The culinary culture of a town is the foundation of its identity, with historic recipes often passed down from generations. From savory barbecue sandwiches and sweet comfort desserts to crisp salads and savory sides, there’s something iconic about the flavors we enjoy in our home towns. And when you dig deeper, you’ll find that many of these delicious dishes are rooted in local history and culture.
Take for example the town of Kalamazoo, Michigan — known for its famous Kalamazoo Salad. The salad was created by local restaurant owner Ernie Schoen in the 1950’s and has since become a beloved local dish. The original salad was simple–lettuce, tomato, eggs, celery, green pepper, olives and croutons–but was enhanced with tart cranberry dressing that has become an essential part of this classic meal. To this day, the salad remains a favorite among locals who get together to share stories over a plate of this tasty dish.
Not far away in Grand Rapids, Michigan another immemorial flavor is served up — Grand Rapids style barbecue sandwiches. A flavorful combination of slow cooked meats — beef or pork — topped with an extra spicy secret sauce and chopped onions on a steamed bun, these sandwiches are as popular today as they were decades ago. It’s said that during the 1930’s local barbecuers would use leftover pork or beef from their family farms to make the tantalizing sandwiches. Vendors would set up roadside stands to serve them to hungry customers throughout the region.
These flavors have been passed down generation after generation in unique ways and help shape the culinary culture in these towns —not simply as tasty treats — but as part of their rich histories and identities. Whether you are visiting Kalamazoo or Grand Rapids, don’t forget to leave room for a slice of local culture on your plate!
As followers of local gastronomy, we know that the world over, there is a fascinating variety of delicious flavors right in our towns and cities. But, what we may not be aware of is the historic cultivation of these flavors right at home.
From regional farmers’ markets to unique food businesses, regional chefs, and small family producers, many rural towns have been cultivating a surprisingly rich variety of food flavors for centuries. It’s only recently that these recipes and products have been recognized beyond local borders.
Whether it’s local herbs, smoked meats, specialty cheeses or unique wines, each region has its own story to tell and something special to offer. By tracing foods back to their origins, we can taste the history of our local area without ever leaving home. There’s nothing quite like experiencing a taste from another era that has been brought up to date with modern techniques.
By choosing these local products, we are also supporting small businesses which play an important role in preserving traditional food cultures that have been the backbone of our society. The artesian food craftsmanship of small producers produces handmade foods with a quality and flavor unrivaled by mass-produced goods.
It’s easy to get lost in the global offerings found on supermarket shelves these days but if you take the time to explore your hometown’s cuisine heritage, you will find that each region has something unique to offer us all. Make sure to support your local producers as they continue to cultivate delicious flavors right in your town!