Pork tenderloinMarch 27, 2024–For some reason, grits was the topic of a recent online discussion. The food brought up clearly delineated preferences, “delineated” as in above or below the Mason-Dixon line. Southerners love grits; northerners don’t.

This started a long discussion of other location-based food preferences. They are legion; they are wide-ranging; and they are passionately defended.

Here are some from my personal experience of living as a Yankee, a Texan, and a South American.

Disclaimer: “Liking” certain foods over others is not the basis for judging character or insulting ethnic heritage. It’s a case of to-may-to; to-mah-to.

Unfamiliar foods that yankees encounter in the south:

  • Okra–seed pods swimming in mucilage
  • Grits–some part of corn that we never knew existed
  • Pecan pie–in Iowa, they put meat in pies, not nuts
  • Chili with no beans–they’ve obviously never needed to stretch the dish to serve large families
  • Tamales–unidentifiable meat wrapped in greasy dough wrapped in dried corn husks

And menudo. We asked our servers at a local restaurant about this concoction, so they generously brought out a bowl for us to try. They described the process of preparation, assuring us the diced stomach lining and intestines were repeatedly rinsed in water, that was then poured out to get rid of the associated odor. It was at this point, that all of us politely refused the free sample. Those little white tubes, we figured out, were not penne.

Unfamiliar foods that foreigners encounter on visiting the Midwest:

  • Rhubarb–delicious when baked with ample amounts of sugar
  • Morel mushrooms–delicious when breaded and deep-fried in oil
    But then what food isn’t delicious baked in sugar or breaded and fried?
  • Unidentifiable parts of pigs
    There is an old saying in Iowa about pigs: they eat everything but the squeal. I’ve had my share of tongue, tail, and heart. And while I shy from menudo, I will eat other organ meat. At my first Texas Thanksgiving, the hosts were shocked that I was shocked that they tossed out the turkey liver, gizzard, and heart. Those were considered delicacies where I grew up, and we kids fought over them.

And let’s not forget “rocky mountain oysters.” I even wrote a song about them. On second thought, let’s do forget about them.

Speaking of pigs… breaded pork tenderloin sandwiches have a cult following across the three adjacent “I” states–Iowa, Illinois, and Indiana.

My dad used to choose a restaurant based solely on how far the breaded chop hung out over the edge of the bun and plate. Like any authentic farmer, meal quality was measured by the acre.

I had forgotten this Midwest delicacy until I recently discovered several on-line forums that are devoted to discovering the best breaded pork tenderloin sandwiches in the country. I had not found any restaurants in Texas that served them, so I posted the question online.

One poster pointed out there was a restaurant in Texas that served them. It was literally in my backyard–the Auslander Restaurant in Fredericksburg. Why hadn’t I known that? Simple. Because Fredericksburg, with its German heritage, doesn’t call them “breaded pork tenderloin sandwiches” on the menu. They go by the German label–Wienerschnitzel. The delicacy was hiding in plain sight!

So I tried one, and I think my dad would have approved.

Another source of regional culinary conflict is anything barbecued.

During my travels across the country playing music, I became fluent in barbecue. Each region passionately defends its cuisine, from preferred meat of beef, pork, chicken, or cabrito, the cuts used, the time it is grilled or smoked, the type of wood, to the base of the accompanying sauce. The version in Texas differs from the version in South Carolina, which is different from Southern Illinois, which is different from Kansas City. My review? So far, they are all delicious.

There are endless debates waiting for foodies. Entire television empires have been built on comparing regional food favorites. I believe preferences are simply wired into us by moms around the kitchen table. If you grew up on meatloaf, fried chicken, and mashed potatoes, that is where your palate leans. If you grow rapturous over tamales, menudo, and chorizo, muy bien.

If grits make you gag, okra makes you choke, and pecan pie makes you pucker, you just might not be from around here.