20 Pennsylvania Foods to Try

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Pennsylvania has many tourist attractions and is best known for playing a critical role in American history. But it isn’t known as a culinary capital, but perhaps it should be. Try these famous Pennsylvania food items when visiting!

From sweets to comfort food, these PA foods are now as famous as the Liberty Bell or the Rocky movies.  You’ll now see them around the world, but they have their humbler roots here in the Keystone state.

Below are the best PA foods to experience:

Cheesesteak

Cheesesteak sandwich on plate
The iconic cheesesteak: ribeye and whiz on a sesame seed roll

Among the culinary delights and tasty treats, the cheesesteak is probably the most famous food in Pennsylvania. It is also known as Philly cheesesteak. Traditionally it is a sandwich made with melted cheese, thinly sliced ribeye meat, with or without onions, all in a long hoagie roll. They are very easy to prepare.

The cheesesteak has several varieties in addition to the traditional, including pizza pizza cheesesteak, vegan cheesesteak, chicken cheesesteak, etc.  The steaks are also famous (or infamous) for the rivalry of the two best known shops: Pat’s vs Geno’s in South Philly.

Shoofly Pie

Shoofly pie is a common Pennsylvania food, especially in Amish parts of the state. In fact, it is very likely that shoofly pie was originated among the German immigrants in the state around the 1880s. It is a rich pie known for its very sweet taste, that is why it usually attracts flies.

It is made from molasses or sprinkles of brown sugar with a mixture of flour, butter, and sometimes eggs. It is similar to coffee cake. It was traditionally served as a breakfast food, usually accompanied with hot coffee.

Soft Pretzel

Trays of buttered soft pretzels on display
Gooey soft pretzels

Soft pretzel has a unique shape that resembles a knot. It is formed by intertwining the ends of long dough and folding them on each other. It was said that soft pretzel was invented by an Italian monk to depict the crossed arms of praying children as a gift to them for learning their prayers. The tradition spread across Europe where it was embraced in Germany. The large numbers of German immigrants then brought the pretzel to Pennsylvania.

The soft pretzel is made into different shapes today like letters, rods, sticks, braids, and even loops. It is made with flour, water, sugar, and a wide variety of seasonings like cinnamon, salt, and various nuts. In Eastern Pennsylvania, they can be consumed at any time of day, including for breakfast.

Tomato Pie

Tomato pie is another Italian-American food. It is very similar to pizza, but served without cheese and is comprised entirely of sauce (usually a thicker sauce that  doesn’t run). The main ingredients are tomato sauce, salt, basil, and seasoning. Tomato pie is usually prepared as a square instead of the common round pizzas.

Roast Pork Sandwich

Thinly-sliced roast pork on a roll
Thinly sliced roast pork

You can easily understand what roast pork sandwich means from the name itself. It is a sandwich because it is wrapped in a hoagie roll. The main ingredient is pork. The boneless pork is roasted on low heat with onion, garlic and lots of black pepper. It is then topped with other ingredients like provolone and broccoli rabe.

Roast pork sandwich is especially popular with those those native to the state. It is believed that it originated from the community of Italian Americans in Pennsylvania, and the recipe remained unchanged for many years.

Tastykake

Tastykake is a snack food brand from the City of Brotherly love and is one of the most iconic foods in Philadelphia. They are well packaged and produce different kinds of sugary treats loved by both young and old. They get ingredients from around the world, such as vanilla from Madagascar, banana puree from Ecuador, and other places.

Some of the best known Tastykake products include donuts, Kreamies, Krimpets, mini pies, Kandy Kakes, and cupcakes of various flavors.

Pittsburgh Salad

Pittsburgh salad is a layered salad mostly made with lettuce, salad dressing, French fries, vegetables, grilled meat, and shredded cheese. In Pittsburgh, it is usually called Steak salad or Chicken salad. They can be customized in different forms according to the quality of the ingredients used. The French fries help to add texture, saltiness, bulk and warmth to the salad.

Hoagie Sandwich

Wawa Italian hoagie sandwich with cold cuts, lettuce, and tomato on a Wawa wrapper
The iconic Italian hoagie from Wawa

Hoagie sandwich is a long bread roll that contains cheese, meat, condiments, and other fillings. It originated from Italian immigrants at the Hog Island shipyard during World War 1. That is why it was called “hoggies” then. It later became “hoagie.”

It is usually at least six inches in length and served cold. Because it originated from Italian immigrants, many of the ingredients are Italian. However, it is important to eat hoagie sandwich in moderation because of the high sodium it contains. It is usually parked with salted meat and cheese.

Pierogis

Pierogis are dumplings that have the shape of a half-moon. It is stuffed with potatoes puree, fried onions, meat, or other ingredients such as eggs, vegetables, and cheese. Its preparation includes boiling and deep-frying.

Pierogis are high in fat, but it mostly depends on the size, what they are stuffed with and how they are prepared. For more flavor, sour cream can be added to pierogis to lighten the dough. They are popular in Slavic countries and arrived with immigrants who came to the state to work in the anthracite coal fields.

Whoopie Pie

Whoopie pie is an Amish traditional food. It can be in the form of a cake, sandwich, pie, or cookie. It is usually two soft chocolate rounds with creamy and sweet fillings. Whoopie pie is a sandwich in cookie form. These are usually sweet treats, but the filling can vary. The regular ones that contain white flour, sugar, oil, and butter, but the ones that contain natural ingredients and coconut oil are healthier.

Water Ice

Cup of water ice
Water ice: shaved ice in the ubiquitous paper cup

Water ice which is also known as Italian ice, is a traditional summer treat in Philadelphia. It is called Sorbet in French and called Granita in Italian. It is a frozen treat containing water, sugar, juice or puree and flavoring, usually fruit. The flavor is usually mixed in before putting it into the freezer to freeze. It is known to be firm, soft, and smooth. Water ice is loved both by kids and adults.

Scrapple

Scrapple is a famous Pennsylvania food. It is commonly called Pannhaas (a German name) in Pennsylvania. It is a dish made from scrapes of pork combined with cornmeal and buckwheat flour with spices, then formed into a loaf and sliced for frying.

Scrapple was made as a result of people trying to avoid waste of food. It is usually eaten as breakfast or lunch. It is very high in sodium.

Chipped Ham

Chipped ham is made from chopped ham (seasonings, ham chunks, and trimmings are mixed together to become a loaf). When the chopped ham is processed by thinly slicing, it becomes chipped ham. It became widely known by the public during World War II. Chipped ham is similar to SPAM, although more flavorful.

Twizzlers

Twizzlers are long, twisted candies produced from different ingredients such as wheat flour, sugar, corn syrup, cornstarch. It also contains smaller amounts of palm oil, salt, glycerin, and artificial flavor. They are first made by a popular company known as The Young & Smylie Confectionery Company.

Twizzlers have different colors and flavors like cherry, strawberry, cola, lemonade, orange, chocolate, watermelon, raspberry, grape, and many more. They also have different products like Twizzlers Twerpz, Twizzlers filled bites, Twizzlers pull ‘n’ peel, and so much more.

Herr’s Chips

Herr’s chips is a brand of potato chips based in Chester County, Pennsylvania. It was established by Jim Herr in 1946 and later became a family business passed from one generation to the next. Herr’s chips have varieties, but all the varieties have something in common; spicy and strong flavors.

Birch Beer

Birch beer is a sweetened carbonated soft drink made from the sap of birch trees, which is usually evaporated into essential birch oil with a touch of herbal, flower, and mint flavor.

Birch beer is in the family of root beers. The taste is similar due to the common flavors added like vanilla, wintergreen, yucca, and licorice but birch beer is more complex and tastier than root beer. The core ingredients used in making it is different from that of root beer. Birch beer comes in different colors depending on the tree from which the sap is extracted. Some of the colors are red, brown, and a clear version.

Mushroom Strudel

Mushroom strudel is made into long cylinders and smaller triangles with filo pastry and are reminiscent of strudel dessert rolls. The shape depends on if it will be eaten as an appetizer or main dish. The mushrooms are often sliced before cooking and are then sautéed with garlic and butter. Different types of mushrooms are used to provide different flavors and textures. Besides mushrooms, breadcrumbs, butter, and green onions hold it together.

Irish Potato Candy

Three Irish potato candies and a box from Shane Confectionary
The Irish potato candy looks just like a real potato

In Eastern PA, the spring means Irish potato candy season. These tasty little treats are sold in the weeks leading up to Easter and are an annual tradition. And no, they aren’t actual potatoes.

These seasonal Irish potato confections are essentially an optical illusion. They are made from butter and powdered sugar which creates a buttercream, cream cheese, sweetened coconut flakes, vanilla extra and ground cinnamon. Given the dairy, these need to refrigerated…and consumed quickly, which usually isn’t a problem.

These treats are consumed almost exclusively in the eastern part of Pennsylvania and almost nowhere else in the United States.

Zucchini Planks

Zucchini is a plant in the squash family and was first cultivated by Italian-American immigrants in the area. One of the ways zucchinis are prepared is by slicing it into planks, brushed with olive oil, vinegar and sprinkled with seasonings. Then it is usually grilled on low heat.

While you’ll find these planks on bar menus in other places, the ubiquitous nature of them in PA make them a local food. Any bar or pub worth eating at will have these on the menu.

Burnt Almond Torte

Burnt almond torte is a delicious and unique cake typically baked in a square shape and made with almonds, brown sugar, eggs, flour, cornstarch, and whipping cream. It is usually filled with pastry cream and covered with sugared almonds. Burnt almond torte was first created by Henry Prantl at Prantl’s Bakery in Pittsburgh and he never knew that it would become a famous creation.

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