As a peninsular state, Florida has gained a reputation for boasting one of the most varied palettes in the US when it comes to food. With an emphasis on the fresh, the vibrant and the well-seasoned, influences from other cultures come together in Florida to form an eclectic mix, so expect to find dishes that have been inspired by more countries that you initially bargained for.
A term coined to encompass the Caribbean flavour of Florida’s food, ‘Floribbean’ cuisine is heavily influenced by Florida’s vast number of visitors and immigrants. Inspiration comes especially from the Caribbean areas of Haiti, Jamaica and Barbados, but in the case of Southern Florida especially, Latin and Hispanic flavours from Cuba, Brazil and Puerto Rico come into play. As a result, typical features of Florida cuisine include an emphasis on fresh ingredients (seafood particularly) and plenty of spice. Classic dishes include black bean soup, conch chowder and Cuban sandwiches – lashing of ham, cheese and pickles layered between crusty bread.
Although Floribbean cuisine is a melting-pot of foods from various cultures, traditional American dishes are still alive and well. Burgers, hot dogs and pancakes all feature regularly at Florida’s theme parks and surrounding areas, and nearly always make an appearance somewhere on restaurant menus.
Fruit and vegetables
Florida’s semi-tropical climate means that most fruits are available all year round. As it is the country’s largest citrus provider, oranges, limes and grapefruits are all staples of the Floridian diet, incorporated into meals in various ways. Florida oranges are usually used for juicing purposes and are famous worldwide for their bold flavour – so much so that ‘Florida Orange’ is allegedly undergoing trademark status. Mangoes are also popular, with the International Mango Festival in Miami holding annual chef demonstrations and tasting sessions. And as for those small green citrus fruits… well, let’s just say you’d struggle to enter any Florida deli or bakery without being offered a healthy helping of Key lime pie.
Lots of fruits and vegetables have inverse seasons, with harvests lasting through winter and early spring. This unusual pattern means that winter strawberries are sourced from Florida, as are winter green beans and eggplants. Floridians often adapt their ‘seasonal’ dishes for this reason, and the sorts of dinners you might normally associate with winter (pies, stews, bakes) often feature highly on summer menus.
Surrounded by 1, 300 miles of coastline, Floridian chefs can have their pick of Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico seafood. Stone crab is a much-favoured choice – a very sweet meat similar to lobster, which can be harvested between mid-October and mid-May. Only the claws come with a significant amount of meat, so fishermen often twist one claw off the crab before throwing it back into the water, leaving it able to defend itself as it grows back its second claw.
With the spicy flavours of Latin America and the Caribbean penetrating Floridian taste buds, seafood such as grouper, snapper, grunt and conch are often soaked in powerful marinades, which are then sweetened with mango salsa or citrus. Conch fritters are a prevalent entree; the meat chopped with hot peppers, onions and celery, before being fried into small crunchy balls.
No matter your choice of food whilst in Florida, you won’t be going hungry. Floridian restaurants are known for their large portion sizes, so tourists often choose to share main courses between two, topping up the meal with a smaller side dish. However, if your eyes do prove to be bigger than your belly, do not fear – it is standard practice for waiters to box or ‘doggy bag’ your leftovers, ready for you to take home should a second wind of hunger strike.