HAMPTON ROADS — Virginia is a state that is rich in history. Not only is it known for its important figures and milestones, but also for its cuisine.
Virginia is the home of some of the most delicious dishes that are not often brought up while discussing the topic of Virginia’s heritage.
Every state is known for an iconic dish. When one thinks of Maryland, blue crabs and Old Bay comes to mind. Think of Pennsylvania, and it’s the Philly Cheese Steak.
When it comes to traditional Virginia foods, Smithfield Ham might be the first food people think of. However, there’s a few meals that are specific to Virginia culture, particularly to Hampton Roads.
Below is a mouthwatering list of foods that originated right here in Coastal Virginia.
Smithfield’s legendary hams are a staple for traditional holiday meals throughout our region.
In 1936, Joseph W. Luter and his son founded The Smithfield Packing Company, named after the small town that is just a ferry ride away from Jamestown. Through a unique curing process, they produced the “Genuine Smithfield Ham,” which went on to become a mainstay for family tables during the holidays.
The history of the Smithfield Ham goes back a bit further, though. In 1926, the Commonwealth of Virginia first used the term “Smithfield Ham” in a statute that was passed by the General Assembly, which stated, “Genuine Smithfield hams are those from the peanut-fed hogs, raised in the peanut-belt of the State of Virginia or the State of North Carolina, and which are cured, treated, smoked, and processed in the town of Smithfield, in the Commonwealth of Virginia.”
The terms “peanut fed” and “peanut belt” were later removed in 1966, with the statute currently reading, “Genuine Smithfield hams are hereby defined to be hams processed, treated, smoked, aged, cured by the long-cure, dry salt method of cure and aged for a minimum period of six months; such six-month period to commence when the green pork cut is first introduced to dry salt, all such salting, processing, treating, smoking, curing, and aging to be done within the corporate limits of the town of Smithfield, Virginia.”
Smithfield’s famous hickory-smoked glazed ham is perhaps one of the most iconic meals to originate from Hampton Roads.
Here is a fun fact: Isle of Wight County Museum, located at 103 Main Street in Smithfield, has “The World’s Oldest Ham” on display. The mummified-looking meat dates back to 1924. If you aren’t able to visit the museum, you can always tune into its “Ham Cam,” which is a live feed of one of the museum’s gallery, which streams 24/7,
Those who frequent Mexican restaurants in Hampton Roads are likely familiar with getting not one, but two, small bowls to accompany their chips.
Served alongside traditional red salsa, the mystery sauce, is simply known as “white sauce,” “white salsa,” or “salsa blanca.”
The thick, creamy concoction may seem to be a normal addition to the table, but many might not know that it is extremely specific to Hampton Roads. In fact, it was invented here.
Its history that can be traced back to El Toro, a former Mexican restaurant off Diamond Springs Road in Virginia Beach. It was there that owner, Willie Jenkins, originally served the salsa as a salad dressing throughout the 1970s. The sauce was a hit, and over the years transitioned into chip dip.
Now it can be found at spots like Plaza Azteca in most Virginia cities, including Hampton, Newport News, Williamsburg, Virginia Beach, Norfolk and Richmond. However, it will be harder to find for folks as they go out of state.
The original recipe for the popular sauce consisted of Miracle Whip salad dressing, milk, cumin, oregano and crushed red peppers. A similar recipe can be found on AllRecipes.com.
Planters Nut and Chocolate Company is perhaps best known for its Mr. Peanut icon, but the company has some strong ties in Hampton Roads.
Founded in Pennsylvania by Italian immigrant Amedeo Obici, he opened Planters’ first mass production plant and facility in 1912 in the heart of Suffolk.
In 1941, Suffolk was declared “The Peanut Capital of the World,” and the home of Mr. Peanut.
A statue of Mr. Peanut can be found proudly displayed in downtown Suffolk.
While Brunswick Stew has a bit of a complicated origin story and it doesn’t technically fall within this list’s lines of “Hampton Roads-specific foods,” it still holds a special place in Virginians’ hearts and kitchens.
Virginia, North Carolina and Georgia all claim to be the birthplace of this famous tomato-based stew.
Both Brunswick County in Virginia and the city of Brunswick in Georgia insist that the stew was created there, but the exact origins are still unknown. Some say it may have even originated in Braunschweig, Germany.
The recipes are also different wherever it’s eaten, but it’s almost always tomato-based, with some kind of meat and various types of beans and other vegetables.
In Virginia, it’s common to be cooked with rabbit or chicken. The famous stew is often made in a huge iron pot and is a classic meal for chilly winter or autumn days.
Several organizations around the Historic Triangle hold Brunswick Stew fundraisers throughout the year.
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