What is ‘American Food’?

One of the things I'm doing at the moment is supervising a State-department-sponsored three-month visit by a Ukranian graduate student working on a Ph.D in law. She's interested in the effect of various institutions, especially NGOs, on cyberlaw. OK, that part I can handle. But as it's her first visit to the US, and this a sort of cultural as well as academic experience, I feel compelled to do more than give her things to read and talk about her writing. I want to answer her questions about America. This is not always easy.

Take this stumper: she has a small budget for our lunches. We'd like to use that to introduce her to representative “American food”. But what's that? No, besides hot dogs and hamburgers, McDonalds and Burger King. She can, after all, get those at home these days. And they are hardly the best advertisements for the place anyway (why I feel the need I feel to suggest good food is beyond the scope of this entry).

What foods are both suitably “American” and good (and not too expensive)? Most of the food I like best when I go out is 'ethnic', 'national' or 'regional'—Chinese, Italian, Indian, Nicaraguan, Mexican, Cuban, Peruvian, or Thai, for example. Now, these are, in my mind, as 'American' as, well, apple pie*, and indeed in the case of Chinese food I'm reliably informed that what we get here isn't that much like what they eat there anyway. So that's 'American food' to me. But it turns out to be a tough concept to sell.

Apparently, to the Eastern European mind Chinese food just isn't authentically American enough. So, for my first attempt I suggested bagels, as she'd never heard of them. But it turned out, unsurprisingly, that they do have something a whole lot like bagels in Kiev. So that wasn't so wonderful an idea after all.

My next choice will be BBQ ribs. But then what?

[*] Note about as American as apple pie—Is there any other nation in the world that claims things are as {nationality} as a food? As British as spuds? As Italian as spaghetti? I don't think so.

And, yes, I do know I picked foods as imported as apple pie for those examples.

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9 Responses to What is ‘American Food’?

  1. BBQ ribs, pork, chicken. Real grilled hamburgers. Corn on the cob. Baked beans, potato salas, macaroni salad. Roasted chicken. Honey-basted short ribs. Chocolate pudding, apple pie, ice cream. Jello. Cheese nips, cheetos, freetos, potato chips, corn chips. Mashed potatos and country gravy. Grits. Bacon and eggs. Steak and eggs. New York strip steak with peppercorn rub and baked potato with butter and sour cream. Root beer.

    This is hard? 🙂

  2. Ed Viguerie says:

    I think “American Food” is just a collaection of regional cuisines. Cajun food in south Louisiana (where I’m from), creole in New Orleans, soul food in the South, texmex in the SouthWest, barbecue in the MidWest, etc. Maybe try some gumbo, crab au gratin, fried chicken, and so on.

    Ed

  3. Matthew says:

    Jamba Juice. Deep dish pizza. Stone crab. Lobster. Buffalo. Baked Beans. Boston Creme Pie. Eggs Benedict. Maryland Crab Cakes. Stuffed quohaugs. Littlenecks. Milkshakes. But I’d recommend any fresh seafood from these coasts – they tend to be suitably unique.

  4. jeremy hunsinger says:

    diner food is american food, nothing really ilke it elsewhere, the old greasy spoon, etc.

  5. Ellen says:

    Macaroni and Cheez Whiz

    Tuna Noodle Casserole

    Green bean casserole (2 cans of green beans, 1 can of mushroom soup, a package of dried Lipton onion soup, and don’t forget the bacon bits)

    Lime Jello perhaps with a garnish of canned mixed fruit, and to top it off

    A steaming cup of Nescafe

  6. Ian says:

    The classic American dish is surely the BLT?

  7. a says:

    see roadfood.com, massive amounts of meat, huge portions, breakfast cerials

  8. A pot roast: beef, potatoes, carrots, onions and gravy.

    A boiled New England dinner: corned beef, cabbage, potatoes.

    Certainly corn on the cob.

    Buckwheat pancakes with real maple syrup.

    Other regional food: catfish, hushpuppies, hominy, grits, barbecued pork…. more than seafood which other countries might replicate, the essential grains of the US, and beef and pork are about as American as it gets.

  9. april reed says:

    My 11th grade history class is doing an american menu and our teacher is really specific about how american the dish has to be and according to her she want the people to lived in america and the dish to be from america and the ingredients to be from america but remember some animals was brought over from other countries so they arnt american! tricky huh?

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