What is American cuisine? A self-proclaimed ‘foodie’, it’s a question that is ever present, one that is forever in the back of my mind. Perhaps it’s not for me to answer, just one for me to explore, as I have been for years.
My middle school we celebrated “Culture Day”. Each student was asked to bring in a dish from his or her culture. At the time, I lived in Hollywood, CA, and the school I was attending was a cornucopia of students from every ethnicity you could imagine. I couldn’t wait to taste the different flavors of my friends’ dishes and learn more about where their families came from. This was a beautiful lesson learned: You can learn about people through food. How fun!
I was, however, at a loss when it came to ideas for my own culinary contribution. At that age, I knew little about my own culture, and the more I asked my mother and father, I discovered that both sides of my family had been in the United States since before the Civil War. The history becomes blurred prior to the mid-1800’s. All of a sudden, after being so elated at the idea of Culture Day, I was more anxious that I wouldn’t have any dish that represented me or my family history. I was sad but determined to solve the mystery.
In the end, I brought in chili. My mother made spaghetti so often, you would think I was Italian, but since I didn’t know exactly where my family came from in Europe, I needed something more tangible. I found that link in my grandfather. As it turns out, he owned a Skyline Chili in Cincinatti, Ohio years ago, and my aunts and uncles were forced to work there as teenagers. Cincinnati chili was more common at my grandparents’ house than anything else.
There was my chili, right next to the tamales and egg rolls. Culture Day was delicious, and through this assignment, I uncovered quite a bit about my own culture.
However, it doesn’t answer the big question, the one that was planted in my head back in middle school. What is American food? Is it just what we, as Americans, eat? Or are there foods that truly represent America, such as fish or grains native to America? But even then, there is a history to how certain foods came here.
What I do know is that I love trying to do the homework it takes to get to the answer. Let’s eat!