23 Foods You've Never Heard Of Unless You're From the Midwest

Midwest Food Cover

Cheapism / Jose C./Brandon J./Yelp / bhofack2/istockphoto

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Midwest Food Cover
Cheapism / Jose C./Brandon J./Yelp / bhofack2/istockphoto

Midwest Is Best

America is vast, and so are the tastes of the people who live there. Each region, state, and city has its own local comfort foods that you can barely find anywhere else. Some will make you drool, and some are more of an acquired taste, but they're all unique and interesting. If you grew up in the Midwestern states, chances are you've heard of — and eaten — many of these regional delicacies.

Wisconsin fried cheese curds Dairyland
Lacey Muszynski / Cheapism

1. Cheese Curds

Region: Wisconsin

You can count on the Dairy State to come up with new and exciting ways to enjoy cheese. You may be familiar with the squeaky, fresh cheese curds that top poutine, but in the upper Midwest, they're battered and fried for a gooey, hot, and crispy treat. You can find them at practically every bar and local restaurant. If you're outside of the Midwest, look for a Culver's to try them yourself.

Jucy Lucy
Brandon J./Yelp
Puppy chow

3. Puppy Chow

Region: Midwest

Puppy chow was an integral part of your childhood if you grew up in most parts of the Midwest. The Chex, peanut butter, and chocolate concoction somehow appeared at every slumber party, school function, and soccer game. It's crunchy, sweet, and leaves you covered in powdered sugar. What's not to love? 

Related: Easy and Delicious Recipes That Start with Cake Mix

Chislic at a bar
Amanda I. / Yelp

4. Chislic

Region: South Dakota

Chislic is South Dakota's unofficial state dish, and it's most popular in the area around Sioux Falls. It's a simple dish of cubed meat, usually beef, grilled or lightly fried and heavily salted. It's served in bars and restaurants with toothpicks and dipping sauces. It's been a South Dakota specialty since at least the 1880s, and its name is probably derived from the Turkish word shashlik, which are skewered meats.

Related: 24 Weird, Surprising, and Gross Over-the-Top Foods on a Stick

Gerald H. / Yelp
Maid-Rite loose meat sandwich
Kayla B. / Yelp

6. Loose Meat Sandwich

Region: Iowa

A loose meat sandwich is like a burger, but without the form. The ground beef is cooked loose and not pattied, then piled onto a bun and topped with burger toppings like cheese, onions, and mustard. Maid-Rite is the Iowa chain that made them famous, and you'll always get a spoon with your sandwich to eat up the meat that falls out of the bun.

St. Paul sandwich
Julianne M. / Yelp

7. St. Paul Sandwich

Region: St. Louis

Weirdly enough, the St. Paul sandwich is from St. Louis and has nothing to do with Minnesota. The quirky dish was dreamed up by enterprising Chinese restaurant owners in an early example of fusion cuisine. It's made with an egg foo young patty sandwiched between white bread with lettuce, mayo, tomato, and pickles. 

Horseshoe, Springfield, IL
Steve H./Yelp

8. Horseshoe

Region: Central Illinois

Unlike many regional dishes, the horseshoe's origins can be traced back to a specific place: the Leland Hotel in Springfield, Ill. in the 1920s. Technically, it's a sandwich, and you'll always find a couple slices of bread under the piles of meat, french fries, and cheese sauce. Hamburger patties are the standard meat option, but you can get all kinds of variations on the classic 'shoe, including buffalo chicken or tater tots

Booyah, Upper Midwest

9. Booyah

Region: Upper Midwest

In some northern parts of Wisconsin, Minnesota, and the Upper Penninsula, there's a stew that's good to eat but more fun to say: booyah. It's a food designed for large gatherings, and in fact, those events where booyah is made and served in huge kettles are called booyahs too. It's probably Belgian in origin, and it's been around for a long, long time, but no one really knows the history. In practice, today it's usually a stew made with chicken, vegetables, and tomatoes, though the recipes are as numerous as the cooks. 

Homemade Gooey Butter Cake

10. Gooey Butter Cake

Region: Missouri

Gooey butter cake originated as a happy accident in the 1930s. According to legend, a baker made a measuring mistake and ended up with this dense, pudding-like treat instead of a fluffy coffee cake. It's got a firm cake-like crust topped with a denser, creamy filling. Think of it like a cross between a cheesecake and a coffee cake, and cut into bars. If you want to make your own, many recipes are easy and start with a box of cake mix

Imo's pizza with provel cheese
Chip B. / Yelp

11. Provel

Region: St. Louis

Provel is the name of a processed cheese that's a combination of provolone, cheddar, and Swiss. Chances are, you've never had it or heard of it unless you're from the St. Louis area, where its gooeyness is the key component of St. Louis-style pizza. You'll also find it on top of the local Gerber Sandwich, an open-faced ham and cheese built on crunchy garlic bread. 

Bun with Mett (German cuisine; selective focus)

12. Cannibal Sandwich

Region: Upper Midwest

Particularly popular in Wisconsin around the holidays, cannibal sandwiches aren't quite as horrifying as they sound: They're made with beef. But that ground beef is eaten raw, which is why they're so polarizing. A fresh steak is ground at a butcher, then eaten that day spread on rye bread and topped with raw onions. It's usually eaten at home, though you can occasionally find it at a bar if you know where to look. If the thought disgusts you, think of it as poor man's steak tartare. 

Related: How Many of These Bucket-List Sandwiches Have You Tried?

Buckeyes by Travis Wise (CC BY)

13. Buckeyes

Region: Ohio

Ohio is the Buckeye State, named after the prevalent tree in the area and its distinctive nut-like seed. Buckeyes are a candy that look similar to the seed, but taste a whole lot better. They have a round center of peanut butter filling which is dipped in a chocolate shell. You can find them at chocolatiers, but many people make them at home. 

Related: The Surprising Stories Behind Popular Regional Desserts

sugar cream pie, hoosier pie, custard cream pie

14. Hoosier Sugar Cream Pie

Region: Indiana

Hoosier sugar cream pie (also called just Hoosier or sugar cream pie) is an Indiana specialty served in diners, restaurants, and homes all over the state. It's a simple cream pie that's usually flavored with vanilla, a bit of spice, and often has a crackly sugared top. It's thickened with flour or cornstarch instead of eggs as it's a dessert that came out of hard times when nothing much was available for a more festive pie.

Jibarito sandwich
Felonius M. / Yelp

15. Jibarito

Region: Chicago

The youngest regional food on this list, the jibarito is often credited to Juan Figeroa, a Chicago restaurateur, in the mid-1990s. It's a decadent Puerto Rican-style sandwich that swaps bread for fried plantains, similar to tostones but usually a whole plantain instead of just slices. It's filled with whatever you want, though steak or shredded beef, garlic mayo, and fresh veggies are typical.

Homemade Chili Soup and Cinnamon Roll

16. Chili and Cinnamon Rolls

Region: Iowa, Nebraska, Dakotas

Chili and cinnamon rolls is a combination that many in Iowa and the eastern Plains States long for, and it's all thanks to school lunch. The combo started appearing on school lunch menus at least as far back as the 1960s, and kids loved it so much that it stuck. Considering cinnamon is sometimes an ingredient in chili (we're looking at you, Cincinnati), it's not that far fetched.

Homemade Tater Tot Hotdish Casserole

17. Hotdish

Region: Upper Midwest

Much of the Upper Midwest, especially Minnesota, is known for its hotdish. That doesn't refer to one specific dish, but instead to many types of baked casseroles. Still, if there's one recipe that embodies hotdish — and is what people outside the region think the dish is — it's tater tot hotdish. That's usually got ground beef mixed with frozen vegetables in some kind of creamy sauce or gravy, cheese, and a tater tot topping.

O+H Danish Bakery kringle
Allison F. / Yelp

18. Kringle

Region: Wisconsin

Scandinavians emigrated to the Midwest in large numbers, and brought with them lots of traditional foods. One of them is kringle, which can mostly be found in Southeastern Wisconsin, and is now the official state pastry. It's a flaky layered dough with all kinds of fillings, including almond, raspberry, and cherry, that's shaped into a large oval and cut into slices for serving. It's a common sight at family gatherings and potlucks around the state.

Homemade Baked Chicken Vesuvio

19. Chicken Vesuvio

Region: Chicago

No one really knows where Chicken Vesuvio was first created, but you can get it at practically every Italian-American restaurant in the Chicago area now. It's generally made with roasted bone-in chicken, thick potato wedges, and peas in a sauce flavored with lemon, garlic, and herbs. The dish is so popular that you can get steak, potatoes, or other meats Vesuvio-style as well.

Glier's Goetta
Sara D./Yelp

20. Goetta

Region: Cincinnati

Goetta is a breakfast meat that's popular in Cincinnati and the surrounding areas. It's got German origins and is similar to scrapple, sausage, and livermush. Ground meat, usually pork, is seasoned and stretched with oats, then shaped into a log or loaf. To serve, you slice it up and fry it until it's brown and crispy, then eat it like you would any other breakfast meat.

Related: 40 Delicious Breakfasts from Around the World

Mitchell Persimmon Festival
Mitchell Persimmon Festival

21. Persimmon Pudding

Region: Indiana

Believe it or not, there's an American persimmon tree that's native to Southern Indiana. It produces a small, bright orange fruit in late fall that's similar to the Asian varieties. Native Americans and Hoosiers have been using their local bounty for centuries, including in persimmon pudding, which is most often served at Thanksgiving tables. 

Blue moon custard Leon's milwaukee
Jose C. / Yelp

22. Blue Moon

Region: Michigan, Wisconsin

Blue moon is a mysterious ice cream flavor. No one really knows what it is since the company that owns the patent on the flavor isn't telling, but most people liken it to Froot Loops or a cross between almond and lemon. It's an endearing part of growing up in parts of the Midwest, and the bright blue color is just a bonus.

Food Photos - Various Entrees, Appetizers, Deserts, Etc.

23. Bosco Sticks

Region: Michigan

Bosco Sticks grew out of a pizzeria in Detroit. The shop was popular with local school kids, and through the power of the American dream, it grew into a commercial business that sold stuffed crust pizzas to schools. One day, the crust fell off a slice, and the idea for the Bosco Stick was born. You can get the cheese-filled garlic breadsticks nationwide now, but they'll always be ubiquitous in the Midwest, and especially Michigan.