Best known for the Jersey Shore and Atlantic City, anyone visiting New Jersey is sure to have a great time, especially when trying some of the state’s most famous foods. Whether you’re looking for something sweet, salty, or freshly-sourced, there’s no shortage of options in “The Garden State”.
In no particular order, here are a dozen of the most popular foods in New Jersey:
Salt Water Taffy
Despite its name, this classic candy does not actually contain salt water. This soft and chewy candy originated in Atlantic City in the 1880s and is believed to have gotten its name after a boardwalk candy shop was flooded with ocean water, soaking everything in salt water. The shop owner allegedly joked with a customer that “all he had was salt water taffy” and the name stuck.
This iconic candy is made from sugar, cornstarch, corn syrup, glycerine, water, butter, salt, natural and/or artificial flavor, and food coloring. It’s now a classic seaside item on coasts around the country and can be found in various flavors (affiliate link) including vanilla, lemon, maple, banana, red licorice, watermelon, raspberry, and mint.
This processed meat is referred to as pork roll in most places, but if you find yourself in North Jersey you’ll hear it called by its brand name, Taylor Ham (affiliate link). A New Jersey household staple, Taylor Ham consists of lightly smoked pork, salt, spices, and preservatives.
It’s typically sliced and cooked in a skillet, like most breakfast meats, and frequently appears in breakfast sandwiches like the classic Taylor Ham, egg, and cheese. If you find yourself searching for this satisfying meat in New Jersey, be mindful of where you are in the state. There’s still a great divide across North and South Jersey over the use of the name Taylor Ham vs pork roll.
New Jersey’s version of Canada’s poutine consists of three simple ingredients: fries, gravy, and cheese. Disco fries originated at the Tick Tock Diner in Clifton, New Jersey as a savory favorite often served to customers who had stopped in after a night at the disco in the 70s and 80s.
Variations of this communal snack can be found in 24-hour diners all over the state, but the classic recipe is made with basic fries smothered in savory brown gravy and a layer of melted mozzarella cheese. It’s similar to Canada’s poutine. If you ever find yourself driving through NJ at any time, day or night, stop by a 24/7 diner and try this regional favorite.
You’re probably familiar with caramel-coated apples, or maybe even chocolate-covered apples, but did you know the classic candied apples were invented in New Jersey in 1908? These iconic glossy red apples were originally made with a simple coating of syrup made from just sugar, cinnamon, and red coloring.
The syrup hardens to create a sweet, sticky, crisp candied apple. The apples are speared with a wooden stick so they can be handled without getting your fingers covered in the sugary coating. These classic treats are most commonly spotted around Halloween but can be enjoyed for any occasion. You can purchase kits online (affiliate link) and or the ingredients anywhere and make your own.
New Jersey Bagels
No list of iconic New Jersey foods would be complete without the addition of New Jersey bagels. New York often gets the credit for having the best bagels in the country, but New Jersey bagels have a fan club of their own. It’s widely believed that New Jersey’s low-mineral water is what gives these bagels their unique flavor and texture.
This regional classic starts with the same ingredients as any other bagel: flour, sugar, yeast, water, and salt. The dough is boiled, then baked, resulting in a bagel that is very dense and very chewy. Most NJ bagel shops will have all the classic flavors – plain, everything, sesame seed, cinnamon raisin – and maybe a few original creative flavors of their own.
Corn is one of the many varieties of produce that have a special following in New Jersey. This local favorite is a variety of sweet corn with large, flavorful kernels. Farmer’s markets and roadside stands selling Jersey corn can be spotted all over the state during the summer months when the crop is at its peak.
They can be prepared in other dishes or eaten with minimal preparation so that the unique local flavor comes through. Pick up a few ears of Jersey corn from the market and bring them home to cook and enjoy with a little melted butter.
A suitable follow-up to Jersey corn, Jersey tomatoes are unlike tomatoes found anywhere else in the country, and the locals are happy to let you know. They’re also known as the Rutgers tomato or Rutgers Select. Recognized around the world for their incredible flavor, New Jersey tomatoes strike a balance of sweetness and acidity resulting in a distinct, delicious taste.
Jersey tomatoes stay on the vine longer than any other tomato, which might be one reason for their rich red color and bright aroma. Stop by an NJ farmer’s market in the summertime and pick up some tomatoes to add to sauce, salads, and pasta, or just eat them fresh.
The last variety of produce on this list, the Jersey blueberry is among the oldest and most well-liked blueberries in America. Jersey blueberry shrubs typically yield berries that are large, juicy, and sweet. These local favorites turn blue to light blue when they are ready to be picked and are firm to the touch. Pop these into a fruit salad or eat them straight to enjoy the sweet, juicy flavor.
Every state seems to have its own version of a refreshing frozen dessert. For New Jersey, it’s frozen custard. Stroll down the boardwalk in Seaside Heights, NJ and you’ll see people in every direction holding a cone of Kohr’s soft-serve frozen custard. If you’re wondering what the difference between ice cream and custard is – the answer lies in the egg yolks.
The addition of eggs gives frozen custard its signature stiff and velvety texture and also helps to safeguard it from melting too quickly in the salty sea air. A trip to the Jersey Shore isn’t complete until you’ve enjoyed a refreshing custard cone on the boardwalk.
Cape May Salt Oysters
New Jersey is a coastal state with popular vacation beaches, so it’s no surprise that at least one seafood dish made it on this list. Cape May salt oysters have been a local delicacy that is believed to date back centuries.
These savory, succulent oysters are available year-round and satisfy locals and tourists alike. Pop into any of the many seafood restaurants in the region to enjoy this local favorite, or purchase some of them fresh and bring them home to enjoy straight from the shell.
Hard rolls, sometimes referred to as Kaiser rolls, are another breakfast food staple in New Jersey. Softer than a bagel and fluffier than an English muffin, hard rolls make the perfect sandwich bread for the beloved Taylor Ham, egg, and cheese. Made from a simple blend of white flour, yeast, malt, water, and salt, hard rolls are crispy on the outside and soft on the inside.
These round bread rolls traditionally have a design on the top made with 5 superficial cuts radiating outward, creating something like a crown or a star pattern. A local favorite for many years, hard rolls can be found in delis and grocery stores all over the state and nationwide.
Italian Hot Dog
The Italian hot dog made famous in Newark, New Jersey is unlike any other regional hot dog you’ve had before. This iconic food is assembled with bread made from pizza dough instead of a hot dog roll.
The dense bread is sliced open and stuffed with a hot dog that has been deep-fried. That gets topped with a generous serving of onions, peppers, and deep-fried potatoes. This hearty, filling classic can be found in other variations, but the original has its home in North Jersey.
Iconic New Jersey foods are a testament to the quality produce, fresh seafood, and passionate locals in the Garden State. Many of these favorite dishes have made their way across the nation and are now enjoyed in kitchens and restaurants everywhere. If you are passing through New Jersey, pick up some of these delicious and satisfying meals.