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Learning To Love The Exotic Cuisine Of Upstate New York


Modified: December 28, 2023

by Donetta Coulter



Welcome to the enchanting world of Upstate New York, where culinary delights await at every corner. This region is a hidden gem for food lovers, boasting a rich history of unique cuisines influenced by diverse cultural backgrounds. Whether you’re a seasoned traveler or a curious food enthusiast, exploring the food scene in Upstate New York is an adventure that will tantalize your taste buds and leave you craving for more.


Upstate New York is a vast region encompassing beautiful landscapes, charming small towns, and bustling cities. It is known for its abundant farms, orchards, and vineyards, providing a plentiful array of fresh fruits, vegetables, and dairy products. The culinary traditions of the region have been shaped by the diverse immigrant communities that have settled here over the centuries, including Italian, German, Irish, Polish, and African American influences.


One of the unique aspects of Upstate New York cuisine is its reliance on locally sourced and seasonal ingredients. Farm-to-table is not just a trend here, but a way of life. From farm-fresh fruits and vegetables to artisanal cheeses and delectable meats, the emphasis on quality and sustainability is evident in every bite.


As you embark on your culinary journey through Upstate New York, prepare to discover an array of unique flavors, from the tangy-sweet notes of apple cider donuts to the savory richness of Buffalo-style chicken wings. Whether you’re a fan of comfort food or eager to explore exotic flavors, you’ll find a diverse range of dishes to satisfy your cravings.


Throughout this article, we’ll delve deeper into the history of Upstate New York cuisine, explore the unique ingredients that make this region stand out, highlight famous dishes you must try, recommend popular restaurants to visit, and even provide tips on how to incorporate Upstate New York flavors into your own home cooking. So, get ready to indulge your senses and discover the culinary treasures of Upstate New York!


The History of Upstate New York Cuisine

The culinary history of Upstate New York is a story that spans centuries, influenced by a melting pot of cultures and traditions. The region’s early inhabitants, Native American tribes such as the Iroquois Confederacy, primarily relied on hunting, fishing, and agriculture for their sustenance.


With the arrival of European settlers in the 17th century, new flavors and cooking techniques were introduced to the region. Dutch and English colonists brought with them their own culinary traditions, including hearty stews, pies, and baked goods, which laid the foundation for the comfort food that Upstate New York is known for today.


In the 19th century, Upstate New York experienced a wave of immigration that further enriched its cuisine. Italian, German, Irish, Polish, and other European immigrants brought their native dishes and influenced the local culinary scene. Italian immigrants, in particular, played a significant role in shaping the food culture, introducing pasta, tomato sauces, and cured meats to the region.


One iconic dish that emerged from the immigrant communities in Upstate New York is the beloved Spiedie. Originating from the Italian tradition of marinating meat, Spiedies consist of skewered and grilled chunks of meat, typically chicken, pork, or lamb, served on a roll. The tangy and flavorful marinade sets Spiedies apart and has become a culinary symbol of the region.


Another historical influence on Upstate New York cuisine is the Erie Canal. Built in the early 19th century, the canal created a vital trade route, connecting the Great Lakes to the Hudson River. This allowed for the transportation of goods and ingredients, leading to an increase in culinary diversity. The canal towns along its route became hubs of culinary exchange, with flavors from different regions and cultures merging to create unique dishes.


The industrial growth of Upstate New York in the late 19th and early 20th centuries also played a role in shaping the region’s cuisine. Buffalo, for example, gained fame for its Buffalo-style chicken wings, invented in 1964 at the Anchor Bar. Today, this internationally recognized dish is synonymous with the city and has become a must-try for visitors.


As you explore the cuisine of Upstate New York, you’ll discover a blend of traditional recipes passed down through generations and innovative dishes influenced by modern trends. From hearty stews to delectable baked goods, the history of Upstate New York cuisine is a tapestry of flavors and cultural influences that continues to evolve and delight food enthusiasts.


Unique Ingredients of Upstate New York

One of the highlights of Upstate New York cuisine is the abundance of unique and locally sourced ingredients that contribute to its distinct flavors. The region’s fertile farmlands, orchards, and freshwater lakes provide an array of ingredients that are not only delicious but also embody the essence of Upstate New York.


Apples are a quintessential ingredient in Upstate New York cuisine. The region is known for its apple orchards, producing a variety of apple cultivars that are used in both sweet and savory dishes. From crisp and tart Granny Smith apples to the sweet and juicy Honeycrisp, these apples are incorporated into pies, cider, donuts, and even savory dishes like pork chops with apple glaze.


Maple syrup is another ingredient synonymous with Upstate New York. The region’s cold winters and sugar maple trees create the perfect conditions for producing this golden elixir. Maple syrup is not only drizzled over pancakes and waffles but also used to glaze meats, flavor baked goods, and even added to savory dishes like roasted root vegetables.


Freshwater fish, such as trout, salmon, and walleye, are plentiful in Upstate New York’s lakes and rivers. These fish are not only a sustainable and healthy protein source but also a nod to the region’s abundant natural resources. Whether grilled, smoked, or baked, these fish offer delicate flavors that are a delight for seafood enthusiasts.


Cheese lovers will be in heaven when exploring Upstate New York’s dairy products. The region is renowned for its artisanal cheeses, including cheddar, gouda, and goat cheese. Many of these cheeses are made with locally sourced milk using traditional methods, resulting in a depth of flavor that reflects the terroir of the region.


Upstate New York is also home to unique vegetables that thrive in its fertile soil. Heirloom tomatoes, corn, and kale are just a few examples of the locally grown produce that can be found in abundance. These vegetables add freshness and vibrant colors to dishes, whether used in salads, soups, or as accompaniments to main courses.


Seasonal fruits, such as strawberries, blueberries, and peaches, are summer delights in Upstate New York. These fruits are not only enjoyed fresh but also used in jams, pies, and desserts. The sweetness and juiciness of these fruits are a testament to the region’s agricultural heritage.


For those with a sweet tooth, honey is a natural ingredient that abounds in Upstate New York. Local beekeepers harvest honey from wildflowers and fruit tree blossoms, giving it a unique flavor profile. Honey is used in various recipes, from sweetening desserts to adding depth of flavor to savory dishes.


Exploring the unique ingredients of Upstate New York is an adventure in itself. Whether you’re exploring a bustling farmers market or dining at a farm-to-table restaurant, you’ll be delighted by the diverse flavors and quality of ingredients that embody the essence of this region.


Famous Dishes to Try in Upstate New York

When it comes to famous dishes, Upstate New York does not disappoint. The region is home to an array of culinary delights that have gained national and even international recognition. These dishes not only showcase the unique flavors of Upstate New York but also reflect the rich cultural heritage of the region.


One iconic dish that immediately comes to mind is Buffalo-style chicken wings. Invented in 1964 at the Anchor Bar in Buffalo, these tangy and spicy chicken wings have become a worldwide sensation. Deep-fried until crispy and then tossed in a sauce made from a secret combination of hot sauce, butter, and spices, Buffalo-style chicken wings are a must-try for any visitor to Upstate New York.


If you’re looking for a hearty and satisfying meal, make sure to try a plate of Finger Lakes salt potatoes. These small, tender potatoes are boiled in heavily salted water, resulting in a creamy texture and a slightly salty flavor. Typically served with melted butter, salt potatoes are a beloved side dish at picnics, barbecues, and clam bakes throughout the region.


No visit to Upstate New York would be complete without indulging in a Spiedie sandwich. Originating from Italian immigrant communities, Spiedies consist of marinated chunks of chicken, pork, or lamb, skewered and grilled to perfection. The meat is then enclosed in a roll and often served with a drizzle of the marinade for extra flavor. Spiedies are a popular street food and festival favorite, capturing the hearts and taste buds of locals and visitors alike.


For dessert lovers, sampling an apple cider donut is a must. These delicious treats are made from a batter infused with apple cider and cinnamon, then deep-fried to a golden brown perfection. The result is a moist and flavorful donut with a hint of apple sweetness that pairs perfectly with a cup of hot coffee or cider.


Looking for something refreshing? Look no further than the Garbage Plate. Hailing from Rochester, this indulgent dish is a true testament to comfort food. A base of macaroni salad or home fries is topped with a choice of meats, such as hamburgers or hot dogs, then smothered in a meat-based hot sauce, mustard, onions, and a sprinkle of cheese. The combination of flavors and textures make the Garbage Plate a beloved local favorite.


If you’re a fan of sweet and savory combinations, try a grape pie from the Finger Lakes region. Made with locally grown concord grapes, these pies are bursting with tangy and sweet flavors. The unique taste of the concord grapes, combined with a flaky crust, creates a dessert that is truly unique to Upstate New York.


These are just a few of the famous dishes that you absolutely must try when visiting Upstate New York. Each bite tells a story and will leave you with a deeper appreciation for the rich culinary culture that defines this region.


Popular Restaurants in Upstate New York

Upstate New York boasts a vibrant culinary scene, with a plethora of restaurants that cater to all tastes and preferences. Whether you’re looking for fine dining, casual eateries, or unique food experiences, there is a restaurant in Upstate New York to satisfy your cravings. Here, we highlight some of the popular dining establishments worth exploring in the region.


1. The Culinary Institute of America – Hyde Park: This renowned culinary school is also home to several exceptional restaurants. The Bocuse Restaurant offers a fine dining experience showcasing modern French cuisine. If you prefer a more casual atmosphere, head to the American Bounty Restaurant, which highlights farm-to-table dishes made with local ingredients.


2. Dinosaur Bar-B-Que – Syracuse: With its roots in Syracuse, Dinosaur Bar-B-Que has become a beloved institution known for its mouthwatering barbecue. From tender ribs to smoked pulled pork, the menu is full of flavorful options that will satisfy any BBQ lover.


3. Moosewood Restaurant – Ithaca: A pioneer in vegetarian cuisine, Moosewood Restaurant has been serving delicious plant-based dishes since 1973. Their menu features a variety of creative vegetarian and vegan options made with fresh, locally sourced ingredients.


4. Glenora Wine Cellars Restaurant – Dundee: Located in the heart of the Finger Lakes wine region, Glenora Wine Cellars Restaurant offers exquisite farm-to-table dining paired with award-winning wines. From grilled local meats to fresh seafood, the menu showcases the best of the region’s flavors.


5. Owl House – Rochester: A popular spot for vegetarians and vegans, Owl House offers a diverse menu with innovative dishes made from locally sourced ingredients. With options ranging from loaded tacos to mouthwatering burgers, everyone is sure to find something to enjoy.


6. Allie’s Village Cafe – Tupper Lake: This cozy family-owned cafe is a local favorite for homestyle comfort food. From hearty breakfast dishes like pancakes and omelettes to delicious sandwiches and homemade pies, Allie’s Village Cafe delivers satisfying meals made with love.


7. Gardiner Liquid Mercantile – Gardiner: This unique eatery combines a farm-to-table restaurant with a craft cocktail bar. The menu features dishes inspired by the seasonal offerings of local farms, paired with creative and artisanal cocktails.


8. Good Luck – Rochester: Known for its lively atmosphere and inventive cuisine, Good Luck is a popular spot for food enthusiasts. The menu features a fusion of flavors from around the world, while the cocktail program offers an impressive lineup of craft drinks.


9. The Adirondack Pub & Brewery – Lake George: For beer lovers, this brewery and pub is a must-visit. Enjoy a selection of craft beers brewed on-site and indulge in hearty pub fare such as burgers, sandwiches, and appetizers.


10. Rosalie’s Cucina – Skaneateles: This charming Italian restaurant in Skaneateles offers a menu filled with traditional dishes made from scratch. From the homemade pasta to the flavorful sauces and delectable desserts, Rosalie’s Cucina is a true hidden gem.


These are just a few examples of the popular restaurants you can explore when visiting Upstate New York. With its diverse culinary offerings and commitment to utilizing local ingredients, Upstate New York is a food lover’s paradise.


Exploring Local Food Festivals and Farmers Markets

One of the best ways to immerse yourself in the vibrant food culture of Upstate New York is by exploring its local food festivals and farmers markets. These lively and bustling events provide the opportunity to sample a wide range of delicious foods, discover unique ingredients, and connect with local producers and artisans.


Throughout the region, you’ll find a multitude of food festivals celebrating everything from regional specialties to international cuisines. For example, the Hudson Valley Wine & Food Fest in Rhinebeck showcases local wineries, breweries, and food vendors, allowing visitors to taste the best flavors of the region all in one place. Another popular event is the Annual Chowderfest in Saratoga Springs, where local restaurants compete for the title of the best chowder, attracting thousands of visitors each year.


One of the highlights of Upstate New York’s food festivals is the wide variety of fresh produce available at farmers markets. These markets offer a direct connection to local farmers, allowing you to not only support small-scale sustainable agriculture but also discover unique ingredients and flavors. The Rochester Public Market, for example, is a bustling market that has been serving the community since 1905. Here, you can find everything from fresh fruits and vegetables to artisanal cheeses, baked goods, and locally sourced meats.


At farmers markets in Upstate New York, you’ll also have the opportunity to explore the rich diversity of the region’s culinary traditions. From handcrafted jams and jellies to homemade pickles and preserves, there is an abundance of unique and delicious products to discover. And let’s not forget about the wide selection of local honey, maple syrup, and creamy dairy products that are synonymous with the region.


Besides the opportunity to purchase fresh and flavorful ingredients, farmers markets also often feature food vendors offering ready-to-eat meals and snacks. You can feast on mouthwatering BBQ, enjoy freshly baked pastries, savor gourmet sandwiches, and so much more. It’s the perfect chance to expand your culinary horizons and indulge in the local flavors.


Whether you’re a food enthusiast or simply looking for a fun and enriching experience, exploring Upstate New York’s food festivals and farmers markets is a must. These vibrant events bring together the best of the region’s culinary offerings, providing a direct connection to local farmers and artisans while allowing you to taste and savor the authentic flavors of Upstate New York.


Traditional Cooking Techniques in Upstate New York

Traditional cooking techniques play a significant role in the culinary heritage of Upstate New York. Passed down through generations, these techniques highlight the region’s history, cultural influences, and natural resources. They are a testament to the rich traditions and unique flavors that define the cuisine of this vibrant region.


One traditional technique that is deeply ingrained in Upstate New York’s culinary heritage is smoking. Historically, smoking was used as a preservation method, allowing locals to enjoy the flavors of fresh meats and fish for extended periods. Today, smoking not only imparts a distinct flavor but also enhances the texture and tenderness of the ingredients. From smoked trout and salmon to succulent smoked ribs and brisket, the art of smoking is alive and well in Upstate New York.


Another traditional cooking technique that showcases the region’s agricultural roots is preserving. With the abundant harvests of fruits and vegetables, locals have developed various methods of preserving the flavors of summer for the colder months. Canning, pickling, and making jams and jellies are common practices used to extend the shelf life of seasonal produce. These preserved treasures provide a taste of the harvest year-round and offer a glimpse into the resourcefulness of Upstate New Yorkers.


Slow cooking and braising are also prevalent in traditional Upstate New York cuisine. These methods result in tender and flavorful dishes that are perfect for the colder months. Whether it’s a hearty beef stew simmering on the stovetop or a pot of beans slow-cooked with salt pork, the low and slow approach to cooking brings out the savory flavors and allows the ingredients to meld together harmoniously.


Baking, too, has a special place in Upstate New York’s traditional cooking techniques. With a heritage deeply rooted in European immigration, locals have embraced baking as a way to showcase their skills and celebrate their culinary traditions. From flaky fruit pies made with fresh, locally grown produce to buttery cookies and pastries, the art of baking is a cherished tradition that brings joy to every home and gathering.


Lastly, foraging is a traditional practice that has made a resurgence in recent years. Upstate New York is a treasure trove for foragers, with its forests and fields offering a bounty of wild edible plants, mushrooms, and berries. Foraging not only connects people with the land and its natural resources but also allows them to discover unique flavors and incorporate them into traditional and modern dishes.


These traditional cooking techniques, handed down through generations, are a testament to the resourcefulness, ingenuity, and love for food that characterizes Upstate New York cuisine. By embracing these techniques, both in home cooking and professional kitchens, locals and visitors alike can continue to honor the culinary heritage of the region and savor the flavors of Upstate New York.


Embracing the Farm-to-Table Movement

Upstate New York has long been at the forefront of the farm-to-table movement, a culinary philosophy that emphasizes using locally sourced, seasonal ingredients in restaurant menus and home cooking. With its fertile farmlands, thriving agricultural communities, and a strong commitment to sustainability, Upstate New York is the perfect place to embrace and champion the principles of the farm-to-table movement.


Restaurants across the region have embraced this movement, forging lasting relationships with local farmers, artisans, and producers. By sourcing ingredients directly from nearby farms, they not only ensure the freshest and highest quality products but also support the local economy and reduce their carbon footprint. Many establishments take it a step further by featuring ingredient sources on menus, allowing diners to connect with the origins of their food.


Embracing the farm-to-table movement goes beyond just using local ingredients; it promotes a deep appreciation for the land, the seasons, and the people who cultivate and harvest the food. By understanding where our food comes from and the effort that goes into its production, we can make more conscious and sustainable choices in our everyday lives.


Farmers markets play a crucial role in the farm-to-table movement. These vibrant community spaces bring together local farmers, artisans, and food producers, providing consumers with direct access to fresh and seasonal ingredients. Shopping at farmers markets not only supports local businesses but also allows individuals to connect with the people behind the food they’re purchasing. It’s a chance to ask questions, learn about farming practices, and develop a deeper understanding of the food system.


The farm-to-table movement also extends beyond restaurants and farmers markets and can be embraced in our own homes. By seeking out local produce, dairy products, and meats, we can create meals that showcase the flavors of the region and support local agriculture. Furthermore, growing our own herbs, vegetables, or even keeping a small backyard chicken coop allows us to take an active role in the food we consume.


Embracing the farm-to-table movement is not just about the food itself but also the values it represents. It fosters a closer connection to the land, encourages sustainable and environmentally friendly practices, and supports the livelihoods of local farmers. It also celebrates the diversity and abundance of Upstate New York’s agricultural heritage, offering a rich tapestry of flavors and a deeper appreciation for the food we enjoy.


Whether dining out at a farm-to-table restaurant or shopping at a local farmers market, embracing the farm-to-table movement in Upstate New York allows us to truly savor the flavors of the region, support our local communities, and contribute to a more sustainable food system.


Incorporating Upstate New York Flavors into Home Cooking

Bringing the flavors of Upstate New York into your own home cooking is a delightful way to explore the region’s culinary heritage and savor its unique tastes. Whether you’re a seasoned home cook or just getting started in the kitchen, there are countless ways to incorporate Upstate New York flavors into your favorite dishes. Here are some ideas to get you started:


1. Use locally sourced ingredients: Take advantage of the region’s bountiful produce, dairy products, and meats. Visit farmers markets to stock up on fresh, seasonal fruits and vegetables, artisanal cheeses, and locally raised meats. Using these ingredients not only enhances the flavor profile of your dishes but also supports local farmers and ensures the freshest possible ingredients.


2. Explore the flavors of the Finger Lakes: The Finger Lakes region is renowned for its vineyards, so why not incorporate locally produced wines into your cooking? From deglazing pans and adding depth to sauces to marinating meats and enhancing the flavors of desserts, Finger Lakes wines can elevate your dishes with their distinctive characteristics.


3. Experiment with maple syrup: Upstate New York is known for its excellent maple syrup. Add a drizzle of maple syrup to glaze roasted vegetables, sweeten homemade granola or yogurt, or use it as a substitute for sugar in your baking. The natural sweetness and caramel-like notes of maple syrup add a unique touch to both sweet and savory dishes.


4. Incorporate apples into recipes: Upstate New York boasts a wide variety of apples, each with its own flavor profile. From the tangy Granny Smith to the sweet and crisp Honeycrisp, apples can be used in a myriad of dishes. Add sliced apples to salads, bake them in savory pies or tarts, or even try making homemade applesauce. The versatility of apples makes them a fantastic ingredient to experiment with.


5. Experiment with local cheeses: Upstate New York is home to exceptional artisanal cheeses. From sharp cheddars to creamy goat cheeses, the variety is truly impressive. Incorporate local cheeses into your meals by adding them to omelettes, salads, sandwiches, or even enjoying them on their own with a glass of wine. The distinct flavors of these cheeses will take your dishes to a new level.


6. Explore traditional Upstate New York dishes: Embrace the region’s beloved dishes like Spiedies, Buffalo-style chicken wings, or Finger Lakes salt potatoes in your own kitchen. By trying your hand at these iconic recipes, you’ll not only taste the authentic flavors but also connect with the culinary traditions of Upstate New York.


7. Discover wild edibles: Upstate New York is a forager’s paradise, offering a variety of wild edibles such as ramps, morel mushrooms, and wild berries. With caution and proper identification, you can incorporate these unique ingredients into your cooking, adding an element of adventure and authenticity to your dishes.


By incorporating Upstate New York flavors into your home cooking, you can experience the diverse and vibrant culinary heritage of the region firsthand. Whether it’s using local ingredients, exploring traditional recipes, or experimenting with unique flavors, you’ll embark on a culinary journey that celebrates the rich flavors and traditions of Upstate New York.



Exploring the captivating world of Upstate New York cuisine is a delightful adventure that will tantalize your taste buds and leave you craving for more. From its rich culinary history influenced by diverse cultural backgrounds to its unique ingredients and traditional cooking techniques, Upstate New York offers a rich tapestry of flavors and experiences for food enthusiasts.


The region’s commitment to the farm-to-table movement is evident in its thriving food festivals, farmers markets, and renowned restaurants. Embracing this philosophy allows you to connect with local farmers, artisans, and producers, supporting the local economy and fostering sustainable and conscious food choices.


Known for its iconic dishes like Buffalo-style chicken wings, Spiedies, and Finger Lakes salt potatoes, Upstate New York proudly showcases its culinary heritage. Whether indulging in these famous dishes or exploring the vibrant food scene in popular restaurants, there is always something new and exciting to discover.


While the region’s culinary treasures can be enjoyed by dining out, incorporating Upstate New York flavors into your own home cooking is a delightful way to bring a taste of the region into your daily life. From using locally sourced ingredients to experimenting with regional delicacies, your kitchen can become a gateway to the rich flavors and traditions of Upstate New York.


As you savor the unique ingredients, embrace the farm-to-table movement, and experiment with traditional recipes, you’ll develop a deeper appreciation for the culinary heritage of Upstate New York. The connections you make with local producers, the flavors you experience, and the stories you uncover will create lasting memories and a delicious understanding of this enchanting food culture.


So, whether you’re planning a food-focused adventure through Upstate New York, exploring local food festivals and farmers markets, or simply experimenting with new flavors in your own kitchen, get ready to embark on a gastronomic journey that will leave you with a profound love for the exotic cuisine of Upstate New York.