Like Its People, America’s Food Has Worldwide History

America has been described a melting pot, a place where people from all over the world have come together to forge a new life for themselves and their families. It’s interesting that a pot is used as the example, since American food has as many international roots as the people who prepare and eat it here.

American food is a synthesis of countless other influences. Just as any given American might be of Irish, Chinese, Arab, or Brazilian extraction, so might any given American dish trace its origins to any combination of other countries.

Food truly has a genealogy just like people, and here in America, the evolution of that culinary family tree occurs in a few different ways.

The Direct Descendants

Think of these foods as parallel to that first generation to arrive from another country. After all, that’s often the people who are preparing them. These dishes have been prepared a certain way elsewhere, and the chefs who cook them here work very hard to duplicate the original product. They source the ingredients through ethnic markets or order them from abroad, and they locate restaurant supply vendors who can get equipment that best emulates the original preparation process.

What results is a very authentic menu that is the closest you’ll get to eating in another country without getting a passport. These foods are the foundations that remain intact here for those who want to pick up and go in their own direction with them, as we’ll see next.

The Spinoffs

Just as people of different nationalities intermarry and have kids, so do foods. Many of our popular “American” cookout and party foods represent a mishmash of different backgrounds, from Polish to Mexican to Italian.

Fast food has taken note as well. A trip down any strip of popular restaurants will reveal menu items like Reuben sandwiches, fish and chips, and a wide array of sandwiches served on kaiser buns. But the jury is still out on french fries.

These Americanized offerings carry at least some of the spirit of their nation of origin, but they have been distinctly reprogrammed to make them a truly American item. But some other items have been so deeply rooted in American preparation that their true ancestry can be a little hard to spot.

The Distant Generations

Genealogy is a curious thing. Sometimes you can happen across a photo of an ancestor from many generations back and be shocked to see how much the face looks like your own.

Food is the same way. People think of barbecue as a totally American invention, but, at the least, the word itself is not. The word is derived from a Caribbean word, barbacoa, which describes a slow cooking process for meat. Sound familiar?

Of course, in time the process changed and evolved and took on local flavor (literally) throughout the US. It’s tough to think of the Caribbean when you bite into a tasty rack of ribs, but that’s where it ultimately came from.

Food is a fascinating thing. It’s far more than just a biological necessity for life. It’s a reflection of nationality, culture, and lifestyle that communicates a great deal of information about who we are and what we do. And as the world becomes ever-more mobile towards American shores, there’s no doubt that there will be a continuation of this process.

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