Weird foods to try in America – 32 dishes to try

America is a melting pot (well it used to be) which meant that the foods that were common were deeply influenced by Indigenous foods that were given to the colonists when they arrived and later by Europeans, and every other culture that came to America to seek refuge.

Today, there are a lot of foods that are considered American, such as hamburgers, BBQ, hot dogs and so on. But there is still a legacy of weird American food that arose out of the combination of mixing of cultures, poverty and available resources.

A platter of BBQ, including nuggets, ribs, and brisket all loaded onto a silver tray and sitting on a picnic bench with 2 beers - Weird American Food

There is also a phenomenal history of slave-created foods that arose out of the poverty and starvation of the slaves in the south and these have now become all-American favourites. These include dishes like grits, BBQ, chitlins, and meat from what we might consider untouchable animals such as alligators, squirrels, and road kill.

Weird American Food, stars and stripes cookies in a red white and blue cup celebrating the 4th of July weird American food

You can talk about the weird and unusual foods you have had in your travels all you want as if America is the source of all great food but weird American food is no different from any other country.

32 Weird American foods

Here are 32 weird food dishes in America that you may come across when travelling this massive country.

Sushirito – California

If you happen to journey to California you just might come across a Sushirito Restaurant. This is a concept developed in 2008 by Peter Yen in San Francisco. A sushirito is a combination of the Mexican tortilla or wrap as it is called now filled with sushi ingredients.  

Weird American food - 32 dishes to try

Cotton Candy Burrito – all USA

Invented in Sarnia, Ontario near my hometown of London. Sugar Sugar, an ice cream shop invented this perfect summer confection which takes flattened cotton candy and wraps it around various flavours of icecream and then sprinkles it with Unicorn dust. A teeth-hurting moment I’m sure. This delightful summer treat is now available all over the USA.

Green Chile Sundae – New Mexico

Invented in New Mexico the Green Chile sundae is the perfect combination of sweet, cold, salty and spicy. It is frozen custard topped with green chile sauce and pecans.

Weird American food - 32 dishes to try

Garbage plate – NY State

New York state goes way beyond New York City the Garbage Plate was invented by (legend has it) students who ordered a plate with ‘all the garbage in it’ at Nick Tahou Hots restaurant in Rochester New York. Obviously, it was a weekend and they hit the place when well and truly drunk.

A Garbage Plate is a dish of leftovers that can include, meat leftovers, hash browns, French fries, chicken nuggets or hot dogs. At Nick Tahou’s, the traditional Garbage Plate consists of two sides (usually home fries and macaroni salad, with options of baked beans or French fries) and a protein – either two burgers or hot dogs (white hots or red hots).

Weird American food - 32 dishes to try
©Douglas.flowe, CC BY-SA 3.0

White Hots and Red Hots – NY State

While hot dogs can be made out of a variety of different meats, white-hot dogs are a unique combination of pork, beef, and veal. All three types of meat are uncured and unsmoked, which gives the hot dog its white colour. White hots are a true New York state staple.

 A red hot may also be a pork or beef hot dog. Many refer to the standard hot dog as a Red Hot – mostly to distinguish them from the white-hot.

Weird American food - 32 dishes to try

Lamb Fries – from Nevada to Kentucky

Lamb fries are a tradition brought to America by the Spanish Basque people who came to America for the gold rush and settled for sheep farming. Lamb fries are the testicles of lambs that are sliced, breaded and fried.

Rocky Mountain Oysters – Western USA

Well, there are a few names for these western treats including Rocky Mountain oysters. Cowboy caviar and Prairie oysters. Castrated bulls testicles are battered, fried and served with a side of hot sauce, cocktail sauce, ketchup or mayonnaise. Those who have actually eaten these say they taste like a cross between venison and chicken.

Nutria – Louisiana

A Nutria is a large river rat found in Louisiana it is cooked in a slow cooker (it’s very tough) and seasoned with Cajun spices. Kind of like eating cuy in South America.

Koolickle – Mississippi

A delicacy found in the southern USA probably invented in Mississippi this is made by soaking pickles (yes the dill ones) in Kool-Aid and served as a side or snack. Apparently, this sweet and salty and dilly combination is the ‘bomb’.

Weird American food - 32 dishes to try

Boiled peanuts – Georgia

I must admit I have tried boiled peanuts and just didn’t like them. I did read that the boiling process removes antioxidants from the shells and that boiled these have four times the antioxidants of roasted peanuts. I also learned that Peanuts were brought to America by slaves from Africa and the practice of boiling peanuts probably originated here. If there was a surplus peanut crop, field workers would hold a “peanut boil” to celebrate with shared conversation and food.

Gator Tail – Florida

Yes people Florida is not just the land of Disney burgers and cocktails as much as you might wish it. Florida is about as red-neckian as you can get, even the gulf side is called the Red Neck Riveria. Alligator tails are said to be the most tender and tasty (like chicken) of this particular animal and the use of gator meat probably came about because there was nothing else to eat.

Gator Tail is often prepared like chicken nuggets, battered and then deep-fried and served with condiments on the side.

Beirock – Kansas

Beirocks are essentially a bread bun with a pocket that is stuffed with ground beef, onion and cabbage. The bierock originally came from Russia, in the form of a pirogi but in Kansas, the dough became bread although the stuffing stayed the same.   

Fried Squirrel – Kentucky and the upper Michigan Peninsula

Fried squirrel is treated much like chicken, although it is really tough meat so it needs to be marinated in buttermilk preferably overnight then tossed in a crispy coating spiced up with some garlic, salt, pepper and maybe some hot sauce.

It is said to taste like a cross between chicken and rabbit and the meat is slightly sweet. 

Slug burger – Mississippi

A small burger (around 5 inches) nicknamed the slug burger after the old US nickel which was of course known as a slug and was what the burgers cost. During the Depression, diner cooks needed to stretch the ground beef (mince to you British) to get more burgers out of the meat. Originally they used potato flour but these days soybean grits are used. The small patties are fried and then served on a bun with mustard, pickles and onions.

Burgoo – Kentucky

Burgoo is a spicy stew usually made from what we call road kill such as squirrels, raccoons, deer, moose or possums.

It was believed to have originated in England in the late 19th century and was traditionally cooked for hours in large kettles, preparation of burgoo began as a community affair where everyone would contribute meat or vegetables and whatever was available to the communal pot.  

Goetta – Cincinnati

Goetta is a type of sausage made with minced pork, spices and oatmeal and any leftover pork scraps. It originated with the German immigrants who settled in Cincinnati.

Walking Taco/Frito lay pie – California

I’ve made Frito Lay pie for my family for many years. It’s a simple dish of Fritos corn chips on top of which you layer a good chilli, lots of cheese and sour cream – delicious. I first saw the walking taco in Mexico where it is popular street food for kids. They simply take a package of Fritos or tortilla chips and throw the chillies, cheese, sour cream, and jalapenos on top of the chips in the bag and there you have it walking tacos.

Weird American food - 32 dishes to try

Chislic – South Dakota

Chislic is found in South Dakota but also turns up in other Midwest communities with a German Russian heritage.  Chislic consists of small cubes of meat on a 6-8” wooden skewer. Traditionally, the meat is lamb or mutton and the skewers are deep-fat fried. It is generally seasoned with garlic salt and served with saltine crackers.

Liver mush – North Carolina

Liver mush is another one of those dishes that started with those who couldn’t afford good cuts of meat. Liver mush is made with pig livers, parts of the pig head and these bits are combined with corneal it is then baked in a loaf pan and served sliced it’s a bit like a French terrine.

Sweet Potato Casserole – USA

Sweet potato casserole is one American dish that most of us cannot understand but it is a traditional dish served at Thanksgiving in the USA. This is a casserole with sliced sweet potatoes in butter with marshmallows melted and caramelized on top. Sweet on top of sweet this first appeared in the early 1900s as a marketing ploy to get people to eat marshmallows.

Weird American food - 32 dishes to try

American Cheese – USA

So technically not cheese but a sort of plastic orange slice found in every hamburger across the USA. Nothing like it for a grilled cheese sandwich and a side of ketchup. Or topping a burger in any fast-food chain across America. 

Just to put you off further American cheese is a processed cheese made by mixing Cheddar cheese, washed curd cheese, Colby cheese, and granular cheese, among other ingredients. It’s those other ingredients that worry most of us since we don’t know what they are.

Weird American food - 32 dishes to try

Cheez Whiz – USA

Cheez Whiz got to admit I’m a fan of it as an ingredient but it does make a great topping for vegetables or a nacho cheese spread.  It is a mild pasteurized cheese spread in a jar and its primary components are whey, milk, vegetable oil, and milk protein powder.

Weird American food - 32 dishes to try

Corn Dog – Portland, Oregon

Corn dogs were first created in a small shop in Portland, Oregon called Pronto Pup. The owners created cornmeal battered and deep-fried hot dogs that became all the rage. This is the quintessential American Fair food. Portable and tasty when served with ketchup or mustard.

Weird American food - 32 dishes to try
©BenFranske, CC BY-SA 3.0

Scrapple – Pennsylvania

Scrapple was created by German Colonists who came to Pennsylvania. It is comprised of pork scraps and trimming, flour and corn meal that is shaped in a loaf pan and left to set. When set the scrapple is sliced and fried and served for breakfast or in a sandwich.

Creamed Chipped Beef – USA      

Also known as SOS (shit on a shingle) by the American troops during WWII. It is traditionally made with dried beef (usually Buddig which is a popular American brand) and white gravy served on toasted white bread. The beef is salted, pressed, dried and then sliced very thin.

Weird American food - 32 dishes to try

Chittlerings – Southern USA

Chitlins, also called chitterlings, are the large intestines of swine (hogs) but can also come from calf or veal. Chitlins are typically either slow-cooked or fried, but because they are labour-intensive to clean and prepare, chitlins are often reserved for special occasions. They are usually part of a larger meal that includes collard greens, fried chicken, and other traditional Southern foods.  Chitlins are not for the faint of palate or smell, which is why traditionally they were cooked outdoors at backyard hog killings in winter.

Because they were slaves African-American food choices were dictated by their owners who allowed them to eat scraps and what they considered garbage. The West African tradition of cooking all edible parts of plants and animals gave them creative ways to use these scraps which are now considered ‘authentic American cuisine’.

Weird American food - 32 dishes to try

Akutaq – Alaska

Akutaq is a sort of ice cream dish that comes from Alaska and uses seal oil or reindeer fat. The fat is whipped so it becomes light and airy and additions such as berries, honey, wild carrots or potatoes are added. It can also include traditional meats such as caribou, seal or whale.  

Provel Cheese – St. Louis, Missouri

Provel is American cheese, produced with a combination of many kinds of cheese, mainly cheddar, swiss and provolone. This pasteurised processed cheese has a low melting point and appears gooey and buttery at room temperature. It is a mainstay in many St. Louis-style pizza and cheese soup dishes.

Weird American food - 32 dishes to try

Hot beef Sundae – Iowa

This is a bowl of mashed potatoes topped with roast beef, brown gravy, and cheddar cheese “sprinkles.” At the local fairs, the bowls are topped with a dollop of sour cream and cherry tomato. The dish was invented by the Iowa Beef Industry Council in 2006 for the Iowa State Fair.

Weird American food - 32 dishes to try

Loco Moco and Spam Sushi  – Hawaii

Loco Moco is a Hawaiin dish that is basically a hamburger topped with sticky rice and a fried egg all of which is then covered with brown gravy.

Spam sushi is exactly what it says a slice of Spam wrapped in sticky rice and seaweed.

Weird American food - 32 dishes to try

Clam Pizza – Connecticut

With a claim to fame of being on the Atlantic with superior clams available the folks in Connecticut invented the Clam pizza. This is basically a white-sauce pizza with garlic, Pecorino Romano, oregano and clams of course on top and it can be found at Mystic Pizza (as in the movie of the same name with Julia Roberts).

Weird American food is no different than any other food served in the rest of the world. There are unusual dishes everywhere but what these dishes do is bring us a taste of the culture and history of a place.

What food have you tried that you consider weird?

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