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Dig Into These 12 Regional Comfort Foods In The US

The taste of home

Few things satisfy the soul like comfort food. Only, depending on where you grew up or live, what gets considered “comfort food” varies widely. You’d be hard pressed to find funeral potatoes in Florida, for example, or soup made with potlikker on menus across California. But go to where these dishes are more common, and you’ll find plenty of people who have strong opinions on recipes, variations, and serving styles.

From coast to coast and north to south, these are the regional comfort foods in the United States that we rely on for a true taste of home.

funeral potatoes

funeral potatoes

Funeral potatoes are true to their name in that they’re a food commonly served at funerals, but they’re actually a popular side at gatherings throughout the year—especially the holidays. There are plenty of variations to be found, but at the core, funeral potatoes are made with potatoes (cubed or hash brown), onions, butter, cheese, and a cream-based soup like cream of mushroom. On top, corn flakes, chips, or Ritz crackers.

The dish is popular among followers of the Church of Latter-day Saints, and it’s most common in states like Utah and around the Southwest. While Utah isn’t the only place you’ll find funeral potatoes, it does have the strongest tie to the food: the set of collector’s pins for the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake included a funeral potatoes pin.

frog eye salad

frog eye salad

This dessert salad has nothing to do with frogs, eyes, or frog’s eyes. Instead, it’s a sweet pasta salad unlike any other. Acini di pepe (a couscous-sized pasta) forms the base, and the pasta’s appearance is where the frog eye in the name comes from. The mixture added to the pasta varies by who is making it, but generally includes mandarin oranges, pineapple, marshmallows, coconut, and whipped cream. Frog eye salad is popular in Utah, Colorado, and Wyoming, especially among the Mormon community.

 

We have a plethora of pasta information for you to ponder if you please.

hotdish

hotdish

Hailing from the Upper Midwest, and Minnesota in particular, hotdish is a stand-in for a certain type of casserole. At its most basic, a hotdish is a starch, protein, and vegetable held together by a creamy sauce. The first recipes date back to the 1930s, though the concept likely came about during World War I when the government encouraged saving food for the war effort, and families conserved with casseroles. Tater tots were introduced in the 1950s, and soon after, the classic hotdish became the same basic set of starch, protein, vegetable—but topped with an extra starch layer. Today, along with tots, crushed chow mein noodles, fried onions, and potato chips are other options for the crispy top.

hasty pudding

hasty pudding

In the 1600s, there were porridges that cooked slowly and ones that cooked “in haste,” otherwise known as hasty pudding. We’ve come a long way since the gruel of a hasty pudding cooked over a fire, but the dish is still at its heart a quick porridge eaten warm. It’s commonly made with cornmeal or wheat flour that’s stirred with milk or water. Spices, sugar, molasses, eggs, and raisins all make it into variations of hasty pudding.

Hasty pudding is originally British, though it took off in New England colonies. It even made it into “Yankee Doodle Dandy” in the second verse: “Father and I went down to camp / Along with Captain Gooding / And there we saw the men and boys / As thick as hasty pudding.”

pepper pot

pepper pot

Mention pepper pot in Philadelphia and you might meet people who believe the city is the home of the dish. Do so in the Caribbean and you’ll likely hear the same.

Pepper pot is a basic stew of meat and vegetables that is heavily spiced and slowly simmered. Tripe and other offal are commonly used, and the aromatics and spices typically include a heavy hand of cayenne, garlic, thyme, basil, black pepper, and others. One story goes that pepper pot became a classic Philadelphia dish because the Continental Army mixed rations and a lot of spices together during tough times at Valley Forge during the American Revolutionary War. The more likely story, however, is that pepper pot made its way to the city with enslaved and formerly enslaved people from the Caribbean, where a nearly identical heavily spiced one-pot dish is common.

 

Learn more about Caribbean culture and language here.

Brunswick stew 

Brunswick stew 

Brunswick stew dates back to the 1800s and was originally a Southern dish made using small game meat like squirrel and rabbit. The meat, along with a range of tomatoes, spices, and other available vegetables, was slowly cooked in a cast iron pot over a fire. Over time, chicken and other readily available meats were swapped in, but the basic nature of a giant pot of slow-cooked vegetables, meat, and tomatoes stayed the same.

The oldest claim to the stew, and the claim to the name of the dish, is that it was first made in Brunswick County, Virginia, though folks in the town of Brunswick, Georgia, also lay claim to the recipe. In the case of the latter, smoked pork, hot sauce, and peas are usually added to the mix. Either way, Brunswick stew got its name from a Southern location.

potlikker soup 

potlikker soup 

Potlikker, also spelled potlicker and pot liquor, is the liquid leftover in the pot after boiling greens. It’s often strained out and dumped in many parts of the country, but in some parts of the South it’s cherished for being flavorful and nutrient-rich. The origins aren’t clearly documented, though it’s thought that enslaved people on Southern plantations saved the liquid that otherwise would have been thrown out. Potlikker was once believed to be a tonic cure-all, but while it’s healthy, it’s not magic. Today, people use potlikker as a soup base and to add flavor to other recipes.

chowder

chowder

There are many types of chowder across the US, each with regional touches. At the heart of all the styles, however, a chowder is a thick soup or stew made of clams, fish, or vegetables, with potatoes, onions, and other ingredients and seasonings. The name originally comes from the Latin caldaria (cooking pot), which turned to the French chaudière and then the English chowder. Fish was often used in early chowders made by Indigenous peoples in North America as well as in Europe, and clams and other shellfish were also commonly added in. Today, variations abound. In the Northeast alone there are three dominant styles of clam chowder: Rhode Island style has a clear broth, Manhattan style a tomato broth, and New England or Boston style has a cream-based broth.

chicken bog

chicken bog

This dish comes from the Lowcountry region in the southern portion of South Carolina. Chicken bog is made with shredded chicken, rice, sausage, and spices, with some recipes calling for various greens and hot sauce. It’s all cooked together until the rice is finished and there’s only a slight amount of liquid remaining. South Carolina was the largest rice producer in the United States until the Civil War, which made it a common ingredient in local recipes. The name for this particular food is thought to come either from how the dish is slightly liquidy, like a bog (wet, spongy soil), or because it was most common in boggy locales along the coast.

 

Can you identify the different regions of “belts” in the US? Learn about 13 of these belts here.

akutaq

akutaq

Though akutaq, pronounced [ ah-goo-duck ], is sometimes known as Eskimo ice cream, it is nothing like the ice cream that you expect. Akutaq has long been made by Indigenous people in Alaska with berries, snow, and either seal oil, reindeer fat, bear fat, or ground fish. It was historically a survival food rich in fat that was made after the first polar bear or seal catch. The name comes from the Yupik word for “mix.” Modern akutaq often uses a shortening like Crisco instead of tallow.

Hoppin’ John

Hoppin’ John

Hoppin’ John comes from the Carolinas and is also sometimes called Carolina peas and rice. The latter hints at what’s inside: dried peas, rice, and pork (usually ham hock or spicy sausage)—all ingredients common to South Carolina’s Lowcountry. The first recipes were most likely made by enslaved people, as both rice-growing knowledge and the black-eyed pea originally came from West Africa. It’s considered a good luck dish when eaten on New Year’s Eve.

ambrosia

ambrosia

Comfort food doesn’t have to be warm and savory. Case in point: ambrosia, which is made with canned mandarin oranges and pineapple, coconut, cherries, marshmallows, and whipped cream all mixed together. It was popularized in the late 1800s when an expanding rail network made it possible to ship coconut from ports in the West and citrus from Florida. Over time, it became increasingly associated with the South and Christmastime. As for name, ambrosia has a lot to live up to. Ambrosia comes from the word Ancient Greeks used to describe food of the gods that gave anyone who ate it immortality.

Take the quiz

Are you feeling at home with these dishes? Find out if you’re filled to the brim with knowledge on regional comfort foods by taking our quiz. Then find some time to fill your plate.

If you hungry for more, then gather around the table with these words for and about Thanksgiving.

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Nov. 30, 2021

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