When the pilgrims first arrived in the New World, they encountered a culinary landscape full of unfamiliar foods. Of course, the very foods that first confounded the pilgrims--like turkeys, cranberries and squash--now comprise our most storied national feast, the Thanksgiving dinner.
Rise of the Regional
In the 17th century, Native Americans and English immigrants came into contact along New England's rocky coast. The culinary outcome of their convergence includes the chowders, baked bean casseroles, stews, and succotash dishes that have helped define Northeastern regional cooking. In the 19th century, Irish and Italian immigrants would leave a lasting impression of their own upon the cuisine: New England Boiled Dinner, for example, reflects an Irish influence.
Go Ahead, Bite the Big Apple
Nothing exemplifies the American "melting pot" like New York City. Arriving from far-flung places, immigrants enriched the city with their culinary traditions. Jewish specialties like pastrami and all manner of Italian and Chinese dishes tantalized New Yorkers before gradually being absorbed into the culinary culture of the entire country. Russians, Puerto Ricans, Middle Easterners, Greeks--the list of those who have added to the flavor of New York City spans the globe, making New York's boroughs a treasure of world cuisines.
Notable Nibbles of the Northeast
In Pennsylvania, Italian immigrants created what would become the famous Philly cheese steak (note: to be truly legit, use Cheez Whiz), while Americans of German descent developed warm comfort foods like chicken pot pie and regional wonders like scrapple, shoofly pie and the soft pretzel. Up north in Vermont, a formidable Cheddar cheese industry took shape to rival the best farmhouse Cheddars of England. And all across New England, clam shacks also served up a Maine classic: the lobster roll.
For Cod's Sakes
In the 17th century, the waters of the northern Atlantic were said to be so stuffed with cod that a person could bound from boat to boat across their glistening backs. As with the bison of the prairie, the seemingly infinite cod proved all too finite. Though depleted by over-fishing, cod (mostly Pacific cod now) remains a very popular fish nationwide. Oyster, clam and lobster industries have also thrived in the Northeast.
Now THAT'S Italian-American!
No one has contributed more foods to the American dinner table than Italian immigrants. In the Northeast, strong Italian-American enclaves in New York City, Boston's North End and South Philly have helped shape a new American hybrid cuisine. Based on Old World traditions, Italian-American cuisine is marked by an enthusiastic appreciation for (and appropriation of) the New World's abundance, which translates into dishes piled high with meat, cheese and sauce.
Americanizing the Restaurant
The Northeast played a major role in establishing America's restaurant culture. The classic American diner evolved from the horse-drawn lunch wagons of the 1870s. The "takeout" concept got its start with Chinese restaurants in New York City during the 1930s. And on the high end, New York City's Delmonico's, whose doors first opened in the 1820s, set the standard for fine dining in America. Delmonico's chefs are credited with inventing such well-known dishes as Chicken a la King, Eggs Benedict and Lobster Newberg.
The Beautiful Swimmer
For many food-minded folks, Maryland means one thing: the blue crab. This fast-moving crustacean ("the beautiful swimmer") populates the waters of Chesapeake Bay and features prominently in crab cakes and soups. Often it is simply packed with dry spices and steamed whole in beer. Many crab houses prepare their own spice blends. These spicy seasoning blends were influenced by former slaves of the Caribbean, who brought a taste for island spices when they resettled around the Chesapeake Bay.