Photo Credit: Minnesota Monthly Magazine
Several regions around the U.S. are linked to a specific cuisine. The Mississippi Delta has Creole and Cajun food, south of Mason Dixon Line has southern soul food, The Carolinas, Texas, and Kansas City boast about their style of BBQ, if you mention seafood and many think of Seattle, New England or Alaska. But what about Minnesota? What comes to mind when one thinks of Minnesota food?
This past year I’ve been highlighting Minnesota dishes, but now I want to dig deeper.
Minnesota is fortunate to farm some of the most fertile land in the United States, which certainly influences our Midwestern cuisine here. Minnesota, Wisconsin, North and South Dakota and Iowa should really defect from the Midwest and adopt a new region called the North. I think that there are characteristics that differentiate the eastern part of the Midwest from the western part of the Midwest, and the southern Midwest from the North. And food is one of those characteristics.Minnesota leads the nation in producing apples, eggs, potatoes, sugar beets, turkeys, oats and sweet corn and green peas. The state is distinctive in the production of wild rice, with both cultivated paddy wild rice and traditional Native American hand harvested wild rice. The state is also a major producer of spring wheat, barley, flaxseed, canola, hogs, edamame, dry beans and dairy cows.
Minnesota is home to several different ethnic groups. Northern Europeans brought food traditions with them as they settled the state generations ago. More recently, Minnesota has become home to immigrants from South East Asia, East Africa, and Mexico. All of these cultures bring with them a unique food tradition influenced by religion and culture. With so many varying influences, can we truly say that Minnesota has a unique cuisine?
Answering that question depends a great deal on how one is influenced by some of the factors mentioned above. Personally, as someone who grew up in Minneapolis and Richfield, I was exposed to a lot of great restaurants and cuisines in the Twin Cities area. The women in my life loved eating out. But more importantly when I was young they took me under their wings and taught me to cook while they prepared the family meals. The main thing I learned was a good dish needs not be composed of complex techniques and cooking methods. Sometimes good cooking is just using what is already good and practicing a little restraint to allow that inherent goodness to shine. It truly is a blessing to receive food that is created with a sense of mealtime mindfulness that starts with the delivery, extended to the preparation, and then culminated with a sense of hyper-awareness while eating. It’s instinctive to savor food when you feel a sense of respect, even awe for it’s taste and nourishment.
That is what Minnesota cuisine is all about!