Michigan is a land of culinary wonders, each dish telling a unique story of the state’s history and culture. From the vibrant swirls of Superman Ice Cream to the hearty pasties of the Upper Peninsula, the Great Lakes State offers a diverse array of flavors to tantalize your taste buds.
In this article, we’ll embark on a delectable journey through Michigan’s culinary world, exploring the origins, tastes, and renowned locations for each of these iconic Michigan foods.
Whether you’re a local looking to celebrate your state’s flavors or a curious traveler eager to explore new tastes, get ready to discover the mouthwatering delights that make Michigan’s cuisine truly one of a kind.
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Superman Ice Cream
Superman Ice Cream is a colorful treat that captures the essence of Michigan’s fun-loving spirit. This iconic ice cream is known for its vibrant swirls of red, blue, and yellow, reminiscent of the superhero’s costume (although the ice cream came before Superman’s character).
The taste? Almost impossible to describe.
But think of a delightful blend of lemon, cherry/red pop, and blue moon (itself a bit of a mystery flavor).
Due to potential copyright issues, the ice cream often goes by different names than Superman (e.g., “super rainbow”) and different brands also use different flavors you don’t always get the same flavor profile. For example, instead of lemon you might get vanilla.
When in Michigan, head to any number of ice cream parlors to savor this nostalgic dessert that’s been a staple at summertime gatherings for generations. However, if you want to get local go with Moomer’s or Stroh’s Ice Cream.
Hailing from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, pasties are the ultimate comfort food and also just kind of fun to eat.
These hearty hand pies were brought to the UP region by Cornish miners in the 19th century and have existed in England for at least 800 years. In fact, those from Cornwall have protected status just like champagne.
One thing you might notice is that they have a unique shape. The practice of crimping the edges not only made them easy to handle (even with dirty hands) but it also allowed miners to identify their pasties, etching their initials into this humble meal.
Pasties typically consist of a flaky pastry filled with a savory mixture of ground meat, potatoes, onions, and rutabagas, seasoned to perfection. The result? A warm, satisfying meal that’s perfect for cold Michigan winters or post-hike meals.
To sample some of the best pasties in the state, visit Lawry’s Pasty Shop in Marquette, Roy’s Pasties and Bakery in Houghton, or Muldoons Pasties in Munising, and you’ll understand why this dish has stood the test of time. Some of the shops like Muldoons also serve dessert pasties such as pumpkin or apple pasties which can be equally satisfying.
If you thought the best pizza only came from New York or Italy, think again!
Originating in the Motor City in the 1940s, this pizza is known for its deep, square-shaped crust, which is crispy on the outside and wonderfully soft on the inside. It’s topped with generous layers of Wisconsin brick cheese and tomato sauce, often ladled on top in streaks.
Visit Buddy’s Pizza, which claims to be the birthplace of this delectable dish, or check out Loui’s Pizza, Green Lantern, Cloverleaf, or Michigan and Trumbull for a taste of authentic Detroit-style pizza.
We tried out Buddy’s Pizza and I came out thoroughly impressed.
The Detroit-style pizza strikes the ideal balance of thickness, offering heartiness but without too much density — its slices are surprisingly light. But it also maintains just the right amount of crispiness on the edges.
It’s my top choice among all pizza styles I’ve tried so far. When visiting Michigan, indulging in this culinary gem is an absolute necessity.
Thimbleberries are a rare and very delicate berry native to Michigan’s forests and other surrounding regions.
Their jam, known as thimbleberry jam, is a true delicacy. With a sweet yet tart flavor, this jam is a real treat for the taste buds. The jam’s vibrant red color and distinctive flavor make it a sought-after local delight.
While it can be challenging to find due to the scarcity of thimbleberries, you might discover jars of this unique jam at local farmers’ markets or specialty stores throughout the state.
The Jam Lady’s approach is refreshingly unique, allowing you to select jams and a wide range of assorted products based entirely on an honor system, adding a touch of trust to your culinary adventure. From vintage postcards to horse shoes, you can find a little bit of everything in the shop which is housed in a former post office.
On the other hand, the Jampot is an establishment lovingly managed by monks from the Catholic Monastery of the Byzantine Rite. Here, you not only have the chance to savor thimbleberry jam but also indulge in a variety of exquisite sweet treats, including irresistible creations like peanut butter and jelly brownies.
We enjoyed thimbleberry jam on toast and it’s easily one of my favorite jams.
The Coney dog is Detroit’s answer to the classic hot dog, and it’s an experience that shouldn’t be missed.
Originating from Coney Island, New York, it found its unique identity in the heart of Detroit. A Coney dog typically consists of a steamed hot dog topped with a flavorful meaty chili sauce, chopped onions, and a drizzle of mustard.
Lafayette Coney Island and American Coney Island, both located in downtown Detroit, are legendary destinations where you can savor this iconic Michigan dish. The friendly rivalry between these two establishments adds an extra layer of charm to your culinary adventure.
But you can also enjoy a Flint-style coney dog, although I have to say it was not my favorite dish to try when in Michigan. We visited one of the recommended places in Flint and I just didn’t find the chili used on the hotdog appetizing at all and the casing on the hotdog was not right.
Mackinac Island Fudge
Mackinac Island, a picturesque gem in Lake Huron, is famous for its delectable fudge, which dates back to over 100 years.
Crafted in the tradition of old-world confectionery, Mackinac Island fudge boasts a rich, creamy texture and an array of flavors, from classic chocolate to modern combinations like sea salt caramel and cookies ‘n cream.
You’ll find over a dozen fudge shops along the charming streets of Mackinac Island, such as Murdick’s Fudge and Ryba’s Fudge Shops, where you can witness the art of fudge-making and indulge in a sweet treat that perfectly complements the island’s nostalgic ambiance.
Personally, I’m not really a fudge person (or “fudgie”). I mean, don’t get me wrong I will eat some fudge but it’s never been my go-to dessert or anything like that. However, I struggled to put down the chocolate walnut fudge from Murdick’s Fudge, which I found to be pretty damn irresistible.
Despite its name, the Boston Cooler has nothing to do with Beantown.
The name’s origins are a bit of a mystery. Some attribute it to a neighborhood in Detroit with the name Boston in it while others point to a connection to Boston Boulevard.
After looking deeply into this history though it seems that these are probably myths and that the beverage has a long and varied history with Boston Coolers taking many different forms over the decades, dating back to the late 1800s.
Confusing history aside, this delightful beverage combines two main ingredients: vanilla ice cream and Vernors ginger ale. The result is a frothy, creamy, and subtly spicy concoction that’s perfect for quenching your thirst on a hot summer day.
Visit ice cream shops or burger joints like Mercury Burger to savor this nostalgic beverage.
Michigan’s Traverse City is often dubbed the “Cherry Capital of the World,” and for good reason. The area’s climate is ideal for cultivating both sweet and tart cherries, and you’ll find them in various forms, from fresh-picked fruit to preserves and pies.
Michigan cherries are perfect for snacking, baking, or enjoying in a classic cherry pie. Traverse City, in particular, is renowned for its cherry orchards, and the National Cherry Festival is a must-visit event for cherry enthusiasts.
When in “TC” you will find places like Cherry Republic, the Cherry Stop, Grand Traverse Pie Company, and a bit further out you’ll find the famous Cherry Hut, all of which offer endless cherry products. Whether it’s cherry soap or cherry coffee, you’ll find a vast array of options that will intrigue and perhaps even confuse you.
When it comes to freshwater fish, Michigan’s whitefish is a prized catch. With its mild, delicate flavor and flaky texture, whitefish is a versatile fish that can be prepared in various ways, from grilling to smoking.
The Great Lakes, especially Lake Superior, are teeming with this delicious fish. For a taste of fresh whitefish, head to a lakeside restaurant like. We really enjoyed Four Suns Fish & Chips, located on the Keweenaw Peninsula. But there are endless restaurants in Michigan where you can find a good whitefish like The Cove in Leland or Legs Inn in Cross Village.
Hailing from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, cudighi is a spicy Italian sausage sandwich that’s become a local favorite. The sausage is made from a blend of ground beef and pork, seasoned with a fiery mix of spices, which gives it a distinct taste.
Cudighi is often served on a soft roll with marinara sauce and melted cheese, creating a spicy, savory, and satisfying sandwich. But you can also enjoy this “classic style” which consists of the sausage with onions, ketchup, and mustard.
To try this UP classic, visit Ralph’s Italian Deli in Ishpeming or Vango’s Pizza & Cocktail Lounge in Marquette, both renowned for their delicious cudighi sandwiches that pack a flavorful punch.
Upon arriving in Michigan, I was pleasantly surprised to encounter a diverse array of unique foods to sample. While some of these dishes may have their roots in other parts of the country or even the world, Michigan has added its own distinctive twist to each one. No matter your palate preferences, you’re bound to find a culinary delight that will leave your taste buds thoroughly satisfied.
Daniel Gillaspia is the Founder of UponArriving.com and the credit card app, WalletFlo. He is a former attorney turned travel expert covering destinations along with TSA, airline, and hotel policies. Since 2014, his content has been featured in publications such as National Geographic, Smithsonian Magazine, and CNBC.