What Exactly Is American Food?
When a potential diner peruses the brief description of any restaurant, they likely get a sense of what type of cuisine can be found on the menu. Chinese, Thai, Italian, Japanese. These all conjure up visions of favorite entrées filled with spices, meats, vegetables, etc., authentic to the lands from which they came. But, what about America?
What exactly is American food?
Most Americans would rattle off a list of well-known dishes, most served at baseball games, such as hot dogs, hamburgers, French fries (something in the name begs to differ), and apple pie!
With closer inspection and investigation, the truth becomes clear. Apple pie, hot dogs, also known as frankfurters, and hamburgers originated in Germany. Frankfurt, Germany, Hamburg, Germany, etc. Even grandma’s old-fashioned apple pie hales from Germany and French Fries were actually first served in Belgium.
The first Thanksgiving would be a good place to start to find truly authentic American food. The pilgrims celebrated the harvest with the Native Americans’ foods and taught them to grow and cultivate. Maize (also known as corn), beans, squash, venison, fresh fish and seafood from the coast of New England, cornbread, cranberries, blueberries, and, yes, turkey. These are a few of the truly authentic American foods. Today, truly Native American foods are created with native plants, grains, and spices, including wild ginger, miner’s lettuce, juniper, and a native version of quinoa, a variety of amaranth, little barley, may grass, and sunflower. Native Americans of the northwest prepared dishes using salmon, seafood, mushrooms, venison, duck, rabbit, and ground acorns for flour.
This is not to say that over the centuries, particular foods have not been “Americanized”. Many delicious dishes have grown out of the combination of Native American ingredients and ingredients introduced by the vast number of immigrant cultures. At the 1942 Texas State Fair Neill Fletcher combined Native American maize and a frankfurter, deep-fried it, and stuck it on a stick to create the first All-American corn dog. Since then, hot dog brands have become synonymous with anything deep-fried and have been adopted by many a crowd, from school youngsters to construction workers, from truckers to bank tellers.
These dishes all have in common the frying of the food in a fluid or even cooking oil. Native Americans, prior to the coming of the British, ate Native American dishes by frying. This is because Native Americans were primarily hunters and could not sustain themselves as diets were very light. By frying the food, the Native Americans showed the superiority of their cooking methods over the cooking methods of the time.
So, suppose you are looking for the best Native American food and tasting Indian restaurants in your area. In that case, you really need to look for Native American-themed meals or Native American restaurants. Since they are generally more simple and came out of the grill sometime in the 1800’s, traditional Native American food is actually not much different from the family favorites we are used to, or in the fast-food menu, and really, there is not all that much difference.
Native American-inspired dishes can be found just about anywhere today, even in small-town supermarkets. You can even find a very authentic-looking Native American restaurant or waitress inside of a chain restaurant. So, what is it about Native American food that makes it so popular and delicious?
Native Americans always had a special relationship with their food and it was told to them by the Creator. The story behind this food is unique and has to do with food’s life force. Just as the wind carries us across the desert, the food carries us with it.
From the beginning of time, and for some quite distant times, humans have recognized the value of food. From the beginning of time, humans have seen their food as a medium for storing and transferring energy. Early man knew that if he could ring food into a compact mass, he would be able to sustain life. Early peoples’ relationship with their food was so strong that they had seen numerous plans to share or preserve food exist at various times.
In fact, the history of food is often linked to the history of man. Just as a person feels a need to express their feelings and needs in the expression of food, ancient peoples also felt a need to preserve their food for future generations. Some of these plans resulted in very personal entanglements. For example, once belonging to one family, valuable goods may have been shared with another family in a very public ceremony. In this way, food from one clan was intermingled with food from another. With silverware, linen napkins, and standard table settings, this did not happen.