Classic Indiana Foods: the Good, the Bad, and the Wee Bit Gross

We love to eat, and what’s wrong with that? 

Indiana earned the title Crossroads of America for the tangle of highways that criss-cross the state, but that hodgepodge of cultural traffic brought with it a hodgepodge of food fancies.

This list is by no means definitive, and I fully expect someone to read it and curse me for forgetting an essential dish. I apologize in advance. I have been a Hoosier since birth and did my best.

Sugar Cream Pie

This first dish is the most obvious, because it is the official pie of the Hoosier state. There’s a thousand varieties and as many recipes…so instead of providing a recipe, I am offering this link to Wick’s Pies in Winchester, Indiana, which sells 750,000 sugar cream pies a year.

If they sell that many pies, chances are they know how to make them better than anyone.

Breaded Pork Tenderloin Sandwich

Take a lean(ish) cut of pork and run it through a tenderizer a half-dozen times. Bread it, fry it, and slap it between two buns with a generous glob of mayonnaise, onions, some pickles and lettuce…Is that really all there is to it? Thankfully, no.


This crispy sandwich should be the size of a dinner plate to earn a true Hoosier’s appreciation. Taste of Home offers a nice recipe HERE. If you’re too busy to cook, then try one at its source: Nick’s Kitchen in Huntington, Indiana, recognized as the first to serve this humungous hulk of a meal. Order one for lunch. By the time dinner rolls around, you might have it finished.

Hoosier Chili

Don’t be surprised if you spot a Hoosier or Ohioan pouring this concoction over some spaghetti or macaroni. The biggest difference between our chili and traditional versions? Instead of broth, we use tomato sauce. Or tomato soup. Or tomato paste. Or even V8. Check out this fascinating history of Hoosier chili from the IndyStar to learn more.

Corn Dogs

There’s almost a century of debate on the origin of this fair-food delicacy, but most agree that it’s likely German in origin and a drive-in in Illinois was one of the first to shove it on a stick. Whatever the original source, Indiana fair-goers chomp them down by the millions, and they are available in virtually every mid-sized market across the state, with some of, uh, dubious quality.

Persimmon Pudding

What is persimmon pudding? Or, for that matter, what the heck is a persimmon? Imagine a tomato with the taste of an apple and the consistency of a peach. That’s sort of a persimmon.

Persimmon pudding is either steamed or baked with water, much like a traditional English Christmas pudding, then served warm with whip cream. For those adhering to strict tradition, it can also be topped with a trickle of caramel brandy sauce. If you want to know more, here’s an entire page dedicated to this legendary Hoosier dessert.


Gourmet Popcorn

Sigh. What can a Hoosier say? We like our popcorn. We should, since we produce over 200 million pounds of it a year. The weirder the combination of ingredients, the better, and if you slap the word GOURMET on it, you’ll really get us interested. Here’s a cool source to satisfy your popcorn fix: Not Just Popcorn, Etc. in Edinburgh, Indiana. 


Brave Hoosiers are willing to try anything and everything dipped and fried in a variety of oils, no matter what the Surgeon General might say. We Hoosiers proudly advertise our love of deep-fried funnel cakes, elephant ears, Oreos, Twinkies, Snickers, pickles, apples, cheesecakes, White Castles, cheeseburgers, eggs…pizza…

Geez, maybe we do have a problem.

Canned Pickles

Canning is as practical and useful today as it was fifty years ago, and often an art that passed down from generation to generation without gender boundaries. I know as many men that can as women.

In Indiana, pickles seem to be our food of choice for gourmet canning, and we’ve composed hundreds of variations on a seemingly combination of cucumbers, vinegar, water and salt. Garlic pickles, mustard pickles, spicy pickles, sweet & spicy pickles, super spicy pickles, peppercorn pickles…


Fried Brain Sandwiches

I…I just can’t eat this. My grandmother could and my grandfather (God rest) would chow down on these until Doomsday, but I just can’t eat brains and know it. That said, I suspect my grandmother might have mixed in a little pork brain with our scrambled eggs when I was a kid. She’s crafty.

Anyway…some Hoosier love fried brain sandwiches. Not head cheese, mind you, but actually fried pork brain sandwiches. Here’s an informative piece from Gastro Obscura on the fried brain sandwich, including the best place in Indiana to find it. If you’re interested.

Beef Manhattan

I saved my best for last.

As a kid growing up in Indiana, this was one of my favorite meals to order at a restaurant AND eat at home. A thick slice of bread, topped with a glob of mashed potatoes (skins-on preferably), then some tender roast beef and a super-generous portion of beef gravy. It was the kind of meal only a kid could enjoy, because an adult would pass out from the carbohydrate overload.

Problem is, only Indiana’s older dining establishments still serve the Beef Manhattan, which I think is a cultural tragedy. Here’s a great recipe for those interested and inclined (although it’s called a “Manhattan Hot Shot Sandwich” in the article).