Visitors travel far and wide to sample some of the most famous foods found in the Keystone State. Pennsylvania is loaded with the best dishes and comfort food, especially snacks, from potato chips to pretzels.
These are some of the top foods that have helped Pennsylvania to earn the title of “Snack Food Capital of the World”.
There may be other states where candy manufacturing takes place, but how many of them have a whole amusement park along with it? Hershey Park was built by Milton S. Hershey in 1905 as a model town for employees of Hershey’s Chocolate Factory.
Today, tourists from around the world visit Hershey, PA to explore the park and sample the sweet confection. Hershey’s Chocolate is now available across the United States and in 60 countries worldwide, but its birthplace is just east of Pennsylvania’s state capital.
Philly cheesesteaks are easily one of the most well-known foods of Pennsylvania, specifically Philadelphia. This popular sandwich consisting of sliced meat and cheese on a Philadelphia long roll is a staple across the city. There’s no shortage of local establishments, however, not all cheesesteaks are created equal.
Two of the most famed cheesesteak eateries are the rivaling Pat’s and Geno’s, situated on opposite sides of the same intersection in South Philadelphia. If you ask a local for a recommendation, they probably won’t make the list.
There are several variations on the classic favorite, but if you’re looking for an authentic experience here are a few things to look out for: a locally-baked long roll, thinly sliced ribeye steak, and a generous helping of Cheez Wiz. Fried onions (say “Wiz With”) are optional (or “Wiz Without”).
The go-to roll, even at shops in other states, is Amoroso’s, baked-in Philadelphia since 1904. These hearth-baked bread rolls are soft but hold up well to the tender steak and cheese.
Pennsylvania couldn’t have become known as the state of snacks without potato chips. There are entire aisles entirely dedicated to chips in PA supermarkets with no shortage of locally made potato chips, including several Amish varieties. Some old-fashioned options even still cook with lard (Grandma Utz kettle-cooked or Moyer’s out of Elizabethtown—the latter is this editor’s favorite in the world).
The state is actually known as the “Potato Chip Capital” One of the best-known is Utz, which began in a Hanover, PA kitchen in 1921. It has since blossomed into the beloved snack brand it is today.
This crispy, salty snack is now available nationwide but still has a home in Central PA. You can find the Utz label on food in more than 100 countries. Tourists and potato chip enthusiasts are invited to partake in the Utz Potato Chip Trip and tour their factory to witness the production process from beginning to end.
Both hard and soft, Pennsylvania pretzels are another statewide favorite. Utz isn’t the only national supplier of hard pretzels from Hanover, PA. Snyder’s of Hanover has been producing hard pretzels since 1909.
There’s a lot to love about these simple yet tasty snacks that have been making their way into lunchboxes for generations. Today, Snyder’s pretzels are available in various flavors and shapes, but their traditional sourdough hard pretzels remain a household favorite. You can tour the factory year-round.
Similar to the great cheesesteak debate, there is a divide between hard and soft pretzel fans. If the satisfying crunch of a hard pretzel isn’t your thing, there are plenty of pillowy soft pretzel options to choose from.
From humble beginnings at a Pennsylvania farmer’s market, Auntie Anne’s pretzels are a major contributor to the soft pretzel craze. These freshly-baked snacks are now available nationwide, but their home state of Pennsylvania still has the most locations – a total of 128.
Philadelphia has its own market for soft pretzels. Though there is a multitude of pretzel establishments, one of the most well-known is Philly Pretzel Factory. A staple at sporting events and parties throughout the city, Philly Pretzel Factory claims to use 15 million pounds of flour each year!
Pennsylvania Dutch Dishes
With an entire culture of warm and hearty foods, it’s difficult to choose just one favorite. You can find these wholesome comfort foods in Amish restaurants across Lancaster County, PA, and beyond. Pennsylvania Dutch food is rooted in simplicity and is reminiscent of a home-cooked meal you crave on a cold, rainy day.
There are many to choose from, but some of the most notorious favorites are chicken pot pie, pork and sauerkraut, potato filling, apple dumplings, and shoofly pie.
The Pennsylvania Dutch community is also responsible for the creation of Lebanon bologna. This cured, smoked, and fermented all-beef sausage was developed before the 1780s and is still popular today. This deli meat has a unique blend of spices that contribute to its signature flavor.
Birch beer is another local favorite, available in a variety of colors and tastes. It’s like root beer but actually made from the birch tree, giving it its unique flavor. Should you ever find yourself passing through Central PA, be sure to take a tour of the Pennsylvania Amish countryside where you can learn about the culture and taste the local cuisine.
Pittsburgh has been climbing the ranks of famous food cities and has a number of local specialties. Perhaps the most iconic of all is the Pittsburgh Salad, which is probably unlike any other salad you’ve had before. This beloved dish that can be found on menus across the city contains several of the usual salad elements – lettuce, vegetables, shredded cheese, and salad dressing.
Things start to step out of the ordinary with the addition of grilled meat, then take a giant leap into the unknown with a generous helping of french fries. This hearty meal has an unclear origin and can be found in a number of variations, but the Pittsburgh Salad continues to delight tourists and locals alike.
Old Forge-Style Pizza
There are several states in the U.S. that proudly claim to have the best pizza in the country, each with its own distinctive style and local flavors. For Pennsylvania, Old Forge-Style pizza holds the title.
This rectangular pizza has a breadlike crust with a crispy outside and chewy center. It features a standard tomato sauce and a blend of American, mozzarella, cheddar, and other cheeses that vary slightly from restaurant to restaurant. The sauce is on the sweet and chunky side, more closely resembling pasta sauce than the average pizza sauce.
Each pizza is baked on a metal tray which is removed right at the end of the firing process. This short direct contact with the brick oven helps to achieve the perfect crispy crust.
This signature style of pizza originated in Old Forge, PA which remains a pizza-passionate town. The surrounding country currently has over 160 pizza shops where hungry guests can find different variations of the classic Old Forge. Pizza enthusiasts can even make their way across the Lackawanna County Pizza Trail, a compilation of just some of the local favorites.
If you’re of a certain age, there’s a good chance Tastykake treats were an integral part of your childhood. Whether you were a Snowball or a Krimpet household, there was nothing like the sugar rush that directly followed eating a package of sweet, sugary snack cakes. Their offerings satisfy a variety of cravings with different kinds of personal pastries, pies, donuts, cookies, and more.
Tastykake has had a home in Philadelphia for over 100 years. Their product line can be found nationwide and has expanded exponentially throughout the century. Opinion on which is the best varies from person to person, but some of the most iconic are their Peanut Butter Kandy Kakes, Chocolate Cupcakes, Swiss Rolls, and Honey Buns.
Classic Italian Hoagie
This popular sandwich goes by many names and may have slightly different characteristics depending on where you are in the country. The classic sub known as the hoagie was made famous in Philadelphia and can be found all across the city and surrounding area.
While several variations of the hoagie exist, the classic Philly Italian hoagie has a few defining characteristics.
First, the bread is composed of a long roll that is the perfect balance of soft and chewy. Sandwiched between the two sides are layers of deli meats and cheese, most often ham, salami, and provolone. On top of that is the classic combination of lettuce, tomatoes, and onions. Finally, it’s topped off with a sprinkling of salt, pepper, and oregano and a light drizzle of oil and vinegar.
It’s believed that the Philly Italian hoagie can be traced back to Italian American immigrants who worked in a Philadelphia shipyard during World War I. This isn’t difficult to imagine when you consider the hoagie is basically an Italian antipasto salad on bread. Regardless of its true origin, the hoagie is one of Pennsylvania’s most famous foods today.
If you find yourself in Pennsylvania in the summertime, you’ll notice an abundance of people enjoying water ice. This simple, refreshing classic is a frozen treat made of just water, sugar, and flavoring. Water ice (or as Philadelphians say it, “wooder” ice) is not quite a slushy, not quite a snow cone.
The ice crystals are very fine, resulting in a smooth, almost creamy texture. It’s not watery enough to be drinkable and is most often consumed directly by squeezing the container from the bottom like a push-pop or with a spoon. While there are places that sell water ice year-round, temporary storefronts and stands seem to pop up all over the place once the hot weather hits.
The etymology of “water ice” is unclear, though one theory suggests it is derived from the famous food chain Rita’s Italian Ice. The popular business was started by a former Philadelphia firefighter in Bensalem, PA, and was originally called “Rita’s Water Ice.”
Can it even be considered the holiday season if PEEPS don’t make an appearance? These fluffy marshmallow candies with a colorful crunchy sugar coating originated in Bethlehem, PA.
PEEPS are most widely associated with the classic yellow chicks and bunnies at Easter time, but the brand has expanded to include a whole array of colors, shapes, and holiday treats. Households across the country can indulge in these colorful snowmen, stockings, and gingerbread men during Christmas.
Halloween marshmallow treats include ghosts, skulls, pumpkins, and monsters. For Easter, the classic yellow chick has now been joined by decorated eggs, giant bunnies, and even a Hot Tamales fierce cinnamon-flavored chick!
No matter what your snack preferences are, you’ll find something to satisfy your cravings in Pennsylvania. Whether it’s sweet, savory, crunchy, or chewy, the Keystone State is responsible for some of the most iconic food favorites that are enjoyed nationwide.