Sunday, October 09, 2005

What is American Food?

A couple of weeks ago, I had a priest as a guest: Fr. Leo, a priest from Uganda, studying in Pittsburgh. He was in our parish as a "mission" speaker, inviting my parishioners to support the work of his home diocese.

After the Saturday evening Mass, I took him out to dinner, and I took him to one of the nicest restaurants around, an Italian restaurant in the next town to the south. As we sat outside, enjoying a very nice evening and a nice meal, he commented, "I'd like to try 'American food'--but I never get the chance. Always German, Italian, Chinese, Mexican..."

Hmmm, I thought; then I told him, well, I guess "Soul Food" would be true "American Food"; and I thought of ribs, and told him I'd have loved to take him somewhere for ribs, but alas, that would be a long drive. I also mentioned fried chicken, but I found myself still thinking about it now a couple of weeks later.

What is American food?

One thought occurs to me: we Americans are like the Romans of old; we absorb all sorts of things from other cultures, and give them our own flavor, and style, and often, make them better. I don't know if the ancient Romans were innovators in cuisine, but they were accomplished in the sorts of things at which we Americans excel: power, government, technology, and efficiency.

My other thought is that we haven't been around -- as a distinct culture -- all that long, so our cuisine hasn't had enough time to develop.

Of course, having said that, I realize we have many interesting regional cuisines; but is there a national, "American" cuisine?

Your comments...

8 comments:

Claire in Virginia said...

Fried chicken, baked ham, chicken pot pie or apple pie perhaps? I don't know.

Your post reminded me of when my brother had his US Citizenship ceremony three months ago. When I asked him where he wanted to go for lunch afterwards, his response was Chinese restaurant. I laughed. :o)

I'm a new reader of your blogsite, Father. Hello from Virginia! :o)

Father Martin Fox said...

hello, back, Claire!

In Virginia, y'all have some good food items, especially those good peanuts from Southside.

But what I miss most is Virginia Ham. I go to the store here, in Ohio, and they have so-called "Country Ham"--then it says, in small print, "sugar cured"!

Oh, how I love that good Virginia ham!

Ellyn said...

Grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup?
With chocolate chip cookies for desert?

MrsDarwin said...

Howsabout Southern cooking? (Though I guess that's what you mean by "soul food".) Red beans and rice, jambalaya, gumbo -- that's authentic American cuisine right there! And tasty, too.

Of course, the issue is that America is just too large for one style of cooking. Even France has multiple regional styles, and France is hardly as big as Ohio.

Claire in Virginia said...

In the words of Homer Simpson: mmmmmmmm...Virginia Ham. All this talk about food is making me hungry. :o)

kronprinz1918 said...

Fr. go to Jungle Jim's. They have everything ... they'll have Virginia Ham.

Victor said...

I can speak as a semi-outsider (lived in Britain until 12 -- better for a cuisine to have no image as the image Britain's has).

Outside the US, I can pretty much assure you that apple pie is not considered particularly American (I was quite perturbed to hear those "baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and Chevrolet" commercials upon first arriving here). Hamburgers and hot dogs are considered the quintessential American foods (though both German in origin; pizza doesn't seem to have been Americanized though; people still generally think of it as Italian).

Fried chicken and the rest of the panoply of Southern cuisine / soul food are known, but considered more "regional" than American in general.

Father Martin Fox said...

Well, I'll be a little contrary: the assortment of cuisines we enjoy in the U.S. is quintessentially American.

Tonite, I'm having a couple of pork chops (I cooked them myself!) with Kimchee, washed down by California red wine.

Yes--from a box!