Rhode Island truly is unique when it comes to the foods it’s known for. Unlike other states that tend to enjoy regional cuisines, R.I. has a number of foods you can’t find anywhere else.
Add to that names for common foods that are only used by locals and you may find yourself pulling out your phone when trying to decide what to order.
Here are eleven popular foods Rhode Island is known for:
Certainly, you’ve heard of pouring milk into coffee but unless you’ve visited Rhode Island you’ve probably never encountered coffee milk. This drink is so popular it’s now Rhode Island’s official state beverage. Similar to chocolate or strawberry milk, coffee milk is created by adding a coffee-flavored syrup to a glass of milk. Alternatively, it’s possible to find gallons of already-mixed coffee milk in grocery stores.
Clam cakes and clam chowder
Clamming is a huge industry in Rhode Island so it’s not surprising that it’s also a popular ingredient in dishes. The most common ways Rhode Islanders eat clams is in clam cakes and New England clam chowder.
Don’t worry, we’re not referring to furniture here. If you visit Rhode Island and crave a drink made of milk and ice cream, whatever you do don’t order a milkshake. The common term for this drink in RI is a “cabinet” although you’ll also find it referred to as a frappe. Milkshakes, on the other hand, don’t have ice cream in them and are made with milk and syrup.
They may look like pancakes but traditional johnnycakes consist of only cornmeal, salt, and water. They’re a staple in Rhode Island and you’ll find them on breakfast and brunch menus here. More contemporary versions of johnnycakes also include flour, eggs, baking powder, milk or buttermilk, and some versions may even include vanilla and or other spices.
New York System
If you hear a Rhode Islander order a New York System, they aren’t talking about government or an underground tunnel, they’re referring to a dish akin to a hot dog. These unusually-named wieners are made of beef and veal that’s placed in a steamed bun with diced onions, yellow mustard, celery salt, and ground beef sauce on top. Whatever you do, don’t add ketchup. The most interesting thing about New York Systems? You won’t find them in N.Y., they’re only served in Rhode Island.
As mentioned before, clams are prevalent in Rhode Island, and “stuffies” are a popular clam dish. They’re made from a hard-shell clam called quahogs, the meat of which is mixed with onion, celery, green pepper, crushed Ritz crackers, spices, and a few other ingredients to bind the mix together. This mixture is then placed back in the clamshell, baked in the oven, and served.
What most Americans call subways, Rhode Islanders call grinders. These sandwiches consist of a six-inch or foot-long roll cut in half and filled with meats, cheeses, vegetables, and condiments.
Doughboys are yet another dish that can be found elsewhere in the U.S. but go by another name in Rhode Island. These pieces of fried dough are either flat or in the shape of balls and often topped with sugar and/or cinnamon. They’re called elephant’s ears or simply “fried dough” in other states.
Del’s Frozen Lemonade
Del’s Frozen Lemonade is exactly what the name implies – lemonade frozen to the consistency of a slushie. Del’s is a staple in Rhode Island with numerous locations throughout the state and a few in Massachusetts. But make sure you don’t drink your Del’s with a straw. As the website advises: “using a straw is a dead giveaway you’re either not from Rhode Island or that it may be your first time with a Del’s Lemonade.”
Calamari is typically considered an Italian dish, but living in Rhode Island you might assume it was created here. Made of breaded, deep-fried squid, calamari is typically served with lemon and tartar sauce. Rhode Islanders love calamari so much that in 2014 a bill was signed to make it the state’s official appetizer.
About Kerry Flatley
Kerry Flatley has lived in New England for the past 26 years. She has roots in Maine & Massachusetts, family in New Hampshire, and grew up close to the Connecticut border. She loves all that this region has to offer – the ocean, mountains, islands, history, villages, and cities. When she’s not writing about New England, she’s relaxing at home in the Boston suburbs with her two teenage daughters and husband.