One of the perks of being a chef is getting to travel to different cities and try local food. It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it.
Over the years, I’ve noticed that most major cities and states have a signature food on the ‘must-try’ list, even if it appears to be slightly touristy. It can be a slice of pie in New York City, oranges in Florida, peaches in Georgia, or a croissant in Paris, there’s something built into my wiring that quietly says, “If you’re here, you must try this.”
There are some cities — such as Toronto — that don’t have any one specific food that can be defined as its own. Perhaps it’s Toronto’s diversity, which let’s us access hundreds of international foods, but the only food that comes close to being Torontonian are those hot-dogs available on almost every street corner in the downtown core.
Thankfully there are other cities and other types of food.
Philadelphia, PA – Cheese Steaks The question of course is, “wit whiz” or without? Diced beef, chopped onions, melted provolone, and green peppers fill a slightly crusty bun and make for the greatest sandwich since sliced bread. When ordering this Philly staple, you’ll be asked if you want it with Cheez Whiz (wit whiz) or without. My advice: get one with and one without. Sample the best of both worlds, because when it comes to downtown food, there isn’t a sandwich around that comes close to a Cheeseteak. Your next big decision is to choose between Geno’s Steaks or Pat’s King of Steaks.
Seattle, WA – Starbucks Hockey moms and yuppies will one day petition the Pope to have the Starbucks Mermaid appointed for Sainthood. Thanks to her — and the coffee she provides — the world runs a little smoother. The java love began at a small store in Pike Place Market in Seattle, Washington before growing into the international phenomenon that it is today. Yes, you can get it just about anywhere on the planet, but if you’re in Seattle, stop in and see where it all began.
Montreal, QC – Smoked Meat Not “corned beef on rye,” not “brisket on a bun,” but simply Montreal-style smoked meat. It’s in a world of its own and it’s always worth the trip. There are many restaurants that lay claim to being the inventors of this must-try food, and even more who claim to have the best, but Reuben’s Deli in the heart of downtown Montreal gets my vote each time. Try it, you’ll be glad you gave into temptation.
Detroit, MI – Coney Islands You can call them chili dogs, but locals in Motown call them by their real name: Coney Islands, or simply Coneys. The steamed hot dog wiener on a soft bun, slathered in a special chili sauce, onions, and cheese have made these little red hots the talk of a city that desperately needs a shot in the arm when it comes to pretty much everything. Coney Islands were popular before the downturn of Detroit, and will be around long after the city finds a way to climb back up. They can be found in neighboring states and other cities, but locals lay claim to them as part of what makes Detroit a world onto its own. (Ironically enough, in Coney Island and other cities, they are commonly called Michigans.)
Chicago, IL – Deep Dish Pizza Sure, pizza restaurants claim to offer it, but the real thing is found in the Windy City and is a right of passage for all visitors when they’re retracing the steps of the Uncle Buck, the Blues Brothers, and Ferris Bueller. Deep Dish Pizza is exactly what it says it is; a pizza baked in a deep dish, with a crust that closely resembles a biscuit, and it can be cut like a cake. It’s probably the most famous food to come out of the Second City, so you need to add it to your Food Bucket List.
Boston, MA – Chowdah! Boston has secured its place as one of the best restaurant cities in America, but the stand-out, must-try dish when in town is chowder – preferably New England Clam Chowder. The creamier and the sweeter it is, the better it is. It’s a delicious combo of fresh shellfish, chunks of potato, buttery cream, and clams.
Maine/Nova Scotia – Lobster While some locals might consider lobster to be as common as hamburger, to tourists and shellfish lovers, it’s considered the king of all seafood. Spring and early summer always tempt you with the promise of “lobster season” and steakhouses often offer up a lobster-fest of some kind, but if you’re on the east coast, do yourself a favor and sample the freshest lobster you can get your claws on.
Rome, Italy – Pesto One could argue that Romans were green before green was cool, and that’s because when everyone else was doing red pasta sauce, someone thought of grinding up basil, garlic, pine nuts, Parmesan, and olive oil and making the second best sauce ever created. It’s so simple, and yet so satisfying.
Cincinnati, OH – Chili The state of Ohio lays claim to being the birthplace of White Castle, but Cincinnati is known for its chili, and the many ways it’s incorporated into every day cooking. You can find great chili all over the state, but the chili from the Skyline is the one that tops everyone’s list.
Barcelona – Paella Spain has a reputation for many great things and food is certainly one of them. Tapas comes to mind, but you owe it to yourself to try paella when you’re in town. Paella is actually the pan in which the dish is prepared, but it’s become synonymous with this signature dish that tourists and locals love. A good Paella takes time to prepare, but it’s always worth the wait.
Buffalo, NY – Wings Let’s be honest, Celery Night just wouldn’t have been as fun as Wing Night and for that, we have the Queen City to thank. The second largest city in New York State has some of the best restaurants around but their claim to fame — and the one thing that ALL food lovers have to try when they visit — are the wings. Locals simply call them ‘wings’ and restaurants such as Duff’s and the Anchor Bar (the birthplace of the Buffalo Wing) pack ’em in every day and night.