So what is a “Jersey Bite” anyway? If you had to name the quintessential, unmistakable taste of New Jersey, what would it be? Growing up a beach town girl in south/central New Jersey, I didn’t realize until I was a teenager that Pork Roll (or Taylor Ham depending on your Jersey roots) was strictly a New Jersey phenomenon. It wasn’t until I ventured out of the state and tried ordering a pork roll, egg and cheese sandwich that I soon realized Debbie was not in Jersey anymore.
I get emails all the time from Jersey expats who pine over the tastes of their home state. I remember traveling south my senior year of High School and trying to find a decent bagel in North Carolina. It was a rude awakening, believe me. Pizza too, forget it, you might as well get it from the grocery store. (I think that’s where the restaurants buy it.)
Now of course, we know we corner the market on the best tomatoes and corn in the country. New Jersey is also known for fabulous blueberries and for our Cranberries although we share this honor with 4 other states.
I asked my “Tweeps” on Twitter for their favorite Jersey Bites and was a bit surprised by the overwhelming regard for the New Jersey Italian Hot Dog. According to Wikipedia this is a Hot Dog indigenous to Essex, Hudson, and Passaic counties in north-eastern New Jersey and the boardwalk of the New Jersey shore. It’s origins date back to the 1930’s in Newark New Jersey. One of the most famous spots for an authentic Italian Hot Dog is Jimmy Buffs which has four locations in North Jersey. For more suggestions, I turned to the folks at Chowhound, who have offered up a list of sampled spots in Jersey.
Another North Jersey phenomenon are Disco Fries. I have to confess, I had never heard this term in my life until yesterday. Do you believe Disco Fries have there own page on Wikipedia? We had a version of this in the school cafeteria at Rutgers (minus the gravy) and I completely blame them on my Freshman 15. Evidently, true Jersey Disco Fries are covered with brown gravy as well as cheese. In Canada, where they call them Poutine, the fries are covered with fresh cheese curd and brown gravy. By the late 1970’s Poutine found its way to New York and Northern New Jersey. It is thought that these Fries got their name because they hit this area during the height of the Disco era.
Ok, here’s another term this sheltered Monmouth County girl never heard: Water Ice. One of my South Jersey Tweeps had to school me on the term. I grew up eating Italian Ice. I had no idea it had an alias. I also didn’t realize New Jersey played such a big role in the Italian Ice movement. According to Wikipedia we had a hand in getting the patent on Italian Ice. “In October 2007, Dennis Moore of “Little Jimmy’s Italian Ice” in Elizabeth, New Jersey, submitted the term “Italian ice” as a possible addition to the Acceptable Identification of Goods and Services Manual of the United States Patent and Trademark Office. On November 8, 2007, this term was added, in International Class 030: Italian Ice.
There were more opinions, many more on what constitutes a quintessential Jersey Bite. I’ve posted some of the Tweets I got back from followers below. As you can see, when it comes to New Jersey food, New Jerseyans do not hesitate to share their opinions.
- mbergamo1224@jerseybites pizza, disco fries
- SandiNJ@bengarvey Water ice, I think, is a South Jersey term. Not sure where @JerseyBites is located in NJ
- RAVENFISH@jerseybites NJ is the garden of Diners. 24hr Diners. Where you get disco fries at 3am and ur bud chops on a gyro.
- RAVENFISH@jerseybites water ice south jersey for italian ice
- onestarleft@jerseybites Salt bagels.
- sjmins@jerseybites Hand-made Mozzarella, blueberries, of course Jersey beefsteak tomatoes
- bobaroundnj@jerseybites Blueberries and Italian hot dogs
- EatingInSJersey@jerseybites blueberries, Cape may salts, panzarottis
- bengarvey@jerseybites mack and manko pizza, jimmies, water ice
- MrsMoNJ@jerseybites Oh and it’s Sprinkles for those of us (me) from Morristown and Jimmies for those (DH) from Moorestown.
- RAVENFISH@jerseybites hotdogs and yoohoo from PETRITIS in Bayonne
- samuelhorowitz@jerseybites Johnnie & Hange’s especially when they were in Paterson, but still good in Fair Lawn.
- samuelhorowitz@jerseybites for how about pizza, hot dogs “all the way” and cranberries.
- MrsMoNJ@jerseybites Pork Roll =Tailor Ham for me. Is that a North Jersey thing? Ate them all the time at Collins Pub in Morris Plains
So, we’ll end this round up of Jersey Bites with MrsMoNJ’s comment on Pork Roll or Taylor Ham. Whatever you call it, what the hell is it?
You’ve got to love this description from Wikipedia. “Although the product is widely consumed and enjoyed, it resists accurate description. Some people compare the taste and/or texture to SPAM, Treet, baloney, mild salami, or US-style Canadian bacon. In 1910 it was described as “a food article made of pork, packed in a cylindrical cotton sack or bag in such form that it could be quickly prepared for cooking by slicing without removal from the bag.”
I love the “food article” descriptive. What does that mean? Too funny. When you’re jonesing for a Pork Roll, Egg and Cheese, you’re not really concerned about what’s in it or the calorie count. The Pork Roll, Egg and Cheese Sandwich (on a hard roll of course) has been described as the “Jersey Sandwich” and I’ll will have to concur. It’s not exactly been sprouts and tofu is it people? I find it funny that we are called the Garden State but most of the dishes we pine over have nothing to do with anything grown in any garden anywhere. Have I missed something? What is your ultimate, all time favorite Jersey Bite?