5 Confusingly Delicious Foods That Only Exist In A Single Place In The U.S.
From New Jersey's Pork Roll Belt (which runs roughly from Trenton to Cherry Hill) to Rhode Island's Grinder Zone to Pittsburgh's fake Burger King, the United States is downright pockmarked with gastronomic quirks. Today we'll be talking about such “people only eat this food in a single county” delectables as …
Suburban Ohio's Proudly Uncooked Pizza
The whole reason pizza is so popular is that it's both a perfect combination and super-easy to customize. The reason people get mad at deep dish or pineapple or whatever is because for them, it's actively decreasing the quality of the pizza by adding more stuff. It's like when a friend gets a crappy tattoo. If they had just left it alone, it would have been fine.
But "leaving it alone" has its limits: If you left pizza alone completely, you'd just have some tomatoes, cheese, flour, yeast, and maybe a pig or a few plants in the ground. In the suburbs of Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia, they haven't gone quite that far yet, but they're on their way with the local specialty of Ohio Valley pizza, where the cheese and toppings are added on cold, after the sauce and crust come out of the oven.
As adaptable as pizza is, when you get rid of the melted cheese, you're leaving the star player on the bench -- or, to continue the metaphor, not letting that player warm up, so they have even odds of pulling a cheesy hamstring or puking cheese all over the field. (Man, this analogy went places.)
Either way, there are practical reasons for this ass-backwards pizza style: The tradition began with a pizzeria in Steubenville, Ohio, that started out as a bakery. To fast forward through years of culinary school and burnt fingers, different things need to be baked in different ovens, so the cheese would get burned to a crisp if they baked the pizza in a regular bread oven.
According to them, leaving the cheese and toppings cold helps them ship better, so it's only just begun to get melted and gooey when it arrives at your door. Either way, though, you just end up with everything lukewarm, like a McDLT that could feed a whole family.
Hawaii's Guilty Pleasure Spam Sushi
"Decolonize your bookshelf" is one thing, but decolonizing your plate is impossible: So many foods that feel too normal to even think about happened because of colonialism. Without empires and armies, Italy wouldn't have tomatoes, Ireland wouldn't have potatoes, and the Pacific islands wouldn't have Spam, which is just as important as the other two.
Spam the canned meat that tastes like how a Photoshopped model looks (too unnaturally satisfying to be good for the mind, body or soul) and made it to the tropics during World War II, when thousands and thousands of cans were shipped to U.S. Army bases in the Pacific Theater. Local cooks started using it because it was so much cheaper and easier to store than regular meat, and also because it's one of those foods that tells your animal brain "you're getting all the salt and protein you could ever want and you barely even had to chew, now make with the endorphins already."
Since the end of the war, Spam found its way into every nook and cranny of Hawaiian cuisine like sand getting into a bathing suit. Take a trip to the islands and you can get Spam wontons, Spam fried rice and Spam ramen, which should obviously be called "Spamen", but should you say it "spammin" or "spah-men"?
The most popular Spam dish by a mile, though, is Spam musubi, a kind of Spam sushi that consists of a fried slice of the pink stuff, a big ball of sticky rice, and some nori to wrap them together. At first glance, it looks like an awkward mix of different forms of food that barely holds itself together, but anyone who's eaten one knows that it's a contrivance of airtight logic and sound construction -- a perfect snack for when you're too tired, sweaty, drunk, or otherwise occupied. It couldn't have been created anytime but during the aftermath of a world-shattering conflict. Definitely not worth all the murder and destruction, but also not an awful consolation prize.
Cincinnati's Challenging Chocolate-Cinnamon-Cheese Chili
On paper, it should be impossible to make chili weird enough to earn a spot on its list. The whole idea of chili is you do it your way, and say "screw you" to anyone without the taste buds to handle it. Veggies? Meat? Spice? Thickness? Toppings? You can't go wrong ... but you can go to Cincinnati, and that's pretty close.
Meet Skyline Chili, which is both a local Cincinnati chain and its house specialty. Their chili recipe is a closely guarded secret, but anyone who's taken a bite knows it has chocolate and cinnamon in it, which is definitely not what you're expecting when you're sitting down to eat a hearty meat stew. Of course, if you're actually fixing to take a bite of Skyline (much like a hungry kaiju), you might not even be expecting chili, when your plate looks like this:
Skyline is traditionally served over dry spaghetti, with an imperial (definitely not metric) assload of orange-flavored cheese on top. The whole shebang is called a "three-way", adding some sexual innuendo just in case you had any appetite left.
You can order more traditional sides at Skyline -- rice, tortilla chips, sour cream -- but there isn't some fascinating practically-minded origin story to this one. This is just the product of Midwesterners wanting everything to be both saltier and sweeter, until a simple bowl of chili turns into a pasta dish that would probably give an Italian a heart attack just from learning that it exists.
A Sloppy Joe That Isn't The Joe You Know
A lot of names for foods are pretty obvious, but others are completely arbitrary, and no one can agree why the foods started being called that. There's no logic or consistency: It's pretty obvious why a BLT is called a BLT, but if you add chicken it suddenly becomes a club sandwich -- which sounds like it should be a sandwich that's long and skinny, so you can whack people with it.
Thinking about it from that angle, there's no real reason that a Sloppy Joe needs to be ground beef on a bun. If you feel crushed under the tyrannical boot of Manwich's dominion, then there's a place where you can escape: northern New Jersey, where a sloppy joe is a triple-decker deli sandwich with cold cuts, cheese, coleslaw and Russian dressing.
You might know similar versions of these sandwiches as a Reuben or a Rachel -- as if those names had any more meaning -- but these Sloppy Joes actually have a way better documented history than the cafeteria kind. According to the Town Hall Deli in South Orange, the deli sandwich is a recreation of a house specialty from Cuba -- specifically, the specialty of a spot in Havana named Sloppy Joe's.
In 1934, back when the normal kind of Sloppy Joe had the even less appetizing name of "loose meat," the deli sandwich carved out a space for itself in New Jersey. As we all learned from The Sopranos and Jersey Shore, that's a state where you can get away with pretty much anything, so it's easy to see how they've gotten away with giving one sandwich the same name as another sandwich for nearly a century now.
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Dirt, Just Dirt
All the other foods on this list still vary from place to place, just like any other food. There must be a whole spectrum of deli meat Sloppy Joes out there, great places and awful places. For the last spot on our list, though, there's not really that same variance in quality, because we're talking about something that the human body isn't built to consume or process -- and no, we're not talking about Spam again.
Remember that thing about food names from earlier? "White dirt" definitely sounds like it could be the name of a food -- maybe something covered in coconut shavings, or powdered sugar. But no, this is exactly what it sounds like. There really is a semi-illegal tradition of eating a certain kind of soil fresh out of the ground, and just like all these, it's a local specialty.
Central Georgia is home to one of the world's largest deposits of kaolin, a naturally pure white clay. In this case, people in the South wanting things to be pure white has an actual biological reason: Even though people aren't supposed to eat dirt, it's a lot easier to digest clay than most other kinds of mineral deposits, and kaolin is one of the purest kinds that exists in nature.
For some people, mostly pregnant women who are already having weird cravings, a switch flips in their brains. "I'm physically able to eat this" turns into "I need it right now," and once you've tried kaolin, you never go back in ... or something. Look, it wouldn't be too hard to try most of these foods, but we here at Cracked don't recommend eating clay, no matter how much it looks like homemade marshmallows.
Scientific trials have suggested there may actually be deeper health reasons behind the craving for clay, since it can act as a bit of a boost to the immune system in very specific circumstances. It's not exactly a vitamin supplement, though: The reason this is confined to the South is because no one would think to eat dirt on their own, they have to actually see it and smell it and think "sure, why not?"
On the other hand, it's probably about as weird as milking an animal, then stirring it around until it turns into butter, so maybe we should shut up about what makes a food weird.