Known for its blend of different cultures, it’s no wonder that Indiana’s most famous foods reflect the immigrants that moved there. While some items are more recognizable and common throughout the Hoosier State, others are specific to certain regions and are considered more of a local delicacy.
From globally recognized brands to meals that require special preparation, in no particular order, here are some of the best-known foods in Indiana:
Triple XXX Root Beer
Triple XXX root beer is an American classic that dates back to the 1920s. During this time period, there were over 100 locations scattered throughout the US and Canada that offered road trippers a place to relax and get a good refreshing beverage, these stops back in the day were called “thirst stations”. Today, the last Triple XXX Root Beer location is in West Lafayette, Indiana.
One of the only places you can find this beverage in the country, the owners of this location purchased the rights and the formula in 2008. The restaurant itself is Indiana’s first and oldest drive-in restaurant and has been featured on many popular food television shows.
The name of the Root Beer does not have any lurid connotations as the name might suggest. Triple XXX Root Beer actually comes from how quality used to be ranked back in the day: if something was rated with one X it was standard, two was good and three is the best of the best.
During the late 1800s and early 1900s when this beverage reached its peak of popularity, everyone knew from the label that it was the best root beer you could find. The owners of the business still claim that it is the best since it’s made with all-natural ingredients. If you’re seeking out a piece of history as well as great food, this is a must-stop location while visiting Indiana.
Van Camp’s Pork and Beans
Although Van Camp’s is no longer owned or manufactured by local Indianans, it was created here and is a source of pride to many throughout the state. It was originally founded in Indianapolis in 1861 and since that time has been one of the most popular brands for beans throughout the US. Today, Van Camp’s is the second most popular brand of beans in the entire country behind Bush’s.
While the addition of pork is one major difference between the bean brands, Van’s camp also uses tomato sauce in their product, creating a more diverse product that can be used in more dishes than Bush’s, since they are cooked with brown sugar. Van Camp’s Pork and Beans can be found in grocery stores throughout the US or wherever canned goods are sold.
Indiana is an incredibly agriculturally focused state, with sweet corn being one of its main exports. Because of this, corn is vital to the state’s commerce and is a central part of the cuisine. The most common and simple way to enjoy this vegetable is to eat it raw or boiled with a bit of salt and some butter.
However, Hoosiers have come up with hundreds of ways to enjoy this crop throughout the years, and many restaurants and areas of the state have their own unique recipes and techniques to prepare this food.
The Allen Baird family of Tipton county became locally famous for their corn chowder in the early 2000s. It grew to be so popular that a restaurant in the area called Circle City Soups decided to carry it when it is in season during the summer months. To this day, the soup is only made with corn sourced directly from the Allen Baird Farms.
Corn fritters are another corn-based side that is made here and can be found in or out of season. Many restaurants throughout the state offer corn on their menus and most of the time it’s sourced locally so it is always a good idea to try it when it is available.
Since corn is so culturally significant to Indiana, it only makes sense that popcorn is popular too. The popcorn machine was invented by a gentleman named Charles Cretors in 1886 while he was living in Chicago, but once he created his invention, he came to Indiana to open his first popcorn business.
From here, many of the world’s most prolific popcorn brands blossomed from Indiana; one of which being Orville Redenbacher. Redenbacher was an Indiana native and he began his business in the state before it was sold to a larger corporation.
The company is one of the largest popcorn producers in the world, and the original factory location in Valparaiso, Indiana hosts a festival to celebrate the state’s most famous export.
The Valparaiso Popcorn Festival has taken place for the last 40 years and has many events during the festivities that include a popcorn parade, food booths, and arts and crafts created by local vendors. This event is fun for the whole family and takes place during September each year for one day.
Being a mostly landlocked state, one would not think that shrimp cocktails would be one of the most noteworthy foods of Indiana. However, it’s one local restaurant that carries this fame on its back. St. Elmo’s Steak House is a world-famous restaurant that’s located in Indianapolis. Open since 1902, it has been an institution in the state ever since.
St. Elmo’s only has one appetizer on its menu: the shrimp cocktail. The reason this shrimp cocktail is so famous is because of the cocktail sauce that comes with it. Known for being one of the best, the sauce is made from scratch with locally sourced horseradish. Differing batch to batch, sometimes the sauce is rather mild while other times it’s very spicy.
If you’re in the Indianapolis area, this restaurant is a dining experience that you do not want to miss. But don’t take our word for it, the hundreds of celebrities that grace this restaurant on a regular basis should be enough to convince you of its deliciousness.
Breaded Pork Tenderloin
A breaded pork tenderloin sandwich is the unofficial official sandwich of Indiana because this dish is everywhere in the state. And when we say everywhere, we mean everywhere given that it’s estimated that more than 50% of all restaurants in Indiana have this dish available.
Though its origins are truly unknown, it’s thought to originally have been created by German immigrants, which is a good assumption since it closely resembles pork schnitzel. To make this dish, a slice of pork tenderloin is either pounded down flat or run through a tenderizer until it’s absolutely massive. It’s then dredged in egg, breeding, and is fried until golden brown.
The sandwich almost always comes on a bun with mayo, onions, lettuce, and some pickles. Sometimes honey mustard dressing is added for a bit of additional flavor. The breaded pork sandwich and pork, in general, are incredibly important exports for the state, and there’s even a pork festival that is held in Tipton, Indiana every year in September.
There are a lot of activities ranging from live music, an arts and crafts fair, and an activity called “pork court” where vendors sell all kinds of pork dishes, including the breaded pork tenderloin sandwich. Since this meal is so popular and can be found almost anywhere in the state, it’s absolutely one of the cannot miss items to get while visiting Indiana.
Fried Brain Sandwiches
This dish is exactly what it sounds like: brains on bread. Although it’s not the most common meal in Indiana, it has a special place in the hearts of many communities throughout southern Indiana. From the late 1800s through the early 1900s, Indiana was one of the largest meat packing and processing distributors in the entire country.
Because of this, there was a large number of animal parts that were going to waste. This would not stand in the German immigrant community, thus the brain sandwich was born. Because brains are not an easy meat to cook, there’s a very specific way that chefs would fry and bread this meat. First, they could not have warm hands to handle the meat, since it would cause it to fall apart.
Secondly, all of the fryings had to take place in a cast iron pan with a small amount of grease to also keep the meat intact. Although southern Indiana no longer has a large number of slaughterhouses, the brain sandwich has persevered as a local delicacy in the area, with some restaurants having it on the menu to this day.
Although mad cow disease has prevented cow meat from being used, pork brain is commonly consumed in this dish instead. This is not one of the most popular dishes in the state, but it’s one that you cannot get in many other places in the entire United States and it holds a special place in Indiana history.
Sugar Cream Pie
Known as the state pie of Indiana since 2009, this dessert is incredibly popular throughout the state. Sugar Cream Pie was said to have been created by Quaker, Shaker, and Amish communities and was brought to Indiana around 1850. Since that time, this pie has been a staple of Hoosier cuisine. Known also as ‘desperation pie’ this dish is incredibly simple to make.
Sugar Cream Pie typically just has some variation of the following ingredients: sugar, cream, vanilla, nutmeg, and flour. However, some bakeries today put their own spin on the dish using vanilla pudding, buttermilk, or graham crackers instead of some other ingredients.
If seeking out the most popular Sugar Cream Pie in the state, the restaurant Wick’s Pies in Winchester, Indiana states that they sell on average about 750,000 of these pies every year. Since they sell so many, one could say they know what they are doing. Since it is the state pie, there are plenty of other places to try it if you cannot make it to this particular restaurant.
Persimmons are a delicious type of fruit that is grown locally in Indiana and commonly consumed as pudding. While not what you may typically think of, the fish is more of an incredibly moist cake rather than something you only eat with a spoon. Resembling a tomato in appearance but tasting similar to an apple, it also has a very specific consistency that mimics a very ripe peach.
Mitchell, Indiana hosts a persimmon festival once a year and the fruit is very important to commerce in this area of Indiana. The festival takes place in Spring Mill State Park, and inside the park, there is an Inn called the Millstone Dining Room that serves a very popular version of Persimmon Pudding.
Persimmon pudding is not found everywhere in Indiana and is not found at all times of the year, but if it is available when you are visiting, it is absolutely worth a try.
The state of Indiana has a surprising and exciting cuisine that one would be hard-pressed to find in many other places throughout the United States. With a mix of different cultures, the food choices of this state are unique and leave a lasting impression on visitors.
The next time you are taking a road trip through Indiana, be sure to stop and give some of these famous dishes a try as they certainly will not disappoint.