Welcome to the “Breadbasket of America,” where, despite our geography, the food in the Midwest is far from plain. Our coastal neighbors get fancy on the gram, but maybe they’re taking too much credit. If you think we don’t set a scene that’s fit for foodies, (well first of all, you obviously aren’t watching Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives) think again, because according to the U.S. 2012 Census of Agriculture, we farm a large portion of the U.S. food supply. Trust me, we don’t just know how to farm food — we know how to eat it, too.
Once I moved to the South from Missouri, I didn’t realize how many food-related quirks the Midwest had. I missed the potlucks and county fair foods that you just couldn’t replicate anywhere else if you tried. Here I’ve included 21 of them that anyone who has lived there can relate. If you’re road tripping down Route 66 and make a pit stop in one of our twelve states, you’ll see what I’m talking about.
1. Corn is your spirit animal
It grants you a warm, golden welcome as you drive through the Midwestern states and we’ve imagined hundreds of uses for it. One can expect corn to be at almost every family gathering or holiday, in at least four different dishes. We’re known for creamed corn, corn on the cob, corn dogs, corn pudding, corn bread, sweet corn, Cornflakes, and corn that’s popped, kettle, and caramelized. I will spare you from a longer list.
We love corn so much that we’ve made it the mascot of many of our high school, minor league, and even major league sports teams.
2. If you’ve got late night drunchies, you’re probably at Steak ‘n Shake
Most locations have a 24-hour drive thru and $4 menu, which means Steakburgers and Frisco melts all night long. Don’t forget to ask for the free hat as your trophy.
3. It’s “Sodapop”
It’s been a heated debate within our own twelve states, but that’s what I grew up on and have heard most Midwesterners call it. We say it like it is and don’t really favor one named brand over another.
4. White Castle farts are a real thing
Their mini sliders pack a big punch. They’re so good, but everyone in the room knows once you’ve had a few. The taste of their famous beef and onion sliders are unlike any other, but unfortunately, so is the aftermath.
5. Friday Night Fish Fries
Traditionally, Fish Fridays are celebrated as a meatless fast during the Christian Lenten season. In the Midwest, however, neighbors get together to kick off the weekend all throughout the year with the battered and fried catch-of-the-day.
6. It’s normal to walk around with a 5lb turkey leg in the Summer
At the county fair, Silver Dollar City, Six Flags, or at any festival, don’t be surprised to see even little ones chomping on a giant bird thigh.
7. Every family has a signature stew and casserole
Every family has their own recipe for some random, chunky mix of meat and vegetables, slow-cooked in a Crockpot or baked in a casserole dish. There are at least three kinds of stews or casseroles brought to every potluck, and the creators will be staring you down until you’ve tried their masterpieces.
8. Crop-picking is a fun, family, fall activity
Each fall, #whitegirl activity commences within our apple orchards and pumpkin patches. It’s a lengthy and meticulous process, taking up much of the day in some random person’s crop field or farm. One can expect cute couples, big families, fights over the roundest pumpkin, and possibly some Halloween-themed vignettes.
Another activity you can try is “picking out” your lost friends who get lost in the haunted corn maze.
9. You know people with Cracker Barrel rocking chairs on their porch
Because it’s an old-lady shopping mall, too.
10. Every fruit has a pie
We’ve managed to sugar coat, caramelize, crust, and bake every fruit we can find. If you’ve ever been to a county fair, you’ll see how competitive we get over pie-making.
11. Even meat has a pie
This includes pot pies and meat pies.
12. Frozen custard is better than ice cream
Nothing says summer nights in the Midwest more than a cup of frozen custard. It’s thicker and silkier than ice cream, because there’s less ice and more cream. Often, it contains egg yolk or butterfat and not as many preservatives as ice cream. However, it does melt faster and gets a lot stickier.
In my small town, people would bring the whole family plus the dog to the local frozen custard stand for a cool, sticky treat after supper.
13. You put ketchup on pulled pork sandwiches
A squeeze of ketchup and BBQ sauce pair nicely with our tender, slow-cooked pork. It’s the classier Sloppy Joe.
14. There’s a McDonald’s on every corner
Since 1955, this face of fast food franchises has been filling our stomachs with Big Macs and french fries. From the small town of Normal, Illinois, they’ve gone global with over 36,000 international locations and counting.
15. You shop at Dierberg’s or Shnucks for groceries
It’s hard to come by a Trader Joe’s, but we pride ourselves in both of these family-friendly, family-owned grocers. They’ll host events on holidays, put out the best free samples, and they’ve made their Midwestern customers feel at home for over a century.
16. Clydesdales make you think of Beer
Soon to be known as “America” beer, Budweiser brewery and their majestic horses have been around since 1852, when they were established in St. Louis, Missouri. Since then, the Budweiser Clydesdales have made special model appearances at baseball games, parades, two presidential inaugurations, and heart-wrenching Super Bowl commercials.
17. St. Louis style ribs are better in St. Louis
Speaking of St. Louis, I don’t care what you hear. The sauce, the fall-of-the-bone meat, the smoky aroma… You haven’t experienced real ribs until you’ve had an authentic rack from the STL.
18. Deep dish pizza is better in Chicago
Way to go, Chicago, for your genius idea for getting more pizza per slice. The East has their thin crust, but here it’s go big or go home.
19. Kansas City has the best steaks
Kansas raises a lot of cattle, so it only makes sense that their prime ribeyes and sirloins get five stars every time. The meat is guaranteed to cut like butter and have a warm, red center each time.
20. Your town just added a new Chick-fil-A, and the line is insane
Of course nothing beats the taste of homemade Midwestern classics; but now that we’re slowly adding more outside chain restaurants, everyone’s curious to get a taste from beyond the plains.
21. Vegans have the worst time finding anywhere to eat
Sorry, but animal-free, meat-free, dairy-free, or gluten-free completely defies our traditional diet. Some newer places are gradually becoming more accommodating to dietary restrictions, but I know from experience, that if you request substitutions, you’ll probably wind up with a head of lettuce on your plate.