Are hamburgers the most American food

A culinary overview - A look into the history of American food


A few introductory words

America's food - as diverse as its people
When did it all start?
English influences
Influences from Africa
Germans and Italians
France's 'cuisine' leaves its mark
Now we come to the Asian taste
The real deal - fast food?
Cooking in the melting pot


A few introductory words__________

Very often people hear the term "American food" and think of fast food - hamburgers, hot dogs, french fries and all those other quick dishes. It almost seems that they are right. It is hard to avoid overlooking the influence of fast food somewhere in the western world, a world littered with temples of fast food. Today the US is not only best known for the "quick way to eat" - fast food has even become a symbol of America. Despite all of this, a far greater and more promising variety of food cultures has developed and maintained in America.


America's food - as diverse as its people__________

The various groups of immigrants who helped build America also brought with them their different ways of preparing food, creating what is now known as American Food. In addition to English and especially Puritan influences, French, Spanish, German and Italian settlers are among those who not only enriched the "American way of life" with their specific culture, but also brought various food traditions with them. While the Spaniards primarily enriched Mexican cuisine, the latter became a common and popular cuisine that spread from the southwest to almost every part of the United States. Italy in particular has a large number of dishes that almost any American would describe as originally American. These include, above all, American-style pizza and a wide variety of pasta variations. The former slaves who brought their way of cooking with them from Africa also contributed to the diversity of American cuisine that exists today. In addition, the widespread use of peanuts in the United States can be traced back to their influence. Various religious groups, e.g. the Quakers or the Amish, shaped part of the food culture with their name. As you can see, there is not only the almost overused cliché of America as the land of hamburgers and fries, but as an attentive observer you can also discover a very different world of food in America.


When did it all start?__________

The story of American food begins shortly after Christopher Columbus set foot on the island of Guahani in the West Indies in 1492. His successors, like the sixteenth-century Spanish conquistadors, entered what Columbus believed to be India. Of course it wasn't India, but even so, they discovered not only the peoples of America, but also their food. They found tomatoes, potatoes, chiles, corn, beans and many other vegetables and fruits that have since conquered tables around the world. What we understand today by Mexican cuisine is originally a conglomerate of Spanish and Indian dishes. This collection of two different cultures consists of old indigenous recipes and a new Spanish way of preparing meat, including cooking and frying with fat. Examples of this Spanish-Mexican interlude are tacos, burritos, enchiladas or tortillas.


English influences__________

About a hundred years later, in the early 17th century, the English established their first permanent settlement in Jamestown, Virginia in 1607. In order to consolidate control of this settlement and later of the colonies, the English crown set up the so-called "Joint Stock Companies" "to recruit settlers, who however made themselves scarce until these companies offered free land for the settlers. That quickly changed the situation. The colonies expanded and the first tobacco plantations were established. The colonists did not want to live as normal field workers, of course, and that is why the first slaves were imported from Africa. The English brought their typical robust food with them and mixed it with local ingredients such as turkey, lobster, clams, maple syrup and almost always corn. This is how dishes like Indian Pudding, Boston Brown Bread, Clamchowder and Maine Boiled Lobster were created, which still make up the charm of New England cuisine. The famous story of how Native American Indians helped English settlers over the winter by showing them how to use the local fauna and flora eventually led to one of the most American celebrations: Thanksgiving or Thanksgiving. It has been celebrated since 1621, and the food that still covers American tables is a result of the influence of Native American culinary art on English cuisine.


Influences from Africa__________

Further south, people benefited from the moderate and mild climate, which even allowed them to use a larger number of vegetables. The food was still English, but its appearance was more "Southern" in the way it was seasoned and cooked. Africans who came to America involuntarily introduced their way of cooking, including barbeque, all sorts of pastries and lots of greens. They also brought important cooking techniques with them, such as smoking meat, frying vegetables and preparing spicy sauces. In doing so, they played one of the most significant roles in blending English, African, and Native American cuisine into what is now known as Southern cuisine, simply because they were the ones who worked in the kitchens of the South.


Germans and Italians__________

What would an American ball game be without hot dogs? Well, it was above all the Germans who introduced countless ways of preparing sausage in all possible variations. Also, the fact that they mainly settled in the American Midwest is the main reason why Milwaukee is now the nation's largest keg of beer and, of course, the city with the most breweries. Italy was another European nation adding its culinary tastes to the palate of America. The Italians who immigrated in the late 19th century not only provided America with the basis for famous Mafia films, but also countless recipes for pizza and pasta. They re-imported the tomato into American kitchens, a vegetable that is generally thought to be Italian, but comes from America and was cultivated there centuries before Columbus. It was used to flavor and complement all kinds of pizza, pasta and salads. As is well known, it is also the vegetable to which the ketchup, which was previously an Asian seasoning sauce, owes its red color.


France's 'cuisine' leaves its mark__________

French influences should not go unmentioned either. When the US made its profit in the largest real estate deal in history by acquiring the Louisiana Territory from France (Louisiana Purchase), people of French descent were drawn into the "American Way of Life". However, they have retained their cooking culture. We can still see examples of Creole and Cajun cooking cultures in southern Louisiana. Both use mostly rice and a lot of seafood, both are strongly flavored and borrow their different concepts from each other. The difference is that the roots of Creole cuisine can be found in the earliest colonial history, when the French settlers settled in the southeastern part of today's USA and fought for control of this area with Spain long before the "Louisiana Purchase". Her French way of cooking was quickly influenced by Spanish, African and Caribbean cuisine. The Cajune cuisine, on the other hand, consists more of a rural cooking method. After the French settlers of Nova Scotia were ousted and driven out by the British in 1755, they went south and eventually found refuge in Louisiana. They learned to keep their cooking skills and added easy-to-get ingredients like game, shrimp and crayfish. Only a few herbs are used, the food is cooked in a cauldron and seasoned with a relatively hot sauce.


Now we come to the Asian taste__________

The Asian influence on American cooking is also very interesting. The late 19th century brought many Asian immigrants to America. This was primarily due to political reasons such as the first opium war, several floods and bad harvests. Because of its geographic location, California was predestined to become a center of Asian immigrants. The result was that these new Americans not only brought their food with them, but also mixed their eating habits with the culture they found. Mexican dishes were also merged and mixed with Asian dishes. In this way, for example, an Asian chilli or tacos with an Asian vegetable filling was created. Many new courts have also been created, as happened in San Francisco, for example. After all, who suspects that Chop Suey, universally recognized as typically Chinese, was made by a cook from kitchen leftovers late at night when a guest asked for something to eat.


The real deal - fast food?__________

Hamburgers, pizzas, fries and all those other things are often associated with a way of cooking that is considered THE American cuisine around the world: fast food. Fast food is actually not an American invention at all. As was found during excavations in Pompeii, the Romans already had snack stands, and German bridge workers on the Rhine invented the "sausage stand" - but it was the Americans who made fast food big business. And only through all of these well-known fast food chains has American food become known worldwide in its fastest form. Most of these restaurants use the different styles of cooking, from Mexican food to the classic hamburger sandwich, from fish to roast chicken, from pizza to pasta in all their diversity. But "Eating in America" ​​is not just about fast food. Like a dry sponge, the American cultural landscape has soaked up all sorts of cuisines, tastes and spices, thus shaping its own view of culinary culture. This trend has been extremely represented in so-called "fusion food" since the 1970s. A communal cookbook from 1972 under the title "Country Commune Cooking" recommends Ukrainian, Mexican, Indian, even Tibetan recipes and cooking traditions, blended into their own recipes. There are Bologna Knish Enchiladas, sweet and sour spaghetti sauce, Armenian polenta, Mexican-Italian pancakes or Irish-Jewish stew.


Cooking in the melting pot__________

In the second half of the 20th century, Americans came to the conclusion that the famous "melting pot" metaphor no longer worked, never worked, and therefore no longer does justice to America's cultural diversity. This change is fundamental and is also reflected in the fact that Americans are discovering more and more their love for the ethnic cuisines of their country, which of course has been Americanized, as described above. In the end, one could say that America has created a national cuisine that differs from its original cultures in a very idiosyncratic manner, but nevertheless reflects the cultural diversity of this huge country in a tasty way.


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Contact: Markus Nowatzki