The food culture in Pennsylvannia is rich with Dutch and Polish influences and historical food flare. Creating some of the greatest food staples to come out of any state. Many people picture Pennsylvania and just think about Philadelphia or Amish country, however there is more to us than a few Philly cheese-steaks and some horse and buggies.
The great salty snack, the Holy Grail of munching: the pretzel. Synder’s of Hanover began making pretzels in 1909. Pretzels were born in Hanover, PA and later they began making chips and other sure fire snacks. Many tourist places in PA have pretzel shops that offer courses on how to properly twist a pretzel, pretty cool in case you ever have a pretzel-making emergency.
2. Birch Beer
“Grab that bitch a birch!” A phrase I’ve heard a few times in my life while growing up in PA. Birch beer is a type of soda brewed from the sap of a birch tree. The most popular variety is brown birch beer, but some can come in colors of red, blue and clear. It is not quite a root beer, but it’s a sweet soda that has a similar taste to that of tea berry. A birch beer float can be made with vanilla ice cream, or with chocolate ice cream to make a Black Cow float.
3. Shoo Fly Pie
“Shoo fly don’t bother meeee” is a true statement in the case of making this homemade dessert. They call it shoofly pie because the sweet molasses and brown sugar attracted flies and other insects to the sweet treat on the windowsill cooling. Hence the cute name, shoofly pie. A very gooey pie, this treat is molasses and brown sugar based center with a crunchy crust. It is very common to find it in bakeries all throughout PA.
4. Gobs or Whoopie Pies
Round and cakey, a whoopie pie (or as people where I live call them, gobs) is a dessert treat you can eat on the go or at the table. It’s essentially two pieces of cake that are round shaped and house homemade sugary, fluffy icing in the middle. Best served straight out of the fridge, whoopie pies are good on the go, yummy for breakfast, tasty at lunch and perfect after a home cooked supper. With a variety of seasonal flavors, pumpkin, red velvet, vanilla, banana, and maple – this PA dessert is sure to have you wanting more.
5. Primanti Brothers Sandwich
If you have never been to Pittsburgh, you are missing out on one of the greatest sandwiches mankind has every seen. A Pittsburgh tradition since 1940, Primanti’s offers their massive thick bread, meat piled, cole slaw filled sandwich to locals and tourists in the Strip District of downtown Pittsburgh. The stand out ingredient on this sandwich is their French fries, serving them on the side is out of style anyhow. Italian meats like salami, pepperoni and capicola can be served on their classic Italian bread along with their slaw, provolone cheese, lettuce, tomato and fries. Mouth-watering, huh?
6. Heinz Ketchup
First of all, on behalf of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, you’re welcome. We all know you have a bottle of Heinz in your fridge right now or you have a packet of it in the pantry. The important thing is that you pick Heinz over Hunt’s. Always. The world had its first taste of Heinz Ketchup in 1871 and since then has been producing the best condiment the world has ever seen.
7. Cheese Steak
The iconic sandwich. Served from food carts all over Philly, the classic sandwich is made with steak and usually has onions and peppers with some sprinkled cheese right on top. These bad boys started hitting the streets of Philly from two ambitious hot dog vendors turned geniuses took some sliced up steak, sizzling hot, slapped it in some fresh Italian bread and called it a night.
8. Hershey’s Chocolate
Do you ever contemplate that one small chocolate bar has its very own town and theme park? Housed right in the great state of PA. Hershey chocolate gets us through the toughest of times and helps us celebrate the best of times. We put it on our S‘mores, we use it in age-old recipes, we eat it right out of the damn wrapper and lick whatever is left on our fingers. Hershey’s chocolate is by far one of the greatest icons Pennsylvania has to offer.
You’ve seen the blue and white logo of this yummy product. TastyKake offers many little snack size cakes for your eating pleasures. Many of their popular products include Butterscotch Krimpets, Swirly Cupcakes, Kandy Kakes and Honey Buns. If you read Maniac McGee in middle school, you know all about Butterscotch Krimpets because he ate them like there was no tomorrow. This company began their baking venture in 1914 out of the grand city of Bridges AKA Pittsburgh and eventually moved headquarters to Philly where it is located today.
Essentially a glorious dumpling from Eastern Europe with a delightful taste of butter and mashed potatoes, you can find Pierogies at every single food festival that occurs in PA. In a pocket of homemade, golden, deep fried dough-the pierogie holds mashed potatoes inside and will occasionally have onions or meat inside. With heavy polish influence in PA, this dish is a popular favorite with locals.
Another popular Polish/Eastern European dish that can be found at church hall dinners and food fests in PA is Sauerkraut. Shredded cabbage that has been fermented through the pickling process, sauerkraut is traditionally a side dish for many German/Polish dinners. Many ways I have seen this dish, as a kid growing up, is on top of sausages, hot dogs and pork. When we went to community events, graduation parties, school functions, or sporting events, someone’s mom always brought a crock pot filled with sauerkraut.
12. Apple Butter
If you were a kid growing up in PA you know damn well you went to Hoss’s Steak House and Buffet and ate apple butter out of the bowl. PA natives are crazy for apple butter. Jarred fresh or store-bought, we love apple butter like a sailor loves his rum. We put it on waffles, toast, eat it with cottage cheese, and place it out on the Thanksgiving table – it is in every household in Pennsylvania.
13. Sheetz MTOs
Sheetz run anyone? Sheetz food is not your stereotypical gas station food. MTO stands for Made to Order. Inside all Sheetz gas stations or rest stops you will find a beautiful screen that is your portal to creating the ultimate meal. Every MTO experience is a special one. You cannot compare it to Wawa (those of you who favor Wawa obviously don’t understand the power of the MTO). You can make any drink, any sandwich, any type of hot dog, loaded fries, burgers, subs, the options are endless. All PA natives know that Sheetz MTO is a viable option for dinner or any meal really.
If reading this article didn’t make miss PA or at least take a trip, I don’t know what will. Being a Pennsylvania native, I am proud of all of our food traditions and cultures. And a diverse plate of food is a fun one.