With German, Russian, Czech, and Native American influence in the state, South Dakota’s culinary landscape is a true melting pot of cultures. When you sample the area’s most famous foods, you are often tasting hundreds of years of history.
Here are nine of our favorite South Dakota dishes, in no particular order:
Many states have an official state vegetable, dessert, or even meal. However, not many have a state nosh. Nosh is a German word for a snack, and in the “Mount Rushmore State”, the designation belongs to chislic.
Chislic consists of skewered cubes of red meat. Mutton and lamb are the most common types included in the dish, but venison and beef are also popular. The meat is seasoned and served hot, often with soda crackers on the side.
Hundreds of German-Russian immigrants came to the Dakotas in the late 1800s, including one John Hoellwarth. Hoellwarth is often credited with introducing chislic to the area, though it’s unclear why the recognition goes to him alone.
If you’re looking to try the state nosh, Urban Chislic Steakhouse in Sioux Falls has something for everyone. Each guest can pick from seven types of meat and more than a dozen dipping sauces to personalize their dish. Vegetarian options are also available.
South Dakotans have been hunting ring-necked pheasants since 1919, though the bird is not native to the area. In 1909, a group of men in Redfield released a few dozen pheasants on their farms, an activity that soon became an annual state-sponsored tradition. By 1935, the population of ring-necked pheasants in South Dakota had reached more than 12 million.
Today, pheasants outnumber people in South Dakota by a ratio of 12 to one. Pheasant hunting is a popular pastime for residents of the state, though perhaps not quite as popular as pheasant eating.
There are many ways to prepare and serve the game bird. Some restaurants serve pheasant salad sandwiches (similar to a chicken salad). Others season it with herbs, then grill and serve it alongside vegetables.
One unique way to enjoy the state bird is in pheasant poppers. To make the dish, jalapenos are stuffed with pheasant and cream cheese, then wrapped in bacon. Dakotah Steakhouse in Rapid City offers the dish as an appetizer, served alongside a remoulade sauce. Reservations for the restaurant are recommended and can be made online or by phone.
Yet another official symbol of South Dakota, kuchen is the state dessert. The sweet pastry is a traditional German dish that came to the area with immigrants in the 1880s. Kuchen is often filled with custard and fruit and is described as a cross between cake and pie.
The dessert is so popular in South Dakota that the city of Delmont holds an annual Kuchen Festival. The event is held in conjunction with the Twin Rivers Old Iron Harvest Festival. The celebrations last two days, though kuchen is only sold on day one.
Each year, the kuchen sale begins early in the morning, often before 9:00 am. Time and time again, the pastries are sold out by mid-afternoon. Many varieties of kuchen are available, and visitors can purchase it whole or by the slice. Besides kuchen, other attractions at the festival include a craft sale and a quilt show.
The festival is typically held in September, but if you need your kuchen fix before then, you’re in luck. Pietz’s Kuchen Kitchen bakes many flavors of the dessert and distributes them to grocery stores and markets throughout the state. Their products likely won’t be difficult to find, but you may have a hard time going home with just one pastry.
Kuchen may be the state dessert of South Dakota, but kolaches (spelled kolach and kolache) are just as much a local favorite. Czech immigrants first arrived in the state in 1869. With them, they brought a pastry so round it’s named after the Czech word for “wheel”.
Each puff pastry is filled with cream cheese, fruit, or poppy seeds, then topped with streusel and baked until golden brown. They’re sometimes finished with a sugary glaze.
Each June, the town of Tabor celebrates Czech Days. Though the area has a population of only 400, during the festival there may be as many as 10,000 people in town. The event includes a fireworks show, a parade, chainsaw carving, a kolache-making demonstration, Czech folk dancing, and plenty of food for all to enjoy.
Tyndall Bakery, located in the town of Tyndall, is well-known for its kolaches and other baked goods. They have been in business for more than 80 years and are a popular stop for locals and visitors alike. They open early in the morning and close shortly after lunchtime, so be sure to check their hours before visiting.
Chokecherries are small, purplish berries that grow abundantly throughout the Dakotas. Wojapi, a sauce with Indigenous origins, is made by cooking and smashing chokecherries, then mixing them with flour.
The Lakota, an Indigenous tribe with lands in the Dakotas, use chokecherries in food, medicine, and ceremonies. Wojapi is a staple in the Lakota diet, and the sauce can be found at powwows and other Native American gatherings throughout the state.
Today, wojapi typically consists of chokecherries, a sweetener, and a thickening agent (such as cornstarch). If chokecherries aren’t available, other berries may be used. Wojapi is typically served over fry bread, but you can also eat it with pancakes or waffles.
The Laughing Water Restaurant in Crazy Horse, South Dakota, serves wojapi, along with other Native American fares. Guests can enjoy their food while taking in the view of the Crazy Horse Memorial.
Chili and Cinnamon Rolls
You may see this list item and think, “neither chili nor cinnamon rolls really belong to South Dakota”. And, well, you’re right. The state can’t lay claim to either dish individually. However, the combination of the two is a distinctly Midwestern concept.
The idea of eating chili and cinnamon rolls together didn’t originate with any one culture or region. According to Smithsonian, schools in the Midwest began serving hearty chili with deliciously sweet cinnamon rolls sometime after World War II. It was popular enough that, as those schoolchildren grew up, they continued combining the two dishes.
Some South Dakotans choose to eat the two foods separately, albeit side-by-side. Others pour their chili directly on top of the pastry, enjoying both flavors simultaneously. Still, others choose to rip their cinnamon roll into pieces and dip them into their bowl.
There’s no wrong way to enjoy the salty-sweet blend of cinnamon rolls and chili. However, it may be tricky to find a restaurant that serves both. Fortunately, it’s simple enough to combine them yourself.
Phillips Avenue Diner in Sioux Falls has been said to serve the best chili in the state. Just down the road, the Cookie Jar Eatery offers delicious cinnamon rolls. Order both to go and enjoy them wherever you like.
Fry Bread and Indian Tacos
Indian fry bread (often called Navajo fry bread) did not originate in South Dakota or even in a neighboring state, but it’s wildly popular there. In fact, it’s the official state bread. The dish comes from Native American tribes, particularly the Navajo.
For hundreds of years (and still to this day), the Navajo lived in modern-day Arizona, Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico. However, when pioneers came across the plains, they captured many Navajo people and sent them to live in camps near Fort Sumner. The government distributed rations of flour, lard, yeast, salt, sugar, and powdered milk to the displaced people.
With these ingredients, the Navajo began making fry bread. The bread is made by combining flour, baking powder or yeast, water, and salt, then deep-frying it in hot oil. The Lakota tribe likely learned to make fry bread from the Navajo or another nearby tribe, thus bringing the dish to South Dakota.
While fry bread’s history is a painful one, today it’s served at powwows and county fairs throughout the country. One of the most popular ways to eat fry bread is in an Indian taco. The bread is topped with meat, beans, cheese, tomatoes, olives, and sour cream.
Cheyenne Crossing in Lead, South Dakota, serves two kinds of Indian tacos (one is vegetarian-friendly). During the famed Sturgis Motorcycle Rally each August, the restaurant serves more than 5,000 tacos.
Each year, South Dakota ranks in the top five states for honey production in the country. Nearly 20 million pounds of honey come from the state annually. In fact, the honeybee is the state insect, thanks to its contributions to the region’s economy and cuisine.
It’s not clear when commercial beekeeping in South Dakota began, but it likely happened in the late 1800s. Honeybees pollinate the state’s maple trees, clover, willows, and alfalfa.
Adee Honey Farms has been operating in Bruce, South Dakota since 1957. The Adee family runs one of the largest beekeeping operations in the United States. In addition to traditional honey, they sell a variety of other delectable products, including squeezable honey pouches, honey sticks, and honey candy.
Dimock Dairy Cheese
As the oldest cheese plant in South Dakota, Dimock Dairy has been operating in the state since the Great Depression. They are a small, farmer-owned co-op that uses milk from local family farms for their products.
Originally, the dairy only made cheese to supply to grocery stores and restaurants. More than 25 years ago, however, they opened a small retail store. Now, locals and passers-through can stop by for samples, cheese curds, and spreads for crackers or vegetables.
Dimock Dairy makes more than 20 flavors of cheese. Options include classics like cheddar and pepper jack and unique varieties like raspberry jalapeno and wild Italian. If you’re not planning on passing through Dimock on your trip to South Dakota, you can order their products online. Orders ship out on Mondays.
Whether you enjoy trying traditional dishes from faraway countries or local flavors made with home-grown ingredients, South Dakota has something for everyone. Next time you find yourself in the Mount Rushmore State, swing by some locally owned eateries for the area’s most famous foods. You’ll be glad you did.