Thursday, May 12, 2011
Our food heritage
I'm am often asked, "what's your favorite type of food?" The standard answer depends on my mood and what I'm interested in at the time. What is expected is, Italian, Chinese, Indian, Mexican etc.. But I have been thinking that no one I've heard says American food. This of course leads to the question, just what is American food?
With this question in mind I looked to my cookbook collection (yes I collect cookbooks) and noticed that I indeed had several cookbooks with "American" in the title. So I have spent the last few weeks browsing through my "American" cookbooks. What I have discovered is that you can't really put your finger directly on a specific type of food to call American. Some may say hamburgers, or hot dogs, perhaps bbq, but even these things draw there origins from someplace else. It seems as though what Americans have done with their food is the same thing we have done with almost everything else, take the best from around the world and make it "ours".
We are a nation of "fads" and the latest big thing, and food is no exception. I can remember times when Asian food was all the rage, Greek, French, Indian, and then it was in fashion to cook Spanish food. Now it seems that it is "in" to cook regional Italian foods. Which is fine with me, I happen to think Roman's were as good at hijacking cuisine and making their own as we Americans are, making for, in my opinion, some the richest food heritage on the planet. But what about the fad of American food? As with most places American food really depends on where you are, but what is different is that you can't make a general statement of what American food is. When you say, "let's get Italian tonight" you have a general idea of what you are going to get, you're mind goes directly to some very specific flavors, textures and styles of cooking. The same can be said for German, French, Indian and just about any other type of cuisine you can name. Yes, there are some dramatic regional differences in all cuisines, but you know in general terms what "type" of food you are talking about.
So, there is the difference, the reason we find it difficult to generalize "American" Cuisine. Each region of the U.S. has a distinct history and so a distinct cuisine. If instead of saying let's eat American tonight, I say let's eat Southern food, your mind goes to a type and style of food.
Well with this in mind, I'm going to investigate the regional culture of cuisine here in the States. I figure if you're going to try to find a legacy, a history, and a heritage in food, you may as well start at home. I'm looking forward to finding what this "melting pot" is cooking. And maybe I can find and answer to the question, "what is American food?"