US Food (Cuisine)

For our next series, MapsofWorld will be exploring the cuisine of the United States. We’ll take a peek into kitchens across the country in an attempt to define exactly what constitutes American cuisine. Food is at the heart (and stomach) of every culture, and as we take a closer look at the culinary specialties around the country, it becomes clear that the food we eat is a reflection of who we are and where we’ve been. As a nation formed of immigrants from varied backgrounds, the food of the United States closely resembles the history of its people.

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As we search for insight into the nation’s culture, history, and people through its food, we must first determine what makes something an American fare. The image that comes to mind is often that of the classic American dinner. On the table: burgers, fries, and a shake. Or is it fried chicken and macaroni and cheese? While both these meals are considered quintessential American dishes, they do not completely encompass the multicultural population of the United States. In this study of American food, we will consider foods that are both distinctly American, as well as dishes that are fusions influenced by multiple cultures.

Those with a narrow definition of American cuisine might only consider food such as barbecue to be an original American dish, because it made its first appearance on the American dinner table. These purists would not consider pizza, for example, to be an American food, since it is an adaptation of a dish from Italy. However, by examining some of the quintessential dishes of other cultures, we find that most have been modified by outside influences as well. Pizza and pasta, the most popular forms of Italian food, have been drastically altered after exposure to foreign cultures. The tomato, which is important to both dishes, is not native to Italy. It was first discovered in South America, and was not introduced to Italian cuisine until around 1550. And yet, the tomato is considered an essential part of Italian food. Cuisine, like all other aspects of culture, adapts as it is exposed to outside influences.

The United States is often described as a melting pot or salad bowl, that is, many cultures mixing together, influencing one another as they assimilate. As a multicultural country, the foods that we classify as American cuisine should reflect the diverse nature of the people. These variations and adaptations of foods from other cultures are as American as the people who cook them.

Since food specialties in the United States generally follow regional boundaries, we have divided the country into five broad regions for closer study: Northeast, Midwest, South, Southwest, and West. Each of these regions can be further divided into smaller regions and their specialties, as we delve deeper into learning about the roots of the meals, how and when they were concocted, and what cultures influenced their creation. Was it an influx of immigrants who brought their native delicacies to the United States? Or was the dish conceived using the indigenous resources of the region?

After deciding the guidelines for classifying American cuisine, we will then narrow down our options, choosing the most iconic and unique dishes from each region. This is a daunting task, as there are many specialties in each region and we can only choose so many. We invite our readers to interact with us and share their opinions on the foods selected for discussion in this series. Join us as we attempt to classify the regional cuisines of the United States.

Let’s dig in!