Have you ever stopped to think about it?
What is the American food culture? I am sorry to say that even in culinary school this question never came up.
No, we were too busy learning about French cooking methods, Swiss chocolate, and Mexican flair (my culinary school was an hour away from the Texas-Mexico border).
One day my husband (a Burmese Nationalist) was bragging about his food culture, and there was much to brag about.
He could easily list dozens of succulent and authentic Burmese dishes.
Fine, but when he turned to me and smugly said, “Well, what do you Americans have, hamburgers and French fries?” I really got defensive.
“Wait one minute, Mister! We have cobblers and pies, and really great casseroles, jams, and meats!”
This only made my usually pleasant husband haughtier. “British, British, French…..”
He had an origin for every dish that I named off, and he was right.
I was not prepared for such an attack, but was chagrined and determined to find a proper answer.
I knew in my heart that the food where I came from just couldn’t be found in London, Prague, or Berlin.
The French won’t even touch corn, and tomatoes and potatoes are indigenous to the Americas.
But the food that I grew up on also doesn’t define American cooking.
Americans eat a huge range of food, and, yes, hamburgers and French fries are a favorite pastime.
Just as Northern Italy and Southern Italy are influenced by the abundance of the local terrain; and France’s food culture is fiercely divided by region; so is the United States! With this conclusion, I knew that I was on to something.
After more thought and research, I realized that it is not just terrain that defines American cooking, but the people who settled into that terrain.
America is a melting pot, which creates a huge cooking pot!
Sure, the immigrants were influenced by their old countries, but they settled into their respective places and created a cuisine all their own, using what they were given.
Consider my birthplace, Alabama. Just like most of the Deep South, there is a huge French, Spanish, and African influence.
We fry okra (an African plant, dredged in cornmeal, an American product) like nobody’s business.
Where else in the world do you find a hearty combination of boiled red potatoes, corn on the cob, and crawfish? Next, consider New England, which is heavily influenced by the cold climate and coast (and Europeans who settled there).
Everyone has heard of New England clam chowder and Maryland crab cakes! And how about the Midwest- with a huge Scandinavian and Polish influence?
Deer Kielbasa is pretty darn good stuff! Rhubarb pie is awesome, and man, those Dutch Cookies!
Ah, yes, cookies and brownies… totally American!!! What about
New Orleans Muffalettas, Texas King Ranch Chicken, or California Rolls (we all know the Japanese are too proud of their tradition to branch out and create sushi like that)?
For me, American Cuisine is about ingenuity.
We are a new country, so, sure we took what we learned from our predecessors.
But, we adapted, thrived, and made it our own! Any thoughts on this or tips on other American foods would be great. That way, if you ever cross paths with a nationalist food snob, you are a little better prepared than I was! :-)
By the way, my husband is being punished for his snobbery with stinky, yummy rutabagas tonight.