Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota, might not be on the top of most people’s vacation destination lists, but the Twin Cities have a surprising amount to offer. There are plenty of outdoor activities nearby; professional baseball, football, basketball, and hockey teams; a growing craft beer scene; and some delicious local delicacies.
Fair warning: “Delicious,” as is usually the case, does not equate to healthy for most (if not all) of the following foods. While that might be a deterrent to some, it is likely a draw to most — as it should be.
If you’re still not convinced (and even if you are), please explore with us some of the best, most Minnesotan foods you absolutely need to try during a trip to the Twin Cities. OK, we might not advocate trying all of the following 10 foods — unless you want to truly live like a local. If so, your answer should be a resounding, “Oh, for sure!”
One of the most popular desserts in Minnesota is bars. No, this isn’t a clever way to say Minnesotans drink alcohol as a dessert (although this is probably true in some cases), but “bars” instead refer to treats similar to cookies or brownies that have the texture of a firm cake, are prepared in a pan, and baked in the oven. They are then cut into squares and served at birthdays, bake sales, and pretty much any other occasion.
When in Minnesota, you make your stew in a 30-100 gallon vat and you call it “booya.” Both a meal and a bonding experience (since it generally takes an army to chop up all the ingredients and continuously stir the mixture), booya is highly regarded in Minnesota, with the World Championship Booya Cookoff taking place every fall in St. Paul for the last 33 years. Ingredients can include anything from corn, tomatoes, and carrots to cabbage, lima beans, a variety of meats, oxtail, or basically anything else the chef (or chefs) prefer. How about all of the above?
Alright, we’ll pay due respect to Wisconsin, the undeniable cheese state — but this Midwestern delicacy is just as popular in the Twin Cities and other parts of eastern Minnesota. Made from the solid parts of soured milk (bear with us for a second), cheese curds are deep-fried more often than not in Minnesota, and almost always delicious. Honestly. They’re like little mozzarella stick bites, except they use a different type of cheese (generally Cheddar or a mild variety).
Known as casserole to the rest of the country, hot dish is immensely popular in Minnesota, thanks in part to the often frigid weather. The exact ingredients can be tinkered with, but beef, green beans, corn, and a can of cream of mushroom soup make for a solid, standard base. Then comes the important part: topping the dish with cheese, and more often than not, tater tots.
If someone says they’ll bring the salad to your dinner party in the Twin Cities, you might want to ask them to specify exactly what they mean. Although most of the country would think of greens and other vegetables mixed with a bit of Italian or ranch dressing, someone from Minnesota might instead make a concoction of Jell-O, fruit, and almost always a white-colored “dressing” — either cottage cheese, cream cheese, marshmallows, or (*gulp*) mayonnaise. The meal’s origin can apparently be traced back to a dish that once won third prize in a Better Homes & Gardens recipe contest. I’m really hoping there were only three entrants in that competition.
A few years ago, it became somewhat popular nationwide for folks to stuff their hamburgers with cheese (or other ingredients) before tossing them on the grill. While many marveled at this new trend, Minnesotans just shook their heads; they’ve been doing this for decades, and even have a name for it: the Jucy Lucy. The name comes from the fact that the melted cheese cooking inside the burger keeps it nice and juicy, and apparently because people like to rhyme up north. Two bars in South Minneapolis, located only three miles from each other, claim to have invented the Jucy Lucy: Matt’s Bar and the 5-8 Club.
With such a large Scandinavian population, it’s no wonder lefse is so popular in Minnesota. For those not in the know, lefse is a soft Norwegian flatbread made with potatoes, flour, butter, and milk or cream and cooked on a griddle. It’s best served with butter and a sprinkle of sugar (and sometimes jam or other fillings) before getting rolled up and eaten. Lefse is especially common around the holidays, but really it’s celebrated year-round. The town of Fosston holds a Lefse Fest every November; Mankato, Minnesota celebrate Lefse Day on the Sunday after Thanksgiving; and Rushford, Minnesota, produces a half million rounds of lefse each year.
Lutefisk is air-dried (or air-dried and salted) whitefish mixed with lye. In fact, its name literally means “lye fish.” Due to the high population of Norwegian and Swedish immigrants (and descendants of immigrants) in Minnesota, lutefisk is a popular dish in the area, and is often served with sides of bacon, green peas, potatoes, lefse, gravy, butter, or a number of other foods. It is white in color and gelatinous in texture, and why anyone would want to eat it is beyond us. (No judgments though.)
Walleye is the official fish of Minnesota because it’s abundant in the state’s thousands of freshwater lakes, and also because Minnesota was probably out having a smoke when they assigned the state fishes. Why else would anyone pick a fish that generally only come out when weather conditions are dark, overcast, and windy? Just kidding, Minnesota, I know how much you love your walleye and its many preparations: battered, fried, smoked, between bread, and on sticks. Just don’t forget the tartar sauce and lemon.
Some people like white rice, other prefer brown rice, but Minnesotans? They like black rice. Officially called wild rice, locals often call it Minnesota rice — not just because they’re cocky, but because 80 percent of all wild rice comes from the state, and also because it’s the state grain. Interestingly, wild rice isn’t actually rice, but an annual water-grass seed that’s naturally abundant in cold rivers and lakes.