Tuesday, October 24, 2006

The State Food of Oklahoma

In my opinion, Oklahoma suffers from an identity crisis in a life or death category. Food.

Our bar-b-que of choice seems to borrow heavily on the Texas style (beef based, saucy, and lot's of it) method of congestive heart failure uber-feasting.

Our Chinese fare is favored in lowest-common-denominator tasteless portions via buffet lines as long as the panhandle juts out to the west.

The Mexican food is decent enough, albeit somewhat generic. I've yet to find a greasy, hardcore East L.A. all-night taco stand with buckets of pickled serrano chiles and raw radishes there for the taking.

Burgers are king, sandwiches are aplenty (except for a good pastrami, but I digress), and donut shops are decently represented even though I'm ever hopeful to stumble upon a Cambodian owned house of round fried dough delectibles.

Meanwhile, back on the ranch, our land run bred culinary stylings have circumnavigated the idea of coming up with a single representative dish, and instead have chosen to pursue perfecting dishes that other states proudly claim as their own.

Chicken Fried Steak. Fried okra. Chili. Cinnamon rolls. Biscuits and gravy. Brisket. Pizza. Fried Chicken even.

Of this foodie faux paux, a "glass is half full" person may say that we do it all well, so we don't really have to specialize in one thing.

A "glass is half empty" person may remark that we didn't create anything unique, so we had to do a "Made in Japan" and imitate dishes that others have made.

Finally, a "glass is sitting in dirty dishwasher" person my swear up and down that we're a pretty young state and haven't had the time to develop our own dish, so stop 'yer yammering and pass the gravy bowl.

I have it on good authority that the modern classic Onion Fried Burger can be traced to a small town south of here on Route 66. Good as they are, they can hardly qualify as a statewide culinary phenomenon.

What may be of more import on this topic, is that good eats and atmospheric eateries abound across the state on every highway, interstate, or small town backroad you happen across.

Treasures of comfortable food and drink can be found on several corners of my small town's downtown, which serves as a pretty good measuring stick for the taste defying treats awaiting travelers with a gumption for a satisfying case of near gluttony.

However, I'm skeptical that Oklahoma will ever be one of those states that tourists travel through or fly over, saying to themselves, "Someday I'm gonna get myself to Oklahoma and try some of that famous [insert dish here] that I've always heard about."

I don't know. Perhaps my adopted home state doesn't need to be able to have a dish to call it's very own. We're still so busy living down the whole, Grapes of Wrath, mattress-toting-huckster image, that tying our state identity to a particular dish may seem a silly idea when compared to the many other issues facing our states tourism industry.

Now stop 'yer yammering and pass the gravy bowl.


WarWagon said...

Don't make me come down there and take you all the really good places to eat.

Emily said...

We don't need a state food. We have the Rock Cafe.

Besides all that, Okies invented the hamburger. In Tulsa. At Weber's Root Beer stand. And they still have the original grill that produced the original hamburger.

Weber's is not, however, the best place in town to get a burger. That title goes to Hank's Hamburgers on Admiral Place (a lesser-known Route 66 alignment), which serves the incomparable Big Okie -- a culinary delight consisting of four, count 'em, FOUR quarter-pound hamburger patties on a single bun, with cheese, pickles, grilled onions, and various other goodies. Just be sure to save room for dessert, because the peanut butter balls are to die for.

Yow. Za.

OKDad said...

Yep, the Rock Cafe is as unique as they come. I'll have to investigate Weber's. Hank's I've heard about from both private and media sources as a place to experience a hamburger of gastronomic proportions as you've described so well.

But just about every town in America has a joint that they claim makes the biggest, best, baddest burger to ever fill an empty belly.

I was just wondering if Okie's could lay proprietary claim to a dish that is equally delectable and unique.

We have lots to brag about in our state. Maybe being the originator of the hamburger (on a bun) is enough.

Ron said...

Northeastern Oklahoma also has a slew of Lebanese eateries, especially in Tulsa. A lot of 'em are third- and fourth-generation Lebanese who came here during the first couple of land runs and the oil boom of the 1920s. I recommend Halim & Mimi's on 2615 E. 11th.

Also, Jamil's, just off I-44 and 51st Street, serves a lot of Lebanese appetizers with their tasty steaks and barbecue.

OKDad said...

My wife told me long ago that there was a large contingent of multi-generation Lebanese families that had settled in OK.

Good to know. Thanks for that!

joiei said...

Everyone here came from someplace else not all that long ago, so all culinary history has been imported from some where else. The Land Run that you wrote about is part of that history.

OKDad said...

The only culinary history that I believe could be considered as original and proprietary to Oklahoma would have to be of a Native variety.

Which leads me to the question, just what is Native American food?

And don't tell me that thing I ate at the State Fair called an "Indian Taco" was Native...although it was pretty yummy.

tammy said...

I have a great list of places in Oklahoma that are great eating establishments.
After a trip to Maryland a few years ago, I decided I did not trust people that didn't eat gravy. And I was scared to try their bar-b-q - the cows in Maryland were too skinny, lol. AND everyone knows good bar-b-q must be accompanied by good fired okra and they didn't even know what okra was.
We may not have one dish that we can claim, but we do have some of the best food in the country, I think.

Anonymous said...

Tgere is a small town northeast of Tulsa that has a hamburger stand named Andys. Cheap but good. Cannot remember the thouwn's name though.