American cuisine

American cuisine is an amalgamation of food from different cultures, with strong influences from the British Isles, southern Italy, West Africa, France, Germany, Mexico, and China, and from Native American ingredients and techniques. Almost every kind of food in the world can be found in the United States, and most have been adapted into forms that may be barely recognizable in the country of origin. There is also significant regional variation in American cuisine, with the South, Texas, New England, New York City and Chicago in particular being known for their own local specialties.

. . . American cuisine . . .

American cuisine has a lot in common with its people: it’s a “melting pot” of almost everything imaginable, and while restaurants that serve American cuisine have a lot in common (usually televisions for sports around the building, a sizeable bar, large eating areas, etc.), there are many restaurants in the United States that do not serve American cuisine, making those that do serve the cuisine almost a minority.

Another distinctive factor of American cuisine is that many immigrant cuisines are not only present in the US, but, due to the often ghettoized nature of immigrant communities, they can be more “authentic” in line with food in the “old country” than in some places, as they have to cater less to the general population. To give just one example, Turkish food in Germany is usually heavily “Germanized” even though Germans of Turkish ancestry are one of the largest minority groups. In contrast, it is entirely possible to find authentic Ethiopian or Tamil food in America’s larger cities.

Very American, not very Italian

However, there are two very striking examples of “Americanizations” that might seem bizarre to those familiar with the original cuisine behind it. The American interpretation of Italian cuisine is influenced by the large proportion of 19th-century Italian immigrants coming from the (poorer) southern parts of Italy, which is culturally and culinarily distinct from northern Italy. The prevalence of meatballs, which is stereotypical of American Italian cuisine, is rarely found in any part of Italy.

There is also the absurd story of “Hunan cuisine”, which many American Chinese restaurants advertise but only a small percentage serve. The story goes that during the famous visit of Nixon to China chairman Mao (who was born in Hunan to wealthy farmers) would always reply “from Hunan” when Nixon asked him where a dish he particularly liked originated. This was almost certainly due to Mao’s local patriotism and the fact that nobody of the Chinese present dared contradict him (and the Americans didn’t know any better), but upon returning Nixon would praise Hunan cuisine, which is why many Chinese restaurants started advertising it, despite them actually serving vastly different styles of Chinese cuisine.

. . . American cuisine . . .

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. . . American cuisine . . .

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