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Food Culture: National Cuisine

Because almost any type of food can be found in the United States, it can be difficult to define modern American cuisine precisely. Traditional cooking was generally simple, limited by what the colonists and pioneers had available to them. Common foods included wheat-based yeast and quick breads, sweet or savory cornmeal mush, salted meats, dried beans, and seasonal or preserved vegetables, all prepared with very mild seasonings, if any.

Immigrant Traditions

As immigrants arrived, they generally brought their traditional foods with them or improvised substitutes. Dishes of Italian origin are particularly common in New York, Chicago, and San Francisco, for example, while Scandinavian and German specialties are common in Minnesota, and Caribbean food is regular fare in Florida. The country is diverse enough that food taboos are personal rather than regional.

Fish and seafood are commonly eaten all along the coast. Beef and chicken are the most commonly consumed meats, although pork is common. Lamb is eaten less often. Although wheat, rice, and corn are all widely available, ethnic communities generally retain their own preferences. Rice is a bit more common in the Deep South and in eastern Texas, while corn is more often used in the Southwest.

Regional and Seasonal

Potatoes are the standard starch for most Americans. Vegetables are also regional to a degree. Okra, sweet potatoes, and collards, for example, are far more common in the South than in the North. Chilies and hot peppers are common in the Southwest where Mexican influence is strong, though food is not typically highly seasoned in the rest of the country.

Fruit, both regional and imported, is common as an ingredient in sweets, savories, and juices. Desserts and between-meal sweets are popular. Pies in particular are a specialty, but there are regional cakes and desserts as well as countrywide favorites such as apple pie and chocolate chip cookies.

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