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The cuisine of Florida is one of the exotic styles of food in the United States, and is as diverse as the people who live there, with strong influences from the rest of the South, Latin America, and the Caribbean. A history of immigration from its nearby neighbors like Cuba and the Bahamas, has created a fusion of cultures. The cuisine produced from this fusion of cultures is usually referred to as Floribbean cuisine, a portmanteau of Florida and Caribbean, despite the other influences involved.
The cuisine and culture of Florida varies across the state. The northern part of the state, especially the Florida panhandle, features cuisine similar to that of the rest of the South, like barbecue, grits, and some Cajun and Creole cuisines. Florida has its own take on some of these Southern dishes, like grits and grunts, which incorporates grunt fish into Southern classic grits. The lower parts of the state have a higher concentration of immigrants and the cuisine includes more diverse and exotic flavors. Floridian cuisine has also been influenced by Asian immigrants who settled in the area, and were hired as inexpensive laborers after the end of slavery.
Florida’s warm climate allows many tropical fruits to thrive, including mangoes, papayas, and coconuts. Florida is the largest citrus producer in the United States, and the fruit is used to make many dishes, such as seviche (sometimes spelled ceviche) which is seafood that is cooked only in the acid of citrus juice. As a peninsular state, seafood is plentiful in Florida, and includes specialties such as conch, grouper, snapper, and grunt. The flavors of Floridian cuisine are usually spicy, from its Latin American and Caribbean influences, but are combined with the sweetness of tropical fruits, such as mango salsa or citrus marinades.
Conch Fritters are made in the Florida Keys, which is sometimes referred to as the Conch Republic (and the people as Conchs) for the community’s abundance of the animal. Conch is a large shellfish, or sea snail, which lives inside a large spiral shell. The conch meat can be soaked in lemon juice, cooking in its acid and tenderizing it, which makes seviche.
Another method of cooking conch meat is making what are called fritters. Conch fritters are made with chopped conch meat and vegetables like sweet peppers and hot peppers, onions, and celery, which are then fried into small balls.
Swamp cabbage, also known as hearts of palm, comes from the core of the sabal palm trees that are common in Florida. This dish was first eaten by the Native Americans in the region, who boiled the cabbage to make it softer, and prepared it with tomatoes or cream. Today, these trees are protected by the law as the official state tree of Florida (and South Carolina), and are usually imported from elsewhere and used to make salad.
Key Lime Pie
Key lime pie has been declared the official pie of Florida. Originating in the Florida Keys, this dessert is made from a small lime native to the islands, known as key limes. The pie is made with lime juice, egg yolk, and sweetened condensed milk, which is whipped together and cooked in pie crust. Though today the pie is baked, the original recipe allowed the reaction between the lime juice and condensed milk to thicken the filling on its own, so baking was unnecessary. Key lime pie is traditionally topped with meringue, which uses up the whites of the eggs.
Real Floridian key lime pie is yellow, not green, because the juice from key limes is yellow and due to the inclusion of egg yolks.
Floribbean cuisine is concentrated in South Florida, particularly Miami, and is a fusion of many cultures, especially from Cuba, the Bahamas, Jamaica, Haiti, Colombia, Panama, and Puerto Rico. Since the distance between Florida (especially the Keys) and Cuba is very short, travel between the two places used to be very fast and easy. The influx of Cuban immigrants in the 1960s just after Fidel Castro took control of Cuba created a unique blend of cultures, which has incorporated many aspects of Cuban cuisine. Typical Cuban-influenced dishes in South Florida include arroz con pollo (rice with chicken), fried plantains, white rice and black beans, and the mojito, a cocktail made from rum, lime, and mint. Dishes from other Latin American and Caribbean influences include arepas, empanadas, and Jamaican jerk chicken.
The Cubano is a Cuban sandwich, which is commonly sold at stands known as loncherias, which can be found all around South Florida. The Cubano combines roast pork, ham, salami, cheese, and a pickle on Cuban bread, which is thick and chewy. The sandwiches are pressed so the flavors combine and the bread is toasted.
The medianoche (midnight) is a variation on the Cuban sandwich that is made on yellow egg bread and is typically smaller than the Cubano. The medianoche, as its name suggests, is usually eaten as a midnight snack.