We asked you to tell us about odd regional food names, and boy did you oblige! Martha reads some of your letters about whoopie pies, hot tamales, pretzel salad, coolers, and the frappe vs. milkshake controversy.
A while back, we talked about how the name of a particular food that you grew up with might be utterly mystifying to someone from another part of the country. Grant described the pork steaks that he ate all the time in Missouri, and I talked about how my family in Louisville ate Benedictine, a mix of cucumber and cream cheese.
We asked you for other examples. What came through loud and clear was this: You don’t have to be in a foreign country to be baffled by the local menu.
We heard from Cindy in San Diego who told us about the culinary culture shock of moving from Michigan to Boston. When she and her husband ordered a milk shake there, she was surprised when “what we got was milk with chocolate syrup—as watery as, well, chocolate milk! We were really confused. Then we described to the waitress what we thought we had ordered, and she exclaimed in a heavy Boston accent, ‘Oh, you want a frappe!’”
Cindy went on to say: “The other thing we found in Boston and nowhere else in the country was a confection called a whoopie pie, two chocolate cookie/cakelike disks filled in between with a white cream or icing in the center. Whatever store in Boston we happened to be, or at a bakery, there were the whoopie pies in all their glory. Never have seen these anywhere else in the country and if I ask people here in San Diego where I could get some whoopie pies, they’d just look at me cross-eyed.”
Well, Cindy, that sounds a lot like what we in the South call “moon pies.” Although if I ever need a stage name or nom de plume, I’m going to give serious thought to calling myself “Whoopie Pie.”
Or how about this one: Have you ever eaten “pretzel salad“? I sure haven’t—never even heard of it. But a listener named Michael tells us that pretzel salad is lime jello with carrots and pretzels mixed into it. “It’s mostly an East Coast thing,” he says. Hmmmm, another reason I’m glad I live in California.
Mary wrote from Sheboygan, Wisconsin, to say that when she first moved there 30 years ago, she noticed that the school lunch one day was “hot tamales.” Mary writes, ” I was astounded that Sheboygan was so diverse that the school lunch for every child in the district was tamales. Later that day I discovered that what Sheboyganites call hot tamales are what I called barbecue and what other folks call sloppy joes. She adds: “Sheboygan has many unique words for things including coolers, also known as ‘popsicles.’”
Finally, we also heard from you about food names that families invent and use among themselves. Take Mary of Lower Lake, California. She wrote to tell us about “hairy arm hot dogs.” When she was growing up in Troy, New York, she recalls, the family would say, “Hey, want to go for a hairy arm?” They’d troop off to the local hot dog stand with excitement. “The origin of the name hairy arm,” she writes, “came from how the stand’s owner’s practice of lining hot dogs up the length of his forearm while he dressed them with relish, onions, etc. Sometimes a hair from his arm would get on the hot dog.”
You know, I can just picture that.