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what is "American dining"

I had a good laugh at the recent Ruby Tuesday description, "simple fresh American dining."
While Ruby Tuesday is a whole different conversation, what is American Dining?

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  1. When I was a kid I remember someone asking my mom if we were going to take the Japanese student that was staying with us for "ethnic food." She said yes--we went to the local greasy spoon cafe.

    Given the rich ethnic mixture in this country, I'd think "American" food would be a bit hard to pin down. Just about everything we consider to be American favorites has roots in some other cuisine, mixed and shaped and adapted.

    That said, when I saw the term "American dining," the first thing that leapt to my mind was going to Murphy's for a hot hamburger with gravy over all. The next thing that came to mind was taking Nahoko to Reta's for "ethnic food."

    1. Good question! I have a different take on the definition...anything served in the US of A. We have now have such diverse cultures that Chinese, Vietnamese, Italian, Greek, Japanese, Soul Food, German, Argentinian, Amish or Pennsylvania Dutch can be considered American Dining.

      Another definition may be plain meat and potatoes with no seasoning other than salt and ground black pepper. Mac and cheese with no flavor at all may also fit in here. For the life of me, I cannot see that latter glob as nourishment.

      I'm a fusion cook when I'm not making chili. For example, my breakfast this week consists of 'orzo e fagioli con verdura e doufu.' Don't laugh...I've lost 20 pounds since 18Mar07 eating some form of barley (orzo)and beans (fagioli) with vegetables (verdura) and doufu (Mandarin for soybean cakes) for breakfast, and it does taste good.

      BTW, lunch is farina d'avena (oatmeal) with craisins and cinnamon. Works for me. Do you get the idea that I'm learning how to speak Italian?

      2 Replies
      1. re: ChiliDude

        Would love to get your recipe for your breakfast. sounds interesting. Please expect an email from me....:)

        1. re: ChiliDude

          Do you mean boxed mac and cheese like Kraft? I would be surprised if you can't taste any flavor at all in that.

        2. there is ketchup on every table

          1 Reply
          1. re: Veggo

            Veggo, Veggo, Veggo...you forgot the toothpicks... Oh, wait, that's the Philippines and they got it from the Americans.

          2. eating salad as a starter
            calling the main course an "entree"
            huge "appetizers" (like a massive order of wings or potato skins)
            cold cereal with milk for breakfast
            the way utensils are used
            sweet/unsweet tea (try that in Canada!)

            There are lots of things that are typically American that have nothing to do with particular cuisines or ingredients but that do constitute relatively unique dining patterns in the US.

            1 Reply
            1. re: John Manzo

              Yo John,

              My wife, of 47+ years and of Italian heritage, would agree with your assessment. Her family always ate salad last. We also have salad last at our family gatherings. Also, bread is on the table at home, but not offered before any other food arrives as is done in restaurants.

            2. American dining in a nutshell...

              1) Huge portions that would feed a family of four in most other countries (and, of which, you are expected not to eat approximately one-third).

              2) Generic caloric intake (population at large) enough to rival that of an automobile's power output.

              3) Cooked/prepared in ways that usually negate approximately three-quarters of the foods intial nutritional value.

              Sad, but essentially true. Sometimes, a sense of affluence is a very dangerous and tragic thing.

              19 Replies
              1. re: parkco

                don't forget "all-u-can-eat" buffets.

                1. re: hotoynoodle

                  I've seen those in Europe, Asia and Latin America.

                    1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                      True, but AUCE is still there in many places and people everywhere love a bargain. So it's not just America and we shouldn't let people think that.
                      Further, I've seen really crappy processed foods all over the world, including on supermarket shelves in Western Europe, that would make Kraft look like gourmet delights. I know you can find them on the shelves in Columbia and see people buy them in preference to the good fresh things available. The US doesn't have the corner on lazy consumers.
                      Some people do eat badly in the US but many of us eat well. A lot of the condescending remarks here really aren't based in reality.

                      1. re: MakingSense

                        Actually, the breakfast AYCEs in Europe, Asia, and Latin America are usually in hotels where people like me have to stay a lot of the time. I'm quite unaware of AYCEs ouside of hotel breakfast buffets outside of the US.

                        As to "crappy processed foods" I would laugh and wholeheartedly agree--but for ready to eat junk foods--some very weird.

                        But, MS, on the other hand, I think we have relatively few processed foods here (and elsewhere in the developing world). It may be a matter of definition, but we don't have, for example, packaged mac & cheese, frozen dinners, pot pies, or vegetables. No canned Campbell's cream of x. There are a few weak imitations of frozen pizza. The closest I can get to processed food is perhaps a can of "chili". But no canned ravioli, spaghetti and meatballs, and the like. And if you want a pack of instant noodles, we're talking about a dollar each. NO pre-cut salad mixes or salad dressings, no madeup foods from Trader Joe's...

                        I don't know. You lived in Latin America. Set me straight (followed by horizontal smiling icon using keyboard characters)!

                        1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                          The first place I ever bought bagged pre-cut salad was in France. Thought it was the greatest thing ever! They complain heartily about par-baked bread sent to bakeries in stores. I've watched people in Antigua buy canned pineapple when a vendor right outside the door was selling the local black pineapples for far cheaper. In Ecuador, the stores sell canned local fish, vegetables and fruits and half the time, the cans leak and swell within a short time (or they did a few years ago). The stuff is more expensive than the fresh products from the market a short distance away. The Chinese government was proudly giving us samples of their newest convenience foods a few years ago and some of the stuff gave new meaning to the term "mystery meat." Even for me and I'll try anything. They were so happy with the stuff that they used them on the gov't-owned airline as meals - in the packaging!
                          My husband always laughed at me when we traveled because I considered a supermarket visit a necessary cultural observation experience. Amazing what you can find out about a culture from a big suburban store. They aren't that different from us. They want their lives to be as easy as they can make them within the boundaries of their incomes and the limits of their own country's constraints. Before I go, I find out what the minimum wage is for that country so how the cost should compare to the US. I've found it an interesting was to learn. A lot about their economy and politics falls into perspective in my own simple way.

                          Convenience foods are a function of disposable income so the availability of those increases with development. As people have fewer servants, they also use more convenience foods. Junk food is everywhere as you know even in the poorest countries. Cookies, candy, chips, and snacks to local tastes, some of it really funny, are everywhere in every culture. My kids and I always tries it just to see what it was like. Some of it was real culture shock and some stuff we liked.

                          1. re: MakingSense

                            Funny, my tourism everywhere I go is to slowly check out supermarkets and popular markets. Commercial canning technology in Latin America is now as good as anywhere.

                            1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                              Glad it has improved. My experience is outdated. We got cans that were overpacked or with seams that leaked, particularly with acid contents. Guess increased export has led to better quality control. Rising tide is floating all the boats.

                              1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                I do the same when i travel - check out the prices at the local market (or supermarket) - my standard is to compare the prices for cucumbers, chicken and fish (all 3 items globally available, it seems). Perhaps one of us should open another board on convenience foods - so we don't cram the "whats meant by American food" board.... just a gentle suggestion from one who would love to contribute to the topic of convenience foods

                              2. re: MakingSense

                                In Playa del Carmen, near the main supermarket, there's a huge new McDonalds with the playhouse and all the bells and whistles. It is priced about 30% higher than US equivalents. Weekends it is PACKED with families enjoying an "outing". Makes me feel that there is something sinister about American marketing when the allure of Things American can be so compelling to an emerging middle class.
                                This is where I can buy 3 Haas avocados, 2 limes, a roma tomato, and a habanero pepper, for half the price of a cheeseburger.

                                1. re: Veggo

                                  Sinister? Families and kids are pretty much the same everywhere. Most kids would be more satisfied with a family outing to restaurant with a cheerful, well-outfitted playground than they would be watching somebody buy vegetables. Some countries have local chains that are similar to McD's that are just as popular where people treat their kids.
                                  I can always buy groceries for less than the cost of a restaurant meal with my kids but I enjoy the time spent eating out with them.

                                  1. re: MakingSense

                                    i was just in amman, where there were numerous McD's, Popeye's,Pizza Hut, and Burger KIng. All of these had a large outdoor seating area and huge indoor children's playground. Some were drive-through. This was in the heart of the city, and the fast food restaurants were much bigger than any other storefront in Amman. Of course the only people that can afford this are middle class.

                                    1. re: MakingSense

                                      "Most kids would be more satisfied with a family outing to restaurant with a cheerful, well-outfitted playground than they would be watching somebody buy vegetables."

                                      As a parent, I can only agree with you 100% On the other hand, our soon-to-be four year old absolutely loves to go grocery shopping with me!

                                      1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                        Daddy took me everyplace too and I loved it. From City Hall to the docks. My own kids went everywhere with me and/or my husband. Great! Too often simple family outings fall by the wayside in the rush of modern life.
                                        People think they have to plan elaborate and expensive entertainment when something as simple as grocery shopping is fun and a good time together. Kids know you like being with them.

                                  2. re: MakingSense

                                    We always. always, always, check out a super market when we are traveling and need to stretch our legs or walk off dinner. You can find some real gems in different locales.

                                2. re: MakingSense

                                  ha- makes me think of another American(U.S.) trait, many of us are so willing to be apologetic, thinking we are unique in our production of big slobs and bad food. "it must be better in other countries!" I'm inclined to say it's worse in other countries in the Americas. I think large portions, excessive fattyness of the food, and unhealthy eating habits are ubiquitous in north and south america. A Brazilian friend once told me they prepare much more food than necessary, then throw out what's not eaten at the meal. They never save the leftovers from a home meal. New cultures, unhealthy wasteful habits.

                                  1. re: fara

                                    Sorry, but after 15 years in and out of Brasil for work and a lifetime of having Brasilian relatives, NO WAY!!!!

                                    1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                      HI Sam, so I'm basing my opinion on the people I met in Sao Paolo, and what they told me. From the design of the city, suburbs, and what I saw, it seemed like people had a distinctly new world attitude. but I respect your opinion. please enlighten me.

                                      1. re: fara

                                        fara, my relatives live around Sao Paolo; and I've worked quite a bit elsewhere in Brazil. Years ago I was irritated by the "Everything is bigger and better in Brazil" attitude, but have sensed a quieter confidence of late. I simply have never encountered food waste there; and my friends there are certainly very careful not to waste food.

                        2. A lot of negative snarky replies here. When I think American, my first thought is good coffee shop food. Bacon & eggs, patty melts, chicken pot pie. I classify all of this as "gravy food". Simple comfort food that always satisfies.

                          3 Replies
                          1. re: Oh Robin

                            I agree. The great endless cup of coffee, great breakfasts, good old fashioned home cooking.

                            1. re: Oh Robin

                              I agree, I'm not sure why there are so many snarky replies and why the term American dining needs to be in quotations. There is such a thing as American food, regardless of the food's origins, chicken pot pie, salisbury steak, pot roast, fried chicken & biscuits come to mind.

                              1. re: Oh Robin

                                Ditto on your comment. I'm not sure why "American" brings such negative connotations to mind for some. To me, American dining means having the privilege of walking down a downtown street lined with restaurants and knowing that most of the world's major cuisines are being reasonably represented. It means being able to eat authentic ethnic cuisine alongside cuisine that has been melded into something that can't be readily labeled, but tastes delicious all the same.

                              2. Gotta be careful of the difference between American Food and American Dining. American food brings to mind turkey, cornbread, ice tea, bbq, and lots of stuff fried and covered with gravy. American dining means large portions (ok, huge), ice water and bread on the table, and holding our silverware differently. Oh, and of course a heavy dessert after an outrageously large meal.

                                11 Replies
                                1. re: KaimukiMan

                                  Forgive my ignorance, holding our silverware differently???

                                  1. re: dream_of_giusti

                                    Switching hands for knife work, no upside down fork.

                                      1. re: dream_of_giusti

                                        You hold your fork turned over in your left hand, while cutting and/or pushing food on to the fork with your right hand that is holding the knife.

                                        1. re: Oh Robin

                                          Which is the way silverware is used in most of the rest of the sliverware-using world, outside of North America.

                                          1. re: Woodside Al

                                            Well, not quite. Silverware using Asians (e.g., Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia,...) use a tablespoon and a fork

                                            1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                              True, and something I forgot, which I shouldn't have since I've been in Thailand and Malaysia. But when silverware is used in Japan or South Korea (or China? - no personal experience of seeing this) it's used in the European manner.

                                              1. re: Woodside Al

                                                What a euro-centric remark! In Asia, peole eat with the fork in the left hand and a tablespoon in the right for formal dining. This is because in most cases, rice is a staple, and the back of the fork is used to push the food onto the spoon which then conveys the food to the mouth. Never seen that action anywhere in European dining. Besides... you took me off on a tangent with this little side track! LOL. I loved the "no personal experience but ...."

                                                PS - there are such utensils as silver chopsticks ....(another side track???)

                                                1. re: cornFusion

                                                  Oh man...those thin flexible steel chopsticks in Korea, heck even a lot of Korean's have trouble with those.

                                                  1. re: cornFusion

                                                    I was actually talking about the use of silverware in East Asia to eat western-style foods (as in, say, French or Italian restaurants in Tokyo). When I have eaten in such places in Japan or South Korea with local friends and relatives, or even eating here in the U.S. with friends who were raised in Japan or Korea, I've always noticed that, for instance, I'm the only person switching hands American-style to cut my meat. The style of silverware use taught and employed in those countries seems to be universally the continental European style - including the use of the back of the fork, which Americans pretty much never do.

                                                    Despite having travelled a bit in China I don't think I ever ate in a western style retaurant there, so I don't think I've ever personally experienced seeing (or using) silverware there.

                                                    The first part of my post was in response to Sam's reminder of the very different silverware use traditions of parts of Southeast Asia, about which I had admittedly forgotten (and which is what I believe you're talking about).

                                                    And, yes, having lived in Korea for over a year I am well-aware of the existence of silver chopsticks.

                                                    1. re: Woodside Al

                                                      forgiven! (even with the euro-centric remarks)

                                  2. When I think of American I think of Thomas Keller's Ad Hoc in Yountville, CA... or French Lanudry.. that is because I live in the Bay Area (a bubble), LOL- yes I am being sarcastic! . But as soon as I get out of this region.. I think of food that is often fried, meat and potatoes, vegetables over cooked and with butter.. often lot's of processed foods- canned, boxed, instant, frozen and so on.

                                    However, growing up my mom made a mean breaded pork chop, mashed potatoes and those string beans in butter with a carton of milk on the table...yum not so bad.

                                    1. I once asked a Thai woman in Chaing Mai what she considered American Food. She didn't miss a beat - "That's easy. potatoes three times a day."

                                      1. "American dining" = Cheesecake Factory.

                                        Large portions, with an ethinic twist to every dish (e.g. Thai Pasta), and a reasonable price point.

                                        1. I guess it depends a lot on where you are from and what your traditions are. My roots are in the south and there was fried chicken on Sundays for a mid-day dinner with either mashed potatoes and gravy, biscuits, or corn bread. Potato salad in the summer. Green beans cooked with bacon and my mom added fresh dill when it was available and they cooked a long time. When we noved to northern NY state a lot of the local people had the boiled dinner thing, usually ham, not corned beef and BTW corned beef adn cabbage is strictly American. In Ireland they would have cabbage and bacon (pork belly). my southwestern side was about pinto beans, skillet cornbread or corn sticks, long horn cheese, chili which is American not Mexican, of course living on the border we also had enchiladas, tamales etc. Look at the tradition of fish boils in the northern midwest, oyster roasts in the low country, Frogmore stew, gumbos, etoufee, BBQ which of course varies by region just south of here they have BBQ mutton and Burgoo. How about Brunswick stew? Fried clams anyone? Lobster rolls? All sorts of coleslaws. I think many of you can add more to the list. But that is all pretty American.

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: Candy

                                            I wouldn't turn my nose up at a single thing you mentioned, and all a tradition somewhere or another. And don't forget good donuts and coffee, apple pie, blueberry pie, real farm fresh tomato, bacon, lettuce and mayonnaise sandwiches, hamburgers, clambakes, crabcakes, shad roe, and even fluffernutter sandwiches. Enough of the knee-jerk "I'm so embarrassed to even be from here" responses. There is a huge difference between American food and the way a lot of people in America eat. Eating is a personal choice and everybody makes them. I'm going to Maine Friday. Lobster and clam rolls for breakfast, lunch and dinner!

                                          2. Allow me to voice my personal an humble opinion as to what American Dining is. I would say that American Dining is what people cook and eat - when they want to eat well in America. I do NOT call restaurant food American Dining - since restaurants as we all know - generally tend to bend food to make profits. True American food is not made to garner profits. That said, I think of American Dining as regional food. New England has its own regional specialties (think baked beans, lobster boils, grapenut or frozen pudding ice cream, clambakes, and even planned and repeating weekday/weekend meals - although that tradition seems to be receding into memory). Further south as one approaches the mid-Atlantic States, we get a plethora of "almost-southern" cooking from the wonderful Smithfield hams, Crab Boils, Turtle soup, Crab Soup, and so on. As we travel further south, we have the grand southern cuisines where the melting pot has melted and simmered the cuisines of African, Accadian, Italian, German, Indian and Spanish ancestors. I am erring here when I glob them into a vast geography of cuisines which encompass frogmore stew, braised hocks and greens, an interminable array of sweets, pies, pastries and desserts - with my favorite pecan pie among them - and the ever present ice tea!
                                            As we head to the interior, the true profile of the original melting pot comes to bear with Nordic/Germanic heritage - Beer, Cheese, Sausages, Wide assortment of breads from Limpa to Lemon! The self-restrained ethos comes to the fore and the quality of the ingredients becomes star. Then, as we move to the rockies and further west, we begin to notice the great influences of our Latin American heritage mixed in with the bounty provided by the land - beef, spices, corn, soybeans, pork - all amalgmated into a different flavored melting pot! As we move further west, the influences of our Asian component becomes more clarified. Here, we have the "new" cuisines of Asia - the germinator of "fusion", together with "class" cuisine influenced by the modern european wine influenced subtelty.
                                            So - I believe that when you are in a given geographic region in the USA, although it will be possible to get boiled lobster (in a restaurant or in someone's home), the "norm" would be as above.

                                            Happy chowing

                                            3 Replies
                                            1. re: cornFusion

                                              Your post is almost poetic and I enjoyed it very much. And I agree with all of the above.

                                              1. re: mojoeater

                                                Thank you... I missed stating the obvious - that "Mom's best dish" (or grandma's ... or in my case aunt's and dad's) cooking - the best of the best of these - characterize our regional American dishes and cuisine. Thanks for the opportunity to add that!

                                              2. re: cornFusion

                                                you've said it best, cornfusion.

                                                and as for that silverware-holding issue, fork in left while pushing food on with a knife in right - looks as prissy and inefficient as it really is, imho.


                                                unless, of course, you're left handed......

                                              3. Again, depends where you live...Here in New England I think of American food as clam chowder, or any chowder, steamed lobster, pan fried trout or any fish, fruit pies, corn on the cob, mussels in wine, tomatoes, savory muffins, pot roast with root vegetables, etc... and peanut butter & fluff sandwiches..

                                                4 Replies
                                                1. re: LenaNE

                                                  Great point to add to my thoughts above ...... even words regarding food change regionally ... (my point is .... does anyone outside new england know what "fluff" is? or a "Cabinet"?). Loved your writeup LenaNE!

                                                  1. re: LenaNE

                                                    right, but that's not a whole cuisine. no one in new england exists solely on clam chowder, it's an occasional thing. i think the great thing about american cuisine is that it really depends on the cook's forebearers and other influences. LIke chowhounds here who are korean, japanese, italian, and every other nationality, american food is different each time you visit someone's house or a new restaurant. this point was made earlier. "american dining" leaves a lot to be desired, we could stand to maintain some of the oldworld traditions instead of eating whatever we want whenever we want.

                                                    1. re: fara

                                                      fara - agree somewhat with you ..but remember... there is also the freedom to do what we want when we want - as long as it doesn't impinge on the freedom of others. No one stated that they ate chowder their entire lives. My point was that American dining is really defined more by mom's home cooking than by fancy restaurants