Do you enjoy trying the local food everywhere you go? Us too! Learning about a culture and region through its food is one of the best travel experiences you can get. Influenced by the Amish, from sweets to savories, Pennsylvania Dutch Country has a wealth of regional food to try. Though, if we are honest, we wouldn’t try all of them again.
Let’s get this one out of the way early. We get the impression scrapple is a bit like grits here in the South; unless you grew up with it, you’re not really expected to like it.
Made from a mush of leftover pork scraps, the trimmings are combined into a congealed loaf. Slices are then pan fried to a crisp and served with breakfast.
We tried it plain, and then covered in Kings Syrup as suggested by a local.
Though neither of us will be trying this local food again, it’s not the worst thing we’ve ever eaten. At least it was crispy!
You can find scrapple at any grocery store and food market in Pennsylvania Dutch Country, or most breakfast spots have it on the menu.
Chicken Pot Pie
We are not sure why they call it a chicken pot “pie” as there’s no pie to the Pennsylvania version. This warm winter’s meal is more like a hearty chicken stew with thick, square noodles, and no crust. If you are familiar with chicken and dumplings, it’s just like that.
A lot of local restaurants carry it on their fall and winter menus. We also found it in food stores that sold regional prepared foods, like The Market at Oregon Dairy.
Chicken Corn Soup
Another soup popular in the region is chicken corn soup. It’s as it sounds. However, it’s the rivels, small dough balls, which separate the soup from other versions you may have tried.
Amish Cup Cheese
We stumbled across Amish Cup Cheese by accident in the grocery store. This soft gooey cheese reminded us of Laughing Cow Cheese. Mostly because it has a similar spreadable texture, but it wasn’t far off in taste either. Maybe just a little sourer.
Apparently, it is very popular in the Amish culture and served with bread and crackers at large dinners, like a church supper or wedding. Amish Cup Cheese is also used in a lot of recipes, the way we would use cream cheese in cheesecake.
Red Pickled Beets
On every trip we try to go to the grocery store for at least one of our meals. Not only is it a great way to save a bit of money while traveling, it’s also the best way to pick up local foods that might be hard to find at restaurants. Plus, after a while, we just get tired of eating out every day.
Red pickled beet eggs were a food we wanted to try in Pennsylvania Dutch Country. Though, outside the grocery store they are a little hard to find. Luckily, just about every deli had them.
We thought they would be tart, like southern pickled eggs, but they weren’t. Honestly, we found them a little bland. Have you tried these? What are your thoughts?
Sweet Lebanon Bologna
We are guessing this one must be another acquired taste.
Made from 100% beef, the bologna is mixed with spices and sugar, then cured in a wooden smokehouse for three days.
First, we tried it plain. Then we rolled it into a pretzel bread sandwich with local cheddar cheese. We even tried it with the Amish Cup Cheese. This one was obviously not for us.
Baked Ham Balls
The baked ham balls were probably my favorite. They tasted very similar to the way my mother prepares her Christmas baked ham. However, instead of a whole ham, the ham is diced and rolled in a loaf mix, then drizzled with a sweet and sour pineapple sauce. So yummy! Almost every country kitchen in the area serves them.
This side dish with the funny name is different from the tomato version found in the south. In Pennsylvania Dutch Country chow chow is a mixture of cauliflower, beans, carrots, and other vegetables. The vegetable mix is cooked then jarred in a sweet pickling syrup.
Considering the Amish roots go back to Germany, it’s no surprise that German style foods are prevalent in the area. Most restaurants serve pork with a side of sauerkraut. Spaetzle, small egg noodle dumplings, is a common side item in the area. We were even surprised to see so many places serving schnitzel, thin breaded fried meats.
When you think of German food, you probably think of pretzels. It’s no surprise that pretzels are easy to come by in Pennsylvania Dutch Country. Actually, a must-do while in Lancaster County is to visit the Julius Sturgis Pretzel Bakery, the first commercial pretzel bakery in North America.
Grab a soft pretzel to dip in cheese, or a pack of the hard sourdough variety for a snack.
Anyone who follows the site knows we are huge fans of fresh apple picking here in the Carolinas. Pennsylvania is another popular state for apples, and it has a delicious impact on their regional food.
If you’re visiting in fall, keep an eye out for freshly made Dutch apple pie, apple dumplings, and apple fritters. Luckily, our favorite, Dutch apple butter is canned and found year-round. Oh, and don’t forget to try some local cider!
We know birch beer is technically a drink and not a food, but it’s definitely part of the food culture here.
Like root beer, birch beer is a non-alcoholic carbonated soda. Made from herbal extracts and birch bark, it has a unique flavor. It’s a bit spicy, but also sweet and earthy.
There are a few versions. We recommend trying the traditional Pennsylvania Dutch brand and the honey brew from the Appalachian Brewing Company.
Who can go to Pennsylvania and not try the chocolate?
Influenced by German roots, there are a few chocolate makers that have survived the centuries. Though Hershey’s is by far the most famous Pennsylvanian chocolate company, it wasn’t the first. Nor were they the first to sell chocolate drops.
If you visit the adorable town of Lititz, which you should, stop by the Wilbur Chocolate shop. Wilbur’s Chocolate Buds were on the market almost 13 years before the famous little kisses appeared. At the store you can sample their sweets and take a peek in on the chocolate making process.
Made of eggs, molasses, brown sugar, flour and shortening, with a crumbly topping, Shoofly-pie is the most popular dessert food to try in Pennsylvania Dutch Country. You’ll find it in the markets, at most local restaurants, and even coffee shops. Though we felt the flavor was okay, it was over-the-top sweet, so be warned.
We both love chocolate cake and cream, so we had high hopes for whoopie pie. Unfortunately, Jeremy’s face in the video below says it all. Not only was it over-the-top sweet but the cream was bitter, and the cake was bland.
However, in fairness to the whoopie pie, there seemed to be a few variations. Ours looked a little more shiny than cake-like.
The cream inside varies from marshmallow cream to vanilla buttercream. We’re not sure which version we had, but it wasn’t done well. We’ve agreed, we may need to do a retry next time we are in the area.
Fastnachts and Donuts
Though this article was originally for 15 foods to try in Pennsylvania Dutch Country, we didn’t feel right leaving you with the bitter taste of whoopie pies.
If you’re in Pennsylvania Dutch Country for Shrove Tuesday, usually in February to early March, the best food to try is a Fastnacht. Deep-fried in lard, these potato donuts are served plain, or topped with glaze, powdered sugar, or cinnamon sugar.
Even if you’re not in the area for Shrove Tuesday, donuts in Pennsylvania are popular and delicious. I first tried them in the Reading Terminal Market in Philadelphia and still remember how soft and good they were.
This time, we went for apple fritters, coconut creams, and a maple bacon Long John from the Lancaster Central Market. You won’t regret giving them a try.