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Regional cuisine: Forks in road

By Eric Lindberg, courtesy Lafayette CVC

Bank groups can get samples of local flavor when they choose regional culinary specialties that they can’t find back home. Let’s face it – why have a spaghetti joint on the itinerary in Lafayette, Louisiana, when those folks serve up the best Cajun food on earth?

Who would want to eat vanilla cake in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, when their specialty, Amish shoofly pie, can rarely be sampled anywhere else?

And eating a burger in Tampa, Florida, might be considered sinful when one of the tastiest treats between two slices of bread, the Cuban sandwich, is minutes from your hotel.

For those bank directors who want to immerse their groups in the authentic cultures of the communities they visit, these locales have two words of advice: Dig in.

Cajun food
Lafayette, Louisiana
Named Best in Food in 2011 in the Best of the Road contest sponsored by Rand McNally, Lafayette is one of the best places to enjoy Cajun. “At every meal, the main goal seemed to be introducing people to Cajun cooking and the history behind it,” said the judges.

Cajun food is stick-to-your-ribs sustenance, according to Kelly Strenge, public relations manager for the Lafayette Convention and Visitors Commission. “It was originally meant to feed lots of people who were working in the fields,” she said.

Starting with a roux made with oil or butter, stock and flour, the combinations are endless.
Strenge explained, “Gumbo can have chicken, sausage, seafood or anything. Jambalaya is more of a rice dish, and the meat and veggies can be anything. Etouffee is my favorite, especially when crawfish is the protein. Once again, the vegetables can be onions, celery or anything in the pantry.

“And people might be surprised that Cajun food is not supposed to be overly spicy.”

Strenge suggested that groups head straight to one of two dance halls to enjoy the Cajun experience. “Randol’s and Prejean’s are the places to eat good food and dance off the calories to the best zydeco music.”


Shoofly Pie
Rooted in the heritage of the Amish community, this sweet concoction got its name as one might expect. “As molasses and brown sugar are the main ingredients of the pie filling, the cooked pies would attract flies while cooling, thus the name,” said Joel Cliff, media relations manager for the Pennsylvania Dutch Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Although this pie can be enjoyed in many places throughout Dutch country, two bakeries are renowned for their recipes. “The Dutch Haven Shoofly Bakery in Ronks has a family recipe that’s been around since 1946. The Bird-in-Hand Bakery in Bird-in-Hand is also a great place to pick up this sweet souvenir,” said Cliff.

For an authentic Dutch meal including shoofly pie, Miller’s Smorgasbord in Ronks has been around since 1929 and has recently been renovated.

“It has received rave reviews,” said Cliff. “But groups can still find their traditional favorites on the smorgasbord offering a variety of entrees.”


Mississippi tamales
In and around the Mississippi Delta, an area that stretches from Memphis, Tennessee, to Vicksburg, Mississippi, this handheld food has been around for more than a century.

“We think they were brought by Mexican migrant workers in the late 19th century, and the idea was passed on to the African-Americans in the fields, who easily recognized the main ingredients: corn meal, and pork or beef,” said Amy Evans Streeter, oral historian with the Southern Foodway Alliance at the University of Mississippi.

Grittier in texture than traditional Mexican tamales, Mississippi tamales can also include chicken or venison. “They are not steamed, but simmered in spiced water and served in bundles of three with the juice and chili sauce, and tied together with cotton strings,” said Streeter.

The tamale stands in the Delta are almost everywhere. “You can’t throw a rock without hitting a great tamale place, usually places where you just buy them and go, as this is the Delta’s version of fast food,” said Streeter.

“However, just a few of the best places are Hicks World Famous Hot Tamales and More in Clarksdale, Joe’s White Front in Rosedale and Scott’s Hot Tamales in Greenville.”