A friend of mine who really enjoys cooking said that she did not think there was a “Midwestern” cuisine. I (and James Beard award winning Minnesotan & chef, Amy Thielen) disagree. This post won’t necessarily be about the foods that Amy has elevated, although she’s taken some of these stand-bys and made them into something special. This post is about the foods Minnesotan’s crave.

I’m going to start with the #1 all time fave and famous dish:

“Hotdish” with tots. This one is Minnesota ALL THE WAY. People here rave about it. I’m still skeptical, but I tend to keep that to myself.

Hotdish is Minnesota for casserole. But I think most probably think of this particular casserole when they say it. It’s a ground beef, cream of celery soup (you know you’re in the Midwest if they are putting a can of Campbell’s soup in the recipe), mixed vegetables – pretty sure green beans and corn are standard, cheese and then topped off with Tater Tots and baked up in the oven for what *I* actually would refer to as “mofungo”. I eat Mofungo no problem, but I haven’t eaten this particular Mofungo.

photo of person holding ice cream
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Dairy Queen. AKA DQ. You cannot swing a dead cat without hitting a Dairy Queen here. Not that I would want to swing a dead cat. It’s JUST A SAYING. Anyway – DQ, home of the Dilly Bar, the Blizzard and all the other frozen treats + fast food type chow as well. DQ is headquartered here in Minneapolis and their presence is ubiquitous. If you ask my daughter what her favorite restaurant is she will say DQ. And she’s never eaten an actual meal there, just had blizzards and ice cream. Some areas of the country close their DQ’s in winter, we do NOT. The beauty is that many are these cute little walk-up stands with picnic tables. It feels right to eat ice cream that way.

smiling ethnic girl eating corn against wooden house
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Corn. Sweet corn on the cob specifically. It’s not technically ripe here til late July, but other Midwestern states get the jump on us and we pretend we are eating local sweet corn until we are actually able to. Summer in many homes = corn on the cob with butter and salt several nights a week. It always makes me nostalgic for my childhood when you could go get some from our local farmer. He would put grocery bags with a dozen ears each in them and a coffee can on the picnic table and it was the honor system that you would drop a couple bucks in there per bag.

mother and child preparing crepes
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Lefse. Lefse are an unleavened crepe / pancake usually made with potatoes. They are eaten as a substitute for bread or can be stuffed with things like ham and cheese, salmon and cream cheese or sweet with cinnamon and sugar.

plate of fries and burger
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Juicy Lucy. Whatever you do, do not sit directly across from someone eating a Juicy Lucy. A Juicy Lucy is a hamburger with the cheese on the INSIDE. It guarantees that the cheese remains molten for a long time and also guarantees that it is a high probability that it will come flying out the other side of the burger. A friend had her suede jacket destroyed by someone eating one of these at the table next to ours. Fair warning. Just get your cheese on top. No need to be weird(er).

The next two are products of the Great Minnesota Get Together aka the State Fair. The more I add to this list the more I feel like I’m going to be the target of a hit because I’m not singing love songs to the native foods. I don’t love the fair. It is SO CROWDED and SO EXPENSIVE. But if you’re there you will likely be eating a Pronto Pup with a side gallon bucket of Sweet Martha’s. In English this means a corn dog and a gallon bucket of chocolate chip cookies.

Wild rice… this is an indigenous food here in MN. It grows wild in the lakes and the traditional way to harvest is by bending the rice over the side of a canoe with a stick and knocking the rice into the boat. Then the rice is dried or parched. This rice is a thin, black grain, not the white stuff you buy in the store. It’s often mixed with meat in burgers, added to hot dish or served in chicken and wild rice soup – delicious.

Walleye. Walleye is a mild tasting freshwater fish. People love it – fishing for walleye is a major hobby here in Lake Superior and Lake Mille Lacs, and you’ll see it on the menus around town.

fresh ripe apples placed on wooden chopping board
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Honey Crisp Apples. The university of MN breeds apple varieties and one the most popular types that people can’t seem to get enough of is the Honey Crisp. The name fits the apple – its the perfect blend of sweet and crisp, but with a mildly tart edge to it. This is the famous one, but I’m going to make a pitch for one of the newer apples on the scene – the SweetTango – yum! My favorite! A super crisp and flavorful apple. Be wary of the “pick your own” places – it’s fun to do especially with little kids but you may quickly find yourself with $100 worth of apples and a big job in front of you when you get home…


Grainbelt Beer: The Friendly Beer. This is not a beer for snobs. I love beer, I love craft beers and the breweries and I love this beer on a really hot summer day. It’s a refreshing lager, but you can get their Nordeast version which is a wee bit heavier and falls into the amber lager category. Some of the hipsters may think they are ironic having a Grainbelt (like the ironic hipsters drinking PBR’s in Cleveland or the Yling Yling drinkers in Pittsburgh), however you want to justify it.

“Salads”. There are no vegetables in this. It’s jello with fruits and nuts in it or marshmallow fluff and fruit. I just say no. Lots of people would say that is my loss, I’ll take the hit.

Bars. I may have mentioned these before. THESE I LIKE. Cookies without the pain in he butt of scooping them out. Bars are made in a 13×9 pan and cut into rectangles. They come in a million flavors and all are good and made with efficiency.

Last thing… Top the Tater. Slavish devotion is lavished on what I basically think of as French onion dip. It’s good.

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