It is easy to define certain countries' cuisines because the food and recipes are indigenous of the region, often derived out of necessity or a means for survival—the ingredients naturally coming from the local land or sea. However, since America is a country made up of cultures from many other countries, it can be somewhat challenging to define American cuisine—what recipes are truly American?
The United States is a melting pot of cultures as a result of the many immigrants that came here from various other countries across the globe. In turn, this makes American cuisine many things, including diverse, homey, original, unique, ethnic, comfortable, gourmet, spicy, bland, casual, and formal. But most of all, when it comes to American cuisine, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, and this country has established several dishes that are considered examples of American food tradition.
A myriad of dishes could be listed as American, but there are a certain few that fit the quintessential image of American food. Think of what you would most miss if you were out of the country.
The All-American Cookout
Whether Memorial Day, July 4th, or Labor Day, families across the U.S. fire up their grills and invite friends for a good old-fashioned cookout, complete with all of the expected traditional American favorites like hamburgers, hot dogs, potato salad, and coleslaw. Of course, there is often a rack of barbecued ribs or chicken and brisket on the grill or in the smoker slow cooking to tender perfection.
Good 'Ol Southern Cooking
Foods born out of "Down South" traditions have become American standards. Whether fried chicken, biscuits, chicken and dumplings, chicken-fried steak and gravy, fried green tomatoes, or shrimp and grits, these dishes are popular from California to Maine. And common at Thanksgiving, cornbread and corn pudding may have southern roots but couldn't be more American. Of course, variations abound, but the heart of these foods remains the same no matter which state you are eating in.
Passion for Meat and Potatoes
What other country is known for their extra-large cuts of meat, served sizzling on a plate with a side of potatoes and creamed spinach? The American steakhouse is an example of this country's love of beef—and lots of it—and many are considered landmarks in cities nationwide. A grilled rib-eye with a side of mashed potatoes couldn't be more American.
Quintessential Comfort Food
The dishes macaroni and cheese, chicken pot pie, and chili all create the image of sitting by the fire eating warm, comforting food on a cold day. We may also put a pot roast in the oven, or bake a meatloaf to satisfy any cravings or cure the winter blues. All of these dishes seem purely American, even if they may have origins from other parts of the world. But what recipe doesn't?
Taking advantage of the treasures that the surrounding oceans offer, Americans have created one of the best shellfish samplers around—the New England clambake. Complete with Maine lobster and local clams or mussels, as well as potatoes and corn on the cob, this summertime meal-in-one is America in a pot. It is often accompanied by clam chowder, a creamy way to enjoy the flavors of the sea. But let's not forget crab cakes and crab boils—whether made with East or West coast crabs, these delicious dishes feel very patriotic.
Desserts to be Proud of
You know the phrase: "As American as apple pie"—need we say more? Well, yes, if that is to also include other favorites such as cherry pie, pecan pie, and key lime pie. We have to include strawberry shortcake on the list as well as this springtime dessert of strawberries, whipped cream, and biscuit is very red, white, and blue.
International With an American Twist
Many dishes we eat today may have originated in the countries immigrants left to come to America, but they have become American in their own right. In fact, many chefs or foodies from other countries will claim that we have "Americanized" certain international dishes, such as pizza, pasta, and Chinese food.