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What to Eat in Florida

Florida cuisine has come under many influences and its styles vary across the state from north to south.  

Early Spanish and African and Southern cuisine has been influenced by Cuban and other Caribbean cultures, as well as "snowbirds" escaping from the Northern US winters. Northern Florida has a more Southern style; the south a more Caribbean one. Being on a peninsula, Florida's chefs have always had access to fresh seafood and the long growing season provides for fresh native vegetables.

    * Citrus is a main export, and the tourist is apt to see many roadside stands offering free samples of orange juice and fruits to be shipped or carried home. Florida also grows grapefruit, avocado, mango, papaya, passion fruit, kumquat, coconut and other tropical fruits. These often provide the base for sauces and marinades or are used in marmalades, soups, or desserts. Welcome centers located on I-10, I-75, and I-95 as you enter Florida offer free samples of orange juice to all visitors, a tradition that goes back decades.

    * Strawberries are another popular fruit in Florida. Plant City, off I-4 east of Tampa, is the center of Florida strawberry growing, where during the peak season (Feb-Mar) many roadside vendors offer flats(16 pints/12 lbs) and half-flats of strawberries for a small fraction of grocery store prices. Since most are owned by the individual farmers, often the fruit sold was harvested that morning or the day before. Fresh Florida strawberries are a treat no tourist should miss, at least if you visit while in season.

    * Grouper is a very popular seafood caught in Florida's coastal waters. Fresh grouper is offered in many coastal cities, where many local restaurants buy it straight from fishermen. In recent years, state inspectors have cracked down to insure that all restaurants offering "grouper" are in fact serving grouper, and not another less expensive white fish. Snapper, Snook, Tarpon, Marlin, & shark are other Florida fish that you can find at coastal restaurants, although they are not nearly as ubiquitous as grouper.

    * Southern food is available throughout most of north and central Florida. Barbeque is popular throughout the state, with many small "barbeque shacks" to choose from. Any platter costing over $10 ($15 for ribs), should be avoided as less expensive restaurants are almost always best. Sweet tea is common throughout the state, although unlike most areas in the south you have a choice between sweet and unsweet. Boiled peanuts can be found at roadside vendor in this area also, certainly worth trying. Dishes such as grits, okra, gravy 'n biscuits, and collard greens can also be found in buffets and restaurants throughout the region.

    * Cuban food is common in the Miami and Tampa areas. The most common dishes are Cuban sandwiches, desserts, & black beans and rice.

    * Local specialties, not readily available in many other locales, include alligator. It is healthy and most say it tastes like chicken. It is often prepared like chicken too. Key lime pie, found elsewhere now, is a Florida Keys invention, made from the local key limes.
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