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Virginia Beach Area Features

Food of the Nation

  By: Jacquelyn Eurice
With North Carolina barbeque to the south, and Maryland crab cakes to the north, many visitors to Virginia often overlook this state’s many signature foods.  However, Virginia isn’t about one specific food. There are many native flavors here that are truly exceptional, and recipes using them have been perfected since colonial times. Perhaps that is why Virginia’s tidewater region is sometimes called the “Birthplace of American Cuisine.”


The bounties of the Chesapeake Bay, Lynnhaven River and the Atlantic Ocean give Virginians in the Tidewater region an abundance of fresh seafood options. In local waterways, it’s possible to see the clam and oyster farms that contribute to the many popular dishes on menus across Virginia Beach. Both shellfish are enjoyed raw, steamed, or fried, or they can be used in recipes with savory additions to create wonderful dishes such as Oysters Rockefeller and Clams Casino.

The blue crab is also a favorite local seafood and is frequently used in a wide array of recipes from omelets to stuffed lobster. However, the rich crabmeat is almost best by itself. Crab cakes are definite favorites, but fried soft-shell crabs and creamy crab Imperial are also exceptional dishes that bring out the delicate flavor of the crab.

And when it comes to seafood, fresh fish from local waters can’t be beat. Rockfish (also known as striped bass) is a favorite fish from the bay to dine on (especially when it’s broiled and topped with crab!) but speckled trout and flounder are very popular catches as well. From the ocean, the dolphin fish (also called mahi), king mackerel, tuna and wahoo are heavily sought by anglers and often appear as daily catch specials in restaurants throughout the region.

Virginia Country Ham

When asked to think of a Virginian food, most people immediately say ham. Not just any ham, but Virginia Country Ham. In Hampton Roads, companies such as Smithfield and Edwards lead in country ham production, but many small independent companies also make hams employing the same methods used by generations before them. Country hams are salt-cured and aged for a few months to a year, giving them a distinctive and desired taste. Many people make the mistake of throwing away expensive country hams that they receive as gifts because they think the hams have gone bad. Country hams come with a layer of harmless mold on them, much like that found on fine cheeses. The mold will come off in the preparation process of soaking and scrubbing the ham.

Virginia Country Ham is enjoyed in small amounts. It is typically sliced thin like prosciutto, cubed to add flavor to a dish, or even shaved. Otherwise, the salt can be overwhelming. A popular way to eat country ham is on a small biscuit or roll. A small thin slice is all you need and really, that’s it. Just about every native Virginian host has offered this staple menu item at one time or another at gatherings with family and friends.


Before Planters and Mr. Peanut took up residence in nearby Suffolk in the early 1900s, peanuts were grown in the Commonwealth for sustenance. During the colonial era, peanuts were used in countless recipes that even included a peanut soup. At the time of the American Civil War, the legumes were relied on for a food source and Union soldiers brought them back to the North after the fighting had concluded. Now, Virginia peanuts are readily available, and places like Whitley’s Peanut Factory and the iconic Virginia Diner ship them across the nation. Locally, you may find an establishment where peanut soup is served. This dish may sound strange to some, but it is actually a velvety, savory, hearty and delicious soup that has been served to local residents for hundreds of years. 

Award-Winning Wine

Feeling thirsty after all of these salty foods? Fortunately, Virginia has been making quite a splash among oenophiles and wine fanciers around the world. In its 2009 Wine Lover’s Guide, Travel & Leisure named Virginia one of “5 Regions to Visit Now.” And the wines have been improving ever since. Virginia now has nearly 300 vineyards, and Williamsburg Winery is one of the region’s most popular wineries. While visiting this quaint oasis, you’ll be able to take a tour of the facility and sample some of their award-winning wines.

Food Festivals and Events

Throughout the year, numerous local food festivals showcase some of Virginia’s favorite foods. You’ll find oyster roasts, beer and wine tastings, and competitions such as the beloved East Coast She Crab Soup Classic at 24th Street Park every April. In nearby Pungo (a farming community in southern Virginia Beach), don’t miss the Strawberry Festival on Memorial Day weekend. This is your chance to try the juicy fruit in hundreds of different recipes—from strawberry ice cream and pies to strawberry tacos. This is definitely a celebration of a favorite summer fruit.

These are just a few of the items that make Hampton Roads a travel destination for food and wine enthusiasts. As you venture around, you’ll likely be tempted by a celebrated Virginia food. What’s your favorite?


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