Tuesday, July 5, 2011

U is for United States of American: Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Delicious Food

from http://bentobjects.blogspot.com 
For this week I thought I would celebrate America’s birthday but writing a blog about her. America is known to be the “melting pot”. We are a culmination of many different cultures, beliefs, and religions. It’s what makes our nation so great. But as a with a country with so many different mixtures, is it possible to have a cuisine of or own. I think many are confused about what American cuisine is, so I am here to debunk the myth.

Social networking sites can be used for more than checking up on your ex-lovers and posting photos. This week I used it to get a general idea of what people considered “American” food. So here are some things that many people consider to be American. Some of them are obviously not American ( I just felt they need to address it for all of those who think they are) while some even shocked me.

Pizza- although many American’s are in love with pizza, that doesn’t mean it that it is “American”. The word “pizza” is the first indication that the dish is not American. The word “pizza” is believe to be from the Italian word “pizzicare”, which means “to pinch”. So the story goes around 1522 tomatoes were brought back to Italy from South America. The peasants of Naples added the tomatoes to yeast dough, olive oil and cheese to create the first simple pizzas, known as “pizzaioli”. In 1889 King Umberto I, king of Italy, and his wife Queen Margherita di Savoia were vacationing in Naples, and called for Raffaele Esposito, the most popular pizza chef in Naples, to make his famous pizzas. He served to them a pizza made with mozzerlla, basil and tomatoes, the colors of the Italian flag. The Queen love it so much that Signore Esposito dedicated the pizza to her and called it “pizza Margherita”, which thus became the standard of all pizzas and made Naples the pizza capital of the world. With the immigration of Italians in the 19th century to American also came pizza, but it wasn’t until 1905 that Gennaro Lombardi is claimed to have opened the first pizzeria in New York City.

The Hamburger- I don’t blame the Hamburgler for trying to steal these greasy, meaty, heart clogers...they are quite delicious. Nothing is more satisfying than a late night $1 hamburger after a hard night at the bars. But our fatty friends have a long history, and their origin is traced back thousands of years ago with the ancient Egyptians who ate ground meat. Hamurgers became a portable food with emperor Genghis Khan. His ferocious army didn’t have time to stop a prepare meals, so an entire village would follow behind his army on wheeled carts and would served the army patties of lamb that would be tenderized by placing them under the saddles of their horses while riding into battle. After fighting, they would take raw meat and chow down. In 1238 Khubilai Khan, Genghis Khan’s grandson, invaded Moscow, and naturally brought their ground meat patties with them. The Russians adopted this idea into their own cuisine, refining them with eggs and onions. In the 1600’s ships from the German port of Hamburg that the Russian steak tartare was brought back to Germany and called "tartare steak”. American sailors visiting the ports of Hamburg eventually brought this food to New York and deemed it the “Hamburg Steak”. They soon became popular around the eating stands along the New York City harbor for other non-navel riders to enjoy.

French Fries- Hamburger’s trusty sidekick is also NOT American, it actually isn’t even French, he is  Belgian! We first have to go back our friends, the Spanish conquistadors, to get the true rundown on French Fry’s history. As we all known our Spanish buddies liked to conquer things, and introduced potatoes from the America’s to Europe. Potatoes didn’t grow so well in Spain, but they did in Belgium. The Belgians began frying these starchy vegetables around the 17th century in the Meuse Valley. The people of the area where known to fry small fish from the river, but when the river froze up, and it became difficult to catch fish, they began to fry long slices of potatoes, like they did the fish. And voilà, we have the French fry. But what’s with the name? Why aren’t the called the “Belgian Fry”? Well, to give the French some credit, they are the ones that made French fries popular, in particular a medical officer named Antoine-Augustine Parmentier. They are the ones that also brought French fries, and in turn it was the great USA and their fast food chains that introduced them to rest of the non-European world.

Mac and Cheese
“Yankee Doodle went to town,
Riding on a pony;
He stuck a feather in his hat,
And called it macaroni”

Why did Mr.Doodle do this? Was it for his obession for little noodles covered in gooey cheese sauce? No, not at all. Actually, it was a sarcastic joke to make fun of his rival colonial metrosexuals. But while we are on the subject, macaroni and cheese are so not America. Sure, it is an American staple comfort food, but its origins are traced back to China. Marco Polo (the explorer, not the game). In 1274 Signore Polo traveled East. Legend has it that while he was hanging out in China, he was introduced to macaroni, and then he brought it back to Italy (SIDENOTE: the history of pasta is complex and if you're curious read this...http://www.cliffordawright.com/caw/food/entries/display.php/id/50/ ). 
In Italy, home cooks tossed these tiny, tubular pasta in cheese, and finito…we have macaroni and cheese! So how did it become travel to America to be loved and cherished by all? Well, the story goes that after traveling to Italy, Thomas Jefferson brought back a pasta machine, and the recipe. His daughter, Mary Randolph, was credited for sharing the recipe with guest, and substituting parmesan cheese for cheddar cheese. The Kraft Company then put it in a box 1937 for kids and college students alike to enjoy.

Fried Chicken- A Southern dish staple, fried chicken linked to Paula Deen and racial stereotypes, but this deep fried poultry dish is actually Scottish. I know shocking! Fritters existed in Europe since the medieval times but it was the Scottish that where known for deep-frying chicken in fat. Scottish immigrants introduced this technique to the American South, and it became a popular dish because of the caloric and economic necessity of consuming lard. African slaves that worked on Southern plantations enriched the flavor by adding seasonings and spices that were absent from the traditional Scottish recipe. The cheap price of chicken and the ability to travel well in hot weather made it a top choice among the African American community, and in general Southern cuisine.

Peanut Butter-I don’t know where the miscommunication was between me and my third grade teacher but I always thought George Washington Carver invented peanut butter. My world was turned upside down when I found out a CANADIAN created peanut butter. Although the Aztecs were known to have created a peanut paste, the first initial peanut butter is credited to Marcellus Gilmore Edson of Quebec. He was the first person to patent peanut butter by processing roasted peanuts until they reached a semi-fluid state. So how does George Washington Carver fit in? To his defense he was one that added ingredients, like sugar and molasses, to make the peanut paste taste better, and discovered over three hundred uses for peanuts. So, although more than half the American peanut crops go to making peanut butter, we can’t really claim peanut butter as “American” (but we can still claim peanut butter cookies!).

So now that I crushed everyone’s perceptions of American cuisine (even my own) we can get to dishes that are actually ours!! America totally has her own cuisine. These dishes were either created here in the US….some are obvious, while others are not, and there is a lot more than I mention, but I thought I would pick the fun ones!

Annual Hot Dog Eating contest
Hot dogs- One of America’s favorite foods, it is celebrated around camp fires, at basbeball games, and most noteably the 4th of July, when thousands of people gather in Coney Island, Brooklyn, NY to watch a bunch of crazies shove them down their throats at the annual International Hot Dog Eating Contest. Sausages have a long history, dating back as early as 9th century B.C, when it was mentioned in Homer’s Oddessy, “As when a man besides a great fire has filled a sausage with fat and blood and turns it this way and that and is very eager to get it quickly roasted. . .” Thousands of years later, Antonoine Feuchtwanfer, a German peddler, began to sell hot sauseges in St.Louis, Missouri. The story gets quite funny from here. With each sausage he would give his cutomers white gloves, so that they would not burn their fingers on the hot sausage, but his customers would take his gloves, and so to increase his profits his wife suggested that he put the sausage in a split bun (women are brilliant). He reportedly asked his baker brother-in-law to create a roll that would fit the meat. So while the sausage it self isn’t American, the idea of the hot dog was invented right here in the USA.

Corn Dog- Hot dog’s starchy cousin is also super American. No one person is credited to have invented the corn dog, and there is some debate to its exact origins, but they did appear in the US between the 1940’s in American Fairs. It is said to be perfected by vaudevillians Neil and Carl Fletcher of Dallas, Texas who originally called them “Fletcher’s Original State Fair Corny Dog” because they sold it from a stand at the State Fair of Texas. Well to whom ever invented it, thank you. You are the only reason I attend the Ohio State Fair every year…well corn dogs and fried pickles.

Reuben- I love sauerkraut and cheese, and combined it just pure heaven. I was shocked when I found out that my favorite sandwhich is totally American. to Omaha lore, Reuben Kulakofksy created the sandwich for a weekly poker club who called themselves “the committee”, which included Charles Schimmel, owner of the Blackstone Hotel.  He loved the sandwich so much that he put it on the hotel restaurant menu. I’m not sure what else Nebraska is famous for, but I sure am happy they can claim this sandwich.
The reuben sandwich from The Blue Danube 

Eggs Benedict- Not only is my favorite sandwich American, so is my favorite breakfast, Eggs Benedict. There are also several different accounts of the origins of the breakfast, but the one that is most prevalent is that of Charles Ranhofer in the 1860’s. Charles Ranhofer was a chef at the famous Delmonico’s Restaurant in New York (FYI: the restaurant is credited to be the very first restaurant or public dining room ever opened in the United States.) According to The New York Times Magazine article written on November 26, 1967:

“Mr. and Mrs. Benedict, when they lived in New York around the turn of the century, dined every Saturday at Delmonico's. One day Mrs. Benedict said to the maitre d'hotel, 'Haven't you anything new or different to suggest?' On his reply that he would like to hear something from her, she suggested poached eggs on toasted English muffins with a thin slice of ham, hollandaise sauce and a truffle on top”.

In  1894 Chef Ranhofer recipe, called Eggs a' la Benedick (Eufa a' la Benedick) was published in his cookbook The Epicurean. If you haven’t had this breakfast sandwich, go to your nearest diner/breakfast restaurant and have it immediately.

Whoopie Pie- I love saying this dessert, and it is so delicious. They are like giant pie/cookie oreos, and they have quite a cute history. Like most of the foods we have been debated, but I will give you the legend that came up the most in my research. Pennsylvania is one of the three states that argue the origin, and according to the story, Amish women created this black and white treat, and there children would squeal with delight and yell “Whoopie” when they saw the desserts in their lunchbox. The desserts traveled with Amish and have now become a popular American treat.

Other American dishes include, Johnnycakes, grits, clam cakes, and wardolf salad. I hope this was as fun for you to read, as this was fun for me to write. American cuisine is so much more than fast food chains, and “Americanized” versions of other worldly dishes. We have our own cuisine, just like everyone else. And if anything, we are super lucky to have such an amazing array of foods to choose from in the USA.

Nothing taste better than greasy, fatty food when you wake up with a hang over. So, after a long night of dancing and bad choices my foodie friend/sorority sister, Arielle, and I went to our neighborhood diner, The Blue Danube. Italians have cafes, the French have bistros, and America has diners. Diners are the heart of American home cooking. They provide cheap, delicious food, in a friendly, quaint, and sometimes quirky atmosphere. The Blue Danube is no different. They have an array of sandwiches, appetizers, burgers, and also have a few french, greek, and italian options. And lets not even start on their brunch. The have breakfast burritos the size of your face, and $2 mimosas. So happily and hungrily I inhaled their tangy, meaty, and cheese Reuben, with a side of mac and cheese.  Soon after this hearty meal, I went into a long food coma. The next day I celebrated America's Birthday by making my own Reuben sandwich, but a little lighter, using less meat, fat free dressing, and light cheese. Still very delicious, without the added fat and food coma. 

The Blue Danube

 The Reuben Sandwich
serves 1

  • 2 slices of rye bread
  • butter
  • Thousand Island dressing 
  • a small can of sauerkraut
  • 2 slices of swiss cheese (add more to your liking)
  • corned beef
     1. Open and drain sauerkraut. Place in a microwave safe bowl and heat for about 30 seconds, or until slightly warm.

     2. Butter one side of both pieces of rye bread.

     3. Add thousand island dressing to other side of bread.

     4. Add a slice of swiss cheese, the corned beef, the sauerkraut, and then another slice of swiss cheese.

     5. Top with the other slice of bread, butter side facing up. Preheat a pan to medium heat. Cook the sandwiches on one side until the bread is golden brown. Use a spatula to carefully flip the sandwiches over and finish cooking on the second side.  ** To make the cheese melty but nut burn the bread I sprinkle a little water to the hot pan and cover. The steam causes the cheese to quickly melt without burning the bread** 

     6. Cut the sandwiches in half before serving. Serve with a side of pickles. Enjoy!


  1. I love this one. Fried chicken..really? That's the biggest shocker. I've never had a Ruben sandwich..looks like your going to have to make me one.

  2. Yay, Reubens! And here I always thought they were German with the sauerkraut and all... Loved this one, Steph!