American Cuisine

Tuesday, January 23rd, 2007 at 12:00 am

American cuisineAmerica has long attracted immigrants from a wide variety of nations and culture, and it is no surprise that the cuisine of the United States is extremely diverse and difficult to define.

One way of describing American cuisine is a synthesis of cuisines from around the world, a style of cooking that takes something from each immigrant country. On the other hand, American cooks have exported a great variety of dishes around the world.

The cuisine of the Native Americans was of course the first American cooking style, and it lent a great deal not only to subsequent American cooking but also to culinary styles around the world. Turkey, corn, beans, sunflowers, potatoes, peppers, and various forms of squash are among the Native American foods now widely consumed elsewhere.

Overlying this original native diet is the massive contribution of the various immigrant groups. The German influenced in Milwaukee paved the way for hotdogs; African slaves cooked the early forms of barbecue in the New World; the heavy French presence in New Orleans was behind Cajun and Creole-style cooking.

Similarly, while some dishes considered typically American may have their origins in other countries, American cooks and chefs have substantially altered them over the years, to the degree that the dish as now enjoyed the world over may even be considered archetypically American.

Another factor that makes defining American cuisine difficult is that muck of it is rustic rather than elaborate, as some aspects of American food culture are not immediately recognized as “cuisine”. Examples of which are salt water taffy, clam chowder, candy bars, and most fast-food items.

Given the United State’s large size it is not surprising that its cuisine is typified by distinct regional variations. The cuisine of the East Coast, for example, makes use of fish and seafood to much greater degree than that of the Midwest, where corn and beef were long more readily available. To some degree, easy transportation of perishable foodstuffs has diminished these regional differences in recent years, but many Americans still associate certain foods with specific places, such as steak with Omaha, lobster with Maine, and Blue Crab and Crabcake with Maryland.

Many of the dishes that were imported from elsewhere have been elaborated extensively once adopted by Americans. Pizza, hamburgers, and ice cream are dishes imported from Europe but have achieved a diversity within the United States far exceeding anything found in their home countries. Furthermore, American cooking has been widely exported beyond its borders. Tex-Mex, Creole, and barbecue restaurants can be found in cities all around the world, while fast-food burger bars and pizzerias are even more popular.