Okay, we’ve told you what Florida food isn’t any more, now let us tell you what it is. First of all, it is amazingly diverse. With the exception of New York and California, nowhere in the US has a more varied and disparate population than the Sunshine State. That diversity includes Asian influences, European, the Middle Eastern, Caribbean and especially Latin American. You’ll still find traditional Southern food, but it has a modern and more health-conscious face. There’s Tex-Mex style and Californian chic, too.
But, most of all, Florida has developed a whole new profile in its cuisine, a slow-moving, but inescapable movement towards an all-world mix, a global combination of great ideas and even better kitchen practices. That means you can get an outstanding Cuban sandwich in Miami, Tampa and Orlando, as well as Havana; that ceviche is now a state-wide favourite, and adds to the growing profile of memorable seafood which has long been Florida’s other staple; and that fine dining is accepted as the standard for breakfast, lunch or dinner instead of the exception.
There are still variations around the state, too, and, while these are generalisations, they are true for the most part. Miami remains the home for the greatest variety of Latin cuisines, from Cuba and Mexico to Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Brazil, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and much of Central America. Miami’s Little Havana district remains the starting point for memorable Cuban cuisine, but you will also find it in Orlando, Tampa and parts of Jacksonville. Tampa’s Ybor City area is a revived chunk of genuine Cuban culture; hence it is a go-to choice for many. Tacos, empanadas, paella, pork shoulder, beef stew, guacamole, yellow rice and black beans are all typical dishes, but you will often find some extremely creative touches with those basics nowadays (witness the growing Floridian spread of Rocco’s Tacos restaurants).
As you go north in Florida, things become more ‘Southern’, with the influence of nearby states like Georgia, Alabama and the Carolinas. Grits, cornbread, collard greens, black-eyed peas and rice, biscuits (savoury scones) and gravy, catfish, fried chicken, bread pudding and every kind of barbecue known to man are all Southern favourites, and you’ll find them especially in the Panhandle and North East regions, as well through Central parts (notably Ocala and Gainesville), plus the rural areas around Orlando.