What is American cuisine?
- rworange Apr 12, 2010 09:18 AM
This is really a part of another thread, but f I put it there, I could imagine things getting way off topic.
The issue is in discussing a specific cuisine, what are really the boundaries to gaining a true insight?
To say Americans eat hamburgers and fries with catsup, steaks, fried chicken or apple pie says nothing and offers no insight into American cuisine. It is a high level caricature.
Sure, a good many of us eat those foods. To me there is more to a cuisine than largely common food.
Let’s suppose to define American cuisine, I were to write about an average middle-class family over a period of months.
For the sake of simplicity of this thread, I’m not going to include melting pot foods, despite that being a BIG part. I am going to exclude regionalism as well, Southern food, New England food, etc. I hope you get what I mean further down.
I would write that most Americans shop at least once a week at large supermarket such as Safeway, Piggy Wiggly, Stop and Shop, etc. The markets have meat departments with pre-cut packaged meats, often a deli offering sandwiches, salads and hot food. Many have in-store bakeries. And so I would walk thru a supermarket discussing what, in general, is sold there.
Look in the shopping carts at those markets and there is often coffee or tea, juice, soft drinks such as Coca Cola, cereal such as oatmeal, corn flakes or sugar coated children’s cereal, bread, sandwich meat, canned fish such as tuna, eggs, yogurt, frozen food, etc, etc, etc.
I would describe the trend towards farmers markets and what one would find there and how people used that food in meals.
During the work week many Americans start the day in a hurry and for many, breakfast will be a cup of coffee and muffin or scone at drive thru places like Starbucks. For others it might be a McDonald’s egg McMuffin or something similar. Office workers might patronize local coffee and baked goods places.
On the weekend the breakfasts are more relaxed and substantial. For those not eating egg dishes, pancakes or French toast at home, those similar items can be ordered at restaurants which can range from chains like IHOP to artisan or more upscale restaurants which may include alcoholic drinks such as mimosas, a mixture of sparkling wine and orange juice.
I would describe a little about what it is like to sit at an IHOP and the type of people who go there. I would talk about the artisan breakfast experience and those customers.
Isn’t the cuisine more than about what is on the plate? Isn’t it also about why some people choose chain food and others the latest and greatest new chef’s hot spot?
Many people still attend church of various denominations some of which include food as part of the social experience. That might include pancake breakfasts or regional variations such as crab feeds in the SF Bay Area and then I would describe attending one of these events.
At a pancake breakfast it is often in a church hall, the space filled with long tables where families sit while volunteer church members, often women, cook the pancakes
Doesn’t that give more insight than just saying churches have pancake breakfasts?
For entertainment Americans might go to the movies or sporting events. Originally at baseball games there were vendors selling soft drinks, beer, hot dogs, ice cream bars, peanuts and cracker jacks. Currently there is a trend toward different food such as garlic fries
At movies people often order popcorn with butter in huge paper tubs washed down by equally gigantic soft drinks. Large boxes of candy such as Jr. Mints, Milk duds and Jujubes are sold.. Some sell hot dogs or pizza and the trend is to add more café type of foods.
I would describe that cities and towns have local neighbor hood businesses like bakeries, coffee shops, delis, small corner markets, ice cream shops, meat markets, produce vendors, etc. I would describe what is sold at these places and what if feels like to walk in and the look.
I would discuss that in suburbs businesses centered mainly around shopping malls with food courts. I would write about how Costco fits into the American life style.
I would describe the typical street food such as pretzels or hot dogs … keep in mind I’m trying to stay away from melting pot food right now so I’m not including Italian ice, tacos, etc, etc.
I’d describe country fairs and the food served there such as kettle corn, funnel cakes, etc.
And, if while writing this thread, the family was living in SF or Dallas or New York, would this really be put on those regional boards. It really isn’t about where to eat. It is about how people eat and despite some regional differences, there is a commonality across the country
And it goes on … too vast to cover in one post. However, day after day or week after week, following an average American family one would have a good feel for what American cuisine really is and what the typical American eats.
BBQ. Not stuck in one region, but has unique aspects depending on where in America you are. Cooking pork with smoke (or beef in Texas) and slathering it with a spicy tomato-based sauce. That's American.
Pasta. It is also not stuck in a particular region. Weather it is in Mac & Cheese, a Tomato-based sauce, Scampi style, Goulash, pasta salads, etc., it is made many ways and from coast to coast. Its also an economic way to stretch a budget.
I was going to say sandwiches. Most of the people I know eat a sandwich at least a couple of times per week, and is one of those "go-to" foods we resort to when we don't know what else to make.
We also have many cookbooks devoted entirely to casseroles.
I would also say that "skillet meals" are another, with their own cookbooks. I would almost classify them with casseroles, in that they are quick to put together, often used to use up miscellaneous ingredients one has on hand, and usually include a protein, vegetable, and starch in one dish.
As a non-American I think it is quite an easy question to answer as there is definitely an American style of food that is quite common across regions.
To me things like he chopped salad with ranch or blue cheese dressing served between courses is a good example. Or the sides you get in restaurants like creamed spinach or macaroni cheese. Then there are the quite simply cooked steaks, ribs, chops and seafood: big portions of good quality produce. Sandwiches, including burgers, and chicken, and club, pastrami served properly as part of a meal with all the trimmings.
The American breakfast is a thing of legend, when it is good it is outstanding with a great range of foods especially the stacks of pancakes. Us outsiders also think of the US as the place to go for Mexican derived foods, much like people think of Britain for a good curry, outsiders think the US as a place easily try the food - when we get more adventurous we head down to Mexico for the real deal.
In the main American food is not complex or highly sophisticated, instead it is big and generous, it is perfect for enjoying good company with, it is food to share with friends. True, American is home to some top chefs who do cook outstandingly good and complex, sophisticated food (Thomas Keller etc), but this is the rarefied height of American cuisine rather than its big heart.
hmm. i think i might live in a different america than you do. excluding regionalism from a discussion of american food doesn't make too much sense.
omissions to consider:
uniquely american baking, desserts in general-- pies, cakes, ice cream, cookies, candy
products like cheese or bread or pizza that become american or regionally american
ethnic foods that become mainstream american foodstuffs (can't get away from the melting pot entirely)
american public school hot lunch/american institutional eating in general
wild foodstuffs and game, seafood regional freshwater fish, etc.
traditions of food preservation including canning, smoking, bbqing, curing, pickling
the fast food/qsr model in america, heat & eat, processed foods
well, i'd argue that desserts and pastries, save for particularly american things like oreos or brownies, are just as prevalent in other countries. your so-called national dish of apple pie originated in germany, me thinks.
game and regional seafood is prepared all over the world, so not by def american. same with preservation, canning, smoking, bbqing curing an pickling. not exactly sure what's specifically american about any of those.
so are you saying americans don't eat any of these foods? i thought that the op was looking at how/what americans eat, not the country of origin of an archetypical food item that then morphed into a multiplicity of dishes consumed by americans. . .
i also was not saying that folks in australia or north africa or sweden or bulgaria or what have you *do not* eat locally caught game or fish, or make pickles, wrap a filling in pastry, or cure a piece of meat--- just that americans *do,* and historically have. it's part of the way that americans eat at this moment in history, which is what i thought we were trying to discuss. . . i wasn't aware of this being a discussion of "i'm from the motherland/my country is better/my country had a variation of food x first"-- i wouldn't be interested in responding to that kind of a thread.
if we talk about food in america but exclude any foods that have their origins in other counties we're basically having a talk about corn on the cob. i'm exaggerating, to be sure, but trying to say americans can't talk about eating catfish or venison because lots of folks around the world eat carp or antelope? americans apparently don't eat burgers, pizza or ice cream because these foods also happen to be consumed in other countries as well? i don't think it's helpful or accurate to try to exclude discussion of common foods in the american diet just because people drink soft drinks or eat bread or meat or pastries elsewhere around the world.
caveat: i'll definitely note though that with bbq i'm definitely going by the american definition of the term as smoke/pit cooking methods and the foods that are produced by these methods--to be absolutely clear, i'm not at all referring to how nationals of other countries use "bbq" as a synonym for open-fire grate cooking, or even the grills themselves eg: "i've got some sausages, time to fire up the ol' barbie." that's another whole can of worms. talking about two completely different things. very unfortunate conflation of terminology which results in endless confusion. discussed ad nauseum on this forum. but surely most/many folks would agree that american bbq and its regional variations is very much "specifically american."
so are you saying americans don't eat any of these foods? i thought that the op was looking at how/what americans eat, not the country of origin of an archetypical food item that then morphed into a multiplicity of dishes consumed by americans. . .
no, that's not what i'm saying. i guess i really have no clue what exactly the OP is talking about here. if it's food that is eaten all around the world, what makes it american? i mean, why even bother if we all eat the same stuff anyway?
The title is "What is American Cuisine" which IMO is very different to "What do people in America eat".
The first is the food that defines the nations culinary image, it is the food that reminds you of home when you are away. The second is far less defined and in effect covers everything as a result of immigration etc. For example people across the world regularly eat burgers, but they would not include them in a description of their national cuisine.
eh ... do not to need to get technical.
As I mentioned, this was part of another thread. So the reason I excluded regionalism was to simplify.
I guess the question really is how is a cuisine defined ... american or otherwise. It is more than the signature dishes.
If you followed a typical family in any country day in and day out, I think that really defines local cuisine ... and part of that is more than just the food on the plate, IMO
"If you followed a typical family in any country day in and day out, I think that really defines local cuisine" I think that depends on the country. Families in "the west" all shop at supermarkets, are time poor and buy global brands like Nestle or Kraft. The result is an homogonisation of food culture with the same (or very similar) products being consumed in the US/UK/France/Germany/Australia etc. Thus it is the food consumed on special occasions that define the local culture.
Popsicles or paletas, raspados or slurpees, or whatever there is a commonality.
Where I am in Central American substitute potatoes for beans, white bread for tortillas and you pretty much have the American diet ... pretty much. I had liver and onions yesterday ... with tortillas ...and beans.
An American would die ... literally ... with all the eggs eaten here. In a land of tropical fruit, I have yet to eat an orange and fruit plays a small part in the diet. And so it goes.
However, there are differences. People have stovetops but no ovens ... to hot. So baked goods are bought outside. There is more than just holiday fare that is different.
I think, for a comparative approach, it is better to define the cuisine top down rather than bottom up like the OP. If you do a bottom-up definition you find that a large proportion of the foods across geographies are quite similar. But if you do a top down approach you highlight the points of difference. For example Szechuan food compared to Cantonese, the former is fiery and hot from chilies and schezuan pepper, the latter is subtle and complex with lots of fish. But a bottom up perspective they are both rice based, both use stir fried techniques ect.
The reason I focussed on special occasion food is that is the time traditional foods often come out and/or people make an effort to cook. France is a good example, they like many countries are time poor, as a result it is McDonalds biggest growth market, and many French people eat frozen food from Picard, but we don't think of these as bedrocks of French cuisine.
Nah ... not red,white and blue.
Actually this had to do with another post describing another cuisine. I am living elsewhere and there were some opinions that the discussion belonged on the country board.
So to say what I was trying to do, I put it in terms of American food ... this post.
I don't think you can define American cuisine without including "melting pot" foods and regional cuisine. Salsa outselling ketchup is an example of why you can't really separate the two. America is a nation of immigrants (yes, even my grandmother's family who came in the 1600s were immigrants). Each batch of immigrants introduces something new, And if they were poor (usually a good reason to immigrate), they would modify their native cuisine, often making it bigger and incorporating local ingredients for items not available here. America is all about innovation -- often taking something someone else started and making it bigger and (allegedly) better. In America you can shun tradition (though some stay intact like Thanksgiving dinner) and you are rewarded rather than cast out. As rworange discusses, cuisine can be defined by what a family eats over the course of the month. The problem is defining a standard family. I grew up white in a very white suburb in the 60's, and our every day dining was heavily influenced by Asian (Japanese and Chinese) and French cuisine. The neighbors across the street ate foods more heavily influenced by the Campbell Soup people. Unfortunately many Americans day-to-day cuisine is influenced by marketers. We are also heavily influenced by trends (doughnuts! cupcakes! macarons!) -- there seems to be a great tendency to jump on any popular bandwagon.
A word about pancakes: in my area pancake breakfasts are often held by fire departments and men's philanthropic organizations with men behind the griddle. My experience with churches is more with lunches held by ladies auxiliaries.
Is brunch an American thing? And to the whole breakfast schema it would be remiss not to mention bacon and sausage. For a fast breakfast, I think more people would grab some toast, yogurt, bowl of cereal or breakfast bar, than purchase baked goods, but you can't disagree with the coffee.
I'm not positive, but I think research into Junior League and church cookbooks would lead to a fairly good understanding of what America really eats. That should expose the good, the bad and the ugly.
As I stated in other posts recently, this was an example I was using in terms of defining another cuisine.
I think to really define any cuisine it includes social events such as church functions and where people shop and how they buy their food.
Using the example in the OP, you would not move that to any specific regional board. Just because a cuisine is more easily defined than american ... say French, Italian or German, that doesnt mean a discussion of how people eat and shop belongs on those boards.
I think all is well now but I just wanted to use an example
I think I understand what you are getting at. I think the title of the post is a bit of a red herring. I think what you are asking is how do you define ANY cuisine. Is that correct? The title and the examples seem to imply that you are interested in discussing American cuisine specifically, but you are saying, if you followed a "typical" family from any random country and observed their eating, cooking, and social engagements, you would probably be able to define their cuisine. Is that more on target?
American cuisine is a melting pot, just as the USA itself is.
I guess really, it is the combined cuisines of many countries, the main difference being ramped up (often to exxagerated proportion) serving sizes.
I think it is three things.
1. Hot dogs, hamburgers, steak, and apple pie. The stereotype of 'Merican food by non-Americans.
2. Ethnic-American (insert whatever ethnicity you want here). I grew up in a Japanese-American family. Thus, we had hamburgers with Heinz Ketchup and white rice. We had fried chicken and white rice. We had spaghetti with meat sauce. We had chorizo and white rice. The same kind of blending of cultures is happening in every American household in the US.
3. More recently, high-end fine dining to rival anything in the world, exemplified by the Per Ses of the US.
A Brit's view - I've been in the US 5 years now but not sure if Florida counts!
Pancakes, huge breakfasts, grits, homefries or hash browns, corned beef hash, huge overstuffed sandwiches, bagels, lots of eggs, pizza, casseroles, chicken pot pie, brisket, BBQ, beans and rice, pot roast, steaks, sides like mac n cheese and creamed spinach, brownies, huge cookies with bits in them like choc chips and nuts, oatmeal, burgers and fries, fast food, biscuits and corn bread, cream gravy, corn beef, jello, pies, sodas, fried chicken, creamed corn, PB and J sandwiches, sausage, blueberry muffins, cinnamon tasting sweet things like donuts and pastries, grilled cheese sandwiches.
Not saying the Brits don't eat fast food and pizzas, steaks and burgers, eggs for breakfast but the rest of my list is quintessentially American.
Good approach. The reason asking about American Cuisine is such an undertaking is that its asking what an American family looks like. Answers are just as varied, interesting, insightful, and incomplete.
The truth is that I grew up in a household with a pretty decent food obsession, so this is one of the more varied entries. Neither of my parents were in any professional food industry, just wedged fortunately between some of the world's most productive farmland and some exceptional fishing water on coastal California. Most of the food my family ate was common in other homes as well, and friends had similar tastes in restaurant food. However, a slow trend towards processed frozen meals for dinner in many households was quietly ignored by my household, and recent visits to the homes of childhood friends is generally a sobering reminder that home-cooking is now considered a specialty skill even to their parents.
The American cuisine of my home(mom's kitchen mainly) was oven oven-baked chicken - the breast, pasta and tomato sauce, chili and cornbread, split-pea soup, swedish meatballs, oso buco, sourdough bread, moussaca, lamb chops, grilled flank steak, abalone, salmon, shrimp in pasta, crab on its own, enchiladas, chile verde, salsa, canned tuna sandwich, dill pickles, baby back ribs, pork roast, eggs benedict, bacon and eggs with wheat, sour, or 'english muffin' toast, yogurt, orange juice, milk was for coffee - not to drink, for adults wine and water, vodka for my father. We usually had friends and family over for dinner, so food outside the home was at restaurants: Chinese, Hamburgers and French Fries, Japanese, Deli, Pizza, Mexican, Thai, and Italian(not US pizza) in that order. The groceries were bought from a local grocery/butcher about three times a week in my mother's home, and the restaurants were generally in San Francisco.
The cuisine I cook at home is less well planned so I go to the store nearly every day..a food co-op in a smaller town east of San Francisco. I cook roasted chicken, beef stew, carnitas, beans & rice, pasta & tomato sauce, curry & naan, jigae & banchan, kofta, kebab, grilled burgers and skirt steak, dill pickles, pork ribs, lasagna, dal & rice for breakfast, yogurt, fruit pies and bread puddings. water, sparkling water, coffee, beer, wine and sparkling apple juice to drink. Restaurants are once every week or two and generally Mexican, Hamburgers, Mid-eastern or US Breakfast(scrambles, benedict, potatoes, OJ) is involved. For accuracy, things I don't do that I notice most of my friends enjoy on a regular basis are sandwiches, fast food, in-store(mall "food plazas" and "dining courts") and frozen prepared meals.
After nearly a year of living outside of the United States in Guatemala, I think I can better answer my own question. It isn't what we suspect.
My answer is roasted meat, sandwiches, potatoes, onion dip, chili, bread and butter pickles, cranberry sauce, brownies, processed food ... quantity ... and variety.
Of course, I'm only basing that on my experience in one country and the lack of those items here.
However, if you think about it, some of the major cuisines lack that. Other than duck, I can't think of a lot of roasted meats in China. Other Asian cuisine with huge roasts ... lamb, beef, turkey, ham, pork, meatloaf ... not really. I guess the roasts are the European influence on the US.
The first thing I want back in the US is a good sandwich .. a roast beef sandwich, specifically ... then a meatloaf sandwich ... then real roast turkey with cranberry sauce. Maybe I'll follow those with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich ... Wonder Bread with Skippy chunky peanut butterin all its HFCS glory and Welches grape jelly ... nothing gourmet ... yet. Ok, maybe I'l choose a peanut butter with only peanuts and oil.
Yes, there are sandwiches here, but just not like the US.
Potatoes are our rice in the US ... baked, boiled, fried, hasbrown, mashed, scalloped,chips, etc ... breakfast, lunch and dinner.
The onion dip ... the potato chip's friend.
Chili? Yes, there are a lot of beans world-wde, but the Sloppy Joe and Texas type of chili is the very American take (yes I know some don't put beans in it, but I'm talking about the general concept of American-style chili)
There are hamburge pickles, there are cornichons on the shelves here ... but even the sections of stores with imported "American" food snub the bread and butter type ... and dill pickles.
Those roasted turkeys just cry out for cranberry sauce.
As for dessert, pies, ice cream, donuts and other cakes ... except those with dense frosting like chocolate cake ... are very common ... the brownie ... not so much and only at places serving American food.
As far as processed food ... well, good and bad ... Here, much starts from scratch. It is really, really difficult to get something like a can of Campbell's soup. Sometimes, the convience of canned, boxed and frozen food is a good thing.
Actually, canning in general seems a pretty American thing be it putting up jars of summer peaches or tomatoes or the huge variety on the supermarket shelves.
American food is not really hamburgers, hot dogs and pizza. Those have become foods of the world with their own international twists.
BBQ? I would argue no. Most cuisines have some sort of bbq'd meat.
As American as apple pie? Not really. Actually the apple pie here ... and pumpkin ... has been consistantly superior to most of what is sold in the US.
This was started as more of a general concept of what it is to eat American and not really specific foods. However, I now I think those specific foods drive the more general way in which we eat as Americans.
By quantity I don't mean portion size. I mean we dont, in general, shop daily for our meals. We go to the market weekly and stock up. The concept of a Costco here would not go over as everything is mainly in small packages ... enough to get through a day or a single meal.
Yes, there are a few Costco type markets in Guatemala City, but those are more frequented by ex-pats. I won't get into my thoughts about how profound this buying in quantity and planning beyond the day defines America.
Then there is sheer variety, even in most suburban areas. There's an old film "Moscow on the Hudsun" where Robin Williams is a Russian who walks into an Amercian supermarket for the first time, becomes overwhelmed by the variety and passes out.
For me, defining American cuisine is clearer having stepped away from it for a year.
But of those foods that you listed in paragraph two, I don't eat any of them regularly. So it really all goes to what you personally missed. Which goes to your personal history and regionalism.
When I was away for 3 weeks in Costa Rica, I missed a variety of cooked vegetables, salads and ice cream. Yes they have it but it sure is expensive.
When I traveled in Europe regularly, the first thing I wanted on return was Mexican food and salad..and this is the same things my friends need immediately when they return, not roast meats and potatoes.
And if you think portion sizes are big in the US, you need to visit Peru.
And yet ... in my post just above yours ... regionalism never factored into it. There is a comon theme in American food that is uniting and not specifc to particular regions ... sure there's New England Clam Chowder, Texas sweet tea, New Mexican hatch chili, etc, etc, etc.
But the melting pot, has some dishes we almost all have blended into our diets as Americans.
And, I think a tourist from elsewhere in the world would not define American cuisine by its regional variations. That would be like defining French cuisine by regional soccas ... or here in Guatemal by some of the regional dishes like pulques. Every country has its regional dishes, but they dont usually define the cuisine in general and often aren't known outside the country ... or even in the country.
I think the issue is when we try to put things into categories that aren't necessarily provable and matters of opinion, it opens it up to disagreement. That said what is more American than a root beer float
Cereal--Rice Krispies, Corn Flakes, Sugar Frosted Flakes, Captain Crunch, etc.
Eggs over easy, toast, bacon sausages
Oatmeal, Cream of Wheat, Farina, Maypo
Bad Coffee--i.e. WaWa, Dunkin Donuts
Big part of American Diet--in Europe they just don't snack the way we do
Granola Bars, energy bars, trail mix
Sandwiches: Deli Meat on Wonderbread or Whole Wheat bread with Mayo, Mustard, Catsup, relishes. Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwiches. Tuna sandwiches, egg salad sandwiches with lots of mayo
Any red meat cooked to the consistency of shoe leather like a pot roast.
Roasts such as roast beef, fresh ham, pork tenderloin
Ham with fruited glazes
Mashed potatoes, Home fried potatoes, french fried potatoes.
string beans (very American to make that green bean casserole)
Pie--any kind of fruit
Pie--custard based like: Banana Cream Pie, Lemon Meringue, Chocolate Cream, Coconut Cream, Chess
Cake: Any kind of cake--most use Duncan Hines, but many home bakers make from scratch
Chocolate Chip Cookies, Oatmeal Raisin Cookies, Oreos
Ranch Dressing, Kraft Mac/Cheese; Pizza; Coke and Pepsi, drinking milk with meals; Honey Mustard dressings, mayo on everything. Beer--regular and lite. Tacos, BBQ, Spaghetti and Meatballs; Milkshakes and malteds.
Food not too spicey---this is all a generalization but I'm just giving thoughts.
>>> It really isn’t about where to eat. It is about how people eat and despite some regional differences, there is a commonality across the country
That was from my original post and I now think that is absolutely true.
And my apologies to mamachef further up. A year later I shifted the focus of this thread to specific foods that define American cuisine rather than the activity that surrounds them.
In both cases, from a high level of how Americans eat to the specifics of what people eat, right now I strongly feel regionalism can totally be dismissed.
That's right. Regionalism counts for nothing in defining American cuisine. It has zero importance.
If you look at jarona's excellent list of foods a few posts up, there's not one thing on it that is regional, yet wherever you live in the country from sea to shining sea, throwing in Alaska and Hawaii, we all eat like that mainly. There's nothing foriegn from the above list to a specific region .. even Starbucks ... but seriously jarona ... good coffee? Well, I guess Starbucks is the American equivalent of Nescafe.
If you look at my list, there is not one thing that is regional.
All regionalism does is describe a subset, and not a very important one, of the big picture.
I guess defining American cuisine became easier when I noticed what was missing while living in Gautemala.
In terms of general eating, jarona hit the nail on the head ... we snack differently. ... and more.
We also put a lot more mayo in things and use mayo more in general. We also use a lot of fat in general.
When I moved to Guatemala, I was appalled by the tortilla and seemingly sugar heavy diet here.
One year later I am appalled by the American diet.
That really came to light during the holidays ... so much holiday food is fat-saturated.
There's our whole reliance on convenience foods. Seriously, finding canned soup is almost impossible .
In Guatemala, there are often peas mixed into the rice. I finally asked if they were canned as I've never noticed cans. No, I was told. They are always fresh. Canned peas are "feo" .. ugly, bad-tasting. There was the same opinion about every canned veggie ... corn, tomatoes, etc.
A lot of this has to do with money. Cooking from scratch is not just a nicety, its a necessity. It is so much less expensive. That was something that made me stop as well ... how important money is to America ... "the almighty dollar" is probably the phrase that defines America in all aspects of our lives. Not that money is unimportant everywhere in the world. It just doesn't consume people like in the US.
Anyway, I think that you can define American eating patterns and food without even thinking about regionlism.
Thank you for clarification, rworange. 'Preciate it.
Ok: I read jarona's list, and a few things jumped out at me:
Pretzels. German in origin
Fried Chicken. I believe it's Asian in origin.
Sandwiches? Invented by the Earl of Sandwich, in the UK
Cereals. Maybe not the processed kind, but cereal/grain is not America-specific by any means.
I may be, once again, missing the original intent of this. But I'm a-trying.
I'm not trying to say things didn't originate elsewhere, but more of what is commonly eaten here. What is in your grocery cart usually.
In Guatemala, chow mein surprisingly is as common as pepian. So I would define that as Guatemalan a part of Guatemalan cuisine. There's a huge German population and weinerschnitzel (sp?) is a very common food. I would say that is Guatemalan cuisne despite its origin.
However, each culture puts its own stamp on it and it becomes a part of the cuisine.
That is why those foods that are thought of as American icons ... the definition of American food ... hamburgers and hot dogs ... aren't as specific to this country as most think. Those two items have gone viral world-wide ... mutating in each region.
The hot dog in Guatemala has cabbage (not kraut) and hot sauce. The pizza bologna, hot sauce and catsup. Chowmein is topped with catsup. I've had a tostada topped with chowmein.
The hamburgers have eggs on them. However, someone's point about big hamburgers is America's unique spin ... the thick fat patty as opposed to the regular McDonald's burger size.
Deifnately roasts ... and thick slabs of meat. I've yet to see a chuck roast here. The closest to roast meat is rotisserie chicken. That was also my experience working in China and Mexico. Throwing a big hunk of meat in the oven and carving it up, just isn't done. Which is why I think it is a European influence that we've claimed as our own.
without scrolling back i'm relying on my admotedly faulty memory, but i think some of the foods you say are not regional are. just because a regional food has spread beyond it's original borders does not make it not regional. chili jumps to mind. yes it is found everywhere in america, but it is absolutely a regional food.
I think you're completely off base and positing a national culture that doesn't really exist.
To counterpoint your reference to jarona's list and assertion that "we all eat like that mainly", I would say, from a Southern perspective:
Where are the grits and the breakfast biscuits? The collards, field peas, okra, and butterbeans? The country ham as opposed to fruit glazed ham?
Hey. I love my cawfee. Starbucks, to me, would classify as the most "american" good cuppa joe. I have my instant "cafe noir" which I pick up when I'm in france. Best instant cawfee besides the starbucks. I'm telling you..I'm telling you. Wawa is dirty dishwater--you cannot even remotely taste coffee in that slop at all. Ugharocious. I've had airline coffee better than WaWa.. Seriously though, I did try to make my list as non-regional as possible.
I'm getting hungry....for....eggsalad! LOL! I'm happy that you "got" most of my listing, though.thank you.
Yeah, I've been considering making my own egg salad.
You do have a point about Starbucks ... and depending on where people live, that usually is the good coffee. Being from a coffee-obsessed region in California, we are lucky to have a lot of options.
Cawfee ... you must be fro the East Cost above the Mason Dixon line.
I'm also guessing you might get out of the country a lot which helps clarify American eating when it is observed from a distance.
Jarona, it is funny that you say that, because I absolutely hate Starbucks coffee. I am not very good at identifying/communicating flavors, but their is a bitterness that is almost always present in their coffees.
One thing that I have noticed is that in all of the Starbucks that I have been in, they rarely feature a Light Roasted Coffee. It is almost always Dark Roast or Medium Roast. And Dark Roasted Coffee, especially, will have a bitterness to them.
To their credit, I once did an informal survey of Starbucks drinkers and they all said that they liked that bitter taste in general, so, they definitely have an audience.
rworange. You got it. I'm a born New Yawka--born in the city and raised in Long Guyland. Dad was a nyc cop. Ahh...my first cawfee memories were of the "Eight O'Clock" A & P Brand that smelled so wonderful when my mother used her old-school percolater to brew it. I also love the scent of strong coffee--I can remember in grammar school--the convent was attached to the school building and I have fond memories of walking into the school hallways in the morning and the scent of that coffee was just heavenly. The real deal--those nuns loved their coffee!
..and yes, although I get out of the country, my grandparents were not born in the States--they all hailed from Ireland--so there was no processed stuff when we were at the grandparents--and I do travel overseas.
DougRisk: I do love the bitterness of Starbucks--it's like the coffee with chicory that I get when I'm in New Orleans...you are spot on in the Sbucks bitterness thing! Two points:)
i was trying to figure out where in america that list would be valid, too! mid-atlantic trending south, d.c. area? it never gets out of a mainstream chain supermarket, at any rate. disagree w the "sea to shining sea" blanket, and it seems like Jarona attempts (not that there is anything wrong w this) to flip-flop between regional influences in order to try to include everyone-- the processed brand name cereals on one line, and granola on the next. lists the fruit pies of one region, and then custard pies of other regions. chess pie is an extremely regional dessert, come on! and the line "Any red meat cooked to the consistency of shoe leather *like a pot roast*." is actually quite funny, isn't it!
Yeah..I tried to be as generic as could be. On a whole, Americans are devotees of processed foods. Think outside the "Chowhound" box. On the average..and I'm speaking of on the average..Americans do NOT like their steak blue-red (it is a shame--a crying shame), but they prefer medium well to well. There many TV ads for boxed cereal--and advertising the junk as "part of a healthy breakfast"
I will, however, stand by my chess pie. It isn't that much of a regional thing. Seek, and you will find it in places in New Jersey, Brooklyn, NY, Manhattan and Philly. It isn't just a Southern thing. No listing can be perfect--we are a melting pot and even though pretzels may have originated in Germany--they are a staple American snack.
The odd thing about pretzels is that in Guatamala given the huge German influence, they are not common. I can find chips here, sometimes with a Latin influence like lime or jalepeno, but no pretzels like in America.
Given the excellent list, I'm going to let chess pie slide, though having lived all over New England and California I've never heard of it.
I could easily derail this thread onto the topic of "People and their Processed/Packaged Foods", but I will simply say this:
In my experience, people in the West that come from Middle-Class Nine-To-Five areas (i.e. Suburbs of Milan, Springfield, Manchester, etc...but, for instance, not the fancier parts of Paris), regardless of the country or of origin, eat a lot of packaged goods.
I am generalizing, this is not about any particular person or family.
The experiences that I am drawing from are the family and friends that I have living in places like: the UK, The Netherlands, Switzerland, Sweden, Romania, France, Australia and a few others.
My point is: I have not found this to be a particularly American phenomenon. What is, somewhat, unique to our experience, is that our wealth, industrialization and Suburbanization happened at a greater rate than almost all of Europe (and parts of Canada). So, we got "there" a little faster.
When you said, "...Americans are devotees of processed foods" I understand that you did not say that this was uniquely American. However, I an fairl sensitive to that issue and I often detect a "tone" with many hounds in how they refer to packaged food in Suburban 2.3 kids Des Moines to eating at a cafe on the Champs Elysees.
..and that is the shame of the internet. The written word can come across with a misunderstood "tone". Nah. You should not be sensitive to that "Americans are devotees of processed foods"...heck..my own mother couldn't wait to try Hamburger Helper when it first came out. I think she was the first person ever to purchase "Chicken in a Biscuit" crackers--and if you could hear my tone, it would be looking back fondly at my mom--we always teased her about her love of processed, packaged, and convenient foods--it drove my dad and grandparents nuts.
And while your are sensitive to that issue, there are also many Suburban couples with 2.3 kids in Des Moines who could be sensitive to that phrase.
It is what it is what it is. In all the countries I've visited, there has always been conversation about American foods and our eating habits--most likely due to the issue of obesity in our country. On the average, Americans don't eat small portions, they don't go outside of their comfort zone when eating, they love processed and fast food and to each his or her own.
"...there are also many Suburban couples with 2.3 kids in Des Moines who could be sensitive to that phrase."
Yeah, I was actually *trying* to play to a stereotype.
"... they don't go outside of their comfort zone when eating, they love processed and fast food ..."
And this is basically what I am talking about. In my experience, I have not found "Suburban, Everyday" Americans to be any more addicted to fast food than "Suburban, Everyday" Germans.
Also, I would really pick a fight with "...they don't go outside of their comfort zone when eating...". Personally, I find that Americans (and Canadians), in general, are more open to foreign "cuisines" than any place I have ever been. And, without naming names, so many of the people that I have met from some of those renowned European countries are fairly averse to trying newer "cuisines".
with all due respect, the idea that pancakes and biscuits are less of an american reality than "wawa," poptarts, and "instant breakfast" is regional bias.
the idea that the average american pops down to their local deli and has a cold deli meat or egg salad sandwich for lunch, but that hamburgers, dogs, sausages (for starters) appear nowhere on the list. . . this is an uniquely new yorker perspective/error. the list does not apply more than it does apply, sorry to be so critical as to pick it apart like that. i happen to vehemently disagree with the premise of the original post.
i may actually agree w you on your starbucks point though. i think that bux' ubiquity does make it american at this point, and it's always funny to get the visitors from out of town saying "where is the nearest starbucks?" --and then they are *so* upset when nobody can answer them (i live in the only state in the union that boasts more non-starbucks coffee establishments than starbucks)! as far as middle of the road, "mall coffee," bux would be an obvious american coffee model, now unfortunately spreading the stink of its burnt low-quality beans to outposts outside the country and making americans look bad as usual ;-P then again, there are bux people and non-bux people, and not all non-bux people drink DD or "wawa"-- in fact some of us have no clue what "wawa" is. but bux and the "everyday latte" habit is also a class construct that many folks choose to buy into and many folks have no aspirations to, as well.
"the idea that the average american pops down to their local deli and has a cold deli meat or egg salad sandwich for lunch. . . this is an uniquely new yorker perspective/error."
For additional enlightenment on this subject, go to the Southeast board, and search on deli, pizza, or bagels. Much wailing and gnashing of teeth by Northern transplants.
Nice, bbq boy. Was kind of crossing my mind, too. I personally don't get why so often chowhounds are so fast to point out the diversity of regions and nations (Europe, China, etc.) and yet so quick to posit a homogeneity and blandness of so large a swath of land as the USA. Is it because such an imagined world (where everyone but me eats mcdonalds every day) provides the needed sense of superiority?
Seems less interested in actual foodways and more interested in, well, I'll stop here.
Well, it's like trying to answer the question "what does an American look like?"
I also think our "national" foods change from year to year- decade to decade. I am sure that my mother would not have listed many things that are listed here. Many of those foods were just invented in my lifetime (pop tarts, etc.).
Maybe it's the fact that American cuisine is always changing that makes it uniquely "American"?
Right after instant Nescafe. It was a shock to me in Costa Rica and Peru to see the prevalence of instant coffee. And when I go to Latin American markets in Southern Calfornia, it's right there along with the condensed milk.
That eggs and bacon and pancake breakfast..do people really eat it at home? Or is it just a Denny's/IHOP holdover. People I know are just as likely to have oatmeal or a breakfast burrito.
I think Irving Berlin said it best in his musical production, "Mr. President".
Meat and potatoes,
Fried eggs and ham.
That's the kind of guy I am!
Maybe I'm wrong but I think we are the breakfast country. From farmers with a need for a huge breakfast, to the average person. We do love our breakfasts. Bacon and eggs, cereal dry and wet, hot or cold, pancakes and waffles, biscuits and gravy. OH yeah. But I too might be missing your point. I don't see how this quest for American cuisine can be done in country with so many immigrant's influences, and thank goodness. Even the french fry idea was brought home from the men in military stationed or temporarily while there in France.
A lot of our foods and cuisines if you will, orginated by need. Take greens, and fat back, or eating innards. oops they were immigrants. But they did make use of what they had. Okay so not everyone was a slave, but poverty still won out once again creating need.
Hunters (all over America) for instance that went out for game, perhaps that's where the big hunk of meat came from. Jerky? Is that ours? I don't know how you can say anything orginated in America at one time or another out of necessity or creativity. How do you pin point that?
I can see how you're going to get a bunch of redundant answers. We're having a hard time figuring out where to start, what is the beginning of the American cuisine you're looking for. With the pilgims (immigrants), with the American Indians?
re: chef chicklet
No, it is not about what originated in America, but what is common across the country.
China is far more vast and regional than the US and yet people know exactly what is being said about Chinese cuisine. The same might be said of Africa, despite its country-specific cuisines. Middle Eastern food? Yep, despite a number of countries and variations, almost everyone has a good idea of what that is like.
America is no different and I think Jarona's post nails it, eliminating the regional differences.
I don't understand your second paragraph at all. Nor do I understand the basis on which you dismiss regional differences in the American diet. My staples- and thus, the staples of my friends, family, and coworkers- are by and large not what jarona and you imagine. There is a twinge of solipsism about all of this.
You would have had a better point 60 or so years ago, when the North and West dominated national life.
I think a lot of Americans define American food as what "other" people ate since so many of us grew up eating mainly ethnic or regional foods. I can't think of a single thing I think of as truly "American" that I would be happy to eat. On the other hand, I love all kinds of fusion cuisines like Tex-Mex, how about Domincan-Chinese anyone? ,regional like Southern and New England, etc. A lot of people grow up thinking American food is processed food. Anything else is regional or stems from ethnic. Once things are so homogenized as to appeal to the whole country - like honey mustard sauce or blue cheese dressing on chicken tenders and a salad respectively - no foodie wants to eat it.
Ok. I'm back in America a few months.
I took my Guatemalan children to Chinese, Italian, etc, etc, etc, restaurants and asked them "whatt do you want to try next?"
They said "American".
Sadiy, in terms of "American" I have to say that means "CHAINS".
I couldn't think of many places that mean "American"
The diners are gone, for the most part. I'm thinking that an "American" joint ... the best example .. might mean Cheesecake Factory.
It is really funny that you mention that.
I live in Philadelphia where the restaurant scene is doing quite well. Anyway, in my neighborhood there is a place that is basically a diner called Honey's (Sit n' Eat). It serves pretty straight forward "American" food. I mention this because it has maybe the highest rating of any place in the neighborhood, and possibly the whole city. On the weekends, you can not get a table without waiting about 30 minutes or longer.
Again, it is basically a diner.
People, in so many parts of America, are absolutely desperate for "American" food done to a high quality without any pretension.
Yes, we love our "Ethnic" food, but give us some Corn Fritters (corn, from a local farm, fried in clarified butter or lard) or whatever and we are quite happy.
And if it is being served by a woman who has a quick smile (but doesn't take any sh*t from punks) and calls you "Hon", well, our soul will be filled for the day.