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Cooking in the USA

We are a nation of immigrants. Only our Native American bothers and sisters can claim this land as their ancestral home. The rest of us came to this land, or our parents before us came here, from many other places. The United States of America is often called "the melting pot of the world".

Our cooking is as diverse as our population. The USA cooking pot contains a blend of cuisines from many countries. We sometimes use the term "American cooking" to loosely define a collection of traditional dishes that have gained popularity across the USA.

American Cooking is hard to define

Few people in the US could agree on which foods are traditional American cooking. Certain simple dishes like roast beef, fried chicken, grilled steak, stuffed turkey, meatloaf, baked potato, yams, corn on the cob, potato salad, apple pie, clam chowder, hamburgers, hotdogs and hot wings would normally be included on most lists of American cooking. Many restaurants and bars in the US serve hot wings or Nachos as snack food. Try them both, but order mild seasoning the first time unless you are accustomed to eating burning coals.

Contrary to popular belief, we folks in the USA do not eat fast food every day. We often eat real food in sit-down restaurants, and we sometimes even prepare home-cooked meals. You will certainly find plenty of fast food establishments and chain restaurants in our country. They are convenient places where you can find a consistent quality of food in clean surroundings with good service. I prefer to explore the local establishments where I can sample a variety of dishes from the regional cuisine.

Regional Cooking is easier to define

The cuisine in different parts of our country developed independently. Each regional style of cooking was influenced by the nationality of the colonists that settled in the area and by the types of ingredients locally available. When traveling across the USA, you might enjoy sampling the special dishes popular in each region. Here are brief descriptions of some regional US cuisine.

Corn © USATourist.com
Corn is a widely grown food crop in the United States.

New England style cooking

The northeastern part of the USA, known as the New England states, are renowned for their hearty dishes imported by British colonists and for their cold-water seafood harvested by the local fishing fleet. This is the land of Brunswick stew, Yankee pot roast and Boston baked beans. Be sure to try the New England Clam Chowder, which is now popular all states and the Maine lobster, usually available in most fine restaurants. When visiting New England, especially the coastal cities like Boston or Providence, sample the seafood.

Southern cooking and Soul Food

The cuisine of the southeastern states is labeled "southern cooking" or more elaborately, "down home southern cooking". It is characterized by wholesome farm-style cooking with plenty of deep fried foods, heavy sauces and sweet desserts. Elvis Pressley loved southern cooking and it certainly reflected in his growing waistline. Deep-fried chicken is commonly known as southern-fried chicken. Chicken-fried steak is a deep-fried beef cutlet. Both are often served with a thick white sauce known as home-style gravy.

Southerners love barbeque, but unlike westerners, they do not favor sweet tomato-based sauces. Eastern barbeque most often means pork; especially pork ribs, well spiced or marinated and slowly cooked over glowing coals. Greens, black-eyed peas and corn bread are common side dishes. Pecan pie, peach cobbler, banana pudding and sweet potato pie are some favorite desserts.

Soul food is the Afro-American version of southern cooking. It includes the same dishes but prepared with the intensity and love of an African-American mother feeding her family. It is southern cooking with soul.

New Orleans Cajun cooking

Although in the heart of the south, New Orleans has a distinctly European culture with its own unique cuisine. This city at the mouth of the great Mississippi River was greatly influenced by Spanish and French colonists and by the many African immigrants. It developed some of the finest cuisine in the USA.

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The Creole and Cajun cuisine in New Orleans is a wonderful mixture of Spanish and French cooking spiced with African and West Indian flavors. Blackened fish or steaks are grilled with coatings of pepper and hot spices. Jambalaya and Gumbo are wonderfully flavored stews of meats, sausage and seafood. A lot of the Cajun cooking is highly spiced with hot pepper and chili, but not all the dishes are fiery. Traditional Spanish and French cooking and local variations of them are available in many fine restaurants throughout the city.

Southwestern and Tex-Mex cooking

The cuisine in the southwestern states has been greatly influenced by Native Americans and by early Spanish settlers especially via our Mexican neighbors. It is more than just cowboy food and not quite the same as authentic Mexican food. Southwestern cuisine includes a great variety of dishes prepared with local ingredients and liberally sprinkled with Mexican spices. Southwestern restaurants create some interesting variations of familiar dishes by the creative use of unfamiliar ingredients and exotic spices.

Turkey © Art Today
Cooking a turkey for Thanksgiving dinner is a tradition for many families in the United States.

Tex-Mex is a variant of southwestern cooking that is most popular in Texas and along the Mexican border. It includes barbeque and chili. These cowboy inspired dishes are so popular in the southwest and across the USA, that many places have annual chili festivals and barbeque cook offs with prizes for the best recipes. It is also the home of salsa, nachos, tacos and burritos.

California Cuisine

California is blessed with a bountiful supply of fresh fruits, vegetables and sea foods in all seasons. It has a diverse ethnic population. Californians have developed a refreshingly healthy cuisine that utilizes fresh ingredients flavored with unusual combinations of spices. Fresh green salads topped with avocados and citrus fruits may be served with Asian spiced peanut sauce. Fish can be lightly grilled in salsa and served with Chinese vegetables and Native American fry bread. Almost any combination of ethnic food styles can be combined in California cooking. This is the home of avant-garde, experimental cuisine.

Written by: Mike Leco
Top Photo Credit: © USATourist.com
Photo Description: Cowboy cookout in Texas