Like the country itself, American cuisine is a colorful tapestry of diverse cuisines, which originated from its native population as well as settlers from Europe, Asia, and Africa. So technically there is no distinctive American cuisine per se, rather it is a medium of dishes that have traveled from other places and ended up here. Foods like burgers, fries, fried chicken, apple pie, and all the “classic American foods” that have built the nation’s food culture and history originated elsewhere.
Popular American cuisine and its origin
The American burger
The origin story of this national favorite is in its name. It’s almost considered an American staple today, but it comes from Hamburg at the end of the 19th century. But the concept of burger patties goes back further in time, to Hamburg in the 12th century, where the sudden growth of cattle farming resulted in the manufacture of meat patties. Later, around the middle of the 19th century, with the arrival of many German immigrants in the United States, “burger hamburger” became a fashionable thing. The first hamburger originated at the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904, where it was presented as a patty of meat sandwiched between two buns. And that was the beginning of this classic American cuisine, which spread to fast food chains, gourmet kitchens and home recipes.
Whether it’s four and twenty blackbirds or juicy apples baked into a pie, this most beloved pastry began its journey in England in the 14th century. It was a product of culinary influences from the French, Dutch and even the Ottoman Empire. However, these early pie recipes were loaded with meat and fruit, which still exists in traditional English cooking. In the 15th and 16th centuries, Dutch and English settlers brought the recipe to the New World, and over the years America found its distinct culinary experience in the apple pie we know and love today!
This is a very home-style American comfort food that was first introduced in the 1870s, but became popular across the country after World War II. But some theories claim that the origin of meatloaf dates back hundreds of years, as old as the 5th century. The making of a bread-like dish from minced meat is mentioned in the Roman culinary collection Apicius. There are also mentions of similar dishes in the cultural history of Germany, Scandinavia, and Belgium, which place meatloaf somewhere in the Renaissance period in Europe.
When it was first popular in America, it was a breakfast dish and became a dinner dish much later. How about trying this traditional meatloaf recipe for brunch?
Cornbread is a southern staple today, but it has its origins in Native American cuisine. Their origin dates back thousands of years, when ground corn was an essential part of the daily diet of many native tribes in the regions of South and Central America. What we know today as cornbread started out as dumplings and pancakes/flatbreads made from corn on a wood-fired iron skillet, like tamales and tortillas, but a more rustic and ancient of these. In the 1800s, the addition of ingredients like eggs, baking soda, buttermilk, etc. transformed cornbread into a healthier dish, similar to the cornbread we eat today.
Another American food of Dutch origin, these flour cakes were originally brought over by settlers from the Netherlands. They were called olykoeks or roughly translated as “fat cake”, because of the fried dough.
The modern variation of the donut with a hole originated in the mid-19th century in New England, where a local woman became popular for her deep-fried dough balls with nuts in the center. Later, his son cut out the center to get rid of the sticky, uncooked dough. And There you go ! America has found its popular snack that runs from morning to night, paired with your first cup of coffee for a movie snack, or even a midnight snack!
The hot dogs
There wouldn’t be game nights, backyard barbecues, Sunday cookouts or street food in New York City without hot dogs. And we have the Germans to thank for that. There are many stories about who introduced this American food or where it came from, but the source remains the same. Also called frankfurters, these sausages originated from Frankfurt, Germany. The etymology dates back to when sausages were often called dogs in local slang, probably out of concern that sausages were made from dog meat. When it was introduced to America, it was pork and beef sausages sold as street food on handcarts and stalls and were popular among working-class Americans. It was a quick and hearty meal, one that could be enjoyed in the middle of a busy day or on the go, and it still is in many places.
Food is constantly evolving and keeps changing with time and place. Each of these dishes has adapted to local flavors and ingredients, making it quintessentially American cuisine.