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Eating Across America: Become a Military Foodie

One of the perks of being an active duty military family is that we get to live all over the country.  (Admittedly, it’s also one of the downsides too.)  We’re never in one place too long, right?  And while dealing with the PCS and relocating everything and starting all over yet AGAIN can be awfully annoying, it’s also a great opportunity to experience other regions of the country.  It gives us exposure to different types of people, ways of life, weather, recreation, and FOOD!

I admit I’m a huge foodie.  I love trying new things when I go different places.  One example is when my husband and I honeymooned in Jamaica.  The beach was beautiful, but I also fell in love with the native lychee!  (It’s a fruit.  And it’s delicious.  The Red Stripe was good too.)  Moving around with the military has also exposed me to new foods, from fresh sugarcane in Hawaii to the best mole sauce ever on the Mexican border.  I suppose you could call me a locavore: someone who loves to try local ingredients and dishes.

In this article I break the US down into regions and highlight foods that make up each region’s unique cuisine.  Note that I didn’t include those of you stationed in foreign countries (sorry!).  If you’re stationed overseas, then obviously you’re in a whole different ballgame.  Food-wise, I envy you.  However, you may enjoy browsing through the list for recipes to remind you of back home!

Disclaimer: I admit I haven’t had time to properly travel all 50 states and sample all of their regional specialties (although this is, of course, a goal of mine).  So please add on your local favorites as you see fit in the comments section!

Northeast/Mid-Atlantic:

This region may be known as the original colonies of the present-day USA, but it's also known for their seafood!  The coastal states of New England down the coast to Maryland have some of the best lobster, clams, mussels, oysters, cod, etc.  I consider myself from Maryland and can tell you that nothing is better than steamed crabs with old bay!  On the other hand, rural areas like upstate New York and Pennsylvania have lush farmland.  They produce plenty of delicious apples, cranberries, greens, melons, and more, which can often be bought fresh at a farmers market or co-op.  Other specialties include honey and maple syrup from northern New England, Buffalo Wings from New York, and of course those delicious Philly Cheesesteaks.  So after reading about the Northeast, are you wondering how to eat a lobster?  Or maybe you just want to learn to make a mean seafood chowder (aka “chowda”).  Check out classic New England meal ideas from Simply Recipes.

The South:

There is nothing like good ol Southern cooking!  From Georgia peaches to Keylime pie, there are so many delicious options in this region.  Country fried steak, pinto beans (aka soup beans), bourbon, and whiskey are common to Kentucky.  Meanwhile, some of the best barbeque in the country can be found in places like North Carolina and Tennessee.  With its Cajun background, Louisiana is best known for their shrimp, jumbalaya, po’boy sandwiches, gumbo, and catfish (not to mention excellent television programming such as Swamp People).  So while in the area, take advantage of the Southern hospitality.  Sample dishes like grits, pork, and collard greens, washed down with a glass of sweet tea, but only in moderation; many classic Southern dishes have a lot of calories, fat, and salt.  So while you should totally sample that local barbeque joint that was featured on the Food Network, try not to overdo it.  Better yet, try your hand at the local fare and cut extra calories!  Southern Living has light versions of classic southern dishes.  If that Cajun flavor is what you’re after, try these traditional dishes with a healthy spin from Cooking Light.

Central Northern/Mountain States:

This region is known for its meats, prepared as fresh steaks, dried jerky, or slow-cooked stews.  They’ll serve up anything from domestic cattle to wild game meats.  So go ahead, try that bison burger.  It’s much leaner than beef, and who knows, you might really like it!  In this area, especially near Idaho, enjoy the year-round availability of fresh potatoes.  (Just make sure to eat the skin for fiber!)  Onions, carrots, and greens are also top crops.  In addition, be sure to try fresh fish such as trout or bass!  Although this area isn’t near the ocean, it has a ton of lakes and streams that are great for freshwater fishing.  New York Times put out a mouthwatering (and healthy) recipe for rainbow trout, but don’t be afraid to try it with other fish too!  One last thing while we’re on the topic of seafood: note that Rocky Mountain Oysters are NOT shellfish.

Midwest:

The Midwest…also known as America’s farmland.  Take advantage of the fresh corn, green beans, tomatoes, and sweet peppers.  Even SpouseBuzz editor Jacey once exclaimed, “Give me Ohio for tomatoes!”  But vegetables aren’t the only thing offered in this region.  Dairy products such as cheese are also on the foodie forefront; you don’t have to root for the Green Bay Packers to become a Cheesehead.  Like the Mountain states, the Midwest also has quite a bit of cattle and its leaner counterpart, bison (aka buffalo).  Meanwhile, Missouri is known for delicious barbeque.  Last, if you’re up near Chicago you must try the classic deep dish pizza!  It’s more like a pie, actually. Try making your own deep dish pizza, minus excess calories, fat, and sodium via Cooking Light (complete with a mouthwatering video!)

Southwest:

With its close proximity to the Mexican border, this area’s cuisine is obviously influenced by its Latin-American neighbor.  As a current resident of El Paso, TX, I can tell you that we have crazy delicious Mexican food down here.  While there’s plenty of Americanized Tex-Mex in this region, you can also find truly authentic Mexican cuisine, which uses more traditional ingredients such as corn tortillas, chiles, and slow cooked meats.  The more of a hole-in-the-wall the restaurant is, the more authentic it is, in my experience.  New Mexico and surrounding areas are known for their green chiles, but also foods such as pecans and beans.  Oh and did I mention the guacamole flows like lava?  Check out some Southwestern recipes from Cooking Light and healthy Mexican dishes from the Food Network.

West:

Bordering the ocean has its perks.  Much like the Northeast coast is known for their shellfish, the West coast also has its share of fresh seafood such as swordfish, rockfish, tuna, and Dungeness crab.  In Southern California you have the Latin-American influence much like the Southwestern states.  Further north provides the ideal climate for fruit orchards, so take advantage of the pears, apples, berries, mushrooms, and grapes (and grapes mean wine, of course!).   The West coast also has a strong Asian influence, stretching all the way up to Washington State.  This means an abundance of ethnic-fusion restaurants serving Korean bulgogi, Thai food, sushi, and more.  While you’re in Northern California, sample the incredible artichokes and San Francisco sourdough bread.  One last thing: did you know that 95% of US avocado production is located in California?  See what else you can make with “alligator pears” besides guacamole from Health.com.

Alaska:

Alaska is home to delicious fresh fish such as trout, salmon, halibut, and crab varieties.  With its expansive wilderness, wild game is plentiful.  You can buy freshly caught fish or hunted meats from independent fishers/hunters as well as traditional markets.  My parents were stationed in Ketchikan and always had delicious fish they bought (or caught!) that they kept in a large freezer to last all winter.  If you’re wondering what to do with your seafood stash, check out recipes from Alaska Seafood.  In addition to fish and meats, you may find wild berries growing in the summer such as blueberries and cranberries.  Berry-picking makes a great summertime activity with the kids!

Hawaii:

These tropical isalnds often invoke thoughts of fruity drinks and fresh fish, which is pretty accurate.  Standard fare consists of influences from Asia, America, and Europe combined with locally-derived ingredients.  Seafood such as ahi tuna, snapper, and flounder is plentiful, as are fruits such as papaya, mango, and passionfruit.  However, due to all the tourists, you’re bound to find that pretty much every cuisine is available!  Even if you’re not living in paradise, get the flavor by making Hawaiian Chicken Kabobs and other Hawaii-inspired recipes from AllRecipes.com.

So take advantage of the weird places the military sends you!  You may end up appreciating foods and dishes you never thought existed, or that you never thought you’d like.  What are your favorite foods from where you’ve been stationed?  Please share below!

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