What says "American Food" to you?
Living in a foreign country for years now, I'm always taken aback a little by what people who only visit the US occasionally (or only know it from movies and sitcoms) consider true "American Food" or American eating habits.
I'll be hosting a party for a small group of foreigners soon and would like to serve some dishes that would be different for them, but am having a hard time with the menu, so I thought I'd throw it out there and ask what American food means to foodies in the US, or foreigners who have some insights on it.
first you have to pick a section of the USA that you want to represent. Below are some of my favorite American foods.
Bar B Q
chicken fried steak
dungeness crab any way I can get it
fried cat fish
you might notice a lot of these are Southern. So am I
I grew up in NZ and 'American' food was represented as burgers (thanks to the opening of McDonalds in the 80's the subsequent arrival of Burger King and Wendy's in either the late 80's or early 90's) and tex-mex style 'Lone Star' restaurants - steaks, chicken, more burgers, giant plates of nachos and wings. A lot of emphasis on the size of the meal.
However, once I got a bit older and a little more educated thanks to a love of reading cookbooks and watching food channels on Sky (who knew that there was more to the States than LA and NY as shown on TV?) I started to see that there was a whole lot more.
So, when I think of American food now, I think of:
Burgers, hotdogs, pizza, everything served at Thanksgiving, gumbo, BBQ, grits, biscuits, cornbread, bagels, pretzels, reuben sandwiches, russian dressing, baked zitti, po boys, giant pickles, fried chicken, blackened everything, tuna (it's popular everywhere now, but as a kid canned tuna was something we read about in Baby Sitters Club books), diners, delis, soda, candy.
Funny how most of the things I think of as 'American' were introduced by different cultures - shows what a melting pot it is!
Huge Plus on ultimatepotato and Jen10. A TG dinner would be a fabulous representation of standard "American" grub. Because if you veer away from regionality and look at what our culture has "absorbed," an American meal could be described as:
Fried Chicken (Dev. in Asia or Africa)
Black Beans and Rice (Moors y Christianos, Spanish in origin)
Coleslaw (koolslaa, German in origin)
Pasta salad (a mashup: Italian/Asian/Whatever)
And it would be just as American as anything else you could serve. Especially if you add corn on the cob. Which would be the only truly uniquely Americanized foodstuff on that table. But Thanksgiving.......I like it a lot.
re: pine time
I had the same problem in Italy, but I shopped late and missed the only available birds in that village. Another friend went abroad the following year and had no problems, but you're totally right. I perceived the OP to mean that she was now here and hosting a group of people not from the States, but upon re-reading i see that was mistaken.
My Mom made a huge pot of chili for a bunch of U.K. expats, and they acted like it was the best thing they had ever eaten. Of course, they were all living in Cairo at the time, so that may have caused them to be over impressed. They also loved plain old pinto beans and cornbread.
If there's one thing we're good at, it's bastardizing the food of other cultures. In your situation, I would take the native foods of your guests and Americanize the dishes. Go for larger portions and stronger flavors; added fat and sweeteners are common, as is toning down anything that's hot. Common techniques are deep frying and BBQ. The result will be something familiar, but very different and worthy of discussion (Where in America is this technique used? Where is this grown?).
If your guests were really interested in what a lot of Americans eat for dinner on a typical night, I'd make Dave Lieberman's Bubby's meatloaf (and do a topping of ketchup with brown sugar, Worcestershire sauce, and a tiny drop of BBQ sauce, smear on the top and place some bacon strips on top); serve with really good whipped potatoes and green beans. Warm apple crisp with vanilla ice cream for dessert (or maybe key lime pie topped with whipped cream). Ten years ago we had about 10 Russians visit us for dinner. My husband had worked with them briefly overseas and he knew they loved beef so we grilled a beef tenderloin, along with baked potatoes w/ sour cream & chives, and a big tossed salad. They loved it; altho' beef tenderloin is not the typical food for most Americans. Maybe a marinated, grilled flank steak or sirloin would be more "typical".
Now that I have more time to think about it, things such as:
- casseroles made with the ever-present cream of mushroom soup and Lipton Onion Soup Mix
- taco salads,
- 'sloppy joes'
- tuna casserole
- chicken ala king
- chicken noodle soup
- baked beans w/ molasses
- chicken-fried steak
- punkin' pie
- fried chicken
- green goddess salads
- peach cobblers
- lettuce salads
- scalloped potatoes (French in origin, but throroughly Americanized)
- hash browns
And why can forget - APPLE PIE
Shall we consider those early Americans
who over long long generations
teased tassels of grass now called Teosinte
and each season, culled and replanted
to give what today is called Corn?
Kudos to the role
And then those untrained but sharp-eyed rascals
got hold of some strains of wild beans
And proceeded to breed divergent varieties
but each to their climate
and their cultivation needs.
Each Fall as we give a good thump to the pumpkin
the sound that resounds does go back very far
again, to the earliest guiders of gourd and of squash.
Today the appeal of American food
draws throngs to the yellow-striped tarmac of "Drive Thru"
where as denizens with idling engines they queue.
Just one part of the story.
Thanks for all the input, everyone! I enjoyed reading the replies, although I have to admit I'm still not sure what to cook!
I do a traditional (for me) southern Thanksgiving for about 25 people in November, but this little party I'm planning now will be in May so I am thinking in other directions. It will also only be lunch for women, although I'm often looking for ideas to fix "American" for mixed groups as well, so I didn't qualify this post.
I have to admit, I get a bit tired of the cracks about Americans and their eating habits, like assuming we eat fast food 4 times a day or that deep fried Twinkies are served up at parties.
I immediately thought of red beans and rice, gumbo, jambalaya, etc but cannot see this crowd enjoying those things, unfortunately. I've heard some of the slam their 1 and only attempt with grits years ago as well, although I might have done a small plate with grits and shrimp if I hadn't known there would be a non-fish eater coming. Not sure how far I'd have to travel to find a mirliton! We're talking across several countries, I'm sure.
I'm pretty good in the kitchen and want to do something a bit impressive. After reading the responses, I'm thinking maybe several different sliders--a more traditional hamburger, chicken fillet on a biscuit, and pulled pork on a roll.
Another thought the Ad Hoc version of fried chicken, served with some tweaked mashed potatoes or mac and cheese. Sort of good ole American classed up a bit. Corn is difficult to get here this time of year, otherwise I agree that would be a good addition (they mostly only eat it cold on salads here).
Maybe tiny brownies or hot fudge sundaes in shot glasses or something for either.
The Ad Hoc fried chicken is a brilliant taste of Americana. I think it is best to err on the side of lighter sides. Mashed potatoes and white gravy would be good along with some greens, macaroni and beet salad or really light buttermilk biscuits with some cultured butter. Watermelon salad with mint and salty cheese would be a nouveau American side to consider as well.
Sliders would be good, but in my experience if you are making burgers, it is hard to keep them warm and juicy without cooking them to order. Chicken biscuits can last a bit longer if placed on a rack in a warm oven.
> cannot see this crowd enjoying those things
If you are trying to be sensitive to Danes' tastes, perhaps your food selections should reflect the upper Mid-West, ie, Minnesota. Although you won't be able to source rhubarb, you could substitute with lingonberries. Many favorite dishes have their roots in Scandanavian foods, and you should be able to serve lutefisk with bacon, potatoes, and peas - and griddled lefse.
I like a Minnesota "hot dish" (casserole).
Those dishes are mostly Swedish rather than Danish, but I wouldn't dream of cooking THEIR national foods! The whole point was to give them some experience with the nicer side of the US food culture, perhaps things they have never tried, if that's even possible.
P.S. Rhubarb is very common here, much more so than lingonberries!
I missed where you said you were in Denmark (your id). I was going to ask what country you were from.
One of the links was to my post on American cuisine and I think this response is one of the best I've had.
That being said, I think you have to be sensative to the culture where you are living. People outside the US aren't as quick to embrace "different" food. It was probably the resaons for some of your past failures.
When you mentioned Ad Hoc, it gave me the idea of maybe thinking along the lines of New American cuisine a la Alice Waters.
Here goes my Danish stereotype but they like salmon don't they? Maybe some sort of salmon dish.
I think some sort of potato is essential if you want to represent American cuisine. Not fries, but maybe mashed or scalloped.
Of course, good bread or rolls.
Then I would improvise from there. From the link above there was a discussion of salads being quintensially American. Maybe a nice gussied up salad. I would not make that the focus though as salads can turn people off ... but with ladies ... what is more American than the chef salad?
Brownies are very American, but you need to judge if your guests like dense desserts. If not, maybe a strawberry shortcake.
Roasts meats are also very American ... leg of lamb, Roast beef, chicken etc.
As far as a Thanksgiving dinner, over the years I've hosted a few Thanksgiving dinners where a number of my guests were not Americans. I have to say that to someone outside the US, it is one of the most universally hated meals. It is bland, fatty, heavy. I have yet to serve pumpkin pie to soeone who was not American who liked it.
So if you are in Denmark, wha is the flavor profile for Danes? What do they like to eat? Given that, it would be easier to steer you towards American foods that Danes might like. If you are not in Denmark, then where are you living and what do the people in that culture like?
I've lived for the past year in Guatemala. My stepchildren will be moving back with me. One of them is already unhappy about the move and prepared to dislike anything about America, espcially the food that is different ... was I sent to food hell, or what
Anyway, in terms of what I will be making for the kids ... good lord, I'm going to be cooking, too ... I'll do American food, but initially food that is compatible with what they like. I'll introduce new things as sides, but never the main course.
So, given my experience, it is why I have a strong feeling that you should be considring what a Dane would like about American food. I'm American, but not from the south and I pretty much dislike grits myself ... the way that Southerners like them. However, dress them up to my tastes such as adding things in like cheese ... I'm on board with grits
I'm a US Midwesterner living abroad, and when I crave American food the only thing on my mind is blue-collar diner or truck-stop food. Most of it can be cooked on a greasy flat top griddle. Let's see:
Shredded hash browns slow cooked in butter
Crispy thin patty double burgers with ketchup, mustard, pickle, American cheese
Eggs over easy with Tobasco
Pot roast sandwich
Meatloaf with ketchup glaze
Mashed potatoes and beef gravy, these can even be made out of powder, it doesn't matter
Chicken fried steak
Mild chili with beans
Overcooked vegetables like peas, carrots, and green beans
Italian beef sandwich with hot peppers
Strong black coffee with a pinch of salt
Got to stop, getting homesick...
i'd do a little buffet with a nice bunch of bbq pork ribs, fried chicken, rib-eye steak, clam chowder or crab bisque (or gumbo), potato salad, macaroni and cheese, deviled eggs, pecan pie, apple pie, vanilla ice cream, corn on the cob, chocolate chip cookies, banana pudding. oh, we need something green..... pole beans with some cornbread. caesar salad (i know, i know, caesar cardini was mexican, but this salad is ubiquitous in the u.s., and i'm not so sure that it is popular in any other countries).
that's a good variety, and a sampler of americana.
for more -- whether to finish up or snack beforehand -- there are some great american cheeses, too.
When my sister and her family were living in San Vito dei Normanni, near Brindisi, she was friends with a family next door, though none of them spoke each other's language. Mom and I were visiting on a holiday, and Teresa invited us to join them for a holiday dinner, midday of course. It was delicious. I had to get back the following week, but Mom and my sister decided to have the neighbors over for an American lunch featuring fried chicken and potato salad. We all consider Mom's potato salad to be a National Treasure; it consist only of potatoes and eggs in equal numbers and a quarter as many smallish onions with mayonnaise to bind, plus adequate salt and some pepper. They loved the chicken and whatever other side dishes, but they all found the potato salad inedible; Italians do NOT eat raw onion! So a bit of research into native tastes is probably a good idea, assuming you're not feeding seriously adventurous eaters …
Too late to tell that to Mom, I'm afraid, but I have dropped the chopped onion into the potato pot for the last couple of minutes, and that works well. And Tessa Kiros, in her "Falling Cloudberries" cookbook, passes along the Greek trick of soaking sliced onion in cold salt water for thirty minutes, which takes all the bite out but keeps the sweetness.
re: Will Owen
funnily enough, i just saw lidia bastianich making a ligurian potato salad with pancetta lardons, red wine vinegar, whole grain mustard, cooked together in the lardon's renderings. the hot dressing was then poured over cooked, peeled and quartered red bliss potatoes, with a good handful of chopped pickles and scallions.
i also looked up a similar sicilian salad recipe to that i saw on ciao italia, and the thinly sliced red onions are also "tamed" in a water soak. http://caloriecount.about.com/fennel-...
good-lookin' salad, huh?
Well, you know the Greeks colonized Sicily, the South of France and southern Italy, and shared ethnicity with a lot of the other folks who lived there as well as some culture. As I'm discovering more and more that food spreads a lot more quickly and easily than language, and as onions are one of those things we were eating before we were homo sapiens, we should expect that such simple tricks as salting and/or soaking onion would be well and widely established in the Mediterranean area. We just didn't know about that in our family because we're all Brits and Germans.
re: Will Owen
I sense there is pulse of a passion for onion.
Al that's required is you just gotta rinse 'em..
Our own evolution is tied tight to the Allium.
Some times call for lavage, but always embrace.
But as to my own, in terms a bit cruder:
Don't mess with my taters when I mix 'em with onions.
salt takes out the bite? maybe it draws out the acrid juice?
actually i will eat raw onions, but find that they don't like me so much as the ones that have been tamed in a little ice water soak.
i've heard some say that they'll eat freshly pulled vidalias right there in the field. they claim they're that sweet. maybe they're just used to it.
I think it may be they're just used to eating the Vidalias. Each year, Vidalia, GA hosts the Sweet Vidalia Onion Festival in May. They have an onion eating contests and there are even children participating! An uncle of mine participated one year. I can't imagine eating all that raw onion. I would be sick. Vidalias are a milder onion but sometimes they do have a good bit of heat. It depends on the growing season..how wet/dry/hot/cold is what I've been told. I know I have gotten Arizona sweets and others that were milder.
i've certainly had non sweet vidalias, so i know what you're talking about. anytime i think about sweet onions, i recall this great (no, "magnificent") peach-onion "salsa" made with "texas 1015 sweet" onions. i got it as a gift, from some shop in mcdonough georgia, but i could never track down the brand (and like an idiot didn't save the jar).
Again, there are so many fish in the cod family in the North Sea, such high quality dairy, and potatoes are so ubiquitous, that New England chowder seems alike a natural. I made it for my landlord's familyn during the five years I liced on the west coast of Norway. Such good crusty good bread, slathered in butter for dipping. I also made crab & shrimp dip appitizers from the local crab and North Atlantic shrimp. Shrimp scampi or Alfredo too.
I'm afraid I'd have to import the root beer from the US, and I'm pretty sure it wouldn't go over too well. Most Danes taste only "perfume" when they drink non-cola American soft drinks. I occasionally see Dr.Pepper in the stores, and of course there's plenty of Coca-cola and Sprite, as well as Orange Fanta, but that's about it.
OK. serve Cafeteria or buffet style.
Chicago deep dish pizza.
Dry rubbed ribs.
Chicken and dumplings
Texas and Cincy chili.
Beans, noodles, and rice to serve the chili over. Cheddar to sprinkle on top.
Salad with Ranch ,Italian, and Thousand Island dressing.
Celery stuffed with peanut butter and cream cheese(not in the same stalks:) )+
Black olives, carrot sticks and dill strips for your appetizer platter.
Green beans with ham and red potatoes.
Red Velvet Cake and Cherry Pie with vanilla ice cream.
Date Milk Shakes.
One of life's gift's was to witness cancer stricked Mama
imbibe and insnort on some garden fresh limas.
that took her with chuckle right back to her youth.
Real Joy to stand witness of her travel in Limas.
Real Joy to be there with her as she journeyed in beans,
In truth I accord that the pinto be best
of all of the pick of the beans.
But that moment's shared beauty of glissade into Limas
holds a handful, a singular space.
A descent to the beauty of life, chomp, and bean.
Oklahoma. Good bean-growing land,
And fertile for families and lots of good Mommas.
We also have eagles
nested in twiggories
a few have a camera.
Really good day is to go eagle gazing
then set buttocks down
at one the dives
that produce Onionburgers.
It is the Quint of essential foods Okie
and for certain deserves a singular thread.
I love that I live in a smooth rolling land
where within space of a day not just eagles
but also the joy and the counter-based banter
that comes with a burger competes with its onions.
Endemic it is
Our good Onion Burgers.
Joy to feel heat from the face of that flat top.
There is something so sweet when the Alliums sizzle.
But then as I said is a whole 'nother thread.
But Momma sure liked those burgers from Krystal
and the crunch of reconstituted onoins.
Succotash: in our family, it was always corn and green beans. In my family now, following Mrs. O's preference, it's corn and baby limas. My preferred preparation is canned corn and frozen limas, using the juice from the corn as part of the limas' cooking water. A bit of salt, plenty of black pepper, and a big pat of butter if we aren't dieting …
According to Evan Jones's "American Food", succotash in old New England was often a much more elaborate vegetable stew. He quotes the diary of a farmer, who mentions that on such-and-such a night he ate this, or that, and then in one entry he says: "Tonight I DIN'D on Succotash!"
Put enough butter in there and I'll eat it with any bean!
I honestly do miss the green-bean version sometimes, though. Mom always did the dish as she usually cooked green beans, with onion and bacon, and when beans and corn were both in season it was a special treat. Canned green beans not so much …
Mr. Pine Time is from India, and his instant response was "hamburgers". Mind you, though, he's not a fan of them.
your idea of 3 different main courses sounds a little heavy- why don't you do a brunch for dinner? or even have them over for brunch (uniquely American as far as I know - at least compared to other Western countries). it could be really fun with champagne cocktails- champagne and fresh oj or something.
eggs benedict with lox on english muffins or equivalent bread
home fried potatoes
waffles or pancakes with butter and maple syrup/powdered sugar/honey or jam. to make it american, make the pancakes with blueberries in it.
The French Croque-Monsieur = a Ham & Cheese Sandwich or if brunch, the Monte Cristo
The French Croque-Madame = a Fried Egg Sandwich
"American Food" is such a broad subject, but what definitly says A merican to me are hamburgers, hot dogs and southern barbecue.