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Ten Foods That Make America Great


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I came across this article online on MSNBC's website. I think it is very thoughtful and well written, and the author says right upfront that it's not meant to be exhaustive. For me the article did not seem to want to provoke any regional tensions or vigorous debate, but was meant as an acknowledgement of wonderful and distinctly American foods. What came to my mind is, What exactly is American food, What makes it American? Is it the origin of the raw ingredients or method of cooking or new twists on cooking styles which may have their roots in other countries? I think the author did a good job of explaining why each food chosen was uniquely American. My main criticism of this article is that it is pretty squishy on how "they" selected these ten particular foods, although the author briefly touches on why certain foods were not considered.

You can barely turn around these days without bumping up against a "Top 10 List" on just about anything, which I usually find both boring and irritating, I mean whose top 10? I was glad that, at least IMHO, while this is a top 10 list, it is also a homage to wonderful regional foods.

There's even an area where people have sent in their own favorites for honorable mention. I'll chime in with the person wrote them about steamed Blue Crabs from Chesapeake Bay (with Old Bay Seasoning, of course). And one I didn't see: the humble half smoke, which I believe was deemed Washington, DC's signature food by a poll taken by the Washington Post (please correct me if I'm wrong on this). The reason being is that when you get outside of the DC-Metro area, nobody has ever even heard of a half smoke (at least not the name, since I'm sure there are similar sausage-on-a-bun concoctions all over the US), so it's uniquely a DC thang.

Here's link. Happy Independence Day!

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/8392312/

Inside me there is a thin woman screaming to get out, but I can usually keep the Bitch quiet: with CHOCOLATE!!!

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My main criticism of this article is that it is pretty squishy on how "they" selected these ten particular foods, although the author briefly touches on why certain foods were not considered.

...

You can barely turn around these days without bumping up against a "Top 10 List" on just about anything, which I usually find both boring and irritating, I mean whose top 10?  I was glad that, at least IMHO, while this is a top 10 list, it is also a homage to wonderful regional foods.

actually, it wasn't a top 10 list, just a 10 list. you'd never catch me trying to create a hierarchy between po-boys, clam chowder and ham. i'm not *that* stupid.

the "they" was me, and it's a subjective list -- not supposed to be exhuastive, not meant to proclaim the value of these 10 over any others. my basic critieria:

(1) it had to have some element to its history that made it demonstrably American. And it had to be associated with a specific location -- steak or fried chicken don't really speak of a place, they're just generically American. Fajitas, even though they're eaten nationally, are still very much a Texas tradition.

(2) it couldn't have too much overlap with another item selected -- po-boys vs. Italian sub sandwiches, for instance.

(3) no BBQ or pizza, since we're doing those both later in the summer as their own stories.

(4) geography. the list had to cover every region of the country, though some might argue the Midwest got a bit shortchanged. no duplicating states (hence no Philly cheesesteak when we had shoofly pie).

(5) a balance of famous and obscure. that's why some more obscure picks (chile verde, Olympia oysters) made the list alongside the obvious (clam chowder).

hope that helps a bit.

on the topic of top-10 lists, i'd say it's a safe bet you'll be seeing more. for whatever reason, people always read them -- even if they hate 'em. consumer magazines learned this lesson long ago. :rolleyes:

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Thanks jbonne. As I said when I started this topic, I thought the article was very well written especially your historical research. Knowing the criteria you had in mind when you selected these items is most helpful in understanding why you chose those particular foods (fantastic list by the way). By starting this topic, I wanted to hear from others as to what makes a particular food American to each of us, not necessarily which food you like the best.

actually, it wasn't a top 10 list, just a 10 list. you'd never catch me trying to create a hierarchy between po-boys, clam chowder and ham. i'm not *that* stupid.

I debated with myself about whether to refer to the article as a top ten list or not, just wasn't sure. Definitely felt that your list went far and above those run of the mill lists where the criteria seems to be "because I really like it or it's momentarily really, really cool." :hmmm:

As for,

the "they" was me, and it's a subjective list -- not supposed to be exhuastive, not meant to proclaim the value of these 10 over any others. my basic critieria:

To "all of you" I say, "What a man, what a man, what a man, what a mighty good man." (Source: Rap Divas, Salt 'n' Pepper) :smile:

Edited by divalasvegas (log)

Inside me there is a thin woman screaming to get out, but I can usually keep the Bitch quiet: with CHOCOLATE!!!

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Yeah, that's way beyond a run-of-the-mill article, very well-written. Congrats, jbonne, and good move getting some comments from Mr. Cutlets for the pastrami feature. :biggrin:

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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I agree, great top 10 article ;). As for my own top ten list:

1. Scrapple

2. Cheesesteak

3. Shooe Fly Pie

4. Americanized Red Gravey Style Italian

5. Yeungling (better than Newcastle Brown, which is the closest thing IMO)

6. Buffalo Wings (how could these be forgotten on the original list?)

7. Tex-mex combo plate (can't pick just one, have to have the rellenjo, the enchilada, the burrito, a taco, and hopefully a tostada as well, with the refried beans of course)

8. Blue crabs loaded with old bay

9. Big (1/2 lbd or more) overloaded American style cheeseburger, rare or course

10. Gumbo, the ultimate in cajun cuisine

So, yeah, my list is Northeast-centric, but that is where I have been exiled for the past 15 years.

He don't mix meat and dairy,

He don't eat humble pie,

So sing a miserere

And hang the bastard high!

- Richard Wilbur and John LaTouche from Candide

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Nicely-written article. And I felt pretty comfortable with your choices, jbonne--but maybe that's because you did manage to hit several of my all-time favorite foods (the clam chowder, the pastrami) and one of my relatively recent joyful discoveries (New Mexico's unique way with red and green chile).

It really is hard to narrow it down to just ten, isn't it? Here's a list just off the top of my head:

1. The New York deli-style sandwich--ain't gonna restrict it to just pastrami, as that would slight my other true loves, corn beef and sliced tongue. Say it's a combo sandwich and you've got it covered as a single food item.

2. New England clambake--including all the trimmings: ya gotta have some corn on the cob in there, and some lobsters, and a bunch o' beer to wash it down.

3. The serious non-fast-food burger--oversized, damn-the-E.Coli red inside, loaded with trimmings, pickle on the side ... wait, do I hear Jimmy Buffet in the background? :cool:

4. Fish tacos/burritos -- there are whole segments of the Southern California population for which this represents an entire food group of its own. I'm one of those weirdos who prefers my fish in burritos to tacos ... I just like burritos better than tacos anyway ... except for ...

5. The Indian taco, on Navaho frybread. A thing of beauty (especially if you're in New Mexico or someplace else that knows that "Christmas" is more than just a December holiday :biggrin: )

6. Southern fried chicken. My misadventures in chicken frying have convinced me that doing this dish right is an artform of the highest caliber.

7. The perfect Seattle-style caffe latte. Very specifically, the gorgeous lattes they pull at Vivace in Seattle. When I think of those perfectly-executed leaf-patterns in the foam, that dark-sweet taste that makes your hair curl with the first sip, I get weak in the knees.

8. Fried clams. Still missing them.

9. Chicago-style pizza. Yeah, I'm being a traitor to my Noo Yawk roots, but I know a good thing when I taste it. And whereas New York-style pizza has a recognizable connection to its Italian ancestors, the Chicago style I think can rightfully be called a purely American invention.

10. The pig roast. There are so many worthy variants of barbeque out there, and I am so not an expert on any of them, but there's just something so totally over-the-top in going the proverbial whole hog. And damn it's tasty. (Oh fat, wonderful fat, my love and my downfall...)

Edited by mizducky (log)
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mizducky -

Wow, you have certainly been around the nation. Your post makes me regret having spent so long in one state... As wonderful as DE is (and it is truly wonderful in many ways) I suppose I need to buy a harley and become a drifter for a while and truly experience what this country has to offer...

He don't mix meat and dairy,

He don't eat humble pie,

So sing a miserere

And hang the bastard high!

- Richard Wilbur and John LaTouche from Candide

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Nice article. Top ten lists (or ten lists) are everywhere, but I still think they are fun...

To "all of you" I say, "What a man, what a man, what a man, what a mighty good man." (Source:  Rap Divas, Salt 'n' Pepper) :smile:

Close, it was En Vogue who sang this song, with help from S&P.. :smile:

"It's better to burn out than to fade away"-Neil Young

"I think I hear a dingo eating your baby"-Bart Simpson

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4. Fish tacos/burritos -- there are whole segments of the Southern California population for which this represents an entire food group of its own. I'm one of those weirdos who prefers my fish in burritos to tacos ... I just like burritos better than tacos anyway

San Diego kicks ass in this category of Mexican. It's not as well represented in LA. Senor Fish is pretty good, they do a deep fried scallop burrito that carried me through my first pregnancy.

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I think it's a cool list. Nice distribution.

My #1 addition would be maple syrup. Blueberry pancakes and maple syrup. The genuine stuff, of course. (Maple syrup always seems to be what people want you to bring them from the US.)

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Southern fried chicken would take my vote over anything on the list.

After reading this yesterday, I took a brief poll of some of my neighbors who are multi-racial and multi-national. Except for one family, who are Polish and make a variety of their own wonderful homemade sausages, everyone else is having fried chicken in addition to their cultural favorites on the 4th.

"There are, it has been said, two types of people in the world. There are those who say: this glass is half full. And then there are those who say: this glass is half empty. The world belongs, however, to those who can look at the glass and say: What's up with this glass? Excuse me? Excuse me? This is my glass? I don't think so. My glass was full! And it was a bigger glass!" Terry Pratchett

 

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Nice article. Top ten lists (or ten lists) are everywhere, but I still think they are fun...

To "all of you" I say, "What a man, what a man, what a man, what a mighty good man." (Source:  Rap Divas, Salt 'n' Pepper) :smile:

Close, it was En Vogue who sang this song, with help from S&P.. :smile:

Oh no, :shock: thanks adegiulio :smile:.

And I would like to nominate another alleged uniquely American dish and one that I love, but know that makes others want to hurl: scrapple. The perfect marriage between cornmeal and select pork parts which has it's origins in Pennsylvania. Fried until crispy, with a couple of eggs over easy, hash browns and hot buttered toast.

As defined at Culinary Sleuth:

Scrapple is the unique creation of the Pennsylvania Dutch, and therefore only quasi-American as the immigrants combined their German heritage with New World ingredients. The term "Pennsylvania Dutch" is a corrupted form of Pennsylvania Deutsche, mostly transplanted Rhineland farmers who worked hard and ate heartily. They are frugal people and many of their dishes make imaginative use of every part of the butchered hog's anatomy. Scrapple is one of them.

Must add that on my mother's side of the family this dish was made after hog butchering in the fall along with another alleged uniquely American dish: pork pudding.

Inside me there is a thin woman screaming to get out, but I can usually keep the Bitch quiet: with CHOCOLATE!!!

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mizducky, I certainly agree with your Indian Taco choice, but I know a major reason it couldn't be included; namely, it is a very different food, depending where it's consumed and which tribe cooks it. I have 17 different recipes for the frybreads. It usually depends on when the tribe started getting commodities, and who it was taught them their recipe. When tribes got motorized and able to go very far for the PowWows, rendevous, and stomp dances, they got exposed to "way different" frybread tacos. When I was in school on one reservation in AZ, Navajo (Dineh), Hopi, and Papago (Tahono O'odham), as well as Havasupai, Apaches, Cherokee, Hualipai, Pima and Maricopa (pee posh)---anyway, all of them had a very different recipe for the same thing. I do reckon, however, that it did deserve a slot in the list. :laugh: "Skin Power"!!!! :laugh: The Papagos even call them popovers, and have no relation to the Anglo "Popover". :smile:

But hey, NO TAMALES???????? :biggrin: American as the Alamo! (Just a joke-please defer emails from folks that go like "How could you say that?? The Alamo was a Spanish region."

Oops, I just thought about the Chiles in New Mexico. Prehistory clans did a bucketful of trading with the Mexica, and I feel that the Pueblans had chiles aplenty way before Spaniards brought the seeds of their voyages due S.-S.W. The Catholic fathers claimed from the first contact in Central America that the chile was an obscene thing that the conquered folks imbibed to get sexually aroused :laugh: And there were always the little bitty Pequin, Tepin, Birdeye (by whatever name they are distinguished) growing wild all around these folks' territory.

Sorry to get so rambling.

Edited by Mabelline (log)
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Nice article. Top ten lists (or ten lists) are everywhere, but I still think they are fun...

To "all of you" I say, "What a man, what a man, what a man, what a mighty good man." (Source:  Rap Divas, Salt 'n' Pepper) :smile:

Close, it was En Vogue who sang this song, with help from S&P.. :smile:

Oh no, :shock: thanks adegiulio :smile:.

And I would like to nominate another alleged uniquely American dish and one that I love, but know that makes others want to hurl: scrapple. The perfect marriage between cornmeal and select pork parts which has it's origins in Pennsylvania. Fried until crispy, with a couple of eggs over easy, hash browns and hot buttered toast.

As defined at Culinary Sleuth:

Scrapple is the unique creation of the Pennsylvania Dutch, and therefore only quasi-American as the immigrants combined their German heritage with New World ingredients. The term "Pennsylvania Dutch" is a corrupted form of Pennsylvania Deutsche, mostly transplanted Rhineland farmers who worked hard and ate heartily. They are frugal people and many of their dishes make imaginative use of every part of the butchered hog's anatomy. Scrapple is one of them.

Must add that on my mother's side of the family this dish was made after hog butchering in the fall along with another alleged uniquely American dish: pork pudding.

Scrapple is really the perfect breakfast food in the same way as buffalo wings are the perfect any other time of day food (actually, cold buffalo wings make a nice breakfast too.... especially when combined with a hangover and a bit of the hair of the dog).

We truly need to embark on a quest to get all of the scrapple uninitiated to try this delectable item. We'll just uh... not tell them what is really in it until after they have eaten a serving or two ;) (after all, who can eat only one slice of scrapple?)

He don't mix meat and dairy,

He don't eat humble pie,

So sing a miserere

And hang the bastard high!

- Richard Wilbur and John LaTouche from Candide

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Nullo, you all know there was a multiple-page thread about that very same thing. Although scrapple's a long way from horsey cutlets, folks oughta know what it is (and nobody ever said that you couldn't change it's pedigree with creative euphemisms 101!).

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Nullo, you all know there was a multiple-page thread about that very same thing. Although scrapple's a long way from horsey cutlets, folks oughta know what it is (and nobody ever said that you couldn't change it's pedigree with creative euphemisms 101!).

What are horsey cutlets?

He don't mix meat and dairy,

He don't eat humble pie,

So sing a miserere

And hang the bastard high!

- Richard Wilbur and John LaTouche from Candide

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I think it's a cool list. Nice distribution.

My #1 addition would be maple syrup. Blueberry pancakes and maple syrup. The genuine stuff, of course. (Maple syrup always seems to be what people want you to bring them from the US.)

My additions would be the varieties of cornbreads that come from the South, and biscuits.

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Um, the horsey cutlets were a reference to the other thread, by the lady who bought some horsemeat and her hub's reaction to it. :biggrin: Sorry, today's one of my obtuse days, I reckon. :wacko:

Oh, I see. Hmm, I would love to try horse someday... along with those poodle burgers from that other thread...

Heh, maybe I have some cajun in me... eat anything that walks, crawls, grows, swims, or slithers on this earth...

He don't mix meat and dairy,

He don't eat humble pie,

So sing a miserere

And hang the bastard high!

- Richard Wilbur and John LaTouche from Candide

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Wow, you have certainly been around the nation.  Your post makes me regret having spent so long in one state... As wonderful as DE is (and it is truly wonderful in many ways) I suppose I need to buy a harley and become a drifter for a while and truly experience what this country has to offer...

Heh. In my head, it doesn't feel like I've been all that well traveled ... until I start counting up states I've been to, and I go "wow, better check the Brain Odometer!" :laugh: My major pipedream for some years now has been to acquire an old but reliable motorhome and take off cross-country, blogging about all my observations culinary and otherwise as I go. Maybe less stylish than a Harley, but definitely a bit more comfortable. (Anyone in SoCal with a lead on such an old-but-reliable RV, feel free to PM me. :biggrin: )

3 words:

country fried steak.

Words of wisdom. Actually, there's a whole subgenre of country/southern/soul food delights that deserve to be on the list, but I was trying to stick to the 10-only cut-off ... I see someone's already muttered about cornbread; I'd also dearly love to have put greens w/hamhock on there too, and chicken and dumplings ... maybe the only way to do this kind of thing justice is to abandon the numerical limit and go instead for separate lists for each of several Essential Regional Cuisines. (But that would be a different article--hell, that would probably be a whole book ...)

And I would like to nominate another alleged uniquely American dish and one that I love, but know that makes others want to hurl: scrapple.  The perfect marriage between cornmeal and select pork parts which has it's origins in Pennsylvania.  Fried until crispy, with a couple of eggs over easy, hash browns and hot buttered toast.

Must add that on my mother's side of the family this dish was made after hog butchering in the fall along with another alleged uniquely American dish: pork pudding.

Dang, I did give the whole Pennsylvania/Penn-Deutsch nexus short shrift in my previous list, didn't I. Another whole chapter in my fantasy regional-cuisine book. I am ashamed to say that in all the vacations to Pennsylvania my family took me on as a kid, I never once tried scrapple--I think my parents were afeared of it. :laugh: But as an adult with a distinct fondness for "variety meats," I bet I would groove out on scrapple pretty fierce.

mizducky, I certainly agree with your Indian Taco choice, but I know a major reason it couldn't be included; namely, it is a very different food, depending where it's consumed and which tribe cooks it. I have 17 different recipes for the frybreads. It usually depends on when the tribe started getting commodities, and who it was taught them their recipe. When tribes got motorized and able to go very far for the PowWows, rendevous, and stomp dances, they got exposed to "way different" frybread tacos. When I was in school on one reservation in AZ, Navajo (Dineh), Hopi, and Papago (Tahono O'odham), as well as Havasupai, Apaches, Cherokee, Hualipai, Pima and Maricopa (pee posh)---anyway, all of them had a very different recipe for the same thing. I do reckon, however, that it did deserve a slot in the list. :laugh:  "Skin Power"!!!! :laugh:  The Papagos even call them popovers, and have no relation to the Anglo "Popover". :smile:

Heh. I was sorta-kinda aware of the diversity of frybread/taco interpretations out there ... somehow, the three exemplars I've had the chance to sample so far (in Alburquerque at a restaurant, in Seattle at a pow-wow, and in the Susanville CA area as a guest at an extended-family gathering) seemed pretty similar, but I bet there were nuances that I didn't know to pay attention to (or else one or more of them were based on recipes that have been making the rounds of the various pow-wows and such). Anyway, this would definitely be another food I'd love to do more research on whenever that "magic bus" RV materializes in my life. :biggrin: And if you ever feel inspired, Mabelline, to start a whole separate thread on all the different variants on frybread and other Native dishes, I know I for one would read it with great interest (not to mention my drool-bib on).

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Heh. In my head, it doesn't feel like I've been all that well traveled ... until I start counting up states I've been to, and I go "wow, better check the Brain Odometer!" :laugh: My major pipedream for some years now has been to acquire an old but reliable motorhome and take off cross-country, blogging about all my observations culinary and otherwise as I go. Maybe less stylish than a Harley, but definitely a bit more comfortable. (Anyone in SoCal with a lead on such an old-but-reliable RV, feel free to PM me. :biggrin: )

I think Ronnie Suburban offered to sell Daniel one for his roadtrip, you should PM him ;).

Dang, I did give the whole Pennsylvania/Penn-Deutsch nexus short shrift in my previous list, didn't I. Another whole chapter in my fantasy regional-cuisine book. I am ashamed to say that in all the vacations to Pennsylvania my family took me on as a kid, I never once tried scrapple--I think my parents were afeared of it. :laugh: But as an adult with a distinct fondness for "variety meats," I bet I would groove out on scrapple pretty fierce.

You simply must drop everything, find a place you can order some online, and get some now. Picture this - all of the great spicey flavors of sausage, the crispness of overcooked bacon, the creaminess of the interior of foie gras, and that subtle hint of organ meats.... all for less than the price of chuck steak. Man could live on scrapple alone if the need arose.

He don't mix meat and dairy,

He don't eat humble pie,

So sing a miserere

And hang the bastard high!

- Richard Wilbur and John LaTouche from Candide

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