Growing up in R.I., the foods unique to the state became not so unique. Funny how you take things for granted! When I moved to California they took on a whole new meaning! I miss these unique foods and crave them. No trip back to R.I. goes without gorging myself on all my state favorites! Hope you enjoy the following facts and the recipes in this book!
Several foods and dishes are unique to Rhode Island and some are hard to find outside of the state. Hot wieners, which are sometimes called gaggers, weenies, or New York System wieners, are smaller than a standard hot dog, served covered in a meat sauce, chopped onions, mustard, and celery salt. Famous to Rhode Island is Snail Salad, which is served at numerous restaurants throughout the state. The dish is normally prepared "family style" with over five pounds of snails mixed in with other ingredients commonly found in seafood dishes. Grinders are submarine sandwiches, with a popular version being the Italian grinder, which is made with cold cuts (usually ham, prosciutto, capicola, salami, and Provolone cheese). Linguiça (a spicy Portuguese sausage) and peppers, eaten with hearty bread, is also popular among the state's large Portuguese community.
Pizza strips are prepared in Italian bakeries and sold in most supermarkets and convenience stores, they are rectangular strips of pizza without the cheese and are served cold. Party pizza is a box of these pizza strips. Spinach pies are similar to a calzone but filled with seasoned spinach instead of meat, sauce and cheese. Variations can include black olives or pepperoni with the spinach.
As in colonial times, johnny cakes are made with corn meal and water, then pan-fried much like pancakes. During fairs and carnivals, Rhode Islanders enjoy dough boys, which are plate-sized disks of deep fried dough sprinkled with powdered sugar (or pizza sauce). Zeppole are Italian doughnut-like pastries traditionally eaten on Saint Joseph's Day, often made with exposed centers of vanilla pudding, cream filling, or ricotta cream, and sometimes topped with a cherry.
As in many coastal states, seafood is readily available. Shellfish is extremely popular, with clams being used in multiple ways. The quahog, from the Narragansett Indian word "poquauhock"; see A Key into the Language of America by Roger Williams 1643) is a large clam usually used in a chowder. It is also ground and mixed with stuffing (and sometimes spicy minced sausage) and then baked in its shell to form a stuffie. Steamed clams are also a very popular dish. Calamari (squid) is sliced into rings and fried and is served as an appetizer in most Italian restaurants, typically Sicilian-style, i.e. tossed with sliced banana peppers and with marinara sauce on the side.
Rhode Island, like the rest of New England, has a tradition of clam chowder. While both the white New England variety and the red Manhattan variety are popular, there is also a unique clear chowder, known as Rhode Island Clam Chowder available in many restaurants. According to Good Eats, the addition of tomatoes in place of milk was initially the work of Portuguese immigrants in Rhode Island, as tomato-based stews were already a traditional part of Portuguese cuisine, and milk was costlier than tomatoes. Scornful New Englanders called this modified version "Manhattan-style" clam chowder because, in their view, calling someone a New Yorker was an insult.
Perhaps the most unusual culinary tradition in Rhode Island is the clam cake. The clam cake (also known as a clam fritter outside of Rhode Island) is a deep fried ball of buttery dough with chopped bits of clam inside. They are sold by the half-dozen or dozen in most seafood restaurants around the state. The quintessential summer meal in Rhode Island is chowder and clam cakes.
Clams Casino originated in Rhode Island after being invented by Julius Keller, the maitre d' in the original Casino next to the seaside Towers in Narragansett. Clams Casino resemble the beloved stuffed quahog but are generally made with the smaller littleneck or cherrystone clam and are unique in their use of bacon as a topping.
According to a Providence Journal article, the state features both the highest number and highest density of coffee/doughnut shops per capita in the country, with 342 coffee/doughnut shops in the state. At one point, Dunkin' Donuts alone had over 225 locations.
The official state drink of Rhode Island is coffee milk, a beverage created by mixing milk with coffee syrup. This unique syrup was invented in the state and is sold in almost all Rhode Island supermarkets, as well as border states. Although coffee milk contains some caffeine, it is sold in school cafeterias throughout the state. Strawberry milk is also as popular as chocolate milk.