Gotta love a place that names itself after an edible mollusk.
In the Florida Keys, locals prize the meat of the conch so much that they have named themselves The Conch Republic. Conch is in fritters, chowder, ceviche. There are even conch “burgers,” deep-fried conch on a bun. (By the way, say “konk,” never “konsh,” or they’ll know you’re from out of town.) Bahamian immigrants popularized conch in the 1800s, and even the people themselves became known as “conchs.” Today, Key West residents of any origin proudly call themselves “conchs.”
Bahamians are just one of the many groups that give Florida a rich culinary culture. In Florida’s Panhandle, deeply Southern food prevails: fried mullet with hushpuppies, cheese grits, barbecued oysters and sweet tea. Greek and Italian immigrants arrived on the peninsula as early as the 18th century and today Florida menus feature “souvlaki” (kebabs), lasagna-like moussaka, lemon-and-oregano seasoned octopus and other Greek specialties. Italians became grocers, selling milk, eggs and Italian specialties such as olives and eggplant to cigar workers in Tampa.
Though southern Florida has people from many Latin cultures, it may be best known for its large and vibrant Cuban community. Miami is the place for black beans and rice, ropa vieja (shredded beef with tomato), vaca frita (shredded, fried beef) and hot pork sandwiches that soak the crusty roll with their juices.
Even if you’ve never had a thick, sweet café Cubano, chances are you’ve tasted Florida. The Sunshine State produces more than half of the country’s oranges and two-thirds of our grapefruit.
It’s also known for another citrus fruit, the golf ball-sized, bright yellow key lime. The tangy sweet key lime pie dates to the 19th century.
– Michele Kayal
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