PROVIDENCE, R.I. – Georgia’s got the peach, Maine’s got the whoopie pie and now Rhode Island wants to claim calamari as an official state food: Specifically, its signature appetizer.
The legislation filed this week by state Rep. Joseph McNamara would honor the lowly squid, which Rhode Island chefs whip into a scrumptious delicacy by sauteing it with thin slices of pickled hot peppers.
Ocean State partisans claim the dish, sometimes served with marinara sauce on the side, stands apart from calamari elsewhere, which can be deep-fried beyond recognition.
McNamara said Thursday the smallest state has the largest squid-fishing fleet in the Northeast, and Rhode Island should be highlighting its successes at a time when it’s got one of the worst unemployment rates in the country.
Rhode Island-style squid can be found on menus from New Hampshire to California, and TV personality Guy Fieri even features it in one of his restaurants, McNamara said.
“We have something that really distinguishes Rhode Island from every other state. In these difficult economic times, I’m tired of hearing the naysayers and Doctor Dooms that are really putting down our state,” said McNamara, D-Warwick. “It’s time we step forward and celebrate our successes.”
Other states with official foods include Florida, which honors the orange and Key lime pie and Oklahoma, which backs a whole meal including barbecued pork, chicken fried steak, fried okra and squash. With pecan pie for dessert.
But naming something an official state, well, anything can sometimes ruffle feathers. When Maine lawmakers proposed giving official status to whoopie pies in 2011, Pennsylvanians took exception, claiming the treat was rightfully theirs. The legislation ultimately passed, but without the signature of the governor, who said he was focused on other priorities.
It’s not just official foodstuffs that prompt passionate debate. In Massachusetts, competing camps of music lovers are pushing different 1970s songs to be named the state’s official rock song: Aerosmith’s power ballad “Dream On” or the Modern Lovers’ ode to the Bay State, “Roadrunner.”
McNamara said he hasn’t heard of any other state having an official state appetizer and dismissed concerns that the legislation was frivolous. He said he’s hopeful his calamari bill will pass, and said it could be just the beginning.
“As any gourmet would recognize, you always start with the appetizer,” he said. “Who knows? We might go on to entrees next year.”