Welcome back to Where in the World Wednesday! We took a brief hiatus there, but are back in full form... lots of fun eats in the weeks to come!
This week's Where in the World Wednesday brings us to the midwest of the United States - Kansas! My wonderful friend Rachel, who grew up in Wichita, will be our tour guide on this round of Where in the World Wednesday.
(1) How would you describe food in Wichita/Kansas in 10 words or less?
Traditional American/comfort food, with some surprising cultural diversity.
(2) Are there any dishes that you think are traditionally "Kansas?"
There are definitely dishes that are traditionally Midwestern, but I don’t know that it would be fair to say they are traditionally “Kansas.” Oklahoma, Nebraska and Missouri have pretty similar food tastes from what I’ve seen. A lot of church basement food – “funeral potatoes,” Waldorf salad, homemade jams, jellies and pickles, meatloaf.
(3) If you were putting together a food gift basket representative of Kansas for a friend visiting, what would you include in it? (Feel free to include perishable items!)
A salted caramel cupcake from Sugar Sisters Bakery
Beef or bison jerky
A hamburger from Jack’s North Hi Carryout (See above!)
A “hamburger” from Nu-Way
“Strawberry salad” – layer of crushed graham crackers and melted butter, layer of frozen strawberries and strawberry jell-o, layer of whipped cream, cream cheese and mini marshmallows
And finally, a Nancy’s #8 from the Artichoke Sandwich Shop (turkey, swiss and cream cheese, lettuce and tomato with ranch dressing on a grilled onion hoagie)
(4) Do you find that food in Wichita/Kansas has been greatly influenced by certain ethnicities? If so, which ones?
Wichita has a large population of both Mexican and Vietnamese first-and-second-generation immigrants. Although I don’t think that this has influenced traditional Midwestern food very much, it means that there are some great Mexican and Vietnamese restaurants in Wichita! My favorite Vietnamese place is Saigon, on North Broadway. I always get the charbroiled pork with rice noodles. There are also Mexican and Vietnamese markets so it’s easy to get the right ingredients to cook these foods at home.
(5) Is there anything about the food in Kansas that you think would surprise people that have never been there?
I think people would be surprised by the variety of restaurants in Wichita. For a city of its size (less than 400,000 in the city proper), it has a lot more than just chain restaurants. There are some ambitious entrepreneurs who really know about food and have introduced Wichita to sushi, Lebanese food, decent vegetarian food, great Thai food. Also, people don’t understand about the hamburgers. You can’t get a Wichita hamburger anywhere else in this world. Thin patty. Freshest beef because the cow lived right outside town. Chopped onions seasoned with 50 years worth of grill gunk. Soft but sturdy bun. You could eat five and still want another one.
(6) When you were growing up, was there somewhere that you would ask your parents to take you for a treat? Where was it? Why did you love it?
There is a chain in Wichita (and in Oklahoma and a few other nearby states) called Braum’s. They have their own dairy farms (milk their own cows), and make all the ice cream, baked goods, dairy products and pretty much everything else they sell. That’s pretty rare in the restaurant business. Anyway, Braum’s is mostly an ice cream place, and it’s THE place to take your kid after school events – sporting events, band concerts, awards ceremonies and all that. I always got the same thing: peppermint ice cream on a sugar cone. And for birthday parties and holidays, we always went to the Nifty Nut House – still my favorite candy store, and I’ve been to, you know, a lot of them :) It’s a HUGE nut and candy store, owned by a Wichita family since 1937. My mom says she’s friends with the owner, but I think everyone who goes there feels that way. Great prices, super-fresh-I-just-fell-off-the-tree nuts, wide variety of bulk and packaged candy, and you are pretty much guaranteed good customer service, since they only hire nice people :)
(7) If you were to take me to Wichita, what are three food related places that we definitely would have to go to?
UNGHHH this is so hard. Like when I come to Wichita for a long weekend and there are only 8 or 9 possible meals. OK, lemme think. Well, number one, I’m gonna go with a place outside Wichita – we have a small Amish community in southeast Kansas, and in the town of Yoder there is a restaurant called Carriage Crossing. You can’t get any more traditional Midwest than this – fried chicken, fried vegetables, ham. But mostly people come for the giant, fresh, frosting-slathered cinnamon rolls. YUM. (Stroud’s also has great fried chicken, if you like that kind of thing. But that’s just an aside and doesn’t count as one of my three!)
I always want to go to N and J Cafe. It’s a Lebanese café and catering business (I used them for my mom’s 50th birthday party, and it was a hit). Fresh, parsley-heavy taboulli and hummus, but also beef and chicken shawarma, kibbe, and decent fattoush.
And my third…I’d have to go to Jack’s North Hi Carryout for burgers and fries. It closed for a few years a little while back, but somebody rescued it and reopened it, thank goodness. That was decades worth of awesome grill gunk built up on that grill! All that flavor would have been LOST FOREVER!
(8) Do you have any favorite candies that originate from Kansas?
Sifer’s Valomilks are made in Kansas. Kind of like a Reese’s, but filled with a fluid vanilla cream. Very messy and very sweet, but a fun treat (and made with only natural ingredients). Cero’s makes great chocolates.
(9) If you could pick one food item from Kansas/Wichita to have with you always, what would it be?
Something I can’t get anymore: my grandma’s strawberry freezer jam. So much sugar it’s pink instead of red, but the freshest strawberry flavor you can imagine – she always made it out of strawberries my grandpa grew in the backyard that were picked that day or the day before. The Sunfresh company makes a jam that comes pretty close – I plan on ordering some to have at Christmas this year!
Oh yum, Rach -- thanks so much for the tour!! I'm starving now after re-reading your answers and look forward to you one day taking me to Wichita :)