Soda, goulash, sloppy joes ... what's your name for food?

Food names and recipes can vary across regions of the U.S.

“Tater tot hotdish” is an example of a regional comfort food.
Contributed by NDSU

Whenever I travel, I enjoy the “local foods” and recipes. I often bring another cookbook home in my suitcase.

Besides having many flavors and forms, food has many meanings. Some foods bring promises of fortune and reminders of religious holidays. Others spark memories of our relatives.

For example, cake is traditionally served after many wedding celebrations. In fact, some references say that wedding cake dates back to ancient Rome. Back then, a soft cake was broken above a bride’s head for luck. The couple would eat some of the crumbs from the grain-based cake to launch their lives together.

You may have observed the custom of tossing rice at a newly married couple. The guests were wishing them prosperity and many children.

Pretzels were given to children by monks in ancient Italy to reward them for saying their prayers. The shape of a pretzel was a reminder to the children to fold their arms across their chest in prayer.


During modern-day Mardi Gras celebrations, a king cake often is served with a plastic baby doll baked into the cake. Whoever finds the doll in their dessert becomes the “king” or “queen” for the day. They receive promises of good luck.

We have distinct food traditions throughout the U.S., and the names of foods and recipes can vary quite a bit, even though the recipes are similar.

Just for fun this week, I asked my Facebook friends to name some foods that have other names depending on where they live. I was happy to receive 70 comments on my question, with suggestions ranging from “schmere” (cream cheese spread) to “chips” (french fries, as in “fish and chips”).

Julie Garden-Robinson, NDSU Extension Service
Julie Garden-Robinson, NDSU Extension Service

To read more of Julie Garden-Robinson's Prairie Fare, click here.

I sifted through their responses and developed some questions. You probably have other names for some of the foods.

1. What would you call a sweet carbonated beverage?

  1. Pop
  2. Soda
  3. Coke
  4. Soda pop
  5. Punch

2. In the Midwest, “funeral hotdish” often is served after memorial services. Which of these would be a typical menu item?

  1. Cheesy hashbrowns
  2. Macaroni with ground beef and a tomato-based sauce
  3. Scalloped potatoes and ham
  4. Macaroni hotdish
  5. Ghoulosh
  6. I have no idea.

3. What do you call a dessert baked in a pan and cut into squares or rectangles?


  1. Bars
  2. Pan cookies
  3. Dessert bars
  4. Cookie squares
  5. Something else

4. What would you call a mixture of ground beef, tomato-based sauce (or ketchup), chopped onions and other ingredients served on a bun? There are so many names for these that you get extra choices.

  1. Slushburger
  2. Sloppy joe
  3. Loose-meat sandwich
  4. Barbecue
  5. Made-rights
  6. Tavern

5. What is the name of seasoned meat wrapped in cabbage leaves and served with a tomato-based sauce?

  1. Cabbage rolls
  2. Pigs in a blanket
  3. Halupsi
  4. Goabki (“little pigeons”)
  5. I would never eat anything like that.

6. What do you call slightly spicy meat, chopped tomatoes, lettuce and/or salsa that is fairly portable depending on its “wrapper”?

  1. Walking taco
  2. Taco in a bag
  3. Navajo taco
  4. Frybread taco
  5. Something else

7. What do you call the accompaniment to turkey on Thanksgiving dinner that may be cooked inside the turkey or in a separate pan?

  1. Stuffing
  2. Dressing
  3. Breading
  4. Sleep-inducing carbohydrates
  5. Something I’d never eat

8. What would you call a cone filled with soft ice cream and sometimes dipped in chocolate or another coating?

  1. Creamee
  2. Dip cone
  3. Whirl-a-whip
  4. Soft serve cone
  5. Now I am hungry for one regardless of the name.

Most of these questions have multiple answers that are correct and vary depending on where you live. For example, all the answers to questions 4, 5 and 6 were provided by friends.

Search online for NDSU Extension’s food and culture handouts, including “Exploring North Dakota’s Foodways: “Germans from Russia” at and “Scandinavian Cuisine Past and Present” at .

I grew up eating “Tator Tot Hotdish” in Minnesota, and my kids still enjoy this comfort food. My colleagues modified a recipe to be healthier and also slow-cooker friendly.


Healthier slow-cooker tator tot hotdish

  • 1 pound ground turkey or extra-lean beef, cooked
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 1 16-ounce bag frozen mixed vegetables
  • 1 (14.5-ounce) can cream of mushroom soup, reduced sodium
  • 1 (5.3-ounce) container plain Greek yogurt
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder
  • 8 ounces tater tots
  • 3 tablespoons colby jack cheese, shredded

Brown ground turkey or beef in a skillet. Add onion and cook until translucent. Add ground turkey and onion mixture, vegetables, soup, yogurt and garlic powder to slow cooker. Stir to combine. Top with tater tots and sprinkle with shredded cheese. Cook on low for six hours or on high for two to three hours.
Makes six servings. Each serving has 230 calories, 7 grams (g) fat, 23 g protein, 18 g carbohydrate, 1 g fiber and 290 milligrams sodium.

Julie Garden-Robinson is a North Dakota State University Extension food and nutrition specialist and professor in the Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences. Follow her on Twitter @jgardenrobinson .

Julie Garden-Robinson writes a weekly column called "Prairie Fare," where she shares from her knowledge of food and nutrition from her role with the North Dakota State University Extension.
What To Read Next
Get Local