Monday, October 5, 2009

American Food

Joanne and I were talking a couple weeks ago and she is working with someone who is here on an educational exchange from Germany and she and her coworkers are trying to get her to try some American food.

I started thinking...what's really American? Aren't we the melting pot? Or referred to as the Salad Bowl of the world with all sorts of cultures adding to our culinary repertoire?

I thought of course of two so-called American favorites - Apple Pie and Hot Dogs, but we're talking about a woman from Germany...she has bratwurst and can ours be any more original for her since they've both derived from the German cuisine.

So, here's my project to those of you who are reading this...what is American Food? Can you give me some ideas?


  1. You're right: many classic American dishes have German roots. The only reasons I can figure why this isn't obvious to the average American would be:

    a) In spite of their huge numbers, German immigrants assimilated into American culture longer ago than other groups

    b) Things German were stigmatized by WWII, and that stigma is only now disappearing.

    I'd show your friend some German-American classics, like pot roast, chicken and dumplings, Chicago hot dogs and the like. What other group could possibly have come up with shoo-fly pie? Not to mention how many Jewish American classics (like a bagel and lox or a hot pastrami sandwich) would be familiar to a German. The Irish-American corned beef and cabbage may as well be a German dish.

    There's also a strong Italian influence, but I'd hesitate to put Italian-American food in front of someone who might be familiar with Italian food, since much of it won't do well by comparison. Still, a good red gravy pasta or pizza (both Neapolitan and slice joint style) hold up well as real American food.

    Sure, many American classics are junk food or Depression era concoctions that are unlike to impress a visitor from Europe. No need to go into the burger and fries (they have it), Skyline Chili 3-Way (it's terrible), Philly Cheesesteak (maybe I'd break down on that one) or deep-fried anything you might find at the State Fair.

    Our Southern cuisines have some winners, though: fried chicken, BBQ (all regional styles), Tex- and Cali-Mex, Cajun cuisine and the greatest hits of Low-Country cooking. Don't forget Virginia ham.

    Don't forget the Northeast seafood classics: chowders, steamed clams/lobsters and flounder done just about any way.

    Corn on the cob is so American it spans both continents sharing the name. But when you get right down to it you're going to have to sit your German friend down at a steakhouse and have her devour an obscenely large rib eye with creamed spinach and au gratin potatoes, because when all is said and done it doesn't get more American than that.

  2. The first commenter did such a good job! I grew up so Pennsylvania Dutchy, so German.
    I'd like to add West Coast cuisine to the conversation though. Fresh California produce, think Alice Waters.