02 Jun 4 Dishes Born Right Here!
Food can tell a story. It can reveal the history of a place, cultures that influenced the area, and how people adapted to its environment. Floridian food is no exception.
The north end of our state is more “southern” than the south part of our state. Unlike other states in the region, we have a Spanish colonial history. To the south of us is the Caribbean, which has heavily influenced Floridian culture. From three sides, we’re surrounded by vast bodies of water (hello seafood!) and our state draws in migrants from all around the country.
With all that, you know some great food will be found but did you know these dishes were born in Tampa Bay and the Sunshine State?
1. Smoked Fish Dip
Smoking fish and other meats is a practice that’s been going on for so long, that no one really knows where it came from. Today, we associate it with adding a type of flavor. Back then, it was meant for survival as smoking was a common way to preserve meat.
Historically, the Gulf Coast of Florida has been riddled with fishing villages. Just an hour north of us you can find Tarpon Springs and a few hours south of St. Pete is Cortez. Both of them make great day, or weekend trips btw.
Mullet is a common fish along Florida’s coastlines and waterways. They’re not as commonly sought for eating since they’re bottom feeders and caught mainly as baitfish. Fishers in these types of small communities would smoke them, and eventually turn them into a fish spread.
Ted Peter’s Famous Smoked Fish in Pasadena is one of the oldest smoke houses in the area that’s still running. Some other Florida favorites for dip include Amberjack and Redfish. Nowadays, you can travel all around the state and find this angler’s favorite in many restaurants.
2. The Cuban Sand
Where there’s food, there’s feuds. Chile and Peru fight over the home of the potato. Israel and Lebanon want to claim the origin hummus. In 2002, Greece fought Denmark, Germany, and Bulgaria to claim that feta was officially a “Greek product.” They won. However, if there’s any battle over food in Florida, it’s over the origin of the Cuban Sand.
Is it from Miami or Tampa?
It’s understandable why one would mistake Miami as the home of the Cuban sandwich. About 15 years after the Cuban Revolution, there was massive influx of immigrants from the island nation. After all, Cuba is just 90 miles away from Florida (closer than South Carolina). But before the Cuban migration occurred and “Cuban Miami” was established, the sandwich was already in Florida.
Around the turn of the 20th Century, the tobacco industry made its leap from Key West to Tampa. This brought an emigration of workers to the area who had Cuban, Spanish, and Italian descent. These workers settled in a neighborhood now known as Ybor (Cigar) City. With this factory labor came the need for a sandwich that was quick, affordable, and satisfied such palates. Thus, a combination of pork, ham, salami, swiss cheese, pickles, and mustard was born. The salami is a characteristic found in Tampa Bay style Cuban sandwiches.
3. Grouper Sand
Thankfully, not all sandwiches are surrounded in city rivalry. It’s almost impossible to go anywhere in Florida that you can’t find a grouper sandwich. Blackened, grilled, or fried, the locals love them, and snowbirds crave them the moment they get off the plane. So why are they so common?
Grouper is available all year round, and it’s always good. Florida brings in about 85 percent of the nation’s grouper catch, and Pinellas County lands about 75 per cent of that catch. You could say that we are the grouper capitol of America. With its subtle taste, it’s a sandwich that those who aren’t exactly sea-foodies can enjoy.
Although Tampa Bay might not be able to fully claim the grouper sandwich (since putting a type of fish on bread isn’t exactly a culinary breakthrough), we could brag that our grouper sands are fresher than anywhere else in the country. (is it bragging if it’s true?)
Everyone from the Caribbean to Japan fries shrimp (sometimes called prawns) or other types of similar shellfish. Buffalo wings are one of the most common appetizers in America. So who made buffalo shrimp?
Like the grouper sandwich, no one is going to debate the origin of Buffalo shrimp. It just popped-up and Floridians have embraced it since. Many however, will say that it’s home is in Tampa Bay and that Hooters made them popular.
Although Hooters today is a multinational chain, it had its humble beginnings as a small local spot in Clearwater. As a Florida restaurant that specialized in Buffalo wings, it was natural that they would have buffalo shrimp on their menu. Their growth as a franchise help spread the dish around the country, and the globe.
Galley = Kitchen!
We are a St. Pete Pub, owned and operated by native St. Petians, and we gear our menu to locals and tourists alike. We have these signature items at all time and give special attention to doing them properly because we feel they represent our forever home.
Come by The Galley (which means kitchen in nautical language) and try these hometown favorites. You might just hear a story while you’re here.