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What is "American food"?

I went to an Indian restaurant this weekend and knew what style of food I would get and the kind of ingredients that would be used. I realize India is an enormous country with thousands of languages and cultures and probably styles of food, but at least in terms of Indian restaurants in the U.S., I know what to expect.

As an American, I find it hard to define "American food" beyond things like hamburgers and southern cusine like fried chicken and mac and cheese. I'm not suggesting American food is low-brow just that the other dishes are combinations of dishes from elsewhere or updated versions. I'm not a cook and don't work in the food business. Are there styles of cooking, ingredients, preparations that are now considered "American"? How would you describe "American food" to someone from overseas who was visiting and hadn't had it before?

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    1. quick, big & cheap

      not a chef either but our typical American diet is not much to write home about.

      Good question though, hope you get some good answers.

      10 Replies
        1. re: jpc8015

          Americans want food that is quick, a lot of it, and affordable. What's wrong with that? I would say that is capitalism.

          1. re: danionavenue

            it certainly is the perception most people from elsewhere have of american food.

            1. re: danionavenue

              I think that's short sighted and disregards the extent to which readily available foods are a component of other national cuisines. I could pick up a brilliantly pre-made sandwich on Rue du Buci or a (less delicious) packaged one from Boots or Gregg, or a shop in Prague. Pasties, pies and like are available from bakeries and such, and the wait is hardly significant.
              And as for ready meals, they have infiltrated most markets in Europe as well.
              The real question, then, would be to look at the types of foods more readily available for the speedy preparation and consumption. I think it's fascinating that in Britain, the majority of frozen foods are potato-based, whereas when at Picard in France, I've been able to delight in the range of purées (oh, how I miss that).
              This isn't answering the American food question, but crying foul on the lazy dismissal that refuses to acknowledge the degree to which food has been made fast in many spaces.
              I will say that servings are much larger in the U.S. on average. When I went back this spring, I found myself giggling whenever I was presented with a glass or a dish. But they're certainly growing in the UK.
              Could be an issue of capitalism, as noted, but if so, it's worth unpacking this affect, and not dismissing it as 'American' or 'Americanisation', since there is more going on that's worth considering. How are economics influencing our dining? (Not, 'oh, I'm broke, so I don't eat out' but other developments.)

              1. re: Lizard

                With more than half of us overweight or obese and more than 30% of our children being overweight yes, we need to realize the typical American diet is flawed and should not be celebrated.

                1. re: danionavenue

                  Obesity rates are rising globally as societies develop their economies and increase access to food. Obesity rates in the South Pacific are far higher than what one finds in the US. There are nearly as many overweight children per capita in Egypt as there are in the US. Higher income city dwellers in sub-Saharan African have surprisingly high rates of obesity compared to rural dwellers. These are not problems created by Americans or their diet but by increasing affluence internationally. Tackling the problem requires more nuanced responses than a reflexive criticism of America and the systems that are globalizing wealth.

                  1. re: JungMann

                    I remember when the book, "French Women Don't Get Fat" diet book came out reading stories in the paper about the increasing number of overweight people in France.

                    As far as I can tell, the easiest way to figure out how many overweight people you will see in a given country is to see how many middle to upper middle class suburbs a country has....so places like the UK and Germany are going to have more overweight people (per capita) than France or Italy, with places like Northern Italy (suburbs of Milan and such) having more overweight people than, say, Puglia.

                    So America has more of the places than any other in the industrialized world, with Canada close behind, and we 2 have the most obesity.

                    Plus, it seems to be the poorest people in wealthy places that seem to be the fattest. For whatever that is worth.

                    1. re: DougRisk

                      Actually various South Pacific countries (Tonga, Samoa), Middle Eastern countries (Kuwait and Egypt come to mind), and Mexico have now surpassed the USA in obesity rates. Some other countries have very similar rates (Australia and Chile). Overall obesity rates are increasing worldwide at a faster pace than in the US. So, we can expect various more countries to overtake the US in obesity. Not all those countries have exactly the same pattern of upper to middle class suburban living either. In fact, in the US, obesity rates are higher among lower income groups--less access to fresh foods, more cheap processed food.

                      1. re: Wawsanham

                        You are absolutely right, and I should have qualified what I said. This is the pattern that I have seen in western countries.

                        "In fact, in the US, obesity rates are higher among lower income groups--less access to fresh foods, more cheap processed food."

                        Right, it is the wealthy "cosmopolitan" urbanites who are the thinnest (on average) and the poor who are the heaviest.

                        1. re: DougRisk

                          among other things, it's stress.

        2. Take samples of food from Eastern Europe, Western Europe, South America, and China. Put in a huge tumbler with a liberal seasoning of foods from Africa, Japan, and the rest of Asia. Mix thoroughly and cook using every method known to man (or serve raw) and you have "American" food. Best to avoid most types from the freezer section of your local supermart.

            1. I'd describe American food by giving an example of what an American family might eat for 1 or 2 days full menu, whether eating out or eating in.

              Bkfst. eggs, bacon, sausage, toast or cereal and banana

              Lunch: Salad and sandwich. soda drink.

              Dinner: Burgers and fries or spaghetti with meat sauce or pizza. Beer or wine.

              1. I presume you would also make the following statement:

                "I went to a Chinese restaurant this weekend and knew what style of food I would get and the kind of ingredients that would be used. I realize China is an enormous country with thousands of languages and cultures and probably styles of food, but at least in terms of Chinese restaurants in the U.S., I know what to expect."

                Would you also make the following statement? If not, why not? ;-)

                “I went to a European Continental restaurant this weekend and knew what style of food I would get and the kind of ingredients that would be used. I realize Europe is an enormous place with thousands of languages and cultures and probably styles of food, but at least in terms of European Continental restaurants in the U.S., I know what to expect."


                1. The restaurants that I have been to in the Middle East that serve a menu aimed at American tastes have featured hamburgers, pizzas, sandwiches, etc...

                  I think that these foods are pretty typical all over the Western diet, not just in America. I see them all over in Europe as well.

                  If you drill down a bit deeper I don't think there is one single American cuisine, but instead many regional ones. The South is known for there barbecue whereas the North East is known for lobster rolls and clam chowder. You have some Asian influence on the West Coast and the Mid-West is all about meat and potatoes.

                  The people who will dismiss American cuisine out of hand have simply not put forth much effort in looking past McDonald's. Is there anything more sublime than a cobbler made with fresh peaches from Georgia and a big scoop of vanilla bean ice cream? How about an omlette with Dungenesse crab and chives. Both are outstanding examples of American cuisine.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: jpc8015

                    More the the point, fast food is simply this culture's gruel/porridge/sop. In most agriculturally-based cultures for most of human history, the vast bulk of people eat the staple grain in some basic form with some condiments. America has disguised its corn in the form of fast food. Compared to the historical alternative, I think most human beings would say it's not worse from an interest/flavor point of view.

                    1. re: Karl S

                      That's a pretty cool way of putting it. Will have to mull it over a bit. But interesting post either way.

                  2. My husband works for a European company. When his colleagues are in the area, or if the current ex-pats have family visiting, they always want to go to a diner. This is what they consider "American Food." Of course, many diners (at least here on the East Coast, guess I shouldn't speak for the whole country) offer lots of Greek American items. But I think it is the atmosphere combined with the burgers, fries and milkshakes that are ubiquitous on all the menus. I was told quite directly when attempting to make suggestions, that a diner (preferably one with chrome and neon) is specifically what they mean when they ask for suggestions of American restaurants.

                    6 Replies
                    1. re: centralpadiner

                      I second this. The whole atmosphere and menu of the classic greasy diner are the bedrock of American food to my friends from other countries. They also see the "American breakfast" as very representative: a big-ass platter of eggs, bacon, hash browns, biscuits, and sausage gravy originally designed as fuel for a hard day's work on the farm.

                        1. re: RealMenJulienne

                          The question is, is what others expect of a country's cuisine indicative of what the cuisine actually is? If Americans went to China, Italy, India, etc, what they'd expect to find is generally very different from what they find. I think the diner is one aspect of American food but just one of many. I think it's like saying pizza is the bedrock of Italian food.

                          1. re: chowser

                            I agree, and I think that what you are really saying is that food in a culture is so diverse and complicated, that it is essentially impossible to define the national cuisine of almost any country. Even small countries have strong divisions in food culture between regions due to differences in availability, climate and even wealth. However, it is most likely outsiders that will attempt to find the least common denominator. So, for Europeans, American food may equal the ubiquitous burger and fries, no matter how inaccurate that is. And, yes, for quite a few Americans pizza (or perhaps pasta) is the definitive Italian cuisine.

                            1. re: centralpadiner

                              Definitely--we all have our perceptions of what foods are like in different countries.

                              When I studied in England, my friends gave me an "American" party w/ foods they thought were American, including calling the food "vittles" because one person thought that's what we called it (maybe if it's cat food and it's tender vittles...). I can't remember the collection of food but do remember the Bud Light which was so expensive there.

                              1. re: chowser

                                They probaby got that from watching reruns of the Beverly Hillbillies.

                      1. You are talking about going to an Indian restaurant in the USA, right? What would you expect if you went to an 'Indian restaurant' in India?

                        If you went to an 'American restaurant' in Madrid you might know what to expect - for another thread I found a Spanish blogger reviewing a 'New York' burger place in that city. Or if you went to a Pizza Hut in India you know what to expect, right? Kaidai panner pizza, Florence chicken pizza, creamy stroganoof pasta.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: paulj

                          I'd even venture to say that in many Indian restaurants you go to in the US, you're getting American food and nothing like you'd find in India (I say that not having been to India but have heard from Indian friends). I'd say the same for most "ethnic" foods (avoiding the debate on what is ethnic but meaning foods from other cultures) in the US. Not inferior, just different.

                        2. I think of American food as a traditional turkey dinner; mashed and sweet potatoes and dressing and gravy and all the fixin's. Or a down home barbeque platter including corn on the cob. Blueberries, cranberries, apple pie.

                          The one million and one jello concoctions our mothers and gmothers invented. Burgers, fries, and a milkshake.

                          Fried chicken and biscuits. Steak, baked potato, and salad.

                          A hot dog at the ball park. Anything and everything fried at the fair.

                          Cincinnati chili, Cobb Salad, San Francisco sourdough, scrapple, frappes, jambalaya, tri tip, macaroni and cheese, meatloaf, BLT and BLAT sandwiches, chocolate chip cookies, New England Boiled Dinner, Beef on Weck, French dip sandwiches, cioppino, fortune cookies, etc. etc. etc.

                          1. There are many answers to your question, 'what is American food:?'. Here are all my answers:

                            A Thanksgiving feast.
                            Traditional Southern cooking dishes
                            A traditional July 4th BBQ-ribs, hamburgers, hotdogs, watermelon, cobblers
                            Then all the ethnic and other geographical areas, for example, NY='s pizza, black and white cookies, bagels...Boston for baked beans...Philly for philly cheese steak....

                            You get the idea...

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: synergy

                              Exactly--the question could be asked what southern food is and that would be a broad subject, let alone all of America. I've moved often and each region has its specialties. Not only that but each region's versions of ethnic foods are different--there was a long thread on comparing Chinese food from the east coast to the west coast. I think both types are American foods, same culture, different parts of the country, different foods.

                            2. I hesitate to point out the obvious . . . Okay, hesitation completed. To a degree unknown to any other country, America is a country of immigrants. Therefore, there is no preexisting, slowly developed over thousands of years, cuisine. So, since we have remained a diverse culture, there is not the predictablity of spices, vegetables, etc. that you find in many other cuisines. This means that if you are going to talk about American food, you have to talk about an eclectic bunch of dishes from many cultures, dishes NOT DEVELOPED IN AMERICA. BUT THEY'RE STILL AMERICAN! In many cases, we've modified them a bit. I know this is heresy, but we improved pizza.

                              As to other "typical American foods," I would include Steak Diane, Caesar salad (yeah, I know it was invented in a hotel in Tijuana, but I'll bet you more Caesar salad is eaten each day in the U.S. than in Mexico), the loaded baked potato, apple crisp, apple pie, apple fritters, corn flakes, pumpkin pie. You get the idea. There is no American food with a common theme the way there is in Mexico (the tortilla in various forms with chiles, cheese, tomatoes, tomato sauce, etc.), Italy (pasta in various forms with cheese, tomatoes, tomato sauce, etc.).

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: gfr1111

                                David Rosengarten's excellent cookbook, "It's All American Food," dilates at length on this theme....

                                1. re: gfr1111

                                  ... except that we do have our own ethnic, developed over hundreds of years cuisine. it includes goobers, an' cornbread, squash and huckleberries.

                                2. I'm surprised no one's mentioned (I think) our various forms of meat barbecue--pork spare ribs, pulled pork, beef ribs, etc.

                                  Deep dish pizza, regional variations on hot dogs, and our typical fruit pies are also things that I think would not be easy to find on a trip to another continent.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. Steak, chicken, pork, potatoes, corn, pasta, white bread, tomato sauce/ketchup, butter, soda.

                                    One of the characteristics that comes to mind, for me, is the compartmentalization of foods in a meal -- meat here, starch there, vegetables over there.

                                    (Sure, there are stews and other kinds of dishes that don't follow this principle, but I think they are more the exception.)

                                    3 Replies
                                    1. re: racer x

                                      Oh, another characteristic feature of the standard contemporary American cuisine is the relative dearth of animal innards, such as kidneys or brains, and the near-complete absence of animal parts that might remind the diner that what they are eating was once alive (fish eyes, lamb heads, feet, etc.).

                                      Not to say that there are no American subcultures in which these food items are treasured.
                                      Just that you will never, ever find brains or fish eyes in a college or hospital cafeteria, or in a Stouffer's tv dinner tray, or on a diner menu.

                                      1. re: racer x

                                        well this makes sense, since America as a whole was more recently developed, and is a much more decentralized country with population centers being farther apart. Innards and such spoil very rapidly, so large numbers of people getting them isn't feasible. So most American recipes for innards are from rural areas, such as scrapple or chitlins. The eastern seaboard/urban areas just haven't had innards as much of an option

                                        1. re: peanuttree

                                          In Maine, we love clam innards, steamed or fried.
                                          "I don't want no burger
                                          I don't want no SPAM
                                          I don't care if it's boiled or fried,
                                          Just give me a big friggin' clam!"

                                          The Wicked Good Band, who also wrote that classic, "Hey Bartender Passadumdeg".

                                    2. To me American food depends on what part of the country you are in. Southern, we might do pies, fried chicken , corn pudding spoon bread. I go up North and they have just as traditional foods that are just as good. Kansas, steaks and Bar B Q, CA, fresh veggies seafood with an Asian influence.

                                      America is a melting pot and our food reflects that. No one region of the country screams American food. Since the country was founded we have had other cultures blend our food. American food reflects the world.

                                      1. What could be more American than peanut butter and jelly?

                                        1. American cookies. Sure, other places have their sweet biscuits or local nibbles, but the range and breadth of cookies available in the US is impressive. Chocolate chip cookies probably win as being the most "American" as it was indeed certifiably invented in the US.

                                          Brownies is another popular American invention.

                                          The American layer cake. As with cookies, the Americans brought over the basic concept of cakes from Europe - both the English maderia cakes and the French genoise, and transformed them into the glorious layer cakes of today.

                                          Pies. Fruit pies are surprisingly not common in other countries (other than Canada) despite being a relatively simple concept. Europe has its fruit tarts, we have our pies. The custard/chiffon pies and pecan pies are nonexistent outside North America as well.

                                          26 Replies
                                          1. re: Roland Parker

                                            Cookies, cakes, and pies are all part of American home baking. Stoves with ovens suitable for baking historically have been more common in the USA than in many other countries. The Splendid Table just interviewed Dorri Greenspan, an cookbook author focusing on France. She said that when she first moved to France (a decade or so past) her apartment did not have an oven, just two gas hotplates. She thought this explained why the French were so good at stove top stews.

                                            Baking in Europe was done by the village baker, or in the communal (or manor) oven. But settlement patterns in the USA, esp. the south and midwest, was too spread out for that. Pioneers first used dutch ovens (coals on top and below), and then castiron stoves as they became available. Even in cities, neighborhood bakeries are more common than in the USA. Americans may not bake bread as much, but the cake and pie tradition still remains strong.

                                            Another difference from Europe. The American colonies started off depending on corn, not wheat. Wheat didn't become common until the mid 19th c when eastern European immigrants brought their wheat stains, and settled in the midwest and great plains. Cattle drives and later stockyards were also part of this western expansion, and development of a uniquely beef centered diet.

                                            1. re: paulj

                                              Hey Paul,
                                              I have been trying to find out more and more about traditional bread baking in America during,say, the late 1700's and throughout the 1800's. Other than some generic information, I have not found much.

                                              Do you know of any good books (or other resources) out there that would help?


                                                1. re: paulj

                                                  Thank you.

                                                  This is not bad, but is still not answering what I was hoping to answer, so

                                                  After wheat prices came down in the middle of the 1800s and before "sandwich" bread (i.e. a Pullman Loaf, or whatever you want to call it) was-invented/became-popular in the 1930s (1920s ?), what kind of yeast bread was the average person/woman/baker in Kansas baking?

                                                  Again, thanks.

                                                  1. re: DougRisk

                                                    milk bread, with eggs. because milk was plentiful (assuming you had a cow) and everyone had a chicken.
                                                    French cooking has oodles of things where you "just throw an egg in" -- completely unnecessary, doesn't change the flavor at all, but they had eggs, so in they went!

                                                    1. re: Chowrin

                                                      I don't understand. I think that I am missing the context of your statement.

                                                      1. re: DougRisk

                                                        she was probably making a basic hand-kneaded yeasted wheat bread, most likely baking just once a week. some of the old bread recipes call for 30 cups flour, which would have to be hand-sifted (flour was less refined at the time), then all the loaves kneaded by hand, and baked in a hand-stoked wood stove. it would take people several hours to chop the wood, then build the fire carefully to heat up the oven to high enough heat for a couple hours, and then the coals would need to be raked out and the ashes around the oven swept up so as not to contaminate the baked goods, all before bread baking could begin-- this explains why most people baked just once a week! when the oven coals cooled, pies, cakes, and other desserts were baked. custards were last. quite a huge all-day project. this is prior to dry yeast being commercially available (1940s). women used mother/sourdoughs saved from previous batches of breads and also used "barms" or yeast from fermenting beer/ale to bake with.

                                                        in 1900, housewives bought 95% of american flour. by 1970 bakery and store-bought bread had become the norm, and home bakers (which now included more men) bought just 15% of american flour.

                                                        i know this still does not answer your specific question. i'd contact a local historical society or a library in an old kansas town and ask about historical recipes from the area. sounds interesting.

                                                        1. re: soupkitten

                                                          "...this explains why most people baked just once a week!"

                                                          I can believe it.

                                                          "... when the oven coals cooled, pies, cakes, and other desserts were baked. custards were last. quite a huge all-day project.."

                                                          I am fascinated with the order of things (i.e. Very Old Fashioned Home Economics), how did you learn this? Was it from a specific book?

                                                          I am absolutely fascinated by the various things that were cooked/baked/fished/farmed at various times of the day/week/etc. to make the most of what they had and, hopefully, maximize the nutritional value of things.

                                                          "i know this still does not answer your specific question."

                                                          No, no, I loved it all. If you want to drop more here or start another thread, you will have at least one reader.

                                                          "i'd contact a local historical society or a library in an old kansas town and ask about historical recipes from the area"

                                                          I have been reading as much as I can for months now and know a lot more than used to, but the bread thing is still getting to me, and, on that note...

                                                          The baking process you were describing, would the bread be like what we would now consider a basic (well-kneaded) country loaf.

                                                          1. re: DougRisk

                                                            hey there. i got some of the stats above from my copy of "baking in america" by greg patent. it is a cookbook w a great deal of historical scholarship, w dessert recipes as well as breads-- check it out! i've been interested in historical baking and the relationship to agriculture in my own region for some time (i live in minneapolis-- once widely known as "mill city," for the large-scale regional flour milling industry here: pillsbury, gold medal, etc).

                                                            many old midwestern farm-country recipes for bread that needed to keep well (1 week) also included buttermilk, resulting in a tender, moist, slightly acid crumb. delicious, btw. at least this is true for the upper midwest where dairy cattle, as well as wheat crops, have historically done quite well. if kansas area recipes were very similar, or very different, i'd be very interested to know!

                                                            wrt: biscuits and other american quick breads as we know them today: double-acting baking powder was not developed/widely available before 1890's/turn of century. prior to that folks used pearl ash/potash and saleratus. some early american cookbook authors such as eliza leslie opposed the use of baking soda/powder in baked goods, and there was actually quite a bit of controversy around the introduction of the first chemical leaveners, from what i've read.

                                                            sweeteners used in baking also varied with regional availability. while granulated sugar was not necessarily used, molasses was widely available, esp. in the south, with cane syrups. maple syrup and maple sugar were used in the upper midwest and new england, and honey wherever it was available.

                                                            as all of the modern ingredients: refined flour, sugar, baker's dry yeast, baking soda/powders, etc became available, recipes changed to incorporate these more convenient and accessible ingredients.

                                                            a member of my extended family is a wonderful lady of about 90 years, who lives on her family's ranch in very rural eastern montana. she cooked all meals, including breads and extensive seasonal canning, for the family and ranch hands on her wood stove, her entire married life, up to close to the present time, until her eyesight became quite poor recently. she also heated water for baths and her hand-cranked washing machine on this stove, which seemed magical to me as a child. the family got a small electric water heater i think, just in 1990 or so. if my mother makes her semi-yearly trek out there this year i'm going to ask her to copy down any existing recipe cards or mental recipes this lady has. she is a living treasure, a real frontier woman of french-canadian ancestry. dh's grandmother is also a treasure trove of historical recipes, she still bakes many farmhouse (southern mn) recipes from her mother and grandmother as passed to her, and has adapted other recipes to contemporary ingredients/tastes. she is possessive of her recipes though! i know she's recorded them, i hope i won't get to read them for 20-30 years, though i am looking forward to it. well, she is as strong as an ox, perhaps she may even outlive me at the rate she's going :)

                                                            1. re: soupkitten


                                                              While double acting dates to around 1890, single acting ones appeared 30-40 years earlier. Commercial baking soda a decade or so earlier than that.

                                                              1. re: paulj

                                                                from what i've read, the single-acting baking powders, besides being unpopular w influential cookbook authors, had many drawbacks, and were not very stable. a little humidity would get inside the can and game over. i found this quote from e. leslie about baking powders, it's pretty funny today but it gives an idea about what the "food snobs/chowhounds" circa 1850's america may have thought:

                                                                "They give a sort of factitious lightness very different from that honestly produced by a liberal allowance of egg and butter, genuine yeast, and good beating and stirring--but they destroy the taste of the seasoning, and are certain destruction to the taste of lemon, orange, strawberry, pine-apple, and every kind of fruit flavoring."

                                                                --Miss Leslie's New Cookery Book 1857

                                                                lmao, to think that folks in the 1850's may have debated the perceived merits/detriments of chemical leaveners in the same way folks now discuss trans fats, hfcs, genetically modified foods, etc. . . :)

                                                                1. re: soupkitten

                                                                  'good beating and stirring' - the kind of leavening provided by the strong right arm of a male servant! :)

                                                                  An early from of biscuit was the 'beaten biscuit'. There's a recipe in the pre 1997 Joy of cooking editions.
                                                                  has similar instructions on the lengthy and vigorous beating that these required
                                                                  'How long the biscuits are beaten varies from one recipe to the next, from "at least 15 minutes" to "30 to 45 minutes." ...one book "instructs the cook to 'use boys to do it'"--that is, beat the biscuits vigorously "at least 200 times."'
                                                                  From the description I'd guess the closest thing on the current market is pilot bread, an Alaska bush staple.

                                                                  Related to this is hardtack

                                                                  1. re: paulj

                                                                    and. . . rotary egg beaters not invented until circa 1870, prior to that beating was done w wooden dowels or sticks! martha washington's Booke of Cookery calls for beating the ingredients for some sponge cakes for 4 straight hours. with a stick. martha and george of course were slave owners, and it should be said (may as well be by me) that many very labor-intensive american recipes enjoyed by members of high society in new england/south may never have caught on if these notable gentlemen and ladies had had to have done their own cooking. um. the farmhouse recipes of the american west would have naturally developed differently and more organically as family cooks adapted to the ingredients and conditions of their surrounding areas. so regionalism again, as the average midwestern/western farm woman would have obviously said to hell with beating a daggone cake for four hours. as would i. heh :)

                                                              2. re: soupkitten

                                                                has a collection late 19th c recipes. The baked ones use baking soda, baking powder, compressed yeast, or sourdough (or no leavening).

                                                                1. re: soupkitten

                                                                  "baking in america" by greg patent

                                                                  I am definitely going to check it out.

                                                                  "wrt: biscuits and other american quick breads as we know them today: double-acting baking powder was not developed/widely available before 1890's/turn of century. prior to that folks used pearl ash/potash and saleratus"

                                                                  Yes, I have read quite a bit about this.

                                                                  "...there was actually quite a bit of controversy around the introduction of the first chemical leaveners, from what i've read."

                                                                  Similar to the introduction of industrial yeast in France. Initially (this is the late 1600's, I believe) the royal court actually banned it.

                                                                  Something else that should be mentioned is the kind of wheat that was growing different areas (i.e. Summer Wheat, Spring Wheat, Winter Wheat, Soft, Hard, etc).

                                                                  Biscuits were, traditionally, baked with one kind of flour while country breads were made with a different flour.

                                                              3. re: soupkitten

                                                                And, before this past century, in Western culture bread was more often eaten in staled form; staled bread has a lot more uses.

                                                                1. re: Karl S

                                                                  ... not exactly more often. bread was a staple, but non salted bread would go bad in a day (so the next morning, you'd make french toast. REAL french toast that tain't soggy).

                                                                  1. re: Chowrin

                                                                    French toast in our house during the WW II years was served with sugar syrup (which was a luxury as sugar was rationed). I wonder how french toast was served in other parts of the U.S. at that time. Sorghum, which we grew ourselves, was used a lot for sugar.

                                                              4. re: DougRisk

                                                                This should be an easy assignment - there are books for freedownloading - 75 years is the copyright - let's see that would be before 1935.

                                                                In our home we made yeasted white bread in loaves, once a week. (Mon: washing; Tues: Ironing; Wed: baking bread.

                                                                Although we ground wheat for bread, whatever we did to it to make white flour is what we did, I cannot recall, but we never bought flour. Bread was made with our own dairy milk/cream & butter. Butter was churned.

                                                                We did not eat sandwiches -- I don't recall seeing a sandwich until I saw a hot dog in 1942, if you want to consider that a sandwich. This was not in Kansas, but in the Ohio River Valley.

                                                                Occasionally there were soft rolls (feathery inside) made in a pan which was a treat for everyone. Milk and butter were used in this also.

                                                                1. re: Rella

                                                                  "This should be an easy assignment - there are books for freedownloading - 75 years is the copyright - let's see that would be before 1935."

                                                                  Yeah, I have read many of them, but they still don't really answer those questions.

                                                                  Almost all bread recipes focus on Flour, Water and salt. Yet a classic French Baguette is fairly different than a Country Loaf which is different than a Pullman Loaf.

                                                                  So, what kind of bread were they baking? That is one of the questions that I am getting at.

                                                                  1. re: DougRisk

                                                                    A simple milk bread, as posted above. possibly with a dash of eggs. And always sourdough.
                                                                    [is this still not making sense? I can post a recipe for American-style bread from my breadbook, or from goodhousekeeping. -- but you simply substitute milk for the water, and let rise for longer]

                                                                    1. re: Chowrin

                                                                      Well, you had posted it as a possible recipe. So, is it simply a recipe that might have been baked, or was that the commonly eaten "everyday" bread for the people of Kansas (or Ohio, or Minnesota, or wherever)?

                                                                      For instance, for a long time, people in the deep south ate very little yeast bread because of the climate. After things like "industrial" yeasts and Refrigeration/Air-Conditioning, things changed.

                                                                      This is one of the reasons why Biscuits were such a staple in the South.

                                                                      1. re: DougRisk

                                                                        I believe, from my knowledge of history, that is the commonly eaten everyday bread from back then.
                                                                        People in the deep south mostly ate cornbread, from what I remember -- corn made a better staple crop down there.

                                                                        1. re: Chowrin

                                                                          Um, no.

                                                                          Corn definitely exists...but biscuits were (and are) a staple in the American South.

                                                                          It's more class-driven than anything -- the middle- and upper-classes could afford flour, the lower classes could not.

                                                                          1. re: sunshine842

                                                                            describes beaten biscuits as something that arose in the 1st half of the 19th c. It also talks about southern soft winter wheat as being better from biscuits than the northern (midwestern) hard spring wheat. Well known Southern brands of flour (White Lily, Martha White) appeared near the end of the 19th c.

                                                                            Precursors to General Mills and Pillsbury were established in the upper Midwest (Minneapolis for GM) some what earlier, and were the first mills to switch from stone ground to steel rollers. Stones grind the whole grain, which is then sifted to remove as much bran as is feasible (or as is cost effective). Steel rollers effectively separate the bran and germ from the endosperm which is ground to produce white flour. The very white soft flour favored for biscuits (traditional Whilte Lily) is bleached (chlorinated) as well.

                                                                            describes the history and various types of cornbread. As noted in many cornbread threads, to a purist, southern cornbread is pure cornmeal, no flour (and more importantly no sugar); northern style often is half corn, half wheat, though Rhode Island was noted for its all corn jonnycake.

                                                                            Colonial New England also baked a yeast 'thirded bread', using corn, rye, and wheat. Boston brown bread is a newer steamed quick bread using these three flours.

                                                      2. I understand that this has been debated to death in previous threads, but, I am still willing to throw this out there...

                                                        What are the "traditional" ingredients in these areas:
                                                        - New England
                                                        - Mid-Atlantic
                                                        - Upper South
                                                        - Deep South
                                                        - Mid-West
                                                        - Great Plains
                                                        - Big Sky
                                                        - The West (not counting California)
                                                        - Northwest
                                                        - Southwest


                                                        - Alaska
                                                        - Hawaii
                                                        - South Florida (it is fairly different from Northern Florida and other parts of the Deep South)

                                                        You start to answer this question and you will get a much better idea of what is "American" food.

                                                        Could we be segmented even more? You betcha. But, that is a start.

                                                        8 Replies
                                                        1. re: DougRisk

                                                          Nice. I'd also add, who were the immigrants to those parts of the country. Jersey Italian food? Creole/French southern?

                                                          1. re: chowser

                                                            To continue and get a little more specific
                                                            Maine Lobster
                                                            Fish Chowder
                                                            Boston baked Beans
                                                            New york State Cheese
                                                            NYC Corned Beef
                                                            Maryland Soft Shell and Hard Shell Blue Crabs
                                                            Virginia Smoked Ham
                                                            Southern BBQ
                                                            Florida Grouper, American Red Snapper
                                                            Low Country fried Shrimp
                                                            Gulf Coast Char Grilled Amberjack sandwiches

                                                            And that is just going down the East Coast............

                                                            1. re: chowser

                                                              Jersey, my backyard:

                                                              Portuguese in the Ironbound
                                                              More Cubans than any other place in America outside of Miami.


                                                              Steamers (i.e. a specific kind of Clam "made" for grillin')

                                                              1. re: DougRisk

                                                                RI specific since I spent so many years there. Quahogs, coffee milk, clam chowdah, NY system hot dogs.

                                                                1. re: chowser

                                                                  What, no jonnycakes (of two kinds - thick and thin)?! And Del's Lemonade. And then there is calamari - the principal Atlantic squid fleet runs out of Galilee port, after all.

                                                                  RI has more local food specialties packed into it's little corner than exist in many much larger states. It's an overlooked culinary gem.

                                                                  1. re: Karl S

                                                                    Yeah, those are good ones. I was in the car and had a few minutes to type while I was on the phone.

                                                            2. re: DougRisk

                                                              Northwest ingredients:

                                                              King Salmon
                                                              Dungenesse Crab
                                                              Razor Clams

                                                            3. When I think of American food, I think of New American Cuisine. Bizarre pairings of ingredients/preparations from different cultures using locally available ingrdients that shouldn't work but end up being utterly delicious. I love seeing things like *'Grilled Filet of Salmon with Wasabi Aioli, Daikon Radish and Japanese Seaweed Salad and Cucumber on a Black Sesame Seed Roll' on the same menu as 'Grilled Cajun Spiced Chicken Breast with Chipotle Garlic Mayonnaise, Lettuce, and Tomato on Sourdough Bread.' Call it fusion if you must, but my friends always seem to know what I mean when I say I feel like eating 'American Food'.

                                                              1 Reply
                                                              1. re: soypower

                                                                I wouldn't say that describes American food though - the 'fusion' idea is also widely used to describe Antipodean Pacific Rim food style.

                                                              2. I would say venison is pretty American. It was the primary source of protein for the Indians for a heck of a long time before the Europeans got here with their recipes from overseas.

                                                                36 Replies
                                                                1. re: Fowler

                                                                  Bear was even more important to many tribes. And, of course, Bison.

                                                                    1. re: DougRisk

                                                                      Interesting that I've never heard of bear on an American menu. I don't even have any idea of its reputation as a meat source.

                                                                      1. re: Bada Bing

                                                                        Fowler was making reference to a meat eaten by Native Americans. I was responding to that.

                                                                        One of the reasons why Bear was so important (to some tribes) is because of how much fat a bear can have. Bear "Grease" was very important.

                                                                        1. re: Bada Bing

                                                                          I've eaten Black Bear a few times, I guess if that is all you have it is very tasty; otherwise give me a nice prime Porterhouse!!!

                                                                          1. re: Bada Bing

                                                                            most species are protected, and there aren't many commercial bear-farming operations, so you probably won't -- but the native people had it as a regular menu item (for the meat along with the fur and the grease as below)

                                                                            1. re: Bada Bing

                                                                              My uncle worked as a wildlife manager for the Dept. of the Interior. Part of the job included periodic rabies testing of the bear population, which required the killing of a few black bears a year. Bears that tested negative for rabies were frozen, and every fall the refuge employees had a wild game dinner with roast bear along with other game meat. According to my uncle, bear meat is worth trying once for the experience, and he would eat it to avoid starvation, but definitely not a favorite for most people.

                                                                              1. re: mpjmph

                                                                                Yum! black bear is delicious and my earliest lesson in biscuit cooking was from Doc Campbell who insisted bear grease was the best fat and then lard if that was all you could get. Wild game, on the whole is a traditional American food as we never had the widely controlled restritrictions on hunting like they did in England and Europe. If you could shoot, trap or catch it, it was , literally, fair game. Well, now that's changed but, there are still vast areas were public hunting is still permitted. I can't think of anything similar in Europe. Mountain lion is good, rabbit is always delicious. But, the Buffalo went on forever. We fed dang near a whole village before that was finally cooked up. Sure it's good but you do not want a whole one in the freezer.

                                                                                1. re: aggiecat

                                                                                  Sanglier (wild boar) is considered a nuisance animal, so it's more or less open season on them all year, although the OFFICIAL season starts in August and runs through the winter...

                                                                                  Biggest reason that they tightly control hunting season in Europe is to try to ensure the survival of a number of species -- overhunting nearly wiped out the entire population of migratory songbirds a few decades ago...

                                                                                  1. re: sunshine842

                                                                                    Overhunting, actually commercial harvesting for cheap food, reduced the passenger pigeon from being the most abundant bird in North America to being extinct in the 19th c.


                                                                                2. re: mpjmph

                                                                                  I just reread Little House in the Big Woods (very different view as an adult) where Laura Ingalls talked about how much she liked bear and how disappointing it was when her father didn't get one.

                                                                            2. re: Fowler

                                                                              But Europeans were eating venison before they came to the Americas, and it may be easier to find in European markets now than in American ones. Just judging from cookbooks, game in general has remained more popular in many parts of Europe.

                                                                              1. re: paulj

                                                                                "But Europeans were eating venison before they came to the Americas"

                                                                                True enough.

                                                                                "...and it may be easier to find in European markets now than in American ones. Just judging from cookbooks, game in general has remained more popular in many parts of Europe.".

                                                                                This, I doubt. There is a big difference between what high-end restaurants (and cookbook authors) like to serve and what the average person is getting.

                                                                                Regardless of our current fast food culture, true Wild Game is still much more popular in America than it is in, say, Belgium.

                                                                                We simply hunt more (even though, fewer and fewer people are hunting).

                                                                                Now, farmed Venison, there various places might have us beat (though, I bet it is still pretty rare in Continental Western Europe).

                                                                                1. re: DougRisk

                                                                                  It may not be on everyone's dinner plates every night, but venison is widely available in the UK and you will find recipes in most British cook books for some kind of venison, along with other types of game, however I guess it would be a different type of game to what you get in the US.

                                                                                  1. re: pj26

                                                                                    pj, I understand that (most of my family is from Britain). My point was that the Venison being served in most places in the UK is farmed and not actual Game...not that their is anything wrong with that.

                                                                                    Actually, farmed venison is a bit like farmed Bison...about as close to game as you can get with something still being "farmed".

                                                                                    1. re: DougRisk

                                                                                      There are more deer in the U.S. now than 150 years ago. A result of the fact of suburban sprawl and the commensurate bans on hunting in many areas. Much to the aggravation of gardners, motorists and health officials, (lyme Disease), in many communities

                                                                                      1. re: ospreycove

                                                                                        Actually, more than sprawl in the Northeast US, it's the great re-forestation of what was cleared agricultural land.

                                                                                        I suspect the divide is that there is probably way more game in the home freezers of Americans and way less game on American restaurant menus.

                                                                                        1. re: ospreycove

                                                                                          Quite true. Husband's cousin got lyme disease from being out on the farm mending fences. My husband was treated for lyme disease after being in the 'yard' and garden where deer graze.

                                                                                          1. re: ospreycove

                                                                                            >>>There are more deer in the U.S. now than 150 years ago. <<<

                                                                                            There are more deer than people in Northern Wisconsin. They are absolutely some of the most beautiful creatures but as you said they can also be a menace.

                                                                                            1. re: Fowler

                                                                                              i know 2 different parties who got in a car crash w a deer in the past week (both accidents fatal for the 2 deer, not for any humans, both vehicles totalled). it's really common and i swear deer are the reason most farming/rural area folks i know bother to wear a seatbelt!

                                                                                              eta: state of minnesota

                                                                                          2. re: DougRisk

                                                                                            I can hardly digest this: Deer is farmed in Britain? or anywhere?

                                                                                            Do Britains eat horse meat? I have bought horsemeat for an Akita dog here in the U.S. decades ago, but I could not go one step further and accept farmed horse meat.

                                                                                            Almost every day we have deer in our yard. We don't have a farm, but perhaps we could call them "yarded."

                                                                                            1. re: Rella

                                                                                              Yes, deer is most certainly farmed, not just in Britain but many other places in the world! More info here http://www.bdfpa.org

                                                                                              Brits don't eat horsemeat, but they do in France.

                                                                                              1. re: Rella


                                                                                                However, with things like Deer (and, to a lesser extent Bison), "farmed" can be an overloaded term.

                                                                                                But, yes, they are farmed/raised/preserved-on-ranches/pick-your-favorite-term.

                                                                                                1. re: DougRisk

                                                                                                  elk also is farmed in my area and is sold and appears on restaurant menus as "venison." bison and deer also farmed, bison sold as bison, deer as venison.

                                                                                                  many people hunt deer during the season. the dnr also does periodic culling hunts. i used to have a personal "in" on getting some meat from the dnr hunt as long as i was willing to butcher several-5 whole deer. . . um, duh--no problem!

                                                                                                  1. re: soupkitten

                                                                                                    "elk also is farmed in my area and is sold and appears on restaurant menus as "venison." bison and deer also farmed, bison sold as bison, deer as venison."

                                                                                                    Absolutely. Elk is wonderful, too. (Granted, I also love Bison and Venison, so, I am not as particular as some).

                                                                                                    I am also quite lucky with the local hunters.

                                                                                                    For me, it is Venison, Duck, Squab and Quail.

                                                                                              2. re: DougRisk

                                                                                                ah, sorry, I missed your point.

                                                                                                Venison aside, a lot of other game eaten in the UK is wild.

                                                                                                1. re: pj26

                                                                                                  @Fowler et al:
                                                                                                  Deer were referred to (accurately, IMO) by a NYC Parks person years ago in an article as RATS ON HOOFS.

                                                                                                  1. re: huiray

                                                                                                    ya only get to call them that when they're killing the forest.
                                                                                                    NW PA needs some hunters, STAT. Free Deer, people! They eat trees (and then the trees die)

                                                                                            2. re: DougRisk

                                                                                              Nope -- French consumers can buy farmed chevreuil (red deer) most of the year at most supermarkets, as well as rabbit, quail, pigeon, guinea hen and a few I'm probably missing. Game is surprisingly easy to come by.

                                                                                              In the fall, there's a wider selection, especially at the covered markets and smaller, independent butchers -- some of that appears with feathers or fur, obviously the product of a recent hunt. (I have NO idea how those regulations work.)

                                                                                              At Christmastime, the selection is dizzying -- chevreuil, biche (roe deer), sanglier (wild boar), goose, pheasant, bison, and imported kangaroo, ostrich, and other exotics (usually imported)

                                                                                              1. re: sunshine842

                                                                                                "Nope -- French consumers can buy farmed chevreuil (red deer) most of the year at most supermarkets, as well as rabbit, quail, pigeon, guinea hen and a few I'm probably missing. Game is surprisingly easy to come by."

                                                                                                This issue got confused. The point I was trying to make was Actual Game versus animals that are farmed (like, farmed deer versus wild, hunted deer).

                                                                                                1. re: DougRisk

                                                                                                  Sorry for the misfire then -- yes, commercially raised 'game' is easy to find year round...

                                                                                                  In the fall, it's pretty easy to find Actual Game hanging by its feet, in smaller, independent butchers, groceries, and butchers' stalls in village markets. It's not everywhere, but it's not exactly a difficult quest, either. One of my local butchers also has haunches of venison (and you can tell it's venison, because the feet are still attached, and that ain't no cow's hoof) displayed in his case (European deer are considerable smaller than whitetail or musk deer, so it doesn't take a whole lot of space) right next to the slab of sanglier (wild boar) -- and that's one's obvious because of the dark, coarse fur left above the hoof.

                                                                                                  Still wearing feathers, fur, feet, heads, and sometimes hanging over a pan to catch the blood.
                                                                                                  I'm pretty sure it's because Actual Game is subject to hunting seasons...which are almost always open in the fall and winter -- not because of any level of squeamishness about seeing fur and feathers and blood on the counter. (the French might be a lot of things, but squeamish about the source of their food isn't one of them)

                                                                                                  1. re: sunshine842

                                                                                                    "...right next to the slab of sanglier (wild boar) -- and that's one's obvious because of the dark, coarse fur left above the hoof."

                                                                                                    One of my all time favorite cookbooks, Provence, The Beautiful Cookbook, by Richard Olney has a photo of a Wild Boar Slab hanging outside a butchers window in Provence, and it looks exactly as you describe it.

                                                                                                    BTW, I didn't mean to imply anything about Europeans vs Americans, other than, hunting is still more popular here (for all sorts of reasons) than in most of Western Europe.

                                                                                                    Unfortunately for America (IMO), hunting is on the decline (again, for quite a few reasons).

                                                                                                  2. re: DougRisk

                                                                                                    But the rabbit, quail, pheasant, squab, grouse IS wild, not farmed.

                                                                                                    And while it may not be as easily available, deer hunting is wide spread, particularly in Scotland, so it's not that difficult to come by wild deer when in hunting season.

                                                                                                    1. re: pj26

                                                                                                      in europe, game dealers can sell wild, hunted game to butchers for consumers to buy. in america, this is illegal :( so to enjoy real non-farmed game meat folks have to hunt it themselves or get it as a gift from a hunter. it's illegal for hunters to sell the meat they hunt in america, so europeans actually have better access to real game meat, unless we're talking about hard core american hunters, who do still exist in many areas.

                                                                                                      1. re: pj26

                                                                                                        I am not sure which one of my posts you are referring to, but...

                                                                                                        All of those things CAN be wild game, but, at least a few, like Deer and Rabbit are commonly "raised" in may European countries (as well as in North America).

                                                                                                        Again, I never meant to imply that some people were NEVER getting actual Wild Game, but that in many Western Euro countries it is more common to see the "raised" kind in markets and restaurants than Wild Game. Granted, that is basically true in N America as well, but that hunting is still more popular here than in West Europe.

                                                                                                        1. re: DougRisk

                                                                                                          and yes, rabbit is absolutely, positively farmed all over Europe. This is the primary source of rabbit in Europe.

                                                                                                          But yes, wild hare (hold your jokes about getting a wild hare...) is absolutely wild and found hanging over the counters in the fall and winter.

                                                                                            3. I would describe it as various, and usually not subtle flavor wise. I would cite barbeque, hamburgers, hot dogs, fried chicken, pie, cake, doughnuts, chili, the tossed salad, chef's salad, roasted vegetables, meat and dumplings, biscuits, quick breads, fruit salad, chocolate chip cookies, peanut butter cookies, peanut butter sandwiches, cheesecake, and probably a lot more. I don't think American cuisine is known for subtle dishes as you find in France. I think we like our food sweet and/or salty, fried, grilled or roasted. And we love our desserts. Did bagels originate in the U.S? They've become very American whatever their origin.

                                                                                              1. Regiojnalism rules in the US. Aside from fast food, turkey, ham, steak and chicken, most popular foods are regional. Maine: the lobster in several forms, fried and steamed clams, scallops, haddock hash and a boiled dinner. New Mexico: red and green chile enchiladas, sopappailas; tamales and posole at Xmas, green chile cheeseburgers, Navajo tacos.
                                                                                                See what I mean?

                                                                                                12 Replies
                                                                                                1. re: Passadumkeg

                                                                                                  Passa........Regionalism culture and food is being attacked by National chains. Imagine that Now I can get the same food in Washington state as well as Florida. We need to protect regional cooking and foods/heirloom veg/farm animals etc. If everything comes out of a factory farm and is shipped to a National chain; I do not want any part of that first stepr to "Soylent Green"

                                                                                                  1. re: ospreycove

                                                                                                    i think you're probably being facetious, i can't really tell, but many people are trying to preserve regional and heritage foods, and more consumers are interested in this, than there were a decade ago.

                                                                                                    1. re: soupkitten

                                                                                                      Soupk......No, I am really concerned about regionalism and preserving it. Maybe my example is a little "worst case", but for example, I do not want to eat Maine Lobster in Kansas served by a corporately trained server working for Red Lobster.

                                                                                                      1. re: ospreycove

                                                                                                        I agree. My experience over the last twenty or so years has been that regional foods, like regional dialect and accents, are being homogenized. Fundamentally, there wouldn't be movements to preserve if their were not threats to existence.

                                                                                                        This is true even considering the fact that for half of that time, I have refused to eat food at chains. Nevertheless, it seems that no matter where I do eat, items like buffalo wings, burgers, fries, chicken breasts, etc. are on the menu. Drinks? Sure, California wines, BudMillerCoors, Coke or Pepsi?

                                                                                                        1. re: MGZ

                                                                                                          Agreed. Eat any soft shell crab lately? You won't find that at Red Lobster. It is also the reason I seek out mutton on fry bread, smothered w/ roasted green chile, here in New Mexico. You won't find that in Mickey Dee's.

                                                                                                          1. re: Passadumkeg

                                                                                                            Isn't fry bread a classic case of homogenization? It may have started in a Navajo concentration camp, but now you can get it at powwows anywhere in the USA and Canada. Maybe dispersal is a better term than homogenization.

                                                                                                            Corporate chains aren't the only ones spreading food culture around the country. Everything I learn on Chow about foods in other parts of the country dilutes my old midwestern roots, destroying, in a sense, my regional heritage.

                                                                                                            BBQ may be a southern regional food, but we have threads on the Seattle forum bemoaning the lack of good BBQ joints. At the same time there are mom and pop caterers who proudly display their trophies from this and that BBQ competition. The Texas Bowl of Red may be a highly regional food, but I can attend a national championship in Reno via TV. And via Chow I can debate whether a roux has any place in clam chowder, even when it's not being made by Maine fishermen.

                                                                                                            1. re: paulj

                                                                                                              Good points. Experiences in the military and it's travel also creates culinary exchange. My first fish taco was near the SanDiego navy Base, 44 years ago. Love at first bite.
                                                                                                              ps No flour in the chowdah!

                                                                                                              1. re: Passadumkeg

                                                                                                                "Experiences in the military and it's travel also creates culinary exchange."

                                                                                                                As does insisting upon travelling the Blue Highways.

                                                                                                                1. re: MGZ

                                                                                                                  A great book, but I wish it would be updated. I use Chowhound when traveling.

                                                                                                                  1. re: Passadumkeg

                                                                                                                    Yeah, I read it the first time in my lowercase days and subsequently have thought, many times, about chronicling my own trip someday. It would seem only proper, however, to do it without the help of 'hounds or anything except "at the moment" local advice.

                                                                                                                2. re: Passadumkeg

                                                                                                                  I'll have to remember that - next time I make a thick clam soup, do not attempt to imitate an New England accent!

                                                                                                      2. re: ospreycove

                                                                                                        Yes! Chains hurt my teeth, I never go to them.

                                                                                                    2. "American food" is as nebulous and unspecific a term as "French food", "Italian food", and "Chinese food" -- there simply isn't a one-size-fits- all -- it all comes down to region and ethnic background.

                                                                                                      I despise terms like this, because it flattens out the wonderful diversity that exists in food cultures around the world and feeds stereotypes.

                                                                                                      12 Replies
                                                                                                        1. re: sunshine842

                                                                                                          Totally agree with you. Despite the ubiquity of hamburgers, pizza and fired chicken that has come with the proliferation of fast food chains, American food is still very regional. I grew up down south, live in NYC and spent time in Asia and Europe, New England and the west coast in between. Despite the perception of homogenization, there is still regional cuisine in America and trying to say define American food in a few short words is impossible. What you get is all a function of what is available where and where the immigrants came from. I think the only thing you’re assured of finding everywhere is the all mighty burger – which isn’t a bad thing. I love a good burger, medium with great char. But for the OP who started by saying you know what to expect when you go to an Indian restaurant – that’s only because you go to what I suspect is the typical Americanized Indian restaurant. They all seem to have the same menu of curry, masala, tandoori. Many Americans have pre-conceived notions of what Indian, Chinese or other cuisines are which have only limited connection to the originals. India, China and Europe, et al, are all large places with huge geographical variations in cuisine. I would expect that if I took the OP to some of the traditional vegetarian Indian places in NYC, the food would not be recognizable. In that vein, I had friends from Ohio come visit and when they wanted Chinese, I took them to a place in Chinatown and they couldn’t find any of their usual dishes. It was all new and bewildering to them. To get a sense of the regional variety in America, I will point everyone to the Time-Life series of cookbooks on American food. Its out of print but available on places like ebay. There are multiple volumes that are largely regionally focused. I think the number of volumes shows why you can’t define American food in a few words or dishes.

                                                                                                          1. re: Bkeats

                                                                                                            And I think many of the posts above support this.

                                                                                                            1. re: Bkeats

                                                                                                              I'm the OP. I agree with many of your points but there do seem to be dishes that crop up on restaurants of all types here in the U.S. that might warrant labeling "American" food. The first one that comes to mind is salmon tartar which I see on menus at Japanese, Italian, Continental restaurants here.

                                                                                                              1. re: spike74

                                                                                                                Me, oh, my. I'm about as American as I can get. I have never seen salmon tartar on a restaurant menu - then again, I never specially looked for it, or noticed. I lived in the state of Washington for many years and just never noticed. (I love salmon.)

                                                                                                                1. re: spike74

                                                                                                                  You also see salmon tartar all over menus in New Zealand, Australia, and the UK.

                                                                                                                2. re: Bkeats

                                                                                                                  Read The Fortune Cookie Chronicles to get a sense of what it is like to buy and operate a typical Chinese restaurant in small town America. There are Chinese language newspapers with listings of restaurants for sale, and loose leaf binders with complete instructions on how to operate one, including the popular dishes like General Tsos Chicken. And of course suppliers of the required take out boxes and fortune cookies. She starts the book with an account of a multistate lottery with many winners, all basing their choice on a particular cookie insert.

                                                                                                                  1. re: paulj

                                                                                                                    Not just small town, either. We ordered from a American Chinese place recent (newish to us) and didn't have a menu. We realized it doesn't matter because we know what's on the menu for the most part. They could save themselves a lot of money by using just one menu to be shared by all independents. And none of it is Chinese food that my parents or in laws would eat.

                                                                                                                    1. re: paulj

                                                                                                                      Now I understand why most chinese american restaurants are so bad. I still shudder whenever I think about a meal we had from a place in suburban Boston.

                                                                                                                  2. re: sunshine842

                                                                                                                    But there are certain foods, certain ways of preparing foods, and certain ways of constructing menus for a meal that are very typically American. Kind of like with our language -- sure, there are plenty of regional American dialects, but there are common themes that distinguish the regional versions of American English from British or Indian English, or, for that matter, from Parisian French.

                                                                                                                    You really get a sense of this when you spend time with family members or close friends who are picky eaters (the ones who are picky in the sense of only being comfortable eating "American" food). Imagine traveling with them to Asia or Africa.

                                                                                                                    And it's interesting that that common repertoire of American food hasn't changed all that much in the past 50 years or so. I was recently looking at menus from WW II aboard one of the submarines at Pearl Harbor and was struck by how familiar the meals looked.

                                                                                                                    1. re: racer x

                                                                                                                      AAVE however, is linguistically rather unique in terms of grammar. the more you know!

                                                                                                                      1. re: racer x

                                                                                                                        The only submarine food that I recall my dad talking about was the goat that the cook managed to procure as they passed through Panama. The crew did not like that item.

                                                                                                                        But as an indicator of changes, I can easily buy goat at an Indian grocery (or a Vietnamese or Chinese one), and cook it either in an Indian style or an Ecuadorian seco. While there are familiar things from WW2 days, there is also a greater diversity that is just as American.

                                                                                                                    2. I think one theme that is in the background here is that American food isn't very deep. We have a bunch of dishes, half of which are some sort of typical diner fare or sandwich. Our cuisine is working-man's cuisine. Specific dishes at diners (quick places), like tuna sandwich or BLT, or simple dishes for busy housewives, like grean bean casserole. etc.

                                                                                                                      And you know what? That's OK, it's refklective of our culture, and it's not unique to America. From what I know, Mexican food is the same way. A lot of it is another form of some sort of combination of cheese and/or meat, beans, and something made out of masa. Whenever I hire laborers they usually just eat sandiwches for lunch.

                                                                                                                      These are the cuisines of more modern-developed countries, with working-man cultures/capitalist cultures. Our people have been/are busy a lot more than other places historically. Time has been and is limited for most of us.

                                                                                                                      yeah, we don't have the detailed, dense food cultures of let's say Thailand or France. But on the other hand, we've also never had an aristocracy that basiaclly enslaved everyone and spent decadently to force their slave-chefs to create magnificent dishes. And we have had the monety and resources to do other things. Like I mentioned above simple dishes for housewives - but why simple, when in theory a housewife would have time to make more complicated dishes? Because it's a lot of work to take care of a large house that you can afford. And things being farther apart makes commuting to shopping or anything else take longer, whether it was post-war wives with their own cars or before that when everyone took the bus. Again, leaving less time for more complicated cooking, or learning about cooking, or experimenting with cooking.

                                                                                                                      All cultures are different. All countries have some things better and some things worse - the people are stick with or choose their trade offs.

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                                                                                                                      1. re: peanuttree

                                                                                                                        totally disagree w this post. scratches the surface but ignores a great deal of culinary history.

                                                                                                                      2. Meat loaf. Turkey dinner.

                                                                                                                        1. I'm Canadian, and if someone asked me to give a snap impression/description of American food I would say:
                                                                                                                          1. enormous portion
                                                                                                                          2. cheese covered
                                                                                                                          3. generally delicious

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                                                                                                                          1. re: montrealeater

                                                                                                                            >>>I'm Canadian, and if someone asked me to give a snap impression/description of American food I would say: 1. enormous portion 2. cheese covered 3. generally delicious<<<

                                                                                                                            Hi, Are you thinking about North American food in general? Canadian Food? USA food? Food at home? Food in restaurants?