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  • Writer's pictureChris Wylie

What is American Food?

So, I have been spending the last three weeks trying to write a “quick” blog about what

American food actually is. It was going to be a funny but thoughtful in it’s analysis. It was going to span a continent describing regional cuisine and local ingredients. And it would span humanity describing the cultures that have brought their kitchens from distant shores. This blog post would have brought peace to Earth and maybe, maybe, even stopped the stars in the sky, themselves! As you can guess, the only thing I discovered is that I don’t know what American food really is.

Quick, think of your favorite American food. Now, ask yourself, is it really American? Is it a hot dog or hamburger, which originates in Germany? What about apple pie? Nope, it was first baked in England. And then there is chop suey. This is a dish that thousands of Americans order at Chinese restaurants every year. But in China, they don’t know what chop suey is. So, is it an American food? I don’t know.

There are a lot of inconsistencies like this. In the southern state of Louisiana there is a delicious stew called gumbo. It is full of fish and shrimp and sausage all cooked in a flavorful broth. It is absolutely American! Or is it? Louisiana was once occupied by the French, whose descendants mixed french cooking techniques and local ingredients, thus, gumbo. So, is it American. I don’t know.

Quick, think of a pizza. Does it have tomato sauce? If it does, it might be American food. Tomatoes are a New World food and the first published recipe for an Italian tomato sauce dates to 1790. Now I don’t really argue that pizza is American; all of my Neapolitan friends would kill me! But I am saying that drawing bright lines to define national cuisines is a tricky thing to do.

I know this: when you visit the United States to study English, or for any reason at all, please try to sample the many and various flavors my country has to offer. Reach beyond fast food. Stay away from your national recipes. Try the seafood on the East Coast. Devour the chili in Texas. Get some biscuits and gravy in Georgia. Find a soul food restaurant and try the collard greens. Get barbeque anywhere. But above all, when you are in San Diego, find me and we’ll get some authentic American food: tacos.

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