The food in Arkansas is very different from the food in the rest of the country. In fact, it's very different from the food in the southern states, in general, due to the unique blend of cultures that have influenced it over the years. Along with local ingredients, Arkansas dishes have come to be just as much part of life as hiking in the Ozarks or fishing down at the lake - you don't need to love these things, but you just do.
There's nothing wild and outrageous about these foods, and you won't find anything like the Rocky Mountain Oysters of Nebraska or indulgent like the whiskey-glazed bread pudding of New Orleans. Rather, you'll find down-home comforts, big flavors with simple ingredients, and some of the most iconic southern staples past the Mason-Dixon line. Those living in Arkansas really enjoy the simple things in life and even that comes through in the state's most popular dishes, and if you're not enjoying a side of hushpuppies with your fried catfish, then are you really enjoying your visit? The answer is probably no.
There's no way that a person could visit Arkansas and not come face to face with fried catfish on a restaurant menu at least once. In the deep south, this is a dish that acts as a rite of passage and some would say that you haven't really lived until you've tried it. Catching catfish is quite the sport and there's nothing like frying up a filet that's been battered with cornmeal, as is customary in the Natural State. It's somewhat of an unofficial state food, and there's no way you'll be able to leave without ordering this dish at least once.
Many people think that the cute pie trend called 'hand pies' began on Pinterest, but it's actually something that has been ongoing in Arkansas for decades now. The idea of a hand pie is to create a single-serving, closed-up pocket of pie without all the mess. These are super popular during festivals and at social gatherings, as it's easy enough to grab one and socialize or take one for the road. In Arkansas, you can find any number of fillings inside a hand pie, but it's the slightly-sugared, golden-brown crust that does it for us.
Queue the eye rolls from everyone who has decided they despise okra. While this vegetable has become the subject of debate by those who both love and hate it, it's best not to judge it entirely until you've had it fried. For some reason, fried okra takes on a completely different flavor and texture, and it's seemingly transformative of the vegetable. Hit with a bit of salt as soon as they come out of the fryer, this small, green veggie is bound to be a favorite once you've had it Arkansas-style.
Believe it or not, donuts have become somewhat of a customary commodity in Arkansas. While this sweet fried dough has a reputation around the U.S., many people would probably be surprised to know that there are plenty of donut makers doing it right down south. It's not likely that visitors will find any type of off-the-wall, outrageous flavors here, but what they will find are those classics, done right. In fact, they'll find the classics, done better, because donut-making is somewhat of a culinary sport in Arkansas.
Fried Green Tomatoes
Yes, just like the movie! While green tomatoes are normally somewhat flavorless and don't have the juicy interior or sweet flavor that ripe red tomatoes have, they certainly are delicious when they're fried. These tomatoes can be eaten on their own with a hefty pinch of salt after coming out of the fryer, or they can be eaten on a sandwich, which adds a level of decadence you didn't realize you needed in your life. Fried green tomatoes are the stuff of dreams and every restaurant in Arkansas seems to have its own unique recipe for them.
In reality, there's not much to a hushpuppy. All it is is fried cornmeal with some spices and seasonings thrown in but in Arkansas, that's enough to make a person fall in love with them. Usually served up alongside a big fried filet of catfish, these hushpuppies are found all over the state, and for good reason. There's something about biting into his savory fried ball, with its tender inside and a perfectly crunchy outside. We can promise that once you've had one, you'll probably reach for about ten more.