What do you think of when you hear American food? Do you have something in mind such as apple pie or do you think that there may not be such a thing as American food? Rarely do we even think about what is considered American food. It can be somewhat easy to think of a stereotypical Spanish dish (paella) or Italian (pasta) or Russian (vodka/caviar) but what is stereo-typically American. Hamburgers? I am not sure that Americans think about this very often but I had the opportunity to try to figure out American dishes for a multi-cultural potluck back in college.
My last year in college, I was living in the International House. I had a Korean and an Indian housemates. Through my Indian housemate, I have gotten a fondness for chicken biryani (with a severe reduction in the masala level) and through my Korean housemate, a fondness for kimchi and rice noodles. However, one night my housemates were having a potluck with some Japanese guys and they asked me to make some American food for the potluck. I have to admit that I was a bit struck by the fact that I had no idea what could be considered quintessentially American in the melting pot of food that this country possesses. My first thought was the idea of tailgate food. To me, that is one of the most American things I can think of: people with their vehicles consuming food prior to a football game. However, I really wasn’t sure what constitutes tailgate food (my university does not have a football team) so that idea was thrown out.
I then arrived at my next idea which was the one I went with: barbecue. This is something that is very different across the country and is held up with exacting ritual. I would not dare to claim that what I came up with, is even remotely close to the institutions that have committed their love and reputation on this piece of Americana. However, it was the closest thing I could think of, to work for this situation. While I am fully aware that pork or beef tends to be the typical meat for any version of BBQ, there was no way that either meat was going to be used. My Indian housemate would only eat chicken, no other meat. So what ended up happening was a Crockpot pulled BBQ chicken. This was not my only contribution.
In addition to BBQ chicken, I made the arbitrary decision that mac ‘n’ cheese was also completely American. To me this was a food of many an American. I also came to the conclusion that coleslaw was also a very American side. By the way, my coleslaw tends to be the coleslaw mix you can buy in the store (cabbage, carrots, etc) and Ranch dressing. I know that there is a version of coleslaw with a vinegar-base dressing, but I did not grow up with that and have absolutely no idea how to make it. Therefore, at the moment, we have pulled BBQ chicken, mac ‘n’ cheese, and coleslaw. This sounds rather American to me, although whether it sounds that way to you is up for grabs. Finally to top off the Americana, I came across and bought a pumpkin pie at the grocery store. Which oddly enough was paired with pumpkin ice cream bought by one of my housemates (yes, this does exist).
The complications of three people cooking in the same kitchen with around 2 foods apiece requiring the stove, should not be underestimated. However, I was able to enjoy foods from different countries, and come to a deeper understanding of what curry can mean to different people. The Japanese curry brought to the potluck reminded me of my dad’s stew and the rice made with what may have been matcha (I am not completely sure) tasted like absolute comfort food to me. The rice reminded me of the box chicken noodle soup (most likely high in sodium) that I would have as a sick kid. Those foods at the potluck may or may not be considered typically Korean, Indian, or Japanese but were foods chosen by people of those cultures that they felt were meaningful. While many may argue with my choices or interpretation of the items, to me they were what best represented American food at the time and allowed me to work within the constraints involved. What would you have chosen for your country? Please comment below and thanks for reading.