You Eat It Like That?

In the United States, regional differences in food apparently extend beyond the boundaries of just regional dishes like lobster rolls in Maine, pepperoni rolls in West Virginia, goetta in metro Cincinnati, Ohio, and many, many, many more. There are also regional differences in how we eat commonly served dishes.

For example, why is this sandwich not ready to eat yet?

It needs relish.

I did not know until I was probably 30 years old that not everyone served grilled cheese sandwiches with either pickles or relish. My dad always ate relish on his. Schools served it with pickles on top from grade school through college. On the rare occasion I ordered it at a restaurant, it came with pickles. Plus, my parents moved to Ohio when my sister was little and her schools always served it with pickles as well.

It was not until a friend of mine from Michigan who was living in Ohio started making fun of me for putting relish on my grilled cheese.  Prior to his remarks,  I did not even fathom the idea that this was not standard fare for everyone.

Since then I have discovered other regional variations of dishes or at least how they are served/eaten. Here are some of the ones I noticed:

  • Chili:  With beans, without beans, with sour cream, with cheese, Cincinnati-style there are thousands of variations in the chili itself.  However, I was surprised to find not everyone grew up with a peanut butter sandwich as the standard side item.
  • Hot Dogs:  These are very, very regional with just as many (or more) variations as chili.  In my youth, hot dogs were most often served with sauce (or chili as it was called in the southern part of my home state) and onions or Cole slaw.  There is are so many regional variations that I won’t even begin to mention them.  I am just grateful many of them are available at the Good Dog.
  • French Fries: While ketchup may be a standard condiment for the fries, there are many other pockets around the United States where other dips or toppings are popular.  Fry sauce is a condiment that is several sauces known by one name.  It may be a white mayo mixture, Thousand Island dressing, or Russian (ketchup/mayo)  dressing.  Although apparently very popular in Utah, there are pockets of popularity around the country.  Gravy on french fries is also common in the New Jersey/Delaware area.  Malt Vinegar is frequently applied by those along the  North East Coast,  in Ohio, and beyond for those “Boardwalk” fries.  Of course in the Pittsburgh, PA region, they put the french fries on everything from steak salad to sandwiches.

So you may be sitting in Alabama and eating mayo on your fries with your pickle topped grilled cheese sandwich on your plate.    It is possible.   This is certainly not set in stone.    Food preferences move with people.  Good food ideas catch on.

Eating relish on grilled cheese is one of those good food ideas that has caught on, at least with my Delaware born and raised husband.  He too used to make fun of me eating relish on my grilled cheese, but now he puts it on  his own grilled cheese sandwiches.   He says it is just humor me, but I know the real reason. . .it tastes wonderful.

I know there are tons of other regional variations.  What are some of yours?  How do you eat your grilled cheese?

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  1. Diners in this area (New England) serve dill pickles next to or on top of grilled cheese sandwiches (but then again they tend to put pickles next to near anything except breakfast items). When they landed on top of the grilled cheeses, I just assumed they didn’t have anyplace else on the plate to place them, so I just pushed them aside and ate them separately. I’ll know better next time…

    I’ve never seen pickles or relish IN a grilled cheese sandwich, this is new to me!!

  2. As far as pickles go, I’m pretty sure everywhere I’ve been, if you order a sandwich, it comes with pickles and chips (or fries). IN your sandwich is a whole other story. I’ve definitely never heard of relish in a grilled cheese. You’ve got me curious now, so I might have to try it. 🙂 What I normally put in my grilled cheese is thin slices of tomato and/or crispy bacon. Yummm. I don’t think that’s a regional thing though, just something I picked up over time and enjoy.

    Another weird sandwich thing though is potato chips. I’m not sure if this is a regional or “kid” thing, but how about putting the potato chips IN the sandwich?? We grew up doing that – not all sandwiches, but some (tuna salad, etc.).

    • Chris,
      I love bacon and melted cheese together too. I usually think of a bacon sandwich with cheese though…lol. I don’t think I would want to add relish to it.

      We put potato chips on our sandwiches when we were kids as well. Okay, we still put chips on our sandwiches (my sister puts chips on lots of stuff). Ham salad sandwiches with potato chips are my favorite.

  3. Yes, on potato chips in the sandwiches … when we were kids, we had potato chips in our PBJ sandwiches, also in our tuna sandwiches. As for grilled cheese, a dill pickle beside, but not in … this from someone raised in northern New York State. You’ve raised some interesting points about regional quirks and cooking! Fun to think about!

    • Susan,

      I have never tried potato chips on PB&J I will have to give it a try. My daughter should love it.

    • It is funny thinking about regional differences. Growing up in MA, another thing I assumed everyone did was dice their veggies, etc. that go in subs (grinders, hoagies …). It wasn’t until I moved away that I first had “sliced” pickles, peppers, etc. in a sub. I have to admit I prefer the dice since you got a better ratio per bite and didn’t end up pulling out slices of onions, etc. when you took a bite. Everyone seems to have gotten away from that now that I’m getting old (44 LOL), and there are so many national chains, everything has been sort of homogenized.

      • I am one of those who has never heard of having diced veggies on a sub. I do remember when things were much more regionally based including subs or whatever name you want to call them. I am glad that I am old enough to remember when. . .but at 45, I am not old, LOL.

  4. Speaking of cheese sandwiches…my Mom used to make what she called “cheese dreams”. On a piece of lightly toasted bread put slices of cheese, usually American, but others would work well. Then add a few slices of partially cooked bacon. The pre- cooked would work well. Then brown the whole thing in the broiler. Open face. Yeah, I know, lots of fat calories there. But still a nostalgic memory. And–ever had bacon with chocolate? Got that in Ohio too! At Marie’s Candies in West Liberty. It is soooo good! And the relish on the grilled cheese sounds great. I will try it.

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