Food in the United States is as diverse as the geography and the people that live here. Each region has its particular style of cooking or special dish, and each dish has a history that intertwines with both the geography and people.  When traveling throught the United States, it is important to remember that just beneath the surface is actually an enormous variety of foods and traditions. This article by no means is meant to cover American haute cuisine or Michelin star contenders : neither of these is really eaten by the average citizen except for very special occasions. Hopefully it shall disprove the stereotype that food in America consists solely of McDonald's and Kentucky Fried Chicken. 

Dinner is considered the main meal of the day, usually served after 5:00 p.m but before 10:30.  Breakfast and lunch are usually light and/or rushed during weekdays, but during the weekends or special occasions, breakfast can be a much more elaborate meal consisting of cereal, eggs, toast, pancakes, coffee, and/or fruit juice. Lunch is usually served around noon, and an American lunch menu almost always includes sandwiches, soups, french fries and more.  Full desserts (sometimes called "pudding" elsewhere) are typically only served after dinner, and become more elaborate for special occasions.

Nationwide


Donuts

It's been a joke that the most frequent patrons of donut shops are cops, probably because the donut provides a quick sugar rush, is filling and easy to eat in the car.  A few favorite donut chains are Krispy Kreme, Yum Yum, Dunkin Donuts, Honey Dew, and Winchell's. Donut shops are not hard to find in most major cities.  Nearly all of these  have a drive-through window and nearly all offer coffee as an accompaniment.  America also has a few of its own native donuts that are not found anywhere else:  ask the clerk at the counter about a Boston cream donut, which is a filled with vanilla cream and topped with chocolate. If this does not suit, try a cruller: it is a twisted donut made of choux pastry and coated with cinnamon and powdered sugar.

 


Fast Food

Many Americans have the bad habit of eating on the go, especially in the car. Therefore, the drive-through fast food restaurant has become a standard of American culture.  It's known for unhealthy but tasty menu items.  Depending on the chain, you can get practically anything from a fast-food restaurant, including tacos, hamburgers, Chinese food,and salad.  Restaurants with drive-through windows are everywhere, and an average-sized city will have some that are open all night (especially by popular nightspots). Many roadside stops along highways have this type of fare for busy motorists to stop in, relax, stretch their legs, and have a bite to eat; the type of fare that is offered from place to place may vary from just a single McDonalds to a larger establishment with multiple restaurants and multiple choices (some may allow you to pick a slightly healthier meal, ie, eating fried chicken vs. picking up a plate of spaghetti and meatballs.) Look for blue information signs with white lettering on the shoulder of the highway to see what fast food fare is available at the next exit. 

Smoothies and Coffee-Blended Drinks

Smoothies are typically made of a yogurt, milk, or sherbet base, mixed with a combination of fruits, juice and ice.  Most smoothie bars let you add in extra supplements such as fiber, protein powder, or vitamins to give your smoothie an added boost.  The most popular chain is Jamba Juice which can be found in most states. Coffee-blended drinks can be hot or cold, and may consist of coffee, milk, and flavorings (in the form of syrup) of your choosing. The cold ones usually blend ice with the other ingredients to form a slushy consistency.  The myriad of combinations of flavors can be endless -- as simple as caramel, banana, or chocolate, or as complex as "pumpkin pie," "peppermint mocha," or "chai."  You can most typically find them at Starbucks (the inventor of many of these drinks), but their popularity has seen their availability soar to almost any coffee shop you can find (and you can expect to find one on almost every block, and sometimes two or three). In fact, the popularity of coffee drinks and smoothies has become so profitable, that now you can find small drive-through "coffee huts" everywhere along major roads all over the country. Watch out, dieters –- these drinks can pack a lot of calories into them, especially when ordering the 16oz or larger sizes. 

 

Corn (Maize)

 Corn. It, and wheat, are the two staples of the American diet and so it has been since Colonial times: unlike most of the English speaking world, Americans refer to the plant known to science as zea mays  as "corn" because it was originally called Indian corn by the earliest English settlers, not maize: that word is indeed a name derived from a Taino (Caribbean) dialect, but it was not universal to other dialects (calling it Indian corn was more convenient than identifying the plant according to its hundreds of names in Native American languages.)   

 There are hundreds of applications of this crop in American cooking.  It shows up in bakeries as corn muffins, made with sweetcorn and toasted lightly before being eaten. It shows up as a common dinner item: corn on the cob usually means an ear of sweetcorn boiled, roasted,  or grilled to perfection and lathered in sweet cream butter. It shows up as a thickener to stews when in starch form and as the main sweetener for pecan pie when in syrup form.  It is most famously eaten when it is ground into meal for cornbread: there are literally dozens of different preparations for cornbread all over the nation, cooked according to region: the Southwestern version, for example, is usually cooked in a skillet  and may occasionally contain jalapeño peppers while the version native to the Northeast is baked and called a johnnycake.   

Apples

In the early 1600s, Europeans came to the Americas carrying more than just dreams of the future on board: they also often came with young saplings for apple trees, carefully planted in barrels. Unfortunately, the Dutch, French, and British did not anticipate that their favorite varieties like Catshead, Court Pendu, and Lunterse would do poorly in a warmer climate with much more persistent pests.  It took many years, but eventually through careful breeding the trees survived, and so began a long love affair with apples.

 

  Apple fritters, apple butter, apple dumplings, caramel apples,  crabapple jelly (a type of jam) and most of all apple pie are all very American desserts that find their way onto tables when the weather cools and the leaves change into a riot of colors.(Try any of these if you are offered a bite-they are delightful.) For beverages, a common drink is apple cider, which in America is not an alcoholic drink but rather a sweet one that is sometimes served  heated with spices like cinnamon and clove, bearing a similarity in taste to wassail.

 Apples have been grown in America since the late 17th century and the season lasts from about late August to mid November; the only places that don't grow apples are southern Florida, Alaska, and the desert states.  Though the staple varieties today are still golden and red delicious,  there are many, many regional and heirloom varieties that are often far better tasting and not available for export: Ginger Gold, Pink Pearl, Baldwin, and the semi-tart Newtown Pippin are all available regionally from farmer's markets and roadside stands and are all a good snack. (If you are traveling on country roads with children at this time of year, investigate going to an apple picking orchard as well:  this is usually a mom-and-pop operation which allows anyone who wants it to pull up and pick whatever apples they want and put them in a basket for a small fee. It is a seasonal tradition children love.)


Ice Cream

Ice cream is most certainly a beloved treat in this part of the world – it was actually here that the ice cream sundae was born. People in the United States are among both the top consumers and producers of ice cream in the world. In 2006, six billion liters of ice cream were produced for combined domestic and foreign consumption, and in 2004 it was estimated that each American consumed 20 liters of ice cream just for that year. Thus, it comes as no surprise that visitors will find a great deal of variety in how this frozen treat is served and prepared. Chains like Ben and Jerry's, Carvel, Baskin-Robbins, and Cold Stone Creamery are well established in many parts of the country as are supermarkets that carry freezers full of this dairy treat that take up entire walls. In summer, many cities have curbside stands  and vans selling everything from soft serve to chipwiches (vanilla ice cream wedged between two chocolate chip cookies) with long lines of people buying to beat the heat.  Handmade ice cream also still has its place with many suburban and urban places serving plenty of chocolate and vanilla alongside more unusual treats like black walnut or licorice.

Beer & Microbrews

Although beer has been a mainstay in America since Colonial times, since the 1980s, Americans have taken a renewed interest in "going beyond Budweiser" and making new/rediscovering old recipes for beer and ale. Though domestic sales are still dominated by larger macrobrews, all over the nation  smaller, newer breweries and brands are showing up on tap in bars and on the shelves of liquor stores, many of them (like the now-mighty Sam Adams, a Boston-based beer named for the very real beer brewing patriot) are making inroads into the traditional territory of large corporations like Anheuser-Buch or Miller and often beating them mercilessly in taste tests.  Many of these beers are regional in nature: Brooklyn Lager (New York City), Harpoon Ale (New England), Pete's Wicked (Texas), Great Lakes (Chicago and Midwest), Red Brick (Georgia and the South), and Anchor Steam (California/West Coast) take inspiration from nations like Germany, Austria, Ireland, the U.K., and the Czech Republic,  and should be given a try if they appear on a menu.  During special occasions, these brewers often have a limited edition brew circulating: keep watch for these as well.


Oranges & Citrus

The U.S. is a major producer of citrus fruit, especially tangelos, grapefruits, satsumas,  Florida key limes, and  many different kinds of oranges like navel, Valencia, and the  Moro (a type of blood orange descended from types found in Sicily.)  They were mainly introduced by the Spanish during colonial times much like the British, French, and Dutch introduced apples to the Northeast around the same time, and today a large amount of the orange juice found on British and Irish tables originates from groves in Florida. 

Citrus grows in southern California, Florida,  Hawaii, and the Southwest and many places in any of these states will let you tour the groves and sample the product, particularly in Florida. Furthermore, hampers of fresh fruit and marmalade are often available direct from small boutique stores, and can be easily shipped back home. In parts bordering Phoenix, Arizona, the orange trees that line the streets bloom heavy with oranges every winter-do no hesitate to reach up to a lower branch and pick a fruit if you wish, most locals do not mind.   When in Florida, investigate the possibility of drinking fresh squeezed orange juice when it is in season: it is something to be experienced to be believed.

 North of the Mississippi: the Upper Midwest

 

Most folks who come to the Midwest often overlook its charms: this is understandable, as it is known much more for huge cornfields and the "raw materials" of cooking rather than the final product. However, there are a few gems to be found, especially around the cities of the upper Midwest near the Great Lakes.

 

Deep Dish Pizza

Visitors from Europe shall hardly recognize this dish as anything remotely related to that taste of pizza margherita they have had on holiday in Naples or even from most American movies: at first glance it may even look like somebody read the directions wrong. However, deep dish pizza has been a delicious treat  that has been consumed now for many years and shows no sign of slowing down: though it is most often associated with Chicago where it was born, it is served all over the Midwest.   A deep dish pizza is a type of pizza that is a hybrid between much older, traditional recipes and old American traditions for pie: it is typically set in a deep round pan and baked in an oven until bubbling hot.  It is so gooey and hot when it is served, it is the only variety of American style pizza that is consumed with a knife and fork, so take care and enjoy it with a pint of beer with some friends.

 

"Pass the Borscht" 

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Jewish and Christian immigrants from what is today Poland, Lithuania, Ukraine,  the Czech Republic and parts of Russia settled in enormous numbers in places like Detroit, Cleveland, and Chicago to work in the factories and meat packing plants along the Great Lakes.  Though the factories have largely gone,   the foodstuffs of Eastern Europe are still very much alive and well in all of the above places and in some cases are getting renewed as new waves of people are coming from Eastern Europe now that the Cold War is over (Chicago alone has nearly 200,000 speakers of Polish.)  It is a group of foodstuffs that are eaten equally by new immigrants and locals, and much loved. In the average luncheonette and occasional deli, good eats can be had for relatively cheap:  matzoh ball soup, rugelach, pierogi, bigos, goulash, and pascki are fairly ubiquitous, filling foods originally meant for a working man's lunch pail that seldom cost very much but are worth their weight in gold when trudging through icy streets to see the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland or Art Institute of Chicago. (When the weather is warmer, check out what some of the pushcarts are selling if you are on your way to see the Chicago Cubs or the Cleveland Indians play baseball: it is Polish sausages, not just hot dogs, that rule the roost.)  

Persimmon Pudding

This is a tasty treat that is typically eaten in the Midwest in the fall, and in particular Thanksgiving. Traditionally, persimmon pudding is made out of American persimmons (diospyros virginiana)  which is a native plant carrying orange 'simmons about 2 inches (5 cm) in diameter and, as John Smith once said, should never be eaten straight off the tree as they "shall  draw a man's mouth awry with much torment." When they have softened, however, they are sweetened and steamed in a bain marie like a suet pudding and topped off with brandy butter or creme anglaise. The taste is similar to chocolate.

 

 Cold Fish

The Upper Midwest sustains some of the coldest winter temperatures in the United States, with some truly wild winter weather: a running joke among some is that Minnesota may be the only state in the union where one must climb onto his roof in order to land on his front porch come January.  Nonetheless, if you wait for the weather to clear and purchase a license, you shall be rewarded with a tradition that goes back to both Native Americans and Scandinavian settlers: ice fishing.  In winter, whole swarms of people set up shop on very thick ice to take muskies, pikes, and other freshwater fish to bring home for dinner and for friendly competitions among friends and neighbors, the latter usually around a pint of beer and a good conversation. (Even if one catches nothing it is never a day ill spent.)  If you are in the St. Paul  or Milwaukee area, it thus may be worth considering braving the elements and renting a shanty to go out on the ice and catch this slice of Americana at work. (Just don't forget your woolies!)

 

Cheese

American cheeses often get a bum rap overseas: when the phrase "American cheese" come to mind, the image that comes to mind is that of a lurid, yellow-orange, pre-processed cheese with very little complexity. However, the truth is a little more interesting: cheesemaking has undergone a Renaissance in the past ten years, with more locally produced foodstuffs getting attention. Most of the better cheeses made in the United States are not yet available for export, and many have been winning awards at London's World Cheese Awards of late (Cougar Gold being an example.)

The state that produces the most amount of cheese may be California, but it is not the state whose name is synonymous with this dairy product: that honor goes to Wisconsin, where 90% of all  cow's milk produced in the state finds its way into a wheel of cheese!  For 150 years Wisconsin "cheeseheads"  have proudly been churning and pressing their product into the heart of the heartland; there are more people with master cheesemakers licenses  here than anywhere else in America. Every person who wishes to attain such an honor usually undergoes an apprenticeship and also must (by law) take a very difficult state test in order to be certified.   (Recently this test was changed to include a growing American attraction to cheeses based on goat  and sheep's milk.) 

Today there are 452 varieties of cheese produced in the state of Wisconsin, some of which, like Quark, Limberger,  and Brie were passed down from German  and French immigrants,  and others, like Colby and Maytag blue, invented in America.   Any are worth a try, especially at a farmer's market, and make a nice snack or a good solid accompaniment on a sandwich. For the truly adventurous, try seeking out farmer's cheese at a local cheese shop: the recipe for this is as old as the country itself. When in Milwaukee, do not turn your nose up at the prospect of eating German style cheese with your beer:  remember that the same bit of cheese took hundreds of years to perfect in Europe, was brought to America with immigrants that built the city you are visiting, and took just up to the last few years to be accepted by the mainstream. It is truly history on a plate.


 West of the Mississippi River

 

Mexican food

You'll find some great Mexican food in the southwest (Arizona, New Mexico) and in the border states of California and Texas. In major cities such as Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, Albuquerque and Santa Fe, where there is a very large Latino population, you will have no problem finding a wealth of Mexican food beyond the usual chain-restaurant fare. Tasty dishes to try include burritos with marinated or fried pork (al pastor or carnitas, respectively), or beef or fish tacos, enchiladas, chiles rellenos, pollo con mole (chicken with a special sauce), tamales, and a tall glass of whatever flavor agua fresca is in season (fruit water). Many restaurants in these areas feature regional Mexican dishes where the owners come from, and they are more than worthy of trying. When strolling through Latino neighborhoods, keep an eye out for vendors selling chili-dusted mangoes on sticks (surprisingly good), a try or tasting a popsicle from a neighborhood paletería (ice pop shop) -- they are cheap and easy desserts found only south of Canada.

Fish tacos

These are made of a corn tortilla, filled with fried breaded fish, chopped cabbage, sauce, and a squeeze of lime juice.  You can top it with salsa ranging in various degrees of spiciness.  Restaurants selling fish tacos became popular in San Diego and later spread throughout California and the southwest.  Rubio's is a popular chain that has locations in California, Arizona, Colorado, Utah, and Nevada. 

Hamburgers

Some of the best burgers are from In-N-Out Burger – t's a simple burger that is super tasty. You can find them in California, Nevada, and Arizona.  Another place found in California is Original Tommy's, known for its greasy chili burgers and chili cheese fries.  Their famous chili is what makes this place special.  Take caution in both cases if you are on a diet, however: it is deceptive how many calories are involved in just one bite! If you are on a diet, try seeking out a hamburger not from a fast food chain or roadside stand but rather from a restaurant – they are more likely to serve a turkey burger or bison burger (made from buffalo meat). Both will cut down quite a bit on the fat, so long as you don't add french fries to your meal.

Chili

This is a dish that is a staple throughout the southwest and portions of California and Texas; it is here that members of the species capsicum (chili pepper) are native and reach their northernmost habitat (some varieties of pepper are native to only the U.S. and should be tried on their own: they are a spicy but delicious treat that should be tried with a glass of milk to chill the flames.)  The dish is famous in different parts of the world, but the real thing is so good that both the United States and Mexico lay claim to its invention. The typical bowlful of genuine chile con carne is hot, meaty, filled with kidney beans, and usually is quite spicy. It may come accompanied with sour cream or cheeses like queso blanco, cheddar or monterey jack, and come served with skillet cornbread on the side or crumbled on top. Normally, it is eaten as a full hearty meal, so take care to leave room for basic functions like moving afterwards. 

Wine

In 1769, Spanish missionaries planted the first grapevines in California just outside of their first Mission (near present day San Diego) for the purpose of making sacramental or table wine. Roughly 200 years later in 1976, California wine beat French varietals in a blind taste test in both the red and white wine categories, forever changing the face of the industry. (A recent 2006 rematch held very similar results.) Today, California makes up 90 percent of the American wine market. Wine grapes are now grown throughout the state, however, wineries just north of San Francisco in Sonoma and Napa are the most famous. Nearly any variety and grade of quality a visitor can think of is available, and many vineyards offer both tours and tastings.

Dungeness crab

The species known as Dungeness crab is a close relative of the edible crab of Europe, but typically this crab can grow to be a bit larger and is prepared much differently than its European counterpart: some recipes call for the crab to be boiled in beer  and spiced slightly before serving. Other recipes are derived from East Asia, China in particular: Since the 1850's, California has atracted Chinese immigrants, continuing to the present.  Native from Alaska to California, it is a tasty treat that is certainly worth investigating if one visits San Francisco or Seattle. 

East of the Mississippi River

Cheesesteaks

If you are travelling to Philadelphia, a visit to a steak shop is a must.  The cheesesteak is a very simple, inexpensive meal – it consists of chopped steak on a roll, topped with grilled onions and melted cheese. You can choose cheez whiz, provolone or American cheese, and you can omit the onions if you desire. Famous eateries include Geno's, Pat's, and Jim's.  Purchase one and then sit down in one of Philadephia's parks in good weather-it is a great way to people watch. 


Seafood

The Eastern half of the United States is blessed with a long coastline and many inland rivers: more than half of the states here have some access to water. This translates into a very good variety of fish available to eat. In most cases, the best seafood is found at mom-and-pop restaurants and each subregion has a distinctive way of preparing its catch.

New England is very famous for their seafood in particular. When Puritan settlers colonized what is now Massachusetts, they discovered the   Wampanoag (Native American) name for the Plymouth Bay area was Mattakeesett, or "place of many fish." Today, a good deal of the United States fishing industry is located in New England, and this area boasts a 300-year history of fishermen plying their trade in the cold waters from  the Gulf of Maine down to Long Island Sound (off the coast of Rhode Island and Connecticut.)

In New England, seafood lovers can enjoy the great variety of fish on local menus. Striped bass, bluefish, scallops, Jonah crab, steamed littleneck clams, oysters, and scrod are all traditional fare that are eaten with gusto depending on the time of year. Locals also pride themselves on New England style clam chowder,  best consumed when the weather is cold and the wind kicks up: it is a creamy soup filled with potato, onion, celery, and chopped up quahog [pron. CO-hog] clam meat.  When the weather is warm, don't hesitate to try a traditional lobster dinner, usually involving a baked potato, corn on the cob, and a lobster  meant to be cracked open and dipped in melted butter: it is a slice of heaven that  normally is locally caught  and can be obtained for under $40 (£21 and ¥ 4323, respectively.)

On the Delmarva peninsula ( DELaware, MARyland, and VA, meaning Virginia) and along the coast of the Chesapeake Bay, people have been consuming oysters, shad (the largest herring species on earth), and blue crabs since before the first English settlement of Jamestown in 1607. From April to Christmas, crab shacks along the coast offer up plates of crabs boiled in Old Bay seasoning and offer their patrons wooden mallets with which to whack out the sweet, tender chunks of crab meat. In mid-spring, American shad run up the rivers from the sea to spawn and provide fishermen with plenty of sport and a delicious seasonal meal, so for those seeking a trip through the countryside it is well worth investigating getting a fishing license here as well.

 

Maple Syrup

This amber liquid has been produced in the United States since Pre-Columbian days. Though many restaurants offer an imitation syrup made from corn on their pancakes, the real thing is still available in grocery stores, farmer's markets, and from the manufacturers themselves, usually mom-and-pop operations. More rural areas of the Northeast (especially Vermont) abound with sugarbushes (maintained groves of sugar or black maple trees) and from mid-winter to early spring the sap is collected to be boiled down into syrup or sometimes into maple candy. Grading of maple syrup varies from light amber to dark amber, translating into a variance in sweetness, and maple syrup available in America generally is a little thicker than its Canadian counterpart.

Blueberries

Blueberries: the fame of these little fruits has spread around the world in recent years, but it is in the Northeast where the plant is native and has been consumed every summer since Native Americans learned they were good to eat. Places where they are cultivated for profit often allow you to go off into the field to pick your own and put them in a basket and it is not uncommon to find the sweeter lowbush variety growing wild in the woods, including parkland like Acadia in Maine or Adirondack in New York. (Yes, you are allowed to pick them; it is perfectly legal.) If you are not going to be out in the woods or near a farm, consider asking for a slice of blueberry pie with a scoop of vanilla ice cream-it is a very tasty summertime dessert.

The  Ol' South

(Georgia, North and South Carolina, West Virginia, Alabama, Mississippi, Florida, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky, etc.)

The South is famous for hospitality,  for being the oldest section of the country, and for gut-busting fattiness: in the past, this area was for a very long time the main agricultural capital of the country and those that did not eat huge amounts of calories to keep up with hard, very sweaty  work in the fields would pass out from the strain.  (if you can believe it, it was only about twenty five years ago that cooks in this area started to cut back on using pork lard as a key ingredient.)  If you are enjoying a rural trip in the Appalachian Mountains or partying in Atlanta, find a restaurant preferably run by a woman that looks too old to live.  She will make you the best food you've ever had.

Fried chicken, pulled pork, fluffy biscuits (ladeled with white sausage gravy for breakfast), hominy grits, okra, cornbread, sweet tea, homemade lemonade, catfish, fried green tomatoes, hush puppies, Frogmore stew, Smithfield ham, and homemade macaroni and cheese are all foods attributed to the southern states. (Whatever you do, bring your appetite, the portions are huge.) For dessert, take advantage of a great variety of celebrated treats like peach cobbler in Georgia, pecan pie in Louisiana, Key lime pie in Florida, or chess pie in Virginia. (Odds are the ancient woman running the restaurant has all these on hand and, despite her shaking her head at how skinny you look, they are well worth it.)

Florida

This part of the country is geographically closest to the Caribbean and is a major stopping point for new immigrants, many of them from points no more than a two or three hour plane ride away. Thus it comes as no surprise that a good deal of Florida's  influences come from Puerto Rico, Cuba, Haiti, and Jamaica to name a few; seafood is no exception. Stone crab, Conch fritters, jerked red snapper, and bacalao (salt cod) are all common dishes found in the Miami or Tampa area, usually served up with a side of fresh maduros or plátanos (bananas or plantains, usually fried.) Plenty of restaurants owned by immigrants have all sorts of flavors and spice combinations only found in this hemisphere so they are definitely worth a try.  (Imagine a Jamaican pepper pot dish combined with Florida's natural predilection for citrus, or a Puerto Rican dish of mofongo with a lemon drop martini-delicious.) For the less adventurous, if you plan on doing some fishing (check to see if you need a license first!), some restaurants even offer to clean and cook your catch of the day. Striped bass, catfish, dorado, snappers, and even mighty marlins and swordfish live in Florida waters from panhandle to Keys and are a great reward to those that pursue them.

NOTE: If you speak Spanish or French, it is a bonus while visiting Southern Florida, especially if you are visiting the Miami barrios or little Haiti: here live a very large concentration of Caribbean Spanish speakers and Creole speakers.  Even if you are uncomfortable about actually opening your mouth to talk, you can hear about items that might not be on the menu or at least be able to translate or infer what a dish contains if the menu is not in English. 

Barbecue

Many Southern restaurants pride themselves on their special barbecue sauce. From the Carolinas to Kansas City, people (and restaurants) jealously guard the secret to their recipes and sauces so much that competitions in this area are as ubiquitous as the  enormous platters Southerners set out for Fourth of July celebrations. (If you can manage, try to attend one: it is a great opportunity to sample the different kinds.) Chicken wings, pulled pork or chicken sandwiches are popular, alongside large racks of baby back ribs. If you are invited to something called a "pig pickin' ", drop everything and GO. You have just been invited to an event where the locals take an entire pig and slowly barbecue it over a special stove over the course of about eight hours, usually resulting in meat so tender it falls off the bone.

Louisiana: Creole and Cajun Cooking

This state has a very distinct way of cooking that is very different from her other southern sisters in large part due to her history: Spanish, French, Italian, Choctaw, and West African peoples all came to the live "on the bayou" at some point or another and each one brought very different ingredients to the table. The result is, to this day, a very tasty cuisine found nowhere else on earth. Crawfish, po' boy sandwiches, etouffee, and file (pron. FEE-lay) gumbo are must haves when visiting any restaurant in southern Louisiana. If you can, ask about trying a beignet for breakfast and sip a cup of café au lait with it – it is delightful. In parts of the state with swampy areas, look to the backroads for stands selling (of all things) alligator meat if you are feeling daring: it actually tastes pretty good and is traditional food, passed down from the Choctaw natives.

Kentucky Bourbon & Tennessee Whiskey

When Scottish and Irish settlers crossed the pond, they brought with them recipes for distilling alcohol: ones from their native regions, and even a few more infamous ones like poitín or peatreek. Because traditional materials (rye and barley in particular) weren't always on hand or able to be grown, they adapted many of the recipes to use new crops like maize and sugar,  exchanging peat smoking for sugar maple, and shortening the aging process. Over time, the result was a type of whiskey unique to the United States with a sweeter taste than whiskey from the British Isles, and a less dry aftertaste than its fraternal twin in Canada. Some of the better brands of American whiskey are Jack Daniels, Wild Turkey, Rebel Yell, and Maker's Mark. Today, this hard liquor is most associated with the Appalachian Mountains where it was born, and despite its ample availability across the world, it may be worth testing it closer to home where it is freshest and where smaller scale operations are available. 

 

Hickory

Much exhaltation is given to the pecan nut and rightfully so: it is native to the Deep South and it is the key ingredient for pecan pie; in fact some French articles mistakenly label the pecan tree as native to Europe when actually pecan nuts were originally exported out of New Orleans long before a tree ever made it to the continent.   Visitors to the Appalachians in autumn driving along country roads or walking among the colorful leaves, however, should keep their eyes open for a very odd looking tree:  if mature, it should be 80 ft (24 m) tall or larger, with the biggest being about 200 years old. It will  have golden, almond shaped leaves in groups of five. It should be loaded with drupes that bear resemblance to tiny pumpkins which, inside each, carry a single hard nut. If this isn't weird enough for you the bark of the tree will look like it is peeling off, and it is the bark that give the tree its name: shagbark hickory, and the goodies they carry inside are a local delicacy.

Shagbark hickories are much larger relatives of the pecan and have a very long history in the South: the word hickory is derived from a Algonquin word "pawcohiccora" and it was the Native Americans that taught settlers to look to the tree as a source of sustenance: today that means making a syrup from the sap, for smoking meats on a barbecue, and for the very tasty nuts that are not available for export.  If you see the nuts or the syrup  for sale at a roadside stand, consider purchasing them as they are unique tastes of  the South you will not get anywhere else in the world. (The nuts can be used for nearly any recipe calling for pecans and do well in salads.)  If you are camping  in the backwoods of the Smoky Mountains or Monongahela National Forest and see this tree, getting out a swiss army gadget with a pocket knife and a small hammer attachment should be enough to get to the nuts inside: you will be eating like they did 200 years ago if you do.


 

Outside the Continental 48


Hawaii (sometimes spelled Hawai' ) 

Komo mai e ai is Hawaiian for "come in and eat," and accepting this invitation is a guarantee of a good meal. The "Land of Aloha" has its very own way of cooking, with roots that are influenced by East Asia, Polynesia, China (Guangdong/Fujian), Japan, Korea, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam. Items such as five spice, lemongrass, sashimi, patis, and buddha-jumps-over-the-wall and have contributed quite a bit to the table, fusing to create the flavor of modern Hawaiian cuisine, creating dishes that are tasty and non-pretentious. Saimin is a well known lunchtime soup, containing eggs, spam (a Hawaiian favorite), gyoza, lemongrass and either ramen or rice noodles (Chinese in structure, but American and Japanese in influence).  Ahi poke is a dinner dish that is made of kukui nuts, soy sauce, seaweed, onion, and tuna – bearing some resemblance to dishes found in Korea and Japan, but with peppers and red cabbage from America. Fresh tropical fruits like coconut, pineapple, guava, or mango are familiar ingredients to both Asian and Polynesian traditions, and many desserts and cocktails served on the islands include them as a staple.  (Try any of them raw – they are often available at the local market.)

The most famous feast of all in Hawaii is the lu'au, and is a must-see for visitors. Traditionally, this feast involves roasting a whole pig in an underground clay oven and serving it as the main course, usually alongside poi (mashed taro) and lomi (salmon). Once reserved as a celebration for gods and kings where men and women sat separately, lu'aus today are common both as private parties or as tourist attractions, and often include the native dances of Polynesia and Asia. Try one as you sip kona coffee with your dessert, inhale air perfumed with jasmine and sea salt, and watch the sun set over electric blue waters – you'll be singing Aloha o'e in no time.

 

Alaska 

 

   The second youngest state in the Union, this state also holds the distinction of being the largest state, and the least populated: it is truly America's "Land of the Midnight Sun."  A good deal of the food available here is unique to the area and often it's extremely fresh: wild game is extremely plentiful in Alaska, so it should come as no surprise that Alaskans are considered by their brothers in the lower 48 to be  a hardy lot just as accustomed to hunting for their dinner as buying it in the supermarket. (Many Alaskans have gun licenses solely for this purpose, as very harsh Arctic winters may preclude one from actually reaching said supermarket in one piece!) The visitor may turn his or her nose up at the prospect of hunted food, but game meats are usually a good reward when they are tried and most often 1) have  little impact on the environment 2) cost far less than any abbatoir in Europe.

     Among choices for game meat, the more popular foodstuffs derive from venison, meaning moose and caribou:  these animals have been hunted in Alaska since the Ice Age  first by the earliest colonizers of North America and then by European settlers and trappers thousands of years later. Today they are commonly eaten  as stews and steaks by Inuits and those of European descent alike; they bear some resemblance in flavor to beef  but have a softer mouthfeel and far less fat.  When smoked, caribou and moose meat makes a fine jerky that is a good thing to carry  on the trail for camping trips into Denali, so keep an eye for it: it would last quite a while in an area many times the size of  Belgium.    For fowl, try duck or ptarmigan (the latter a relative of the European grouse) if you find it at a local's table: the flavor is often richer than any farm raised bird could offer and taste perfect when just simply roasted.

    For the less adventurous, coastal Alaska offers a large amount of seafood, in particular  salmon and king crab.  The most prized variety of salmon is coho or king salmon, where fish can easily exceed 25 kilos and can easily feed a party of 30 people!  Smaller types of salmon are available and are a good way to test out fly fishing skills, as well as something that is available in stores smoked:  it is a good thing to bring home. For crab, try a nice seafood restaurant in Anchorage with a bit of butter and lemon juice: it has a sweet and sour tang.

 

'Regular" Coffee, Hero Sandwiches and "Sliders":  In New York city and its environs only 'regular' coffee is coffee with milk or crearm.  One will go into a deli and ask for a "Regular coffee".  This usage is unknown outside of New York City.

 A sandwich with several different kinds of meats, cheese, onions, pickels, etc. on a large, often long rolll, is known by several different names depending where you are.  This is a topic on which there can be much discussion so the following is based only on one person's experience.  In New York City and environs and in many other areas  as a 'hero'.  In the New England states the usage of 'hero' is acceptable, but  it is known as a 'bulkie' or a 'sub" as well (the latter short for 'submarine' referring to the shape of the roll).  In Philadelphia it is known as a 'hoagie'.  There are several other names, please do a search in Wikipedia for the details.  

A small hamburger is known as a 'slider'.  These can be anywhere from one-third to one-half as big as a regular hambuger and are often offered as an appetizer.  An example of a small hamburger known nationwide is the "White Castle" line.  These are available in burger joints of that name and in frozen food sections.  One will also see 'lobster sliders' and "pork sliders'.