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What's American food anyway?

I'm an English teacher for a study abroad program and am having a hard time convincing my students from Asia, Europe, and Latin America that McDonald's is not representative of food in the United States. However, I'm having a difficult time defining what sorts of dishes actually qualify as American. Certainly regional specialities are important, but I'm specifically looking for time-tested dishes that cut across cultures and states. Ultimately, I'd like to compile a "things you must try in America" list for my students (with an addendum for California foods, of course!)

Rather than rely on internet sites and cookbooks that were compiled by individuals -- often years ago --, I thought I'd put the question to the Chowhounds:

What's American food?

I'll start discussion with....macaroni and cheese.

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  1. Real barbecue. Bagels. Hamburgers. Hot dogs. Lobster rolls. Baked beans and brown bread. Grits. Spam. Soul food taken as a cuisine.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Professor Salt

      And, to be clear, barbecue means marinated, smoked meat cooked long and slow, as opposed to meat that is just grilled on an open flame.


    2. Apple pie, turkey and dressing, fried chicken, country ham, chuck roast with veggies, chicken fried steak, crab cakes, meat loaf and mashed potatoes.

      This is hard, because so much food is regional. And that is American. We are a mixture of peoples that cross cultural lines.

      1. Buffalo chicken wings, steak and baked potato, celery sticks and bleu cheese dressing, banana pudding, strawberry shortcake, milk shakes, _homemade_ hamburgers, potato chips.

        1. Corn on the cob. Fruit cobbler. Sundaes and sodas and floats. Biscuits and muffins. Pancakes, waffles, and french toast. Hash browns (almost interchangeable with Swiss rosti). Corn bread.

          And that most American dish of all - chili con carne. Served with corn chips in one form or another, or garlic toast.

          1. I live part of the year in Europe and I spend a lot of time dreaming about American food...

            ...like being back in LA or NYC and have really good and authentic chinese, regional chinese, regional mexican, salvadorian, cuban and dominican, thai, vietnamese, korean, japanese, persian, indian and armenian food, all within a mile proximity to each other.

            that is truly american. i've found no other place that can provide that degree of authentic variety.

            i don't know how many times i've had to listen to europeans give me lectures on how food in the states is terrible. i just smile because i know that i eat better in NYC and in LA than in any other place in the world.

            1. I know you said you didn't want to rely on cookbooks, but I would highly recommend reading through "It's All American Food" by David Rosengarten. It was published about 3 years ago and he does an excellent job of covering today's American food.

              He divides the book into 3 sections: Ethnic America (18 chapters including Italian, Cuban, Chinese, Moroccan, etc), Regional America (includes California...), Classic America (chapters are organized by course) - this chapter does include mac and cheese.

              27 Replies
              1. re: akp

                To answer your question, however, these are some All-American favorites:

                *Wild Rice and Wild Rice Soup (I'm originally from MN)
                *Thanksgiving Feast: Turkey, Stuffing, Cranberries, Succotash
                *Eggs Benedict
                *Fried Chicken
                *Clam Chowder
                *Chicago Hot Dogs
                *Soft Shell Crabs
                *Biscuits and Gravy
                *Pulled Pork
                *BBQ Ribs
                *Patty Melts
                *Meatloaf with mashed potatoes
                *Tex-Mex food

                1. re: akp

                  That's an excellent list, though I'd hesitate to call grits, biscuits and gravy, or Tex-Mex all-American, since in much of the country they're as foreign as cassoulet.

                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                    I disagree. I've had fantastic grits in Boston, biscuits and gravy in Florida and Tex-Mex every place I've lived. So far that includes 7 places from coast to coast, north and south.

                    I think that was the case 30 years ago, but is much less of an issue now because people travel and move so often. The biggest differences now are the name changes (i.e. 'frappe' in Boston is 'milk shake' everywhere else)

                    1. re: krissywats

                      You can find a place that serves grits or biscuits and gravy most anywhere, but it's not a standard menu item outside the south.

                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                        My father taught me about biscuits and gravy and he's from Montana (grew up in the 40s) and it was a staple in their household (my grandparents were from Iowa and Canada).

                        You're just dead wrong - they are a standard menu item all over the country whereas cassoulet, not so much.

                        1. re: krissywats

                          Here in Northern California, outside of soul-food and southern places, I've seen biscuits and gravy on menus maybe three times.

                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                            I guess you don't ever eat at the chain dinners like Coco's & Carrow's?

                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                              That's because you don't eat at Denny's


                              They serve grits too ... and oddly enough for NoCAL, no chicken apple sausage. Guess that's too regional.

                              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                Most good breakfast places have biscuits and gravy on the menu. I am in the San Francisco/Bay Area and can think of four places just in Concord, one in Pleasant Hill and I think the Egg shop in Montclair has them sometimes. It is a breakfast standard.

                                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                  I've lived in WA and CA most of my life and I didn't start seeing biscuits and gravy until a few years ago. Never even heard of it before that. They seemed to be something a place used when they wanted to jazz up the breakfast menu with a southern specialty.

                                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                    I'd agree with that. I grew up in NY/NJ and had never heard of biscuits and gravy till I went to college and dated someone from Illinois.

                                    1. re: Kagey

                                      Last time I was in Manhattan... I had biscuits & gravy at a random diner around Broadway & 29th.

                                      1. re: Kagey

                                        I love biscuits and gravy but growing up in NYC i have to say i never saw them. I first had them in college in DC.

                                      2. re: Robert Lauriston

                                        (to krissywats) you say hes fome canada? because i am from canada and i've been to the northern states too, and i've never seen biscuits and gravy on a menu

                                      3. re: krissywats

                                        Krissy, where are you from? Biscuits & gravy are NOT a standard menu item in New England. You can find them, but not at too many places.

                                        1. re: JaneRI

                                          I currently live in NYC. Before here it was Boston, San Francisco, Chicago, Florida, Kentucky, Indiana (Grew up in Florida)

                                          It's funny you say that about New England: last year in Fitchburg, MA my husband and I were at a hotel that had a buffet with biscuits and gravy. I've also had them in Bennington, VT. These aren't things I was searching out - they just happened to be where I was (which is either an insane coincidence or is the definition of 'staple').

                                          I've also noticed that grits have become sort of a fancied up 'gourmet' item outside of the South: grits loaded with cheese and tiny shrimp and mushrooms...things like that.

                                          Again, I think a lot of cuisines in this country are becoming less regional and known all over (and readily available) because we are so mobile. Certainly not as rare as cassoulet as was mentioned.

                                          1. re: krissywats

                                            You mentioned two places where you had them in New England.....that doesn't qualify as a menu standard. I'm still in New England and I can assure you it was quite a coincidence that you had them at both places.

                                            1. re: JaneRI

                                              Glad you're still there. I'm in New England twice a year at least and live in NYC (which ain't so far) and my husband's entire family lives in NE. My point was that it's not RARE as was mentioned. If I 'stumble' upon two places that serve a dish in the last two years and consumed it when I lived there three years ago, not in the same area but in the same region, it can certainly not be considered rare. Does not mean that every restaurant will have it, but it does mean that it's not hard to find.

                                              1. re: krissywats

                                                You can find grits or biscuits and gravy pretty much anywhere if you're looking for them, but in some parts of the country it's easy to eat out regularly without coming across either.

                                                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                  Ok, I'll say it one more time: the experiences I mentioned above - I was NOT looking for them. I was out and they 'happened' to be on the menu. Last year I went on a theater tour from NY to Wisconsin, Michigan, Iowa, Kansas, Texas, and other areas. We constantly ate at diners and smalltown places. There were grits and biscuits and gravy all over the country. I wasn't looking for them. Dead horse beaten.

                                                  The ONLY thing I saw in one area that I saw nowhere else were Pasties in the UP of Michigan.

                                                  1. re: krissywats

                                                    Bet you won't find scrapple outside of a very limited area.

                                          1. re: RiJaAr

                                            A sort of cornmeal mush and pork sausage loaf, sliced and fried.

                                          1. re: JasmineG

                                            I hear ya: when traveling outside the south, the best breakfasts (grits, eggs, good hot patty sausage) are always in the ghetto, IMHO. Nothing like a stick-to-your-ribs $1.99 egg-biscuit-grits-sausage special...

                                            1. re: Hungry Celeste

                                              Not to mention that most uppity city restaurants won't make you dippy eggs for your toast anymore!!

                                      4. re: Robert Lauriston

                                        Regional foods certainly qualify as American.

                                  2. Clam chowder and in fact all the chowders. (Jasper White has a great chowder cookbook.) And, since there are regional differences in this food, New England, Manhattan, and the clear Narragansett Indian version in Rhode Island, this is also a good example of how American food has regional differences.

                                    I also think of the food that are the mainstay of small town socials, fundraisers and suppers. (Pancake breakfasts, ham and bean suppers, fish frys and pot lucks. So many of these are all American foods.

                                    1. Much like Italy, American cuisine should be broken down by location/geography

                                      For instance, in the South there is barbeque and southern soul food, grits, fried chicken, etc.
                                      In the southwest, there is chili.
                                      In the West you have California cuisine, simple grilled fish with locally fruit.
                                      In the Northeast you have chowders, NY pizza, bagels, clam bakes, buffalo wings.

                                      I'm missing a lot, but the general idea is that what people consider American food varies for the most part by where they grew up.

                                      1. It is true that American food varies by geographical region. I would also add that it also important to emphasize that "American" food also differs by ethnic background.

                                        I am American and so are most of my family members. Most of my cousins were born and raised in the US. My parents and aunts and uncles have lived in the US for more than 20 years. We are Americans but also ethnically Chinese. We did not grow up eating pancakes and apple pies or having turkeys on Thanksgiving. On the other hand, over time, much of Chinese food we prepare at home had ceased to resemble the very traditional Chinese/Taiwanese dishes of my grandparents.

                                        This is what is unique about American food. American food is ethnic food, as well, and not just hamburgers and hot dogs. The US, unlike many other countries, has had the privilege of a long and varied history of foreign immigration. This diversity is reflected in our food as well.

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: mielimato

                                          Of course. The people came and brought the food and after a little while the people and the food got changed and absorbed into American.

                                        2. Bar food: Onion rings, potato skins, steak salad.

                                          Many items made with corn like creamed corn, succotash, corn chowder, and corn bread.

                                          1. Two Chicago specialties that have Italian derivations, but were developed regionally and are probably not to be found in Europe in anything like their Chicago versions:

                                            Chicago deep-dish pizza
                                            Italian beef sandwich

                                            Also, has anyone mentioned Philadelphia cheese-steaks? I know Europeans must have something like it somewhere, but the necessary ingredient of cheese-whiz is sure to make it uniquely American.

                                            2 Replies
                                            1. re: jbw

                                              I don't think Italian beef sandwiches are nationally known and appreciated the way deep-dish pizza is. I've only heard of the dish from ex-Chicagoans complaining on the San Francisco board that they can't find them here.

                                              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                Tell them to come to SoCal where Portillos opened their first CA branch.

                                            2. PB&J - most non-Americans hate it at first.
                                              When I first came to the US as a college student, every family I visited seemed to cook all kinds of casseroles (most involved Cambell's cream of mushroom soup methink) - something I'd never had before.

                                              There are a lot of discussions on the Homecooking board on various country themed dinners. If I were having a US-themed party outside of US, my menu would include pizza, hot dogs and choc chip cookies for dessert (big wow for the first-time eaters) accompanied by root beer (for the most adventureous of the guests).

                                              8 Replies
                                              1. re: welle

                                                In the midwest, casseroles are collectively called "hot dish" and in New England, covered dish. Campbell's cream of mushroom soup is the staple, except for people who can't stand mushrooms. They use cream of celery.

                                                1. re: Loren3

                                                  The recipes I have for hotdish (one word, at least when I've seen it written) just call for what we affectionately know as "cream of whatever" soup -- celery, mushroom, chicken, whatever.

                                                  1. re: Loren3

                                                    I spent the first 25 years of my life in Connecticut, Massachusetts and Maine and have never heard casseroles referred to as "covered dish".

                                                    1. re: rworange

                                                      Same here - I always thought of both hot dish and covered dish as midwestern phrases. We just say casserole.

                                                      1. re: JaneRI

                                                        I've certainly seen references in New England to a "covered dish supper" but never outside of that reference.

                                                  2. re: welle

                                                    I used to make peanut butter and jelly and fluffernutters and bring them to work for a snack with tea at my job in London. It took a minute to talk my coworkers into trying it, but once they did they loved it, and it was always such a treat when I brought them in. It got to the point that i'd have to bring in 10 sandwiches cut into 1/4ths so that everyone could have a piece or two with tea.

                                                    1. re: welle

                                                      I have to agree with this idea. My daughter spent 2 months in southern Germany, and before she came home,they (she and her 3 friends) wanted to make a American dinner for their sponsors. BBQ was out of the question as it was impossible to find the hardware involved. They did have a small grill, so they decided to do steaks and burgers will all the usual sides for the 2 sponsor families. The meat was easy but they had a hard time fining proper burger buns. After numerous phone calls back and form from Bavaria, I gave them a recipe and the confidence to try to bake their own buns. The dinner was as a success and they loved the NYC cheesecake.

                                                      More American foods,
                                                      sugar cookies
                                                      2 layer yellow diner cakes
                                                      Boston cream pie
                                                      corn cakes
                                                      clam bake

                                                    2. There's a pretty good article on Wikipedia about this topic:

                                                      Personally, when I generally think of American food, I think of meat and potatoes. Meatloaf and mashed potatoes, steak and a baked potato, burger and fries, etc. And when I think about California cuisine in particular, I think of fresh, seasonal ingredients, especially organic produce. I think of fusing Asian flavors with what California produces. So dishes involving very fresh fish and vegetables come to mind.

                                                      However, I agree with others that the diversity of available cuisine is what really makes it American. When I lived in New York, I would eat a lot of bagels, pizza, and Chinese food. None of these foods are originally American, but they are American to me. Now that I live in L.A., I eat a lot of sushi and Mexican (and of course, California cuisine). Sushi and Mexican ARE the local foods here. And we do a local take on them--a lot of Mexican flavors are Americanized, and of course the California roll is the American take on sushi. So I would suggest that the essence of American food is integrating and Americanizing foods from around the world.

                                                      1. The way people actually eat, leaving out ethnic food ... because pizza, Italian, Chinese, Mexican is pretty much a part of the weekly American diet ...

                                                        Breakfast: Eggs (scrambled, fried, poached, etc), ham, sausage, bacon, breakfast potatoes, toast with jelly, omeletes, scrambles, pancakes,French toast, waffles, cold cereals (Tony the tiger's friends) hot cereals like Quaker oatmeal, granola, breakfast pasteries ... scones, muffins, Danish, bagels. Good coffee. Juice, usually orange. Cottage cheese, yogurt.

                                                        Lunch: Sandwiches, salads, soups, burgers, fries, onion rings. Sandwiches usually not fancy ... as the menus say ... choice of bread, lettuce, tomato, meat, mustard, mayo. Or a mayo-based filling like tuna or chicken salad. The club sandwich is American classic as is the BLT.The salads are usually on a bed of lettuce with various veggie and meat toppings. Grilled chicken is very popular. Fruit smoothies which really have replaced shakes in the American diet. How many people buy shakes these days? When are the fast food joints going to catch on to that? Probably top soups are chicken (noodle or rice), tomato, clam chowder, split pea, veggie). Stew too, especially beef stew.

                                                        Dinner: Steak and potatoes, fried chicken, casseroles (tuna, mac & cheese, and, help us, hamburger helper), fried fish, broiled fish (either some sort of white fish fillet or salmon), chops roasts. Preps other than cassaroles are pretty straight foward broiled, grilled, fried, baked. If there is anything it is a garnish like fried onions or sometimes of salsa (but that is another culture creeping in). Frozen entrees/dinners and pot pies (Swansons, Stouffer, Lean Cuisine, etc).

                                                        Veggies/sides: Potatoes (baked, mashed, scalloped, fried, salad), cole slaw, macaroni salad, green beans, peas, corn (nibletts or on the cob), spinach, rice, green dinner salad (lettuce, tomato, cucumber mainly ... sometimes sprouts, pepper, mushrooms, onion, olives), asparagus.

                                                        Desserts: Watermelon and other fresh fruit, ice cream, cookies, cakes (chocolate, carrot), pies, crisps, brownies.

                                                        Snacks: Popcorn, chips, pretzels, nuts, fruits (apples, pears, bananas, plums, peaches, or other seasonal fruit), chocolate bars and other candy (Herseys, Reeses peanut butter cups), Altoids, lifesavers, chewing gum.

                                                        The thing that most non-American friends find unique are peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and the American Thanksgiving meal with turkey, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie rating high on the yuck-o-meter.

                                                        Like it or not, if you want an example of American food ... have them read Denny's menu.

                                                        Or buy the Betty Crocker or Cambpell's cookbooks as text books. Leaving out the trend of the moment when the book was published, that's how Americans eat.

                                                        1 Reply
                                                        1. re: rworange

                                                          As an american those are generally the things i find high on the yuck o meter as well.

                                                          Anyways i grew up in NYC of recent european immigration so most traditional American food is alien to me as well. Home cooking to me were traditional Balkan(Greek/Albanian and Eastern European Jewish foods. When i ate out it would be Americanized Chinese(later regionalized as i grew more aware), pizza, bagels. American food to me was Greek diner food. I hated being dragged to those places as a kid and still only like them for breakfast now. Goijng over to friends houses i was usually served Korean, Jamaican, Indian, Japanese, etc.

                                                          The cuisine of middle america, casserols and the like was very much foreign to me. I didnt try it until i was quite a bit older.

                                                          So you cant really narrow down what is "American Cuisine". The fact is with a country this large, homecooking is so vastly different across the country.

                                                          That said having lived and traveled abroad, the thing that i would say is uniquely American is breakfast. Each cultrue has a different variation on what is breakfast and this is what i missed about america(not to say that i didnt enjoy the various breakfasts around the world. Two eggs over easy, bacon and has browns is america to me. That and a hamburger.

                                                        2. The one thing a lot of Asians can't fathom is why Americans would eat an enormous plate of raw vegetables (salad). Or a plate of raw vegetable sticks dipped in a cold sauce (ranch).

                                                          I'm serious. To the less cosmopolitan Asians, the idea of consuming so much vegetal matter without cooking it first is as foreign as eating raw fish is to those of us who don't have exposure to East Asian cuisine.

                                                          1 Reply
                                                          1. re: Pei

                                                            I dont think salads are uniquely american, europeans eat plenty of them as well. I have to admit i do find the sticks and ranch to be wierd though.

                                                          2. Whatever is on a Denny's menu.

                                                            That probably covers 90% of it.

                                                            1. American food is all the things above...but their degree of Americaness will increase over time. Just like 99.99% of Americans consider real Barbecue & Chili to be All-American dishes instead of Mexican foreign influences.... give things like Pad Thai, Mole & Ceviche a few decades and they will just become another part of the American repertoire (with local adjustments of course.... Barbecue is not Barbacoa or Pibil... and Chile is no longer Chile Colorado).

                                                              In terms of Europeans being smug about the Americaness of the culinary repertoire here in the U.S.... they don't have a leg to stand... for the most part European food was absolutely nothing prior to 1600's... Italian & Spanish cuisine developed substantially in the late 1500's & 1600's as a result of the porting of MesoAmerican cooking techniques & ingredients back to Europe... as well as the global fusioning that flourished in the 1600's with all the new trade routes... the brought the ingredients of Asia, Europe & the Americas to people all over the world. French cuisine didn't develop until late in the 1600's and it was mostly driven by Italian & Spanish chefs that were imported as France become the culturally dominant European power.... the rest of Europe more or less followed much later.

                                                              Before all the the exchange of ideas... the people of Europe were mostly boiling meats & vegetables to death & producing bad wines. Some would say... that this is still a reality in some of the less globablized towns throughout Northern & Central Europe & England.

                                                              31 Replies
                                                              1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                                                Sophisticated cooking in Europe dates back to the Romans and before. Consider the origin of the word "epicure."

                                                                Poor people often ate badly, as did the British during the WWII and postwar period when rationing was in effect.

                                                                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                  Would you consider having hard italian bread dipped in mediocre wine for breakfast... as sophisticated cooking?

                                                                  1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                                                    Might not call it sophisticated - but if I can get away with that for breakfast I'm happy. I absolutely love to dip hard bread in red wine and munch happily away. But it's not American food.

                                                                  2. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                    "Poor people often ate badly"


                                                                    The vast majority of people often ate badly.

                                                                    The epicurean tradition of Antiquity did not descend fully thereafter.

                                                                    The norm being some sort of porridge (either made directly with grains like rye, oats or barley, and later maize, or with stale bread -- bread was therefore much more important stale than fresh) and ale. Supplemented with mostly cured or dried pieces of flesh. (The image of alebread in Babette's Feast is a good illustration of this.) And that was when there was no famine.

                                                                    Many of the varieties of currently popular vegetables did not exist until the early modern era.

                                                                    The advent of the potato was a tremendous relief from this nearly universal base diet, not just in Ireland but in many other parts of Europe.

                                                                    1. re: Karl S

                                                                      Diets varied widely. In some places, barring famines, peasants ate well.

                                                                      There are many regional peasant dishes around Europe with histories going back hundreds or thousands of years. It's a rich and complicated history.

                                                                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                        Those peasant dishes are not what the Europeans are gloating about. Those peasant dishes are not any better than the pre-1970's American food Europeans like to diss.

                                                                        1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                                                          I suggest you read some books on food history. Petit Propos Culinaires is a good place to start if you can get your hands on a set.

                                                                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                            Here you go...an example of your sophisticated Roman cuisine of antiquity:

                                                                            IN VITULINAM ELIXAM (Boiled Veal)

                                                                            (Apic. 8, 5, 3)

                                                                            800g - 1kg veal
                                                                            pepper, Liebstoeckl, cumin, celery seeds to taste
                                                                            2 tblsp honey
                                                                            2 tblsp vinegar
                                                                            100ml oil
                                                                            100ml Liquamen (or 100ml white wine + 1 tsp salt)
                                                                            a little bit of cornstarch


                                                                            Cook the veal for about 1 1/2 hour until well done. Mix together honey, vinegar, oil, ligamen and spices in an extra pan. Boil the sauce only
                                                                            shortly and thicken it with cornstarch. Then poursauce over the veal and let boil on low heat for another 10 minutes. Serve.

                                                                            1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                                                              How is CORNSTARCH listed in an "ancient roman recipe"? Umm...corn/maize is a New World food crop unknown in the Old World (thus ancient Rome) prior to 1492. Furthermore, cornstarch is a fairly industrial corn by-product, with the first patent for starch extraction granted in the US in 1842 or so.

                                                                              Is there any subject more poorly understood than food history?

                                                                              1. re: Hungry Celeste

                                                                                That's a modern elaboration and adaptation of a recipe from Apicius. There's a lot of guesswork involved since, well, here's an unelaborated translation:

                                                                                "Fricassée of Veal: Crush pepper, lovage, caraway, celery seed, moisten with honey, vinegar, broth and oil; heat, bind with roux [i.e., thicken with wheat flour], and cover the meat."


                                                                            2. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                              From a website promoting French tourism:

                                                                              "Good eating habits are a relatively new experience for French people as little as 200 years ago about 80% of the population consisted of farmers who ate mainly bread and cereals. This way of eating had been popular in the country since ancient times. The situation started to change in the middle of the nineteenth century with the rise of the aristocracy, when food became a symbol of social position."


                                                                              Good food is a relatively new thing for most of Europe...in fact food is still pretty bad in most of Europe.... unless you like things like Fish cooked in Lye... & fried potatoes with almost every dish.

                                                                              1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                                                                I only lived in Europe for three years. Maybe that wasn't long enough to find this bad food you're talking about.

                                                                                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                  Lets start with the typical food Parisians eat everyday... Roast Chicken with French Fries, Broiled Meat with French Fries for dinner.... a Ham & Cheese cheese baguette with French Fries for dinner... a Croissant for breakfast..... every few weeks a tiny bit of a Green Salad.

                                                                                  How about now we skip forward to the weekend and have Chopped Liver (I will not dignify it with the name Foie Gras because the Parisian version was typically very rough in texture)... another hunk of meat with french fries... some Chicken bath in a cream or butter.

                                                                                  Big freaking deal.... Grandmas in the Midwest can cook like that.

                                                                                  1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                                                                    wee wee my frend - but in Paree the ham and swiss has a special name and they charge you 12 to 15 euros and the waiter has an attitude. You don't get all that in Chicago. non non

                                                                                    1. re: yayadave

                                                                                      Yeah... I guess you could serve Dog Shit... but give it a cute French name and someone is bound to think its the epitome of sophistication.

                                                                                      1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                                                                        Yeah... I guess you could serve water in plastic bottles... but give it a cute French name and someone is bound to think its the epitome of sophistication.

                                                                                      2. re: yayadave

                                                                                        They dont over charge you in Chicago? Really? Come on now.

                                                                                        The thing is in France, you can go to most any store and get really good ham, and fantastic cheese, while in most places in America you can go to a Subway.

                                                                                      3. re: Eat_Nopal

                                                                                        The French people I've stayed with didn't eat like that.

                                                                                      4. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                        I lived in Europe for two years and frequently ate at inexpensive little cafes and lunch counters. Germany, France, Switzerland, Spain, Scandanavia -- with few exceptions the food was very good.

                                                                                      5. re: Eat_Nopal

                                                                                        You really seem to have it in for European cuisine for soem reason. I have extensively traveled in Euope and have foudn that it is alot easier to find decent to fantastic food all over the continent than it is in the US despite any language barriers i was faced with.. While it obviously varies country to country I generally found that people appreciated food more over there.

                                                                                        As for France which you truly seem to have it out for, no matter what small town i visited, i was always able to find wonderful cheeses, cured meats and bread. The likes of which you would have to get from a gourment store in a large city here in the US. Finding a decent loaf of bread is an easy thing to do pretty much throughout the whole country, while in America it is a grueling chore. Also while you needlessly bash foie gras, as a liver lover i was only too happy to be able to eat liver freely, wherever i went. I happen to respect countries that have organ meats readily available. While you bash Europe, they produce better food in for the general population to consume than here in the US.

                                                                                        As for your argument that good food in Europe is only relatively new, the same can be said for the United States. Who were the first immigrants whose culinary traditions became American cuisine? It was a bunch of religous extremists from a country with a poor food history. So while both continents used to have it bad it was the Europeans whose contributions to world cuisine were the more perminant and lasting.

                                                                                        1. re: MVNYC

                                                                                          Many delicious foods in Europe have traditions dating back many centuries. There's enough history there to fill hundreds of books.

                                                                                          1. re: MVNYC

                                                                                            Nope... I actually like French cuisine.... mostly Southern French.... and some Northern too (I rarely have an Apple without Bleu Cheese). I can certainly talk about all the good food I have had in Europe.

                                                                                            But over all I found a lot of people in Europe eating a lot of bad food....at least to my way of eating. I typically consume 10 servings of Fruits, Vegetables & Legumes a day and in Europe that seemed almost impossible at the Cafes, virtually impossible at the nice restaurants... and as far as I can tell the locals had a limited selection of produce to choose from.

                                                                                            I approach the American & European offerings with fairness & balance.... I think a lot of you are just focusing on the good stuff you have eaten in Europe and suprissing all the inedible food that is served around the continent. While at the same time you are just focusing on all the mediocre food (and there is lots of it here in the U.S.) and ignoring some of the better representations.... and maybe I just don't know reality because the only U.S. state I have lived in is California.... and typically only go to tried & true places when I travel.

                                                                                            Finally.... okay France has good bread & ham... but wtf do I care... I rarely eat white bread or ham... how about finding the things that we Californians value? Like fresh produce year round & ethnic ingredients?

                                                                                            1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                                                                              The French and Italians eat a lot of vegetables at home. You can get some indication of that if you go to the neighborhood open markets.

                                                                                              In many small towns there's often less selection of produce than you might be used to in the U.S. since it's mostly whatever's in season locally. Though in Paris and other big cities you may find things from all over the world, e.g. in January they'll bring in baby green beans from Africa.

                                                                                              I'm not sure I've ever been to a restaurant in France or Italy where the menu didn't include salads, cold marinated vegetables, vegetable soups, and/or vegetable sides. Again it's often a limited selection of what's in season. In season virtually every restaurant in Paris has marinated asparagus or leeks, every restaurant in Rome has tomato and mozzarella salad.

                                                                                              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                Italy definitely had simple salads with every meal...and Minestrone Verde in many places. But Novemeber if Paris? There were many restaurants where the only vegetable or fruit served was a tiny garnish.

                                                                                                1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                                                                                  There are lots of vegegable dishes on Paris menus at all times of year. I don't know how you could miss such fall dishes as poireaux vinaigrette, asiette de crudite, salade aux lardons, and various vegetable cremes / soupes / potages.

                                                                                              2. re: Eat_Nopal

                                                                                                WTF do you care? Nice. For me a good "white bread" is one of the greatest things on earth. there are few things on earth that compair to a a freshly baked baguette with some real French butter or olive oil. Maybe im not in touch with current diet fads but i dont care. I am not fat and i do not obsess over things like what type of flour is used in making my bread.

                                                                                                As Robert has said, in France their vegetables vary by season. So unlike the bounty that is California you cannot get the same variety year round. The French climate prohibits this. And you can find ethnic ingredients in major cities in France, just like you can in the US.

                                                                                                The biggest problem i have is the lack of specialization in most areas of america. Having moved to SD 2 years ago i cannot tell you how frustrating it is to have to do most of my shopping at a supermarket. While i am very pleased with the produce, it is virtually impossible to find a butcher, fish monger or bakery around here. However in Europe these places abound.

                                                                                2. re: Eat_Nopal

                                                                                  I think it is also important to make a distinction between what has been traditionally eaten in Europe and what is being widely eaten in contemporary Europe.

                                                                                  To be sure, traditional French, Italian and Spanish cuisine have a rich history. But European diets have changed over time and the types of foods that is commonly eaten by the young in Europe is pretty much the same as what is eaten by most American children today.

                                                                                  How many time have I seen European children sitting down to chicken nuggets with ketchup or a plate of fried potatoes with a glop of mayo or hamburgers without lettuce or tomato.

                                                                                  The obesity rate among children in Europe is as bad as it is in the US.

                                                                                  Sometimes, Americans like to have these quaint visions of Europeans shopping at their local farmers' markets for the freshest produce. Many do and probably more do in Europe than in the US. But McDonalds is as much a part of contemporary French diet as anything out of a Julia Child's cookbook.

                                                                                  1. re: mielimato

                                                                                    The obesity rates in France are nowhere near as bad as in the US in any age group.

                                                                                    It has been rising and in TV5 news stories about the subject they usually say somthing like "if this trend continues, in 20 years we will be as fat as Americans." And then they'll have some stock footage of 300-pound people waddling around a mall in the Midwest.

                                                                                    1. re: mielimato

                                                                                      Yes people eat McDonalds in Europe, its food is engineered to be addictive. However like you said it is alot easier to find a butcher shop, a fish monger, etc.. than it is in the US., This has nothing to do with quaint visons. I would say per capita more people care about the quality of what they eat over there than they do in America.

                                                                                    1. re: yayadave

                                                                                      Good point. Then let's not forget chocolate chip cookies, too!

                                                                                      1. re: Nicole

                                                                                        I absolutly never forget about chocolate chip cookies!!

                                                                                      2. re: yayadave

                                                                                        ...and large over-sized muffins, not the dainty, little madelaines they have in Europe. I miss that with my large American coffee in the morning.

                                                                                        I enjoy small shots of concentrated espresso once in a while. But, man, I miss having a large cup of good old American coffee to slowly sip on in the morning.

                                                                                      3. Don't forget to tell your students about Alice Waters and the organic/local grown/simple & delicious dishes movement... she may not represent all of American food, but she represents a sort of cuisine that was born in California (as far as I can tell) and is something for all of us to be proud of.

                                                                                        11 Replies
                                                                                        1. re: amandine

                                                                                          I don't think you want to say Alice Waters invented locally grown ingredients in simple and delicious dishes in Italy where they all do that all the time.

                                                                                          1. re: yayadave

                                                                                            The kind of network of local farmers and ranchers that Alice Waters and her collaborators developed is old news in France and Italy, which is where they got the idea. But it was a new thing here.

                                                                                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                              Well, it's newly reborn; it's not new -- it used to exist here, too.

                                                                                              1. re: Karl S

                                                                                                Some 50 years ago, in our area in WA, there was a truck farm which sold their produce out of a big shed on the farm. Folks from town used to drive out and patronize the place. It was very popular - kind of a proto farmers' market.

                                                                                              2. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                It was not a new thing here. Jeez. Only in the postwar frozen food era did the idea of locally grown & raised fresh food fall by the wayside. It's rejuvinated these days, but there are 49 states besides California where folks probably would roll their eyes at the idea Alice Waters invented Fresh local Food.

                                                                                                1. re: bbqboy

                                                                                                  Especially in the South, which has long been fabled for its the quality and variety of local produce, poultry and cured meats.

                                                                                                  Before there was Alice Waters, there was Edna Lewis.

                                                                                                  1. re: Karl S

                                                                                                    In reply to this whole section of this thread, one of the strengths of this country has been a willingness to discard the proven and embrace the next new thing; one of the weaknesses of this country has been a willingness to discard the proven and embrace the next new thing.

                                                                                                    I know it's corny, but that doesn't make it any less true.

                                                                                                  2. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                    honestly, my conception of french food and my conception of berkeley-area food are pretty different. the europeans are much more into food artistry for art's sake, and i don't really see that in her movement. so that's the aspect that i'm recognizing as new... but apparently some chowhounds that were around before WWII would beg to differ with me. i wouldn't know-- i was neither there nor am i now a food historian.

                                                                                                    1. re: amandine

                                                                                                      Wow, I have to disagree with you, particularly where the French are concerned -- I find that when eating at high-end places (which I don't do so often) in California, I'm much more likely to get the Tower of Cuisine and art for art's sake -- in France it's absolutely about the taste of the food, and nothing goes on the plate if it's not meant to be eaten.

                                                                                                      There was the "nouvelle cuisine" fad in the eighties and early nineties, when I was living in Geneva, where the idea was enormous white plates with food-as-sculpture arranged just so, with the artistic little dab of sauce for colour, but with a few exceptions that's mostly gone by the wayside.

                                                                                                      Now see what you've done, amandine, you've gone and made me agree with Robert Lauriston. :-P

                                                                                                      1. re: amandine

                                                                                                        Chez Panisse was and is inspired by the rustic regional food of France and Italy, which is about traditional recipes that make the most of local seasonal ingredients, not about the creativity of the chef.

                                                                                                2. If you want to honestly represent what the average American eats, and not what the elites eat or what the average foodie considers good American food, the most quintessentially American foods are stuff like velveeta, diet coke, cheetos, hot dogs, iceberg lettuce salad (with one quarter of a tomato, shredded carrots, and ranch dressing), shoestring french fries, nachos, Dominos pizza, batter-fried chicken tenders, and chicken wings.

                                                                                                  4 Replies
                                                                                                  1. re: fenian

                                                                                                    I've lived amoung all classes of Americans ... mainly not the food savy (which is my reason for reading Chowhound to find SOME people who eat like I do) ... and in my entire life only one person I knew bought Velveeta. American cheese slices, that's another story. Look in your typical supermarket. Iceberg is no longer the primary lettuce.

                                                                                                    1. re: fenian

                                                                                                      There's 300 million of us. I don't think your portrayal is correct.
                                                                                                      You can get anything you want in America; that's the beauty of our cuisine-an Amalgam made up of food the World over.
                                                                                                      There seems to be a "Chip-on-shoulder" aspect to this thread that is sort of puzzling.

                                                                                                      1. re: bbqboy

                                                                                                        Here are the results of a study:

                                                                                                        "Among the food items, soft drinks and pastries led the list of top 10 foods contributing the most calories to the American diet. As the leader of the pack, sodas alone contributed 7.1 percent of the total calories in the U.S. population. Foods such as hamburgers, pizza and potato chips rounded out the top five food items."

                                                                                                        I don't have a chip on my shoulder at all. I recommend that these students live the High Life.


                                                                                                        1. re: fenian

                                                                                                          This study was skewed from the start. It is built into the question. "What foods contribute the most calories to the American diet?"

                                                                                                          Besides, what does this have to do with the discussion at hand?

                                                                                                    2. Not exactly food, but Iced Tea. Everyone else in the world thinks that we are absolutely nuts to drink this. I've served it to people from many different countries, and their disgust has been evident.

                                                                                                      1 Reply
                                                                                                      1. re: pikawicca

                                                                                                        Dammit, man.

                                                                                                        I thought thhey had missed it. The one true Southern staple, found nowhere else in the world I've been.

                                                                                                        Classic, sweet ice tea with lemon.


                                                                                                      2. When I went abroad to Japan the first time, I took with me this cookbook I found that I thought was a fantastic representitive of what American cuisine truly is. My mother, who is a chef, helped me find it. I know you said you didn't want to rely on cook books but this book is great: "An American Bounty." It was compiled by the Culinary Institute of America.
                                                                                                        There are salads, crab cakes, steamed mussels, salmon, soft-shell crabs, clam chowder, corn chowder, gumbo and other soups, game recipes, American style ethnic recipes, club sandwich, roast chickens, roast turkey with stuffing, casseroles, squashes, potatoes, beans, greens, among many other things. Wonderful recipes with a good emphasis on ingredients native to the US.

                                                                                                        1. Well, part of the problem with this thread is this. Are we talking about food which is eaten here, food which is available here, or food which was invented here?

                                                                                                          How does pizza fit in this thread? It's available everywhere in the whole country. It certainly has been modified outragously, maybe improved upon, almost reinvented here. So, is it American food?

                                                                                                          1. I think there are three categories here. 1) Regional foods such as clam chowder or grits. These may or may not have spread to other parts of the country. 2)Ethnic foods such as Pad Thai or pizza that have become popular all over and have probably been changed considerably. 3) Denny's or fastfood items that are the same everywhere. These may be based on regional foods, of course, so the categories are not clearcut. However, I think we know mac n' cheese and cheetos are not the same as Maryland crabcakes or San Franciscan sourdough bread. It seems to me that many people outside of this country think of fastfood and junkfood when they think American, so it might be nice to show them that the truth is much more complicated and rich.

                                                                                                            4 Replies
                                                                                                            1. re: Glencora

                                                                                                              About those regional foods. Why would we not think of crab cakes, clam chowder, and gumbo as American foods. Cassoulet, polenta, and rissoto are all regional foods, also.

                                                                                                              1. re: yayadave

                                                                                                                Okay, fine with me. I think the point is to be inclusive.

                                                                                                              2. re: Glencora

                                                                                                                The truth is what people eat day in and day out, what is carried on the common supermarket chain shelves and winds up in the baskets. People are more likely to be eating meatloaf and roast chicken rather than crabcakes. I live in the SF Bay Region and I'm not picking up a loaf of sourdough every day ... I should ... but I don't.

                                                                                                                I still go with the Denny's menu as that really isn't fast food, serves up the food that is popular to the majority of the American population with the recent trends thrown in. I'm not saying a large portion of people eat at Denny's, but they eat the type of dishes on that menu a lot.

                                                                                                                1. re: rworange

                                                                                                                  Let's don't diss meatloaf!! Come to think of it, was that imported from somewhere?

                                                                                                              3. A little Dutch, some Irish, a bit of Scandinavian, a lot of Italian, and the odd German. That's pretty much American food, right? Unless you wanna tackle Louisiana, but that could take a while!


                                                                                                                1. You could define American food as what everybody in the U.S. is familiar with (e.g. hamburgers and hot dogs), or as the whole gamut of regional specialties including things that most people would find unfamiliar (e.g. stuffed mirlitons, fiddleheads).

                                                                                                                  The original poster said, "Certainly regional specialities are important, but I'm specifically looking for time-tested dishes that cut across cultures and states."

                                                                                                                  15 Replies
                                                                                                                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                                    Well in that case, hot dogs and French Fries.


                                                                                                                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                                      Oh yeah, I see that. So does that mean we're left with hotdogs and meatloaf? I don't mean to dis meatloaf. Well, maybe I do.

                                                                                                                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                                        Yeah, but - we don't have to jump on the lowest common denominator like hamburgers and hot dogs. You don't have to live in Baltimore to eat crab cakes and you don't have to live in the rust belt to eat kielbasa or Texas to eat steak or San Francisco to eat chiopino or....

                                                                                                                        1. re: yayadave

                                                                                                                          I'm sorry, but people in Utah aren't eating crab cakes. Hot dogs, yes, crab cakes no.


                                                                                                                          1. re: TexasToast

                                                                                                                            That is just silly... so Mexicans outside of a 300 mile radius from Mexico City... don't really eat any Huitlacoche... does that mean its not a Mexican food?

                                                                                                                            1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                                                                                                              Good point. Would that mean that Szechuan food isn't "chinese food" because people outside the region don't typically have it? If the OP is looking for food that cuts across all cultures and regions, that would mean rice for chinese food? And, maybe variations of jook.

                                                                                                                              1. re: TexasToast

                                                                                                                                My point is that, based on the criteria that it transcends time, region and cultures, what we would call "chinese food" would consist only of rice. Everything else is regional, too. But, we call it all chinese food, whether it's hunan, szechuan,... So, regional food can be known as the country's food. You'd be hard pressed in any country to find foods that represent the country through time, culture, regions (and wealth). In the US, the common denominator might be chain restaurants. Applebee's anyone?

                                                                                                                                1. re: chowser

                                                                                                                                  Rice would have to be considered regional in China as well. Until recently rice was eaten in some areas, wheat, barley, legumes, etc. were/are eaten in other regions. China is a damn big country with enormous differences in evironment and the types of food eaten and produced.

                                                                                                                                  1. re: JMF

                                                                                                                                    "China is a damn big country with enormous differences in evironment and the types of food eaten and produced."

                                                                                                                                    Sounds a lot like US.

                                                                                                                                    1. re: JMF

                                                                                                                                      Wheat is still the staple in some regions. People in Peking will go to a muslim restaurant for wheat noodles and lamb much as Americans might go to an Italian restaurant for a change of pace.

                                                                                                                                  2. re: chowser

                                                                                                                                    Steamed rice would come closest to a common denominator, but there are parts of China where breads and noodles made from wheat are in the vast majority. Jook (the starchy porridge) is local only to Canton; "jook" happens to be a Cantonese pronunication of the word for rice porridge.

                                                                                                                                    Virtually all Chinese foods are regional, although some of the more popular dishes might appear elsewhere. Won't often be exactly the same though.

                                                                                                                                    1. re: limster

                                                                                                                                      Thanks--I don't know the regional history but was just trying to pull out an example of how limiting the OP is. Jook is a good use of leftover rice which they'd probably not just throw away and is hard to reheat so more ubiquitous. There's also "congee". I used "jook" because it's called at the dimsum places I go to. But many regions have it, with different names.


                                                                                                                                2. re: TexasToast

                                                                                                                                  Don't bet on it. We have Crab Cakes & Lobster Cakes in our Winco's Fish Counter. $.99 per.
                                                                                                                                  That's the beauty of America. If someone thinks they can make a profit on something, they'll take the risk and go for it.
                                                                                                                                  It's ever-changing.

                                                                                                                                  1. re: bbqboy

                                                                                                                                    You can get crabcakes almost anywhere in the U.S. They're just not very good outside the major crabbing areas, unless you don't mind paying $15 apiece for them (In fact, I think even Faidley's cakes are going for around that nowadays).

                                                                                                                                    1. re: bbqboy

                                                                                                                                      I think that that is the beauty in just about any country of the world...no?

                                                                                                                              2. American Pizza - usually over inflated, a topping/cheese heavy artery clogging fiesta, really can't be found anywhere else on the planet! Chocolate chip cookies are American, it's virtually impossible to find chocolate chips in Europe, never mind other continents.

                                                                                                                                7 Replies
                                                                                                                                1. re: Pablo

                                                                                                                                  Over inflated? It may be inflated more than the food product called pizza in Italy, but that is not over inflated. American pizza is inflated to the degree that the American customer wants it to be. And if he doesn't like it, he can go down the block to a place where the pizza is inflated a different amount.

                                                                                                                                  1. re: yayadave

                                                                                                                                    Sorry yaya, you know why there is no Domino's in Italy?? Because what we make in this country does not resemble pizza in Italy!

                                                                                                                                    1. re: Pablo

                                                                                                                                      That doesn't make it over inflated - just different.

                                                                                                                                      1. re: yayadave

                                                                                                                                        No, that's what makes it American.

                                                                                                                                        1. re: Pablo

                                                                                                                                          Pizza is also an appetizer in Italy -- you're meant to eat one little wedge, maybe two. What's your point? Not to mention that "pizza" in various parts of Italy can refer to anything from a bit of cheese and tomatoes on crispbread to something like the Provençal pissaladière, which is caramelised onions, anchovies and olives on top of thick, chewy focaccia.

                                                                                                                                          1. re: Das Ubergeek

                                                                                                                                            Where in Italy did you see Italians share a pizza as an appetizer?

                                                                                                                                            At dinner, in a pizzeria, the etiquette is for each person to get a small pizza as their own main course. In Rome, the usual first course was bruschetta.

                                                                                                                                            During the day there's also pizza rustica, cooked in large sheet pans, which you can get by the slice as a snack in a bar (what we'd call a cafe), or by weight to take out in pizza rustica places.

                                                                                                                                  2. re: Pablo

                                                                                                                                    Toll House Cookies, another American original.


                                                                                                                                  3. when my son spent his senior college year in France
                                                                                                                                    he was begging for p-nut butter
                                                                                                                                    and oreo's

                                                                                                                                    when he comes home from manhattan he wants our buddys bbq and hush puppies
                                                                                                                                    when i go there, I want everything international.......

                                                                                                                                    will we ever be happy?

                                                                                                                                    1. American food?

                                                                                                                                      * Girl Scout Cookies
                                                                                                                                      * Planters Peanuts
                                                                                                                                      * General Gao's Chicken
                                                                                                                                      * Sweet breakfast cereal advertised on Saturday Morning Cartoons
                                                                                                                                      * Snow's Clam Chowder
                                                                                                                                      * Hormel Chili
                                                                                                                                      * Dinty Moore Beef Stew
                                                                                                                                      * B&M Baked Beans
                                                                                                                                      * Wonder Bread
                                                                                                                                      * Kraft Mac & Cheese
                                                                                                                                      * Fish sticks

                                                                                                                                      1. A friend of mine has the theory that most other ethnic foods (Asian, in particular) use more spices and seasonings than "American" food (leading to numerous words in non-English languages related to particular food tastes that don't have a direct English translation), and that American food is more bland than ethnic food as a result. The Chinese, so the argument goes, wandered around their world stuffing every herb and spice they could get their hands on into their dishes, while Americans rely on salt and pepper. When I try to rebut this argument, the "American" dishes that spring to mind are hamburgers/steak/roasts of various kinds, which aren't typically accompanied by much adornment. Thoughts? Is American cuisine less sophisticated than Asian cuisine because they use fewer spices?

                                                                                                                                        Oh, and who is General Tso/Gau/Wong and why are we eating his chicken?

                                                                                                                                        3 Replies
                                                                                                                                        1. re: Devourer

                                                                                                                                          My thinking on the matter is that Europeans rely on fresh, high quality ingredients, which can stand alone. Historically, this came about due to cool temperatures, so they didn't need much spice to prevent or to mask spoilage. Much of Asia is warmer than Europe, and spoilage was a bigger problem, so their cuisines are often spice-based. Whereas Americans care not about freshness, quality ingredients, or spices, but rather enjoy life's simple pleasures: salt, sugar, and saturated fat.

                                                                                                                                          1. re: fenian

                                                                                                                                            I agree with the fresh ingredient angle... Spices have been traditionally added to foods to mask unpleasant flavors. If you have a lot of fresh food, you can eat it without much garnish to bring out the natural flavors (the macrobiotic diet really emphasizes this... cutting out salt and seasoning and eating mostly steamed vegetables and grains). However, I think it's true that there are fewer words in the English language devoted to particular tastes and was wondering why it was so. If language X has 50 words to describe flavor and language Y has 200, is the food of the former "boring" or bland?

                                                                                                                                            A steak will pretty much taste the same if you don't cover it with sauces whereas a curry dish can vary wildly in flavor (and need many more words to describe?)

                                                                                                                                          2. re: Devourer

                                                                                                                                            I definitely disagree with this. Sophistication doesn't come from using more spices... its how you use them. Typically, Americans screw up Mexican food because they are always adding way over the top spice mixes (wtf is taco seasoning)...in some parts of the U.S.... Lawry's goes on everything including hamburgers.

                                                                                                                                            The sophistication comes in not typically using dry spices directly on food.... in Mexico spices like Black Pepper, Allspice etc., are often added whole then removed rather than ground into food. My understanding of fine Chinese cuisine as prepared by their best chefs over the last 5,000 years involves alot more "essences" than direct spicing.... for example steaming over flavored liquids in bamboo baskets etc.,

                                                                                                                                            Now... I am not going to say that using too many DIFFERENT spices is unsophisticated. Some of the most sophisticated flavor development on the planet come from India's curries & Mexico's moles... where the use of 30 ingredients in a sauce is fairly common.

                                                                                                                                            1. re: Bob Mervine

                                                                                                                                              That answer wins, IMO.

                                                                                                                                              No other culture would want to claim spam. Yeah, spam with velveta on Wonder bread with Hellman's mayo. Or maybe Heinz catsup.

                                                                                                                                                1. re: rworange

                                                                                                                                                  I've always considered Spam to be the American version of rillettes.

                                                                                                                                              1. not to be cheezy, but american food is a reflection of the people that live here. you can't generalize about the people that live here, and you can't generalize about the food, it's too complicated for that.

                                                                                                                                                1. <FROM ORIGINAL POSTER>

                                                                                                                                                  Wow, what a response! Thanks for all your input and creative suggestions. I laughed out loud at the discussion of the Thanksgiving food yuck-o-meter (although I personally love all those holiday foods) and recalled my own adventures attempting to make chocolate chip cookies abroad. Oh, and having students read the Denny's menu is actually a pretty good idea...I'll give it a shot.

                                                                                                                                                  A couple notes: In asking for "time-tested dishes that cut across cultures and states," I was hoping to find a few unifying dishes that are generally unique to the States. Living in the Bay Area, I'm extremely conscious of the impact that other cultures have had on our eating habits, and delight in the availability of international food. I agree that more so than ever, our cuisine is one of diversity and choice. However, I was frustrated by some of my students' insistence that American food was purely fusion. All cuisines are influenced by their neighbors, but I think this discussion demonstrated that we have at least a few morsels -- quirky as they are -- that are quite original.

                                                                                                                                                  Bring on the PB & J!

                                                                                                                                                  1. True barbecue is as american as you can get.

                                                                                                                                                    also, the deep south has what is called "soul food" which has some southern cooking fused with the african slave influx... examples like corn grits with fried chicken and collard greens come to mind

                                                                                                                                                    "cajun" and "creole" cuisines of louisiana are truly american, they are heavily influenced by the bountiness of the bayou region and the french heritage

                                                                                                                                                    1. Root beer. Every non-American I know thinks it tastes like medicine, but to me, nothing goes better with pizza (American-style, of course!).

                                                                                                                                                      1. If you eliminate all food brought here by immigrants, I think you're left with elk,corn,squash..but when is the last time you had venison? What a fine thread--American foods are those edibles that satisfy American hunger/appetites. In other words, all of the above.

                                                                                                                                                        1. Hot pockets/chicken bake
                                                                                                                                                          sloppy joes
                                                                                                                                                          mu shoo pork?
                                                                                                                                                          deep fried twinkies

                                                                                                                                                          6 Replies
                                                                                                                                                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                                                                              Well, yeah, but we can take credit(?) for un-deep-fried Twinkies.

                                                                                                                                                              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                                                                                The deep fried Mars bar and other such confectionary delights may well have originated in Scotland, but this article (and apparently the Hostess website as well) places the deep fried Twinkies' origin in the USA: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deep_fri...

                                                                                                                                                                I'm not saying it's a matter of national pride (or shame), but it appears that the deep fried Twinkie is as American as Apple Jacks.

                                                                                                                                                                1. re: Striver

                                                                                                                                                                  The alleged inventor Christopher Sell was a recent immigrant from Britain, who branched out from deep-fried Mars bars. But there are references to deep-fried Twinkies that predate his alleged innovation by at leat four years.

                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                                                                                    Immigrants and their creations are part of America's cuisine, I'd say - and they bring to bear techniques and tastes to add to the American menu, such as deep-frying confections.

                                                                                                                                                                    I've checked a variety of sources, including British boards, etc. (you've triggered my inner pedant), and while everyone gives Scotland all the credit it richly deserves for introducing deep-fried Mars bars, deep-fried pizza, and other such, I can find no one but Sells and his Brooklyn-based Chip Shop credited with extending the treatment to Twinkies.

                                                                                                                                                                    I'd appreciate your posting one or two of the contrary references. I'd like to know who's truly responsible for this dish.

                                                                                                                                                            2. a campfire favourite: S'mores!

                                                                                                                                                              1. Lemonfaire: This may be slightly off-topic, but since you are teaching an ESL class, you might want to check out the film "What's Cooking" by Gurinder Chadha for some good scenes on the "American" Thanksgiving experience. It follows 4 families of different ethnicities in LA preparing for Thanksgiving. One of the best scenes is when the Chinese/Vietnamese family is preparing the turkey, and the mother covers half of it with hot chili sauce -- the American-born daughter says something like "Great, we prepare the traditional Thanksgiving food and make it all taste exactly like what we eat every other day of the year."

                                                                                                                                                                It's not the greatest movie ever, but I really think bits of it would be GREAT for a class dealing with crosscultural issues and food.

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                                                                                                                                                                1. re: allegro805

                                                                                                                                                                  I remember that little docu drama... it was brutal on Beverly Hills Jews... all the other ethnicities were cooking from scratch... except for the Jews they are cooking from packaged products.

                                                                                                                                                                2. One more thing:
                                                                                                                                                                  This certainly falls into the category of "regional specialty," but I think it also seems UNIQUELY American (I have no experience with them myself): Did anyone mention Rocky Mountain Oysters?

                                                                                                                                                                  The recent obituary of the proprietor of a place that made them famous made me think of this. Might be interesting reading material for international students! Link below


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                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: allegro805

                                                                                                                                                                    Many other cultures eat testicles.

                                                                                                                                                                  2. I don't know of another culture that has raised the making and eating of sandwiches to almost a art-form.
                                                                                                                                                                    The French have the Parisian sandwichs, and the Italians have the famous Pannini sandwiches, but I don't know any of them have the American deli and the almost innumerable number of variations on corned beef, pastrami and ham.

                                                                                                                                                                    I am well aware that the deli has its roots in German-Jewish immigrants, but it would seem that American creativity has expanded on that concept many times over.

                                                                                                                                                                    1. I agree with others that the 4 main regional BBQ styles is as "American" food as Jazz is "American" music. when early americans in a rural setting needed to cook eat and preserve a whole animal, they would slow smoke or pit smoke it, and season it with vinegar & other condiments. salt was scarce so old-world methods of preservation were out. this technique was commented on by european visitors as an american one as early as the 1660s. Then the different styles evolved as rural people came into the cities following the civil war. BBQ is american food because it has evolved along with U S history, & that is why it's more interesting than icky packaged foods-- it should be taken very seriously!

                                                                                                                                                                      Other non junk-food "american" foods that might actually be interesting to non-americans include
                                                                                                                                                                      cornbread, esp skillet bread
                                                                                                                                                                      wild fruit pies, "chess" pies
                                                                                                                                                                      preserves & pickles, regional varieties
                                                                                                                                                                      actual buttermilk pancakes or flapjacks with real maple syrup, and other quick breads as well, see awesome book about historical american baking, with recipe updates: "Baking in America"-- I'm spacing out the author's name, but this recent book has great workable recipes & really interesting scholarship, for example about how baking soda was an early "convenience food" in america & it revolutionized home baking in this country, with quick breads taking the place of risen yeast breads as american life moved at an ever quicker clip.

                                                                                                                                                                      good luck introducing others to whatever the heck "American Food" is-- it really is slippery!

                                                                                                                                                                      1. Like others on the list, I had the experience of living in England (in the mid 80s at university) as a definition of what "American" food is. The things that seem to be uniquely American are based on products we use or that originated here that no one else uses that way. For example, peanut butter - I know peanuts came here from elsewhere, but who else eats PB&J but Americans? I finally found peanut butter in my local market in England, but it was terribly expensive. When I made PB&J, I got horrified responses from my classmates when they realized the combination was something salty and sweet together. Popcorn, however, was a huge hit with my friends.