Fresh-squeezed Florida citrus juice is a treat any time of the day or night. — Photo courtesy of Florida Department of Citrus
The cuisine in Florida varies greatly, from southern cookin’ in the north to Latin and Caribbean inspiration in the south. Regardless of what part of the peninsula you land, you’ll find some foods that scream "Florida."
1. "Pink gold"
As a state surrounded by water, seafood figures prominently in a majority of restaurants. Some of the spectacular shellfish in Florida include oysters from Apalachicola Bay, shrimp (also known as "pink gold") and stone crabs, both from the Gulf of Mexico.
2. Stone crab
Stone crab season runs from Oct. 15 to May 15, with crab festivals and a plethora of restaurant specials. When pulled from traps, only one claw is removed from these crabs before they are set free. The claws take about a year to regenerate. The claws of stone crabs are full of sweet, delicious meat. — Photo courtesy of Gina Birch
3. Spiny lobster
It’s not the claws but the meaty tails of the Florida spiny lobster that are popular when harvested between Aug. 6 and March 31. A mini lobster season also takes place the last consecutive Wednesday and Thursday in July. These crustaceans are particularly good when grilled.
Conch is another Sunshine State delicacy, most of it coming from the Florida Keys where conch shells are prolific. The shells house thick sea snails, which are consumed in ceviche, chowder and most famously, conch fritters,
5. Snapper and grouper
As for fish, look for snapper or grouper, the later being a state favorite. Locals have lamented about increasing prices, so don’t be surprised if your grouper sandwich approaches the twenty-dollar range. "Blackened" is one of the most popular ways to order grouper.
If you are looking for something a little more exotic, try the Florida alligator. Most often, the meat you will find served in restaurants comes from the powerful tail of the reptile and is usually cut into small bites, then fried. You may’ve heard the saying, but it really does “taste like chicken.”
7. Cuban sandwich
The Cuban sandwich is especially popular in the southern part of Florida. Once you try an authentic "Cubano," you will never look at them the same again: roast pork, ham, salami, cheese and pickles, pressed between thick Cuban bread and served hot. Muy bien.
8. Papayas, mangos and coconuts
Fruits flourish in Florida’s tropical climate: papayas, mangos and coconuts that rain from native palms. You’ll frequently find these fruits in salsas, marinades and preserves at local bistros and cafes.
However, citrus is the star of the show. Florida produces more citrus and more juice than any other state in the nation. The best months to get the fruit right off of the trees are September through June. The juice is addicting, freshly squeezed at cafes in the morning and added to cocktails in bars at night. A must-try Florida dessert is the tart but sweet key lime pie. — Photo courtesy of Gina Birch
Florida growers produce numerous kinds of grapefruits, oranges, tangerines and tangelos; also look for the more delicate calamondins. With a flavor combination of orange, lime and a bit of pineapple, the small fruits are often made into a coulis.
11. Key lime pie
Take note that a trip to Florida is never complete until you’ve had a slice of key lime pie for dessert. The state’s official pie is made from tiny, acidic limes with a thin rind. Real Floridian key lime pie is yellow, not green, made with egg yolks and often topped with merengue. It’s a tart but sweet treat. Internationally known chocolatier, Norman Love, is based out of Southwest Florida. — Photo courtesy of Norman Love Confections
12. Norman Love chocolates
In fact, the large variety of tropical fruits found in the Sunshine State help chefs add a delicious dimension to desserts. Norman Love, a world-renowned, Florida chocolatier uses local mangos and key limes, among other fruits, as fillings in some of his award-winning, premier chocolates. They are almost too pretty to eat. Almost.
Fish, the diverse ethnicity of Floridians and fruit creates a trifecta of terrific eating for visitors.