“I don’t care if it’s just how your mama used to make it, your mama used to make it WRONG.”
~AFFotD Taste Testers
When it comes to the culinary arts, America, and by extension the staff of America Fun Fact of the Day, is a lot like a caterpillar, in that caterpillars don’t know how analogies work. Wait, no, we can salvage this. American cuisine spent years languishing as underdeveloped and, frankly, sad attempts at inventing dishes that lagged far behind Europe’s more significant and time-tested methods. Only 85 years ago, Julia Child wrote a book that basically told the country, “Um, so France uses a lot of butter in their food, maybe if we tried that it would taste pretty good too” and people lost their shit so much that they still buy that book to this very day. But eventually our tastes matured, and we burst out of our cocoons to make hundreds of dishes that are insanely unhealthy, undoubtedly American, and still delicious enough that other countries try (and often fail) to replicate on their own.
Part of the beauty of American cooking is how diverse it can be, considering how every single area of this great sprawling nation has its own approach to filling us up. Hell, asking for a simple clam chowder can get you eight different soups, depending on where you are when you ask for it. Just looking at all the things we can do with the humble hot dog gives you an idea of how inventive and varied we can be when trying to find the most effective ways to give you a quick coronary. Unfortunately, this doesn’t always translate to successful dishes, and even more unfortunately, some of these failures randomly get embraced as “part of the culture” of various regions in America. This isn’t surprising—with so much good food, America was bound to have some swings and misses. But when we miss, ho boy, do we miss.
But you can’t appreciate the good without being made aware of the bad, so as much as it pains us, we’re here to present to you an unflinching look at…
America’s Worst Regional Culinary Dishes (Part 1)
Nostalgia is a tricky little bastard when it comes to the food you like to eat. No matter how refined or developed you feel your palate is, no matter how many Michelin-starred restaurants you’ve opened your wallet for, no matter how many times you’ve picked a wine that goes well with your meal and have actually been correct and not at all surprised you were correct, there’s always going to be a part of you that feels like grabbing a Filet-o-Fish because that’s what you would eat when your family took you at McDonald’s during road trips growing up (side note, if you were that kid ordering a Filet-o-Fish from McDonald’s during road trips, you were probably an incredibly weird kid). But this very concept applies for local and regional foods as well. Not everyone grew up eating New York’s bagels or San Francisco’s mission burritos. There are honest to God people who were born and raised in Idaho! That still live there! We don’t know what they eat, but it’s probably a lot of broiled meat and potatoes? Seriously, if you know what a typical Idaho dinner is like, let us know—we’d hate to come off as willfully ignorant and obtuse, after just blindly making fun of Idaho cuisine with literally no idea what it entails, having made no honest effort to actually find out (Finger steaks? Like fried strips of steak? That’s a thing there, right?).
Anyway, the point being, some foods are just bad, but still stand the test of time in certain parts of the nation because they’re inexorably linked to the local culture, and people were raised eating it under the false premise that what they were eating was “tasty” and “not one of God’s more innocuous mistakes.” Below you’ll see some of those mistakes.
And don’t worry, we’ll save you from discussing the horrors of Lutefisk, which is a regional dish in some places, but which is Scandinavian in origin. Unless you’d like us to devote 500 words to a dried whitefish soaked in lye for two days, complete with stomach churning pictures? Yeah, we didn’t think so. But you’re not getting off that easy, because as much as Americans have given the world in terms of delicious treats, so too has it created monstrous food items that, bafflingly, people from the its region of origin absolutely swear by. We’re just saying, there’s no better example of Stockholm Syndrome than watching a St. Louis resident swear to that they “still miss St. Louis-style pizza every day since they’ve moved from Missouri.”
Avocado Pie (California)
That looks like a key-lime pie. But do not be fooled. It is so not a key-lime pie. We know that Californians have kind of a thing for avocados, but this is getting ridiculous. Now, many people have their own recipes to make this, which actually, why the fuck should so many people have their own “special” way to make a weird avocado pie on a graham cracker pie crust? That’s fucking lunacy. Every single recipe we could find for this basically seems to originate from the basic concept that avocados are green, so why not take a key lime pie, but, like, with avocados? That’s the kind of logic we use when we’re too hungover on Sunday to go to the store to get more tomato juice, and so we settle for making a bloody Mary with ketchup because, eh fuck it, just toss some Tabasco in there and you’ll hardly notice the difference. Yes, we are aware that we live incredibly sad lives. But, more tot he point, that is a very tenuous foundation for a dessert recipe, even if the end result isn’t actively bad.
So first of all, the recipe we’re looking at for this dish that, we can guarantee, disappoints 100% of the people eating it after the first bite because no one sees a green pie on graham cracker crust and thinks, “Oh goody, avocado pie”, fills out the avocados with some other ingredients to make it less jarring when mixed with the graham cracker’s sweetness. Unfortunately, none of these ingredients are sugar. It’s made with lime juice, lemon juice, sweetened condensed milk, heavy cream, and sour cream. Again, this is with a bunch of overripe avocados tossed in there.
Maybe you think that sounds good. Maybe you want a sour-creamy-gelatin-milky-avocado spread on a super sweet crumbly pie crust. But you’re probably also either a Californian who has been brainwashed by government decree to love avocados in whatever form they may take, or you’ve just got weird food preferences. Because even if this isn’t actively gross, it is actively weird. However, it probably tastes better than…
Cincinnati Chili (Cincinnati)
Haha, people from Cincinnati get so mad whenever anyone mentions how bad their soupy-shitty-cheese-topped-sad-person-chili actually is. Like, so mad. We’ve actually talked about Cincinnati Chili before, in the form of the Cincinnati Cheese Coney dog, and our opinion has not wavered. Maybe we’re monsters for not liking our chili to be sweet, no matter how much you try to distract us from the point by piling it on wimpy spaghetti and dousing it with enough cheese that you think to yourself, “Huh, I ordered a bowl of chili from this fine Ohio establishment, but this is not chili, this is cheese, I just was given a plate of shredded cheese.” Noodles are fine! Cheese, even in the cheap and shitty form it takes in Cincinnati chili, is fine! But if you’re going to try to get us say something nice about the chocolate and cinnamon laced overly sweet watery nonsense that you sandwich in between those two perfectly fine things, you’re fucking insane. Or, a rabid Cincinnati food fan.
Stop trying to make Skyline happen, guys. There’s a reason it hasn’t made it out of your state.
Pemmican (Midwest and Mountain West)
We’ve actually been told that this doesn’t taste bad, but we have to call this out just because the way the ingredients are handled make it sound gross. Pemmican is a high-energy food that was invented by Native Americans that’s basically just meat jerky that’s been ground into dust and mixed evenly with pure fat. You take this meat/fat goop and roll it into a ball, and bam. You can eat it to sustain yourself during difficult journeys. That’s some straight up Revenant shit right there.
Pemmican was adopted back in the 19th century by Europeans in the fur trade, and early Arctic and Antarctic expeditions packed it because it’s about as efficient of a caloric energy food as you could find at the time. Notice, none of these are actually good reasons for it to still hang around today. We live in a post-Cliff-bar world now, guys. You don’t need meat dust and fat to get you the energy you need to go about your day. Historically, pemmican was made out of whatever meat was available—so, usually bison, moose, elk, or deer. Lean meat was taken, cut into thin slices and dried over a slow fire until it became hard and brittle. It’s mashed into powder using stones, and mixed in a 1:1 ratio with pure melted fat. Berries occasionally were added, because why not.
Now, of anything on this list, this is the one item that, if you handed it to us, we’d eat it without too much hesitation. But that doesn’t mean it’s something that still needs to be eaten. We’re long past the point of having to eat stuff that exists explicitly so you don’t die from exertion. But this is still a regional treat for some people (looking at you, Iowa). And that’s just strange.
Scrapple (Pennsylvania Dutch)
Oh fuck! Okay, that’s a really misleading photo, because that’s literally what Scrapple looks like being made, and in its normal form it just looks like a random loaf of grit, but still. Jesus, we’re so sorry for doing that to you, we should have posted a warning or something. Anyway, SNOUTS! Yes, those are in Scrapple! Everything is in scrapple. It’s a Pennsylvania Dutch pudding made from a mush of whatever leftover parts of a pig they happen to have handy, combined with cornmeal, flour, and spices and formed into a semi-solid congealed loaf. Scrapple was first made to avoid waste, but some people randomly decided that they should continue eating it, where it’s pan-fried to be served as a sandwich or, ugh, on its own.
On top of the horrifying process that goes into making this combination of hog head, heart, and liver, it’s generally served for breakfast with either apple butter, ketchup, jelly, maple syrup, honey, or mustard. What the shit, guys? Goddamn it, breakfast in the Mid-Atlantic states must be a fucking nightmare.
St. Louis Pizza (St. Louis)
We’ve literally talked more shit about St. Louis-style pizza on this website than almost any other food stuff, so there’s really not much more we can add that we haven’t said before. It’s the worst pizza in America, because it manages to fuck up all three ingredients that are required for a semi-decent pizza. Crust? It’s a fucking unleavened cracker. Sauce? Sweet and weird and gross and bad. Cheese? Provel, a processed Frankencheese that St. Louis keeps insisting is good, but which has literally not caught on anywhere else despite them not being able to shut the fuck up about it. This is the worst thing that St. Louis makes, but it’s not the only awful regional food that St. Louis is responsible for. We’ll talk about more of those later, but really, St. Louis needs to work on their image problem as far as we’re concerned. Right now the most visible exports St. Louis has is Cardinals fans and trash pizza. Come on, guys. Ship out the slinger or toasted ravioli or something. You’re looking bad.
That’s all we can really stomach for today. But we’ve got more of these, unfortunately. Stay tuned, and bring your barf bags, because we’ve got about two articles more worth of American regional dishes to decimate.