There’s no excuse like being on vacation to indulge in decadent dishes that you’d feel guilty about tucking into at home, right? Plus, eating local is part of the cultural experience of any destination. Here, five bizarre and over-the-top regional eats — and where to try them if you so dare:
Ooey gooey butter cake (St. Louis, Missouri)
What it is: This dense, rich cake simply consists of all the things that make all dessert delicious: butter, sugar, eggs, flour, and corn syrup — sometimes with a touch of vanilla or almond extract and always topped with a liberal dusting of powdered sugar. The result? A chewy, caramelized crust that cradles a bed of ooey, gooey deliciousness. We’ve never been able to finish a slice in one sitting, since it’s very sweet, so we suggest ordering to share along with a cup of coffee or tea.
Where to find it: Many chain cafes and groceries stores like Kaldi’s Coffee and Schnucks all bake their own that would satisfy any craving. But the most-debated contenders for best cake in town are usually: MacArthur’s Bakery, an all-around favorite that’s been around since 1956; Gooey Louie’s, which specialized in gooey butter cake exclusively and uses an old family recipe; and Park Avenue Coffeehouse, which uses cream cheese and offers 76 flavors.
Garbage plate (Rochester, New York)What it is: This one’s for the traveler who seems to have a bottomless pit for a stomach. What started out as a meal made of leftover scraps during the Great Depression has somehow evolved into the region’s most epic meal. The plate begins with a bottom spread of baked beans and either fries or macaroni salad, topped by your choice of two from — ready? — cheeseburger, hamburger, hot dog, Italian sausage, fried ham, haddock, chicken tenders, grilled cheese, and eggs. All of that is then garnished with a hefty meat sauce made with ground beef.
Where to find it: Nick Tahou Tots is where the Garbage Plate was invented — and trademarked. That’s why you’ll find the dish listed as a “sloppy plate” at Mark’s Diner, a spot that one of our very own editors who hails from Rochester also loves. Ask about half-plates, and don’t forget the ketchup and hot sauce.
Spam Musubi (Hawaii)What it is: More bizarre than it is decadent, spam musubi is essentially a spam roll, wrapped in sushi with a bed of rice. It’s just one of many indications of Hawaii’s very passionate obsession with the processed meat, which Congresswoman Colleen Hanabusa explains is a comfort food in the state. Variations include fried twists, furikake sprinkles, a slather of teriyaki sauce, and, for breakfast, egg-y additions.
Where to find it: Like gooey butter cake in St. Louis, spam musubi can be found in virtually any type of establishment that sells food, from delis and convenience stores to supermarkets to sit-down eateries. Foodland supermarket offers generously sized ones entirely wrapped in nori, while Da Kitchen‘s fried version in Maui is rather popular. Even better, ask a local about their favorite hole-in-the-wall in the neighborhood that you’re visiting.
Turducken (New Orleans, Louisiana)What it is: It’s a duck stuffed in a check stuffed in a turkey. Making internet rounds in the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving a few years ago, this creation is rumored to have originated in various kitchens in New Orleans — though some argue that the concept hails from 18th century Europe. Either way, the most important thing you need to know is that it’s a whole lot of meat.
Where to find it: Turducken is typically ordered to be enjoyed at home with friends and family, per most holiday meals. If you don’t have access to a kitchen but happen to be in town on the eve of Thanksgiving, make reservations at K-Paul’s Louisiana Kitchen, which serves the dish just that day of the year, or Luke, whose buffet features turducken.
Akutaq (Alaska)What it is: “Eskimo ice cream” takes the cream to a whole other level, with a base made of ground fish whipped with oil from animals like seal, walrus, reindeer, or moose — then flavored with various local berries. Of course, this was more for the purposes of keeping native Alaskans warm and healthy back in the day rather than for taste, which we hear isn’t actually very fishy but more lard-y. These days, most people use Crisco instead, whether in the home kitchen or at the store.
Where to find it: Akutaq is rarely served in restaurants, but you can find it in a few stores like Swanson’s. It’s another item that’s best enjoyed if you make an Alaskan friend who might invite you into their kitchen — each family supposedly has their own recipe and flavor that isn’t typically shared.