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Culture, Shopping & Recreation

American Cuisine

Food has a special place in the hearts of the American population. It is at the center of many holiday traditions, a popular means of socializing, and ultimately also a reflection of past and present demographics and cultural influences.

As harsh as it might sound, American cuisine has never attained the status of worldwide renown that, for example, French or Japanese cuisine have. It seems to be a popular misconception, perhaps further fortified by American popular culture, that hamburgers and hot dogs utterly dominate the taste buds of the nation. This is made all the weirder by the fact that the foods that are lampooned as stereotypically American have long conquered the snack markets around the world.

Still, let us state the obvious: the cuisine of the US has a lot more to offer.

Regional Specialties

Depending on where your expat adventure in the US takes you, you will get to enjoy a wide range of different regional specialties. Many of these are obviously heavily influenced by the cultures the various immigrant groups brought with them when they first settled there, adapted to include locally available ingredients. Others were original creations. But all of them are what today can collectively be called American cuisine.

In the Northeast, you will experience an abundance of seafood dishes, particularly in New England, where lobster and clams reign supreme. Any expat in the area should try some clam chowder, which comes in a wealth of regional varieties.

The further south you go, the richer and heavier the local specialties get. Pork and chicken are integral parts of many dishes, as are corn, peas, and rice. Barbecues and fried chicken in endless variations are wildly popular.

In Louisiana, Cajun and Creole cuisines are the traditional dishes – prepare for lots of spicy sauces and seafood. If you have the chance, you should definitely try some gumbo, an okra-based dish that offers limitless opportunities for the chef to get creative.

The Midwest is mostly known as the breadbasket of the nation, for its seemingly endless corn, soy, and wheat fields. The cuisine reflects that to a degree: many recipes from the region focus on locally available goods and meats, making for hearty, simple dishes.

Moving west and south, Mexican influences to the local cuisine become more and more apparent. Beef, beans, and rice are some of the main ingredients. In California, the widely available avocado is another staple food found in many dishes. 

Traditional American Dishes and Snacks

We can probably forego a lengthy discussion about hot dogs and hamburgers. Variations of these snacks are known around the globe, and virtually every region, if not city, in the US will have their own specialty or twist to it. However, burgers in particular have become a type of cuisine for themselves, and you should definitely indulge in a few gourmet burgers during your time in the US, your dietary choices permitting.

The turkey is a large bird native to the Americas, and as such it has been linked to the history of the US since the times of the first settlers. The traditional Thanksgiving turkey dinner is supposed to resemble the meal the settlers shared with the natives after the first harvest. Today, the popularity of turkey is huge, but it is still mostly regarded as a traditional holiday dish. So you might have somewhat of a hard time finding some at all hours of the day, regardless of the season. This, of course, is something that will not happen with pork, beef, or chicken. If you are invited to partake in a Thanksgiving dinner, you should accept – there is no better way to experience traditional American cuisine! 

Apple pie, not unlike some of the dishes listed above, is obviously far from an American invention. The matrimony of dough and apples predates the discovery of the New World by quite a bit, and the fact that apples had to be brought to America in much the same way tomatoes were brought to Europe further drives this point home. However, apple pie rose to hitherto unknown heights of popularity throughout the young country, to the point that it can now be considered the national dessert of the US. If you have the chance, and chances are you will, have a slice.

‘Ethnic’ Food

If there is one fact about the USA that bears repeating over and over again, the United States as the prototypical immigrant country is home to a highly diverse population with backgrounds in all corners of the globe. Thus, your palate can look forward to being treated to virtually all flavors and tastes of the world.

While there is no lack of authentic ‘ethnic’ food prepared in much the same way as in the respective countries of origin, many of the most popular cuisines in the US have been modified and Americanized, either to meet the tastes of the general public, to reflect and include locally available ingredients, or both. The three cuisines formerly regarded as “ethnic” which have long become absolute staples of American food are Italian, Mexican, and Chinese (more specifically Cantonese).

Pizza and pasta in particular are absolute standards of the typical American diet, and both are readily available both in their prepared form (i.e. from deliveries, restaurants, or diners) and as convenience foods, ranging from frozen pizza and lasagna to mac and cheese and SpaghettiOs. Tacos, burritos, and quesadillas are favorite takeaway snacks in practically every larger conurbation.

Finally, the paper takeaway boxes in which ‘Chinese’ food is typically served are ubiquitous throughout the US. The dishes, however, are again notably different from the original dishes they originate from – deep fried meats are the norm, and many staple ingredients of American Chinese cuisine are rarely, if ever, used in mainland China.

Of course, as is often the case with the cuisine of immigrants, many recipes took on a life of their own, changing and evolving not only over time, but also in different forms across the country. A pizza you order in Chicago will be notably different from one you might be served in New York, and different yet again from Californian varieties. Some might argue that the only thing some of these Americanized dishes have in common with their Italian counterparts is the name. Upon your first contact with deep-dish pizza, you might come to the conclusion that the naysayers have a point here.

 

We do our best to keep this article up to date. However, we cannot guarantee that the information provided is always current or complete. 

InterNations Expat Magazine