Every place worth visiting (that is to say every place in the world) has that one (or more) thing that makes them special. A dish or a vegetable or just a little dessert, that brings visitors from miles around to savor that specialty. Scotland has their Haggis, and Kansas City has their BBQ, while Maryland is known worldwide for their crabs. Of course, I’m here to tell you that there’s just so much more than that here in MD.
Before I go into all the deliciousness you’re missing, just visiting us for the crabs, I must issue a quick caveat. While I live, and have lived my entire life, in Maryland, I’ve never been such a fan of the food scene here (though I will most likely be ostracized for saying this, I don’t even like crabs!). I suppose after living somewhere so long, you start to take what you’re lucky to have for granted. Which is one of the reasons I’m writing this post. After reading an article on one of our famous foods (that isn’t crabs) that you’ll hear about later, I began to think about, some of the things that have put the Maryland eating scene on the map and I realized, quite by chance, that there are a ridiculous number of them. While I may not be partial to nearly any of them, they are quite good to a lot of people and make Maryland irresistible to those who love to eat. Now that you know that, let’s get on with the good stuff.
First and foremeost, and it really wouldn’t be a post about Maryland without starting with them, there’s crabs. Of course you can get quite Forrest Gump about our Maryland Blue Crabs in the summer. Just about every menu has: Steamed Crabs, Crab Cakes, Crab Dip, Crab Soup, Crabby Fries, Crab Imperial, Soft Crabs, Cream of Crab, well, you get the picture. There’s a lot of crab! The most famous though would be the Steamed Crabs, Maryland Crab Soup and Crab Cakes. Of course you can get these items pretty much anywhere in the world, but ours here are special (or so I hear.) A crab cake here isn’t full of new and intresting flavors. They have breading, lumps of crab, something to hold them together and of course Old Bay, and are then thrown into a fryer or a hot pan for a few minutes. That’s about it. Pretty simple when it comes down to it, but there is that magic ingredient that thankfully is another home spun perfection: Old Bay.
If you’re not from the East Coast, you may never have heard of this gem but it’s basically seasoned salt, just about 100x better. You can put it on everything but my personal favorite is french fries. This spicy and salty condiment is on pretty much every table in every seafood restaurant here and is made by McCormick Spice Company located right in Maryland’s Inner Harbor. Can’t get much more local than that!
Also on the seafood front, we have Oysters fresh from the Chesapeake Bay. We get a litle Bubba Gump with these slippery little shuckers as well. If you’ve never had one, it’s a bit hard to explain the texture. They most definitely need to be sampled at least once for their brininess and sweetness (also, so I’ve been told). They also pair quite well with Old Bay which should be no surprise, what doesn’t go with this stuff?!
Now suppose seafood isn’t your thing. Then you’ll need to be sampling the Baltimore Pit Beef Sandwich. This one is a little hard to explain, it’s sort of like a Roast Beef Sandwich mixed with BBQ without the sauce or fancy cuts. It’s most often served between 2 slices of white breat with Horseradish (not really my cup of tea!) thrown on top for good measure. The smell of this meat cooking is almost as good as Old Bay smothered crabs just out of the steamer.
Now that you’ve had your meal, you’ll be needing dessert. That of course, brings us to Berger cookies. If you have a sweet tooth, this will most definitely suffice. These plain vanilla cookies are slathered and I do mean slathered (you can barely see the cookie anymore) in rich chocolate fudge; about an inch of the stuff and have been made for over 100 years. We Maryland-ites tend to do quite a bit of baking with them, adding them into cakes, cheesecakes and pies whenever the mood strikes us.
If super sweet isn’t your thing, your dessert should most definitely be Smith Island Cake. This seven layer wonder seems to be the new cupcake in our neck of the woods. Every restaurant is making them in every flavor imaginable but the original is still the best. This behemoth is 7 layers of vanilla cake and rich chocolate icing and is as delectable as it sounds. You all can have my crabs, and oysters and pit beef. I’ll take the cake any day!
I’m sure there are many other local favorites that I’ve forgotten to mention like Eastern Shore Produce or Natty Boh, whose winking face lights up our skyline, but hopefully I’ve whet your appetite. Maryland tends to get a bad wrap based on what I see on the Food Network or Travel Channel. If they’re to be believed, Maryland is nothing but The Wire and Crabs. We’re so much more and I’d love for everyone to realize that. So if Maryland is on your summer itinerary, I have one suggestion for you, Come Hungry!
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