Regional Overload; Or, Classic North American Street Food

We’ve all acknowledged a global trend toward international influences on cuisine– particularly easy-to-consume and tasty street foods that draw influences from Southeast Asia, South America and Africa. And all of these foods are delicious and I’d gladly weave banh mi and ceviche into my lunch every day of the week, but there’s still some influences that are a little closer to my office in the Midwest that I’d like to explore today.

American regional cuisine draws from a long history of immigrant culture, as we’ve incorporated Italian, Irish, German, Eastern European and Chinese foods into our diets for over a century. Depending on where you are in the country, your regional cuisine has incorporated these influences in different ways, also depending on what ingredients are available locally.

Aramark’s new additions to nine NFL menus reflects local trends in ways that eschew any farmers market leanings: the Baltimore Ravens are introducing a crab nacho, highlighting the Chesapeake Bay region’s signature ingredient with jack cheese, tomatoes and scallions. In Philadelphia, hoagies are the name of the game, blending traditional Italian and German influences, and the Eagles (go Eagles!) are introducing the Pass Interference sandwich, with South Philadelphia-style roasted pork with arugula, fontina cheese and garlic jus on a seeded Italian roll. There’s nothing but pure Americana– cheese, pork and grain!– in the Cincinnati Bengals’ Who Dey Melt, a grilled cheese with added bacon, macaroni and cheese, or both. But I think the new menu item that takes the regional stadium cake are offerings for the Pittsburgh Steelers: the Allegheny Burger incorporates fresh burger, shaved kielbasa, fried pierogi, cheddar, Heinz ketchup caramelized onions and sauerkraut aioli into a veritable Polish-German-American mishmash that couldn’t represent Pittsburgh any better unless it were served on a plate shaped like a steel bridge. Would you bite?

Along those lines, the website Serious Eats has created a regional guide to sandwiches, including my all-time ultimate comfort foods, Bagel and Lox and Pimiento Cheese (I lived in New York City and Charleston, SC during my formative culinary years). Some regional highlights from the slideshow are the Maine Italian, Beef on Weck, Muffuletta, Spuckie, Hot Brown, Loose Meat Sandwich, Horseshoe, Polish Boy, Dutch Crunch and Monte Cristo. No matter where you’re from, it seems there’s a sandwich attached to it. Consider including a couple– perhaps modified– versions of these in any survey of worldwide street food. After all, they reflect the U.S. as a country in more ways than one. I know I’d jump for joy at a Sandwiches of the East Coast-themed event.

And if you want to take a multinational approach to the North American Heart Attack Street Food, consider serving any of these sandwiches with a side of Canadian poutine.

From Flickr user Pinprick.

Of course, no exploration of casual fare in the United States is complete without a look at one of my favorite local traditions: State Fair Fare. Our fair in Minnesota just ended, and with it went all the food-on-a-stick you can eat. When some UBM coworkers from across the country visited our office for a cocktail party, we decided to flaunt faux versions of Minnesota State Fair food to greet them. Tradeshow Director Dave Pruka made rootbeer floats and marshmallow cocktails, and CEO Pauline Hoogmoed, Office Manager Angie Ridgeway and VP of Marketing Nan Hildebrandt put together appetizers and signage.

Kettle Corn Chex Mix

Buffet on a stick, featuring popcorn chicken, Cattlemen’s BBQ sauces and meat-and-cheese on a stick.

Pickles and caprese salad on a stick– both are state fair items that break away from the “fried-n-greasy” mode of street food consumption

The party was a hit– and we gave our guests a taste of our regional cuisine with some Catersource flair.
What dishes are big in your area? How can you adapt these local/regional street foods to your buffets?

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