Florida Tourist Food
By Kelly Dean
When you visit Florida from up north, one of the first things you’ll notice when eating out is the difference in food choices. I would have thought Floridians would be keenly health-conscious and the food would reflect this. Why?
In sunny California, the food choices can be very healthy; they have beaches too, so maybe sunny Florida would have healthy choices as well. Maybe it’s the swimsuit thing. Maybe it’s a beach thing. Maybe it’s because the retiree population wants to get healthier too.
Well, Florida does, in a way, have healthy food. But saying it’s healthier overall would be a stretch. What Florida has going for it is the fresh fish and produce. Other than that, you have to make your own choices about what you want to eat, just like you would anywhere.
Because we’re in Florida, they want to bread this fresh fish with flour or cornmeal and fry it: that is, the places that serve tourists.
I’m accustomed to the fried food thing. I was born and raised in the south and food is like this: If it doesn’t have a nice head of grease on it, it’s not worth eating — think chili.
This isn’t mutually exclusive to the south, however. Philly, Boston, New York all have their fried chicken, bacon and beans, and side pork equivalents. They prepare this food because that’s what they know or that’s what there expected to prepare.
So the food preparation largely reflects the folks who have moved here to open restaurants, whether they are franchisees, chains or mom and pops starting a new life in Florida. Italian, Oriental, Mexican, Greek, German — they all reflect their roots.
With the southern folks, it’s frying.
Florida is sorely lacking in healthy food choices because the traditions of both the north and the south. Northerners who’ve moved here bring unhealthy choices with them.
It’s also easier to prepare from a restaurant business perspective: one grill and one fryer and you’re in business.
Until such a time as more healthy choices move in and things change, the words “fried,” “grilled” or “blackened” are your friends because the fresh fish is great here and tastes wonderful served in any of these ways.
Near Miami Beach, I’ve noted that healthy food choices are more readily available because the whole area is has more youth influence. And things are indeed changing statewide. But I can’t wait for the time I can select something vegetarian one day as readily as I can select fired grouper.
Now, I’m not putting down the southern-style palate. I love it. Fried grouper and coconut shrimp are fantastic. But variety is the key. What if we have our fish smoked, steamed, grilled, or just a little sautéed?