing articles on the subject in a wide range of publications, including Mashed, Spoon University, Travel Channel, Cheapism, and Bizarre Food.
Some of the most unusual foods, not surprisingly, come from the South, one of the country’s richest culinary regions. Here are 20 iconic Southern foods every American should try.
Our list includes unlikely mash-ups such as New Mexico’s green chiles on an ice cream sundae or Massachusetts’ chow mein sandwiches. It also includes localized ingredients such as Louisiana’s nutria or Washington’s geoduck, and sometimes it includes specific creations unique to a single restaurant, such as North Dakota’s 5th Bro hot dog or New Jersey’s Overloaded Oreo bagel.
“Strange” is, of course, a subjective term. For instance, most of us don’t eat a lot of the more specialized organ meats – pig’s intestines (chitterlings), fish liver, duck tongues – but to people in whose cultures these are daily fare, they’re anything but weird. (A few such things are included here.)
It should be stressed that just because the foods on our list might be considered strange, they aren’t necessarily unpleasant. Some of them may seem like bad ideas, but many of them are genuinely delicious. And all of them are worth at least considering if you’re someplace where they’re served.
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