Considering that it was created and inspired by immigrants in the early years, American cuisine as a melting pot of cultures is difficult to define unlike the cuisines of other countries whose foods are indigenious to their region. From the Northeast to the Mid-Atlantic, from the South to the Southwest, America became what it is today: a diverse array of steakhouses, pizza joints, and burger restaurants. And there’s no denying that the nature of American food is still evolving in this manner—cultural trade by shared culture, some accepted, some resisted, and still others compelled. When it comes to defining what is American cuisine it’s a whole different story by region.
American Cuisine from the Different Regions
What is American cuisine exactly, depending on where you live and preference, traditional American cuisine varies on geographical location.
Near the Atlantic Ocean, the Northeast (Maine, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts) has a wealth of seafood-centric cuisine. Lobsters and clams, in particular, are commonly utilized, with dishes like the lobster roll and seafood chowder gaining popularity.
The Midwest (Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin) is regarded as the breadbasket of the United States. It produces the largest amount of wheat, corn, and soy in the country. Midwestern foods such as bread pudding, Chicago deep dish pizza, and sandwiches represent the shared resources in the Midwest.
In contrast, foods found in the southern US include bolder flavor that rely heavily on barbecue and frying. Barbequed meat, fried chicken, and brisket burger are just a few of the iconic Southern mainstays, along with corn, rice, and chicken.
Top 5 Traditional American Dishes
Dishes can vary from different regions, what’s agreeable is that in other aspects of American society, the cuisine has international influences – German, British, Italian, Dutch, French, and Caribbean to name a few. Here’s a look at some of the most popular American cuisines available throughout the country.
1. The Hamburger
The hamburger and cheeseburger are undeniably popular in the United States. Classic, sophisticated, fast food, sliders with bacon and green chili in a juicy way. This list of toppings and combinations is endless. Burgers have to be the most American of all the foods if we were to choose one.
The best hamburger in the country may be found, on the West Coast to gourmet dining in New York. However, the Library of Congress recognizes only one location as the birthplace of hamburgers: New Haven, Connecticut.
2. Apple Pie
You’ve probably heard the phrase “as American as apple pie” and it’s not without reason. It’s probably the most iconic of American foods, which was first introduced in the States by British and Dutch immigrants. However, over the years it’s been transformed into a distinctly American food experience, typically served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
Mesquite smoked meats and tenderizing rubs are common obsessions. Traditions like barbecue have developed into an art, with different styles favored by different restaurants. Especially the Kansas City-Style Barbeque Ribs with the all-time favorite sauce that when rub leans sweet with enough chili powder and pepper to provide a spicy counterpoint. You can enjoy a beer and wait till they’re nice and tender. We can all agree that barbeque in America is a love that brings the best in people!
An all-American hot dog is the perfect accompaniment to a summer barbeque or a baseball game. Though it was first invented by German Charles Feltman, who served German sausage on buns to conserve space on platters, it was Polish immigrant Nathan Handwerker’s hot dog stand on Coney Island that made the hot dog a national icon. There are regional variations, such as New York-style with ketchup and relish and Chicago-style with no ketchup served on a poppy seed bun.
5. Reuben Sandwich
The Reuben is a true classic and it’s rightfully so. It commonly has corned beef, Swiss, sauerkraut, and Russian dressing on rye bread, pressed or grilled. The first sandwich is thought to have been made in the early 1900s!
Though there is a debate over the dictionary etymologies of the name Reuben, what makes it part of the top traditional foods in America is what it’s dressed with it’s the perfect glue for this epic sandwich. A truly American staple.
6. Biscuits and Gravy
This certainly wakes you up in the morning. The classic biscuit was introduced to the country by the British, and the ‘sawmill’ gravy was devised in the food-strapped colonies of the South during the Revolutionary War as a cheap and satisfying breakfast choice. The country gravy is generally made with meat drippings and chunks of fresh pig sausage and black pepper, while the biscuits are customarily baked with butter or lard and buttermilk.
This is America’s comfort food. American households will have their own family version of this special recipe. It usually consists of ground beef and spices formed into a loaf using a loaf pan or by hand, roasted, and topped with sauce or plain ketchup! Meatloaf brings most Americans back to their childhood kitchens!
8. Buffalo Chicken Wings
These fried chicken wings dipped in a cayenne-vinegar hot sauce (buffalo sauce) are a popular bar dish, despite being invented in the 1960s. Buffalo chicken wings were first served in Buffalo, New York, and have since become one of the most popular bar dishes.
9. Mac n’ Cheese
Macaroni and cheese (or Mac n Cheese) is a classic comfort food that may be enjoyed by itself or as a great accompaniment to a variety of many other foods. It is widely available in grocery shops as a frozen ready meal that can be made in minutes. This is one of the reasons for its popularity. But, of course, the biggest reason is the delightfully cheesy pasta!
10. Clam Chowder
Clam chowder is a substantial classic meal that started on the East Coast of America. It’s a recipe that is only found in the USA. So clam chowder is as American as apple pie! It’s widely offered in restaurants around the US, especially on Fridays when Catholics abstain from meat.
The foods presented above, and all the others consumed today may have started in the nations that immigrants left behind to come to the states. These dishes and recipes have evolved over the years and now have a distinctively American flavor. Many cooks and foodies from other nations will argue that we have “Americanized” ethnic delicacies like pizza, pasta, and Chinese cuisine. This what makes up American cuisine really is.
Raw fish and seaweed may spring to mind when thinking of Japanese food. And when you think of Italian cuisine, you usually think of pasta, risotto, and a lot of cheese.
In a nutshell, however, what is American cuisine is more difficult to categorize because it is a melting pot of culinary influences. With such a diverse range of culinary traditions, it has grown to be more than the sum of its parts, and it now provides something truly distinctive. America as a country has produced a number of dishes that are widely regarded as examples of “American” cuisine.