When you think of American cuisine, you often think of fast food; hamburgers, hot dogs and fries, but it is much more than that. Known for its unlimited possibilities, the country’s cuisine is broader than anywhere else in the world. It is a melting pot of flavours. This is because all immigrants brought their own rituals, products and dishes with them.
In the northern US, for instance, you will find many influences from Europe, which the Italian, Dutch and German immigrants, among others, brought with them. For instance, Italian pizza was transformed into thick-bottomed pizzas. The doughnut is a copied version of the Dutch oliebol. And Germans brought with them various meat sandwiches now known as hamburgers and hot dogs.
In the southern US, on the other hand, you will find more influences from Central & South America. With dishes like fried chicken, stews, burritos and chilli con carne. Strong spices and spicy peppers are widely used.
As a nation of immigrants, the United States has embraced the flavours and techniques of countless countries, creating a dynamic and unique cuisine. Below is a brief overview of the major regional cuisines:
As the name suggests, you will find many English and Irish influences in this cuisine. It also draws a lot of inspiration from its coastal location and plenty of fish and seafood. Lobster rolls, clam chowder and fried mussels are popular dishes here. It is also known for its delicious blueberry pies and maple syrup.
The Mid-Atlantic region shows a mix of different influences. Philadelphia is famous for its cheesesteaks and soft pretzels, while Maryland is known for its delicious blue crab with Old Bay spices. New York City is the culinary capital of the United States, a melting pot of culinary highlights, known for its pizza, bagels and pastrami sandwiches.
Southern cuisine is rich and soulful, with lot’s of comfort food. Here, dishes like fried chicken, collard greens (kale), corn bread, mac & cheese and potato pie are common. These dishes are often prepared with a generous amount of butter, lard and sugar. Barbecue is also central in the states of Texas, North Carolina and Tenneese, with each state having its own style. Well-known slow-cooked BBQ dishes include pulled pork, spare ribs and chicken, often prepared with regional sauces, such as Memphis-style BBQ sauce or Carolina mustard sauce (spicy vinegar-based sauce). Louisiana also has a number of famous dishes, such as Gumbo (a stew with okra, meat and spices), Jambalaya (rice with andouille sausage and/or chicken, vegetables and spices, all cooked in one pan for a rich flavour) and Crawfish boil (boiled crayfish, seasoned with a spicy mix of different spices and served with corn, potatoes and sausage).
South Florida offers a mix of Caribbean, Latin American and American flavours. Cuban sandwiches, beignets and Key lime pie are some of the culinary delights of this region.
The Midwest is known for their hearty and home-style dishes. Iconic dishes include Chicago-style deep-dish pizza, Kansas City-style barbecue, Wisconsin cheese curds and Cincinnati chili, a unique version of chili served with spaghetti.
The Southwest region offers powerful and spicy flavors inspired by Mexican cuisine. Tex-Mex dishes such as enchiladas, burritos and nachos are popular, as are New Mexico’s Hatch chili peppers, which are used in everything from stews to sauces.
The Pacific Northwest is known for their use of fresh and local ingredients. Eating local here is not just a trend but a way of life. With its many farmlands, orchards and forests, the region has an abundance of berries, apples, mushrooms such as morels and chanterelles and artisanal cheeses, among others. The extensive coastline of the Pacifix Northwest ensure that fish and seafood have an important role in this cuisine. These are often prepared simply, with minimal seasoning, to bring out their natural flavors. Portland and Oregon, are known for their many food trucks featuring a variety of international flavors.
California cuisine is a culinary movement known for its use of fresh, healthy, local ingredients and innovative flavor combinations. Seafood from the coast, wine from nearby vineyards and a mix of cultural influences form the basis of this culinary style. Fusion cuisine flourishes here, leading to surprising creations such as sushi burritos, Korean BBQ tacos and pizzas with unexpected toppings such as figs, goat cheese, artichokes and peaches. As a result, it is the place where many food trends are being created, spreading around the world.
Hawaiian cuisine is a unique combination of Polynesian, Asian and American flavors. Dishes such as poke (marinated raw fish salad), loco moco (rice topped with a burger patty, fried egg and gravy) and mochi (sticky rice cakes) are well-known favorites. Luau are traditional Hawaiian feasts, and they are often celebrated with dishes such as kalua pork (pork roasted in an underground oven), laulau (meat and fish wrapped in ti leaves and steamed), and poi (a purple paste made from mashed taro roots).
Alaska cuisine revolves around fish and seafood, including wild salmon (Copper River King salmon), king crab, cod, shrimp and halibut. Smoking and grilling are common methods of preparation. Smoked salmon in particular is a delicacy, often grilled over an open fire or cedar plank for a smoky, rich flavor. Because of the vast wilderness, many Alaskans are actively engaged in fishing and hunting. So wild meat is also an important part of the cuisine, such as moose, caribou and reindeer. This meat is often prepared in stews, sausages or as steaks and burgers. Alaska is also rich in forests of wild berries, including blueberries, swamp berries and salmonberries. These are used in desserts, jams and sauces. In addition, wild foods, such as wild mushrooms, are incorporated into dishes. Native communities in Alaska have their own culinary traditions. Native dishes include muktuk (whale bacon and skin) and akutaq (Eskimo ice cream made with berries, fat and sugar).
Chili peppers play a central role in Southwest America, and in Tex-Mex cuisine they are completely indispensable. Chilies such as the Hatch chili from New Mexico, Anaheim peppers and Jalapeños are widely used. Chili peppers are roasted, diced and incorporated into burritos, faijtas, enchiladas, tacos and salsas. They provide a smoky heat and deep flavor.
De Amerikaanse barbecue wordt sterk beïnvloed door chilipepers. Van de rokerige Chipotle, de fruitige en pittige Habanero tot de verse en knapperige Jalapeño, alles wordt gebruikt. Voor het maken van de barbecue sauzen, maar ook de rubs of gewoon vers. Zo worden de Jalapeño’s gevuld en omwikkeld met spek en zo op de BBQ gegaard tot een heerlijke snack.
Hot sauces, ranging from mild to tongue-twistingly hot, are indispensable on American dinner table. In recent years, for example, Sriracha has become almost as famous as ketchup. Other well-known American hot sauces include Tabasco, Louisiana Hot Sauce, Texas Pete and Frank’s RedHot. Hot sauces are used to add a spicy touch to all kinds of dishes, from chicken wings to breakfast burritos.
The Carolina Reaper was cultivated by American grower Ed Currie. The same Ed is said to have already cultivated a hotter pepper with Pepper X, but to date this has not been confirmed by the Guinness World Records. And the trend of eating super hot chili peppers hasn’t skipped America either. Not only is the Carolina Reaper popular, but also the Naga Jolokia, which they call Ghostpepper there, and the Trinidad Scorpion are used for sauces, chips or incorporated in the preparation of chicken wings or curry. They also host chili cook offs and chili contests.
Another chili pepper developed in America is the Habanada pepper. The history of the not hot habanero, began when Texas pepper grower Bill Adams discovered a habanero in early 1998 that was a lot less spicy. This was the big breakthrough for the sweet habanada. Pepper grower Adams shared those seeds with the Chile Pepper Institue at New Mexico State University (NMSU), which then conducted trials and further developed the non-spicy habanero. Eventually, those seeds came into the hands of Michael Mazourek, graduate student, now associate professor of plant breeding and genetics at Cornell.
Michael Mazourek was attracted to this pepper because of its challenge, but certainly also because of its delicious flavor. He said “Habaneros are delicious and I wanted to be able to eat more of them”. By 2008, he had developed the new pepper, and he called it the “Habanada. Nada, in this case, means no spiciness. The habanada has a jagged zigzag shape and is slightly more elongated than the round habanero. This shape was deliberately selected because of its difference from traditional habaneros. In that way, it is easier to tell them apart and actually an entirely new type of pepper was created.
Barbecuing has been an important part of American cuisine since colonial times. In America, for example, many important events and holidays involve barbecue. They organise barbecue competitions, festivals and backyard barbecue parties. So it is not only about the food, but also about tradition, community and culture.
The characteristic of American BBQ is “low and slow” cooking. Meats such as brisket, ribs, pork shoulder and chicken are slowly cooked over hardwood coals or in smokers for hours, sometimes all night. This slow cooking process allows the meat to become tender and absorb the smoky flavors.
Barbecuing is not just about the meat, but also the sauces and rubs. Barbecue sauces come in all kinds and flavors. Being sweet, spicy, herbal or a combination of all three. Rubs, made from a mix of spices, sugar and salt, add flavor to the meat. The sugar, by caramelizing, creates a nice crust and the salt draws moisture from the meat.
It’s a feast and several side dishes should not be missed. Think coleslaw, mac & cheese, baked beans, corn bread, pickles and pickled peppers.
Many dishes that in the Netherlands, are called Mexican are actually Tex-Mex dishes. This is because the area that is now Texas used to be home to native Mexicans. When American colonists began to settle in that area, the two (food) cultures came into contact. Mexican dishes were combined with different products that the settlers brought, for example, minced meat and flour. These dishes and ingredients were combined with each other, creating an entirely distinct cuisine, Tex-Mex cuisine. This then evolved into the well-known and rich cuisine it is today. It is a truly self-contained cuisine with its own distinctive dishes and ingredients. Because of globalization and the popularity of the dishes, many of them were unfairly labeled “Mexican” in Europe.
Typical Tex-Mex ingredients include minced meat, black beans, cheddar, cumin and tortilla/wraps made from flour. If you see a Mexican dish with one or more of the above ingredients, chances are it is a Tex-Mex dish. Think of Chili con Carne with minced meat and black beans, Fajitas with wheat flour wraps or Nachos with a load of melted cheese. These are all dishes that will hardly be on the menu in Mexico.
The United States is known for its bourbon and whiskey production. Bourbon is an American whiskey made at least 51% from corn. It is a lot sweeter than other whiskeys and especially popular in the southern states. A well-known American whiskey is Jack Daniel’s, from Tennessee.
Strong liquors have most likely been mixed with spices and fruits for centuries, but in the late 18th or early 19th century, the concept of cocktails as they are known today was created in the United States. Cocktails were initially simple combinations of alcohol, sugar, water and bitters. Later they became a lot more complex and now there are endless recipes for cocktais. Well-known American cocktails include the Manhattan, Old Fashioned, Cosmopolitan, Mint Julep, and Martini.
Coca-Cola, one of the world’s most well known soft drinks, was invented in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1886 by John S. Pemberton. It began as a “medicine” but quickly became a popular soft drink. And not only Coca Cola is an American soft drink brand, also Pepsi, Sprite, 7-UP, Dr. pepper all have American origins. Root beer, cream soda and ginger ale are also popular American soft drinks.
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