Exploring American Cuisine

Hamburger and onion rings Pizza Tacos al Carne

As one of the globe’s greatest melting pots, the Unites States has a sundry cuisine that incorporates a conceptual web of global culinary influences. American cuisine has been established through both the cultural diversity of different peoples through immigration, and the subtle differences of the various regions, made distinct by environmental factors. Yet the concept of American cuisine as a menu choice is not grasped within many restaurants or even to most diners in today’s society.

We eat authentic American food every day, yet few restaurants are titled “American Food Eatery”, or advertise “American Food Served Daily”. Instead, we have become accustomed to eating food of other countries, and calling it just that---- Italian, Mexican, and Chinese. Yet some of these menus do not resemble the culinary selections of those areas, but in fact, are made to accommodate American taste buds, thus making the fares American not by origination, but by style. As a result we have the choice of Mexican-American or Italian-American selections we see quite often. These American takes on distant cookeries are designed through the framework of foreign recipes integrated with a mixture of flavorings and ingredients----much of which are completely unlike the original. Americans are accustomed to adding elements which are often left unoffered in scores of faraway kitchens.

Hamburgers and hot dogs are an example of the idealized notion of what is American cuisine--- the absence of which makes American food almost unfathomable. The origination of these dishes comes from Germany, and our modifications are nothing like the originals. Hot dogs are called frankfurters, or franks for short, named for the city of Frankfurt, Germany, but unlike the Germans, Americans feel the need to have their dog “dragged through the garden”, where the dog relaxes in a long bun as it is speckled with relish, chopped onion, tomato, pickled peppers, perhaps a pickle spear, and splashed with a variable amount of ketchup, mustard, mayo, and even hot sauce. Hamburgers, originally from Hamburg in Germany, were first cooked with coffee, brown sugar, and other ingredients to create a taste which stands distinct without condiments, yet the idea of a sweet burger without ketchup would be grounds for rebellion here in the states. The hot dogs and hamburgers we consume today are American as to the verity that they do not resemble their originals in ingredients or taste any more than a house cat resembles a lion. It’s a different breed all together--- its American.

Like German resettlement, Italian immigration had a similar effect, and as WWII began, so did the legacies of American Spaghetti and Chicago Deep Dish Pizza. American cuisine could not be realized ---more or less visualized --- without a zesty plate full of pizza or spaghetti, considered as American as apple pie, but confusingly, we also include them as Italian. While these chameleons can be considered a bit of both, they are actually big differences between the two types of regional cuisine, making the distinction between Italian and Italian-American very apparent. If while vacationing in Italy, one were to ask for pizza, the result would be nothing of what was expected. Italians will deem you as mad if you ask for a “Stuffed Crust” with pepperoni, because Italian pizza is cooked long and rectangular, with a crust very similar to the consistency of an English muffin, or thin and crispy, seasoned with tomato, garlic, oregano, and extra virgin olive oil. Toppings would include cheeses such as stracchino, fontina, gorgonzola, with whole-sliced tomatoes baked crispy, mushrooms, and artichokes being the most popular----- a much healthier edition than Pizza Hut’s.

We can appreciate the Italians for introducing a new way to eat our dinner all in a hand held fashion, but the pizza of America is genuinely American, and distinct from the dishes of Italy. Throughout the years we have juiced up this dish to make New York-style pizza, which is sold in generously sized, thin and flexible slices, making it a challenge to eat without creating a mess. It is traditionally hand-tossed, moderate on sauce, and ruthlessly covered with cheese. Chicago-style pizza, the original deep -dish, contains a crust which is fashioned by being baked in a deep-dish pan, creating a mouthful of gooey bread and toppings with every bite. The crust is spread, then, instead of the traditional method of sauce followed by cheese, the cheese leads the sauce and toppings, producing a cheese-bread with culinary decorations. Americans have even regionalized this Italian innovation by creating California-style pizza made with more diversity in the ingredients, especially considerable amount of fresh produce, and desert pizzas which feature sugar, cinnamon, and chocolate.

Another favorite American specialty is those succulently spicy nachos we love. While most do not consider nachos, burritos, and soft tacos legitimately American, but as facets of the Mexican food category, Mexico is not the birthplace of these dishes. The peppery accents of Mexico have stood strong throughout the Southwest, especially in Texas where entrees like enchiladas and fajitas generated a Tex-Mex menu filled with alterations of the Mexican originals. These flavorful selections remain an essential American plate, made so by the infusion of their recipes with our ingredients. We used Californian-native avocados for guacamole, cheddar cheese while Mexico uses only white, and the dipping of tortilla chips in salsa--- a true Tex-Mex appetizer. As a result, we have an addition to American cuisine--- a Mexican-American component completely original in style, and but derivative of another culture.

One style of our cuisine that we consider apart of American heritage is that of the Deep South. Lush collard greens, scrumptious hushpuppies, tasty fried chicken, and of course, pitchers of ice cold sweet tea make states, such as Florida and Georgia, renown for Mom and Pop diners more so then their five star bistros. These yummy dishes were fashioned right here in the States, but not all the creators were American, and in fact the influence of African slaves in plantation kitchens gave way to a multiplicity of flavors, kept alive by winning over the hearts of both Caucasians and African-Americans for generations to come. Some cooking techniques we consider indispensable to American existence were a product of indigenous Africa, such as barbequing, while smoking meats and boiling vegetables became a Southern tradition, all with a side of spicy, homemade sauce. The Cajon and Creole kitchens of Louisiana were influenced by Spanish, African, French, and Caribbean gusto, creating a mesh pool of tangy spices in dishes such as jambalaya and gumbo, two culinary creations that are the quintessence of the culinary South.

American cuisine is distinct, something that we know, recognize, and even crave when placed in front of us, it cannot be considered original in the true sense of the word. What makes these foreign cuisines “American” is the synthesis of flavors and ingredients in a recipe not of our own region. This fusion has shaped a cuisine that it is continuously contemporary, shifting and changing as new cultures influence generations to come. An influx of new citizens from Asia, the Middle East, and South America have given the United States the gift of culinary diversity, but through time, as bands entering the American pot begin to melt together, these foreign fares will become enmeshed in our menus forever, cultivated to oblige American preferences. However you choose to view the scrumptious selections of this country, be sure to appreciate the history and heritage behind its diverse originations.

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