13 Iconic New England Foods You Need To Try Before You Die

Ask anyone from New England what they've got to be proud of, and they'll tell you: a lot. Of course, that regional pride is more than justified. Featuring countless historically-significant sites, an assortment of largely-untouched natural wonders, and the Brady-Belichick Patriots dynasty (to name a very few), the cradle of the American Revolution isn't lacking for worthwhile attractions and cultural contributions — and that's before diving into New England's bevy of mouth-watering foods.

Frankly, to say New England is chock-full of iconic culinary creations feels like a bit of an understatement. After all, a vast number of notable concoctions have emanated from the region throughout its existence, including (but not limited to) items widely associated with the six most Northeastern states — we're looking at you, lobster rolls, and maple syrup.

Now, while born and raised New England residents (such as this writer) know the unrivaled pleasure derived from the area's cuisine, not everyone has been so lucky. So if you're eager to taste the region (like Skittles and the rainbow) when the opportunity arises, but aren't sure where to start, fret no more. We've assembled a list of archetypal New England foods – those worth adding to your edible bucket list — to help guide the uninitiated. To discover which foods truly scream "New England," keep reading, as we present 13 iconic New England foods you simply need to try before you die.

1. Boston cream pie

Can a food item be considered iconic if it's primarily known for a modified version of the original? Of course it can — just look at Boston cream pie. While it's entirely plausible the donut-sized variety of this dessert is more widely known (and available) around the U.S., it clearly wouldn't exist without the so-called pie that inspired its creation. Either way, Boston cream pie's undeniable stature within New England makes it worthy of inclusion on this list. So if you've yet to devour the traditional cake (pie) version of this iconic regional food, make it a priority to do so.

Now, anyone who's sampled a Boston cream donut (or 200) in their day might think they can skip the layered-cake version of this classic New England dessert. But frankly? They'd be wise not to. After all, from the custard-like cream spread between two layers of moist sponge cake, to the overflowing layer of chocolate frosting that tops it off, there's just something indescribably lovely about the pie itself.

As satisfying as it is simple, the Bay State-originating dessert (which was first conceived and concocted at Boston's Parker House in 1856) is utterly phenomenal. In other words, we have one question for any person yet to try Boston cream pie: what are you waiting for?

2. Lobster roll (cold or hot-buttered)

Despite what some may believe, not every born-and-bred New England resident inherently loves lobster; in fact, some New Englanders (like this writer's late father) actually despise the seafood's incomparable lusciousness. Yet those outliers are merely the exception that prove the rule of lobster's supremacy ... among iconic New England foods, that is. Of course, while there's no shortage of available avenues to consume the shellfish (more on that momentarily), if you're seeking out the quintessential New England lobster dish? Go with a lobster roll — whether it's the standard cold version, or a hot-buttered variety.

We'd imagine most folks are already familiar with the cold lobster roll, which features a minimally-seasoned lobster-and-mayo salad served on a hot dog roll with lettuce. But if you haven't had the chance to enjoy a hot-buttered lobster roll in your life — as in warm, buttery lobster (and nothing else) served on a toasted roll with a side of drawn butter? Well, we'd encourage you to do everything in your power to rectify that.

Considering the sublime joy we've consistently derived from each of these classic New England sandwiches, we can't recommend them highly enough. Since you can't go wrong with either version, do yourself a favor, and try both of these lobster roll varieties as soon as humanly possible

3. Yankee pot roast

Sometimes, the connection between food and New England is eminently apparent — particularly when the name is a dead giveaway. In that sense, discovering Yankee pot roast is derived from the region ('Yankee' being shorthand for 'New England') is unlikely to blow anyone's mind. Of course, a mere association with the area wouldn't be enough to merit a spot among iconic New England foods. But when you take into account this slow-roasted dish's incredibly succulent and toothsome beef, as well as its unbelievably tender vegetables? Well, we think it's obvious why Yankee pot roast belongs in the pantheon of regional dishes.

Interestingly enough, since pot roasts are found coast to coast, there's a better-than-average chance you've already tried this famous New England dish without even knowing it. After all, a Yankee pot roast utilizes a simple braising technique to cook the meat — meaning anyone who's roasted beef in a covered casserole dish with a small amount of liquid (and vegetables) has eaten something akin to the New England version.

Now, if there's one aspect of a Yankee pot roast that separates it from the pack, it's the thrifty, add-whatever-vegetables-are-available thought process behind it (an attitude inherent to New England residents). But no matter the vegetables used, the point remains the same. Because trying this moist, fork-tender, melt-in-your-mouth beef product before you die? That should be of paramount importance.

4. Fluffernutter

The number of viable alternatives to jelly for a peanut butter sandwich can be a bit staggering to consider. Of course, if you asked a New England native to choose a winner among peanut butter companions, marshmallow crème (known colloquially as Fluff, in reference to the Somerville, Massachusetts-based brand) would easily beat the bunch. In fact, when that duo is combined between two pieces of bread, it creates an undeniably iconic New England food: the glorious Fluffernutter.

As you may have guessed from the name, the fluffernutter is a simple sandwich featuring peanut butter, Fluff — and nothing else. A lunchbox staple for generations of New England-raised children (and adults, quite frankly), the fluffernutter even broke into the mainstream in 2021, when Merriam-Webster officially added the term to its dictionary.

Perhaps we've simply lived our life in a Fluff-filled echo chamber, but we're unsure how any person wouldn't have already consumed at least one fluffernutter in their day. But if you're one of those poor, unfortunate souls (the type Ursula once sang about in "The Little Mermaid"), do yourself a solid, and grab a jar of peanut butter and marshmallow crème (ideally Fluff) at your nearest grocery store.

5. Steamers

We don't necessarily expect a non-New England native to fall madly in love with every iconic regional food we've listed here. But even if you're not entirely enthused about one of the foods, that doesn't mean you should avoid trying it. In fact, while we can sort of understand a person's potential ambivalence towards steamers beforehand (since it is, quite literally, just steamed clams), any hesitant individuals would be wise to overcome their fear. Because the creamy-yet-chewy texture and dynamite flavor of this iconic New England food is well worth trying.

Now, the key to a great steamer doesn't lie solely with the clams or its cooking process. Rather, a perfect plate of steamers requires the additional presence of warm water and drawn butter on the side. The water provides a chance to rinse away any remaining grittiness from the clams (leaving sand outside your mouth, where it belongs), while butter helps bring out the shellfish's succulence (much like it does with lobster, you jerk).

Perhaps the thought of yanking a clam from its shell and removing its outer (inner) membrane before consuming it skeeves you out a smidge. If that's the case, maybe ask someone to assist you with the pre-eating process. Because once you pop a butter-drenched steamer into your mouth? You're unlikely to have any more problems.

6. Maple syrup

We have no doubt you've tasted maple-flavored syrup at some point in your life — most likely as the sludgy, molasses-colored companion sauce for pancakes, waffles, or French toast. But if you've never been lucky enough to enjoy a rich, sweet-centric breakfast meal topped with real, authentic (almost shockingly thin) maple syrup? Well, making a point to try this food — one closely connected to certain New England states — should be at the top of your to-do list.

As we've noted with other iconic regional foods, the rationale for maple syrup's association with New England requires little explanation. In other words, we don't think it's entirely necessary to elaborate on the specifics of maple syrup's significance to the region, particularly seeing as 40% of all U.S.-produced maple syrup is derived from Vermont.

Since Maine and New Hampshire are also among the nation's largest producers of authentic maple syrup, it's clear why this food belongs among New England's culinary crème de la crème. There are plenty of available brands and locations to pick up a bottle throughout the region as well, so if you're still waiting to try the real deal Holyfield? Make sure you do (at least once) before you die.

7. Whoopie pie

Do you know where the whoopie pie was first invented? Probably not ... though that's largely because of the ongoing debate regarding the dessert's origin. Of course, whether you believe the cream-filled, sandwich-like treat was first created in New England — or in Amish communities in Pennsylvania, as some claim – is entirely irrelevant for our purposes. After all, regardless of its birthplace, the chocolate-centric dessert has found an undeniably iconic place within New England culture.

Despite the murky truth surrounding the whoopie pie's creation, its intimate association with modern-day New England is as clear-cut as the food's phenomenal flavor profile. Not only are whoopie pies a staple of parties and get-togethers throughout the region (all year round), but it was even named the official state treat for Maine in 2011.

Clearly, we stand firmly in the camp that believes the century-old, hand-held dessert was created in the New England area. Regardless of your personal stance on the matter, though, the chocolate-and-cream treat is entrenched in New England iconography — and if you've never had the pleasure of tasting this tasty treat, we implore you to do so.

8. Split-top hot dog rolls

If you grew up outside New England, there's a decent chance you found top-split hot dog rolls labeled and sold as "New England-style" rolls. Of course, if you were born and raised within the region (as this writer was), you likely saw this variety of hot dog roll sold only as top-split rolls. Either way, the bottom line remains the same. Because if you've never encountered this iconic New England food? Grab a bag of top-split hot dog rolls the next time you're planning to cook up a few hot dogs.

Now, if you're wondering the real reason New England-style hot dog rolls are split along the top, the answer is fantastically fitting to the coastal region. After all, this roll type was originally developed at a Maine bakery (in the 1940s) as a potential bread component for a fried clam roll — not for hot dogs.

Regardless of its creation story, top-split hot dog rolls are undeniably a New England food. Whether providing a more substantial bread base for condiments, or allowing a perfectly flat surface to butter and toast a roll, top-split hot dog rolls are worth trying. In fact, if you try this type of roll once, we'd bet you'll find yourself making a permanent switch soon after.

9. Lobster pie

When it comes to highfalutin culinary components (New England-borne or otherwise), can any food compete with lobster? We don't think so. Of course, while the lobster stands alone among elitist foods (like the cheese), its hard outer shell presents a relatively frustrating reality — one that may cause some to believe the shellfish is more work than it's worth. Thankfully, though, there are plenty of lobster dishes out there that remove that difficulty from diners' plates. And if you're looking to enjoy an iconic New England food that doubles as the ultimate lazy person's feast, make sure you try lobster pie before you die.

Sometimes known as lobster casserole, lobster pie is similar to other baked stuffed seafood entrées. Featuring a butter-soaked breadcrumb (or Ritz cracker-based) topping over a filling that essentially consists of lobster meat swimming in butter, this excessively rich food isn't for the weak of heart — or, quite frankly, for anyone with a physically weak heart.

Still, since lobster is as close to perfect as any protein we've encountered, it's worth trying this exorbitantly-decadent New England food if the opportunity presents itself. Even if you stop after a bite or two (we've been there), you'll be thrilled to have tasted this to-die-for dish at least once in your life.

10. Greek-style pizza

Perhaps you saw the title of this slide and wondered: how can pizza be classified as anything but Italian? That presumption isn't entirely unfair, given pizza's genuine Italian heritage. Yet for New England residents — many of whom (such as this writer) grew up surrounded by pizza-and-sub shops on every corner — the standard pizza version isn't always an Italian-style, hand-tossed pie. Rather, depending on where you order, there's a 50/50 chance you'll end up with a Greek-style pizza, instead — or one of New England's most iconic foods.

Now, while traditional Italian pizza varieties are prevalent throughout the region, as well, there's a reason many observers believe Greek-style pizza to be synonymous with New England-style pizza. The pan-baked pie — presumably created by Greek immigrants who settled in the area during the 19th and 20th centuries — often has a greasier crust than non-pan-cooked alternatives. Additionally, Greek-style pizza slices tend to be slightly sturdier than the hand-tossed versions, and may be more evenly cooked, too.

Of course, since variety is the slice of life, most New England residents aren't exclusively beholden to Greek-style pizza. Still, if you want to try the region's most deliciously iconic foods? This pizza type needs to be included.

11. Clam chowder

Though there are three different types of clam chowder available to the world, the notion that any variety can top the creamy, off-white-colored version from New England is inconceivable. We don't mean to denigrate anyone who enjoys a bowl of Manhattan or Rhode Island clam chowder, of course. But we simply can't imagine a scenario where New England clam chowder (with its luxuriously decadent marriage of textures and flavors) could be bested by the competition. So if you've yet to try a bowl (or cup) of this iconic New England food in your life, you'll definitely want to do so before you die.

Now, whether you're searching for a bowl of New England clam chowdah (as we locals often pronounce it) to check a first-time box, or just looking to satiate a hankering, there are a couple of guidelines worth remembering. For one thing, you'll want to avoid a canned variety, particularly if you're sampling this thick, stew-like soup for the first time. Try not to order New England clam chowder if you're more than 100 miles from the ocean, either; otherwise, the chances you'll be served fresh chowder made with recently-harvested clams diminishes drastically.

Additionally, while a top-notch bowl of New England clam chowder doesn't necessarily require oyster crackers, well ... the little plastic cracker bags come with it for a reason. That additional crunch provides a thrilling contrast to the rest of the dish, quite frankly, undoubtedly enhancing the overall eating experience.

12. Apple cider donuts

Apples have been grown in New England for centuries, starting in 1623, when the first apple crops were produced in Massachusetts. Of course, while the fruit itself (and its many various byproducts) are widely popular throughout the U.S., some apple-based culinary concoctions aren't readily seen outside the New England region. This includes the delightful (and iconic) New England treat known as apple cider donuts, a food well-worth sampling at least once in your life — particularly a warm, freshly-produced batch.

To be clear, apple cider donuts aren't entirely exclusive to New England. In fact, as noted by several Reddit commenters in 2019, the dessert can be found in some parts of the Midwest as well. But being found elsewhere in the U.S. hardly negates apple cider donuts' connection to the New England region — nor does it change the fact that any person yet to try this food needs to do so.

There's a bounty of potential places to purchase a top-notch apple cider donut throughout New England. Realistically, though, we don't have any favorites — and we can't imagine you'll go wrong with any apple cider donut you encounter within the region.

13. Steak tips

Growing up in New England, certain foods are so prevalent that a lack of nationwide significance (or availability) can be difficult to accept. In that sense, we were (un) pleasantly surprised to discover steak tips aren't found in many supermarket meat sections outside of New England. Of course, if you've never been the recipient of a perfectly-marinated, nicely-charred steak tip in your life, we can confidently say: go find this iconic New England food immediately, and change that.

Now, while some outside the northeast region may have come across this unbeatably tender cut of beef under the 'tri-tip' label, the steak tip has yet to cross that coast-to-coast threshold. But if you're wondering where the hullabaloo surrounding this New England warm weather staple comes from, you'll instantly understand once a fresh-cooked piece melts in your mouth.

How this genuinely phenomenal protein has remained solely ensconced in New England cuisine is nearly impossible to determine. One thing we can say with confidence, though: if you've been denied this steak cut your entire life, and you love beef (as we do), you'll be well-served finding a portion to tear into before you die.