The cuisine of Florida or ‘Floribbean Cuisine’ is a fusion of many colourful cultures. Basic foods started with the natives who have been here for 12,000 years, Spain’s influence came with explorer Juan de Leon 500 years ago. Slaves from Africa brought their own cuisine to the mix, next the migration of Asian workers, who replaced the freed African slaves, have also played an important role in Floribbean cuisine. Florida has also attracted immigrants from all over the world but a major influence has come from the Caribbean, Jamaica, Barbados, Haiti, the Bahamas and Trinidad and Tobago. The south of Florida has been influenced by South American cuisine from countries such as Brazil, Argentina, Colombia and also Cuba, Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico. Many of these countries were, in turn, colonized by French, Dutch and British explorers who introduced their own cuisines to add to these countries which, all in all makes for a wonderful melting pot of flavours. Florida also has brought in discriptive terms for these dishes such as ‘Latin-Floribbean’, ‘Hispo-Floribbean’, Afro-Floribbean’ and ‘Indo-Floribbean’. So when exploring the cuisine of Florida one can expect dishes bursting with flavours, colours, variety, spices and sunshine which reflect the diversity of the region.
Florida has 1,200 miles of beautiful sun-soaked coastline from the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico, which provides a wide variety of fresh seafood and includes specialities such as conch, grouper, snapper, mahi-mahi, gulf shrimp, mussels, tuna, pompano, swordfish and grunt. Must-tries are Blue Crab, Rock Shrimp, Scallops, Conch Fritters, Spiny Lobster and Stone Crab (a delicacy available nowhere else in the USA) . Florida is known as the ‘Sunshine State’ for a good reason and this sunshine provides an ideal setting and long growing season for the wide selection of fruits and vegetables, many of them tropical, that are able to be grown here, fruits include mangoes, jackfruit, passion fruit, dragon fruit, kumquats, avocado, papayas and coconuts. With all this on the doorstep, the emphasis is on freshness and healthy eating.
The Timucua Indians, from the northeast of the state grew corn, squashes and beans, which formed the basis of many of their traditional dishes. The native tribes of Florida were hunters and fishermen who relied on the wildlife for their food. They would have hunted animals such as the bison and deers as well as foraging for wild nuts and berries. In the north of the state, the cuisine reflects cuisine similar to to other southern states like barbeque, grits and Cajun and Creole cuisines, look out for gumbo, coleslaw,black-eyed peas, or crab cakes. Southern ‘Pit’ barbeque style cooking consists of pork, chicken or beef smoked in brick barbeque pits or large metal drums and either marinated in a tasty sauce before cooking or covered in sauce after cooking. Other dishes not to be overlooked are garlic-seasoned prawns, black-eyed peas, sweet potatoes (baked or candied), cornbread, fried frog’s legs, fried alligator tail (known as Gator tails – battered and deep fried) and conch fritters, Louisiana Gumbo and Southern fried chicken and, of course, Grits which are popular in north Florida, grits is made of white corn porridge served with butter and sometimes eaten alongside fried bacon and eggs for breakfast.
When the Spanish landed on Florida’s shores 500 years ago they brought with them olive oil which they used to extend the life of their sausages and cheeses. Nowadays there are 35,000 acres of olive trees growing in Florida with 400 growers producing 75 varieties of olives. They also brought with them cattle, pigs and citrus fruits. Today Florida is famous for its sun-drenched oranges and is the largest citrus producer in the United States. Citrus fruits feature in many of Florida’s dishes, such as cebiche (raw fish marinated in citrus juices), and the orange is, unsurprisingly, the official fruit of Florida. One of the most well-known sweet recipes is the ‘Key Lime Pie’ which originates in the Florida Keys. Oranges also find their way into Florida’s recipes for sauces, salad dressings, soups, marinades and cakes.
The southern parts of Florida have higher numbers of immigrants and here the cuisine is has more diverse. Asian workers introduced even more exotic flavours with lemongrass, ginger and other spices along with other methods of food preparation, which have, today, become commonly used in Florida’s cooking. The flavours of the Caribbean islands fused with Florida’s cuisine have become known as Floribbean cuisine. The Caribbean introduced a wonderful variety of spices and flavours such as ginger, alspice, cinnamon, cummin, coriander, fennel, mustard, thyme and different colours of peppers. Floribbean cuisine uses less heat than those of the Caribbean, but does extensively use a variety of peppers which are generally tones down with the use of flavours such as mango, papaya, coconut, key lime, almond, honey or rum.
In the late 20th century, in the 1050’s and again in the 1980’s, Cuban refugees migrated to Florida and brought with them their own style of cuisine. Cuban influence can be seen in the dishes of pork ‘Lechón’, black beans, fried plantains, ‘Arróz con Pollo’ , caramel custard ‘Flan’ and the famous ‘Cuban Sandwich’- Cubano- ( Cuban bread with thinly sliced pork, ham, cheese and pickles then heated in a device named a ‘Plancha’allowing the ingrdients to melt together)
The Florida Keys stretch down to the city of Key West which has long been a popular tourist destination and is well known for its fine restaurants and good food. The keys are also known as ‘Conch Republic’ because of the popularity of the Conch Fritters. Equally famous are the locally grown variety of citrus fruit called ‘Key Limes’ from which the delicious ‘Key Lime Pie’ is made. The lime juice is mixed with condensed milk, egg and sugar to form the filling for this desert.
Popular drinks also have a Caribbean flavour as one can see in the Cuban style Mojito (white rum,lime juice, sugar and sparkling water served with fresh mint) and the Cuba Libre ( rum, coke and lime juice), the Margarite (tequila and lime juice), the Caipirinha (cachaςa, sugar and lime) and the Hurricane (rum, fruit juice and grenadine). Florida also produces a small amount of its own wines, most Florida wines are made from muscadine grapes. In keeping with its citrus growing culture, some of the wines produced in Florida are exotic fruit wines. Coffee is the most popular amongst hot drinks in America and among the strongest are Cuban coffees. When they do drink tea, Floridians usually opt for iced tea served with mint or lemon.
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