Friday, April 1, 2011

What Exactly Is American Food?

When a potential diners peruses the brief description of any restaurant they likely get a sense of what type of cuisine can be found on the menu. Chinese, Thai, Italian, Japanese. These all conjure up visions of favorite entrées filled with spices, meats, vegetables, etc. authentic to the lands from which they came. But, what about American? What exactly is American food? Most Americans would rattle off a list of well-known dishes, most served at baseball games, such as hot dogs, hamburgers, French fries (something in the name begs to differ), and apple pie!

With closer inspection and investigation the truth becomes clear. Apple pie, hot dogs also known as frankfurters, and hamburgers originated in Germany. Frankfurt, Germany, Hamburg, Germany, etc. Even grandma's old-fashioned apple pie hales from Germany, and French Fries were actually first served in Belgium.

To find truly authentic American food the first Thanksgiving would be a good place to start. The pilgrims celebrated the harvest with foods the Native Americans provided and taught them to grow and cultivate. Maize (also known as corn), beans, squash, venison, fresh fish and seafood from the coast of New England, cornbread, cranberries, blueberries, and, yes, turkey. These are a few of the truly authentic American foods. Today truly Native American foods are created with native plants, grains, and spices including wild ginger, miner's lettuce, and juniper as well as a native version of quinoa, a variety of amaranth, little barley, maygrass, and sunflower. Native Americans of the northwest prepared dishes using salmon, and seafood, mushrooms, venison, duck, rabbit, and ground acorns for flour.

This is not to say that over the centuries particular foods have not been "Americanized". Many delicious dishes have grown out of the combination of Native American ingredients and ingredients introduced by the vast number of immigrant cultures. At the 1942 Texas State Fair Neill Fletcher combined Native American maize and a frankfurter, deep fried it, and stuck it on a stick to create the first All-American corn dog. Since then, many "American" foods have been created through the process of deep frying including potatoes, chicken, Twinkies, butter, and even Oreos. Other dishes that were served first in America include S'mores, the Reuben Sandwich, The Cobb Salad, and Baked Alaska. Finally to identify truly American food it is a good idea to seek out those dishes that bear the name of the region in which they were created including Buffalo Wings, Philly Cheesesteak, and Tex-Mex.

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