Does America have a cuisine? I mean, really? | Doubts about Americans

The USA? A cuisine? You’re kidding. This place definitely does have its own set of culinary forms and contributions. Or … The U.S. just steals its culinary forms from other traditions. Well, we’ve heard many sides of the argument before, and there’s a little bit of truth to either. Many travelers to the United States, foreigners watching American TV shows, and our very own U.S. citizens often get confused as to what the “cuisine” even is (if there is such a thing, of course). Here, I want to explore with you a bit of the influences behind American cuisine, and how that became a thing. Then we can take a brief — I do mean brief — look at the major cuisines-zzz of the United States. Ready to go?

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Influences on “American” Cuisine

The trouble with defining a uniquely American cuisine for most people is the fact that the country itself is literally a land of immigrants. There has been so much influence from other places that one might be inclined to think that the US just borrows its recipes from other countries, tweaking them slightly to appeal to American tongues. While that may be the case, this is typically what has happened in all world cuisines. For example, many European dishes rely heavily on potatoes and tomatoes, two ingredients originally from the Americas. Most of the world eats chicken, a fowl originally from South Asia. You start to get my point.

Specifically, for the United States as we know it (or them?), the cuisine was influenced by different waves of settlement. The Native Americans would be the first up. Known as the “three sisters,” indigenous diets were stapled by beans, maize, and squash. Add in the native turkey and you’ve almost got yourself a Thanksgiving dinner! Lots of other animals were consumed that aren’t such popular options nowadays like deer, elk, bison, rabbits, ducks, snakes, squirrels, turtles, possums, and alligators. Still, these animals are consumed in modern times, even if it gives me the creeps to think so. One group of native critters that have stood the test of time are crustaceans and shellfish. Mmm-hmm. 

Europeans in general immediately made their impact on the local dishes. They would eventually introduce the meats that we know and love like chicken, pork, beef, and sheep (for those that like to eat Mary’s little lambs). With these creatures also came dairy and eggs, and subsequently every great dessert ever made! Grapes and wine were also a neat contribution. Throughout settlement, American colonists had a sweet spot for France and French culinary styles which they drew much inspiration. The Jewish communities and pretty much every other European community brought with them their own styles that would influence cuisine in the new country.

Upon arriving in the colonies, many people realized a greater need to hunt than on the typical European farms. They would also come to use more fats, oils, and butter than was customary (this explains a lot, actually). Colonists also brought grains with them that could be used to bake bread or make the popular whiskeys and beers. Molasses and syrup also became common, along with a sort-of-famous drink imported from the Caribbean: rum.

In the Southern states especially, African influences would hit even harder. Imports like okra, sorghum, sesame seeds, eggplant, watermelon, rice, and yams are just some of what was brought along with the early slaves. (*Some of these foods were also found in Asia but were imported first from Africa). Black cooks would also play a major role in the national cuisine since they were serving some of the best dishes available to the elites of the time. 

All of these influences and more would go on to mix and shape a unique culinary style all to its own in the United States. As we said, the country is home to many regional cuisines within its borders. So, what are some of America’s cuisines?

Types of American Cuisine

New England

lobster roll, part of New England cuisine
lobster roll – Sharon McCutcheon

New England is a section of the Northeast United States with a long, rugged coastline. The food there is most famous for its use of seafood, especially for having some of the best lobster anywhere. Clam chowder and lobster dishes like the lobster roll are considered originals from this region. Succotash is another original consisting mostly of lima beans and corn, both native ingredients.

New England cuisine is also known for its use of fruits and berries, with many popular sweets like pies, juices, and jellies being derived from both imported (strawberries, apples) and native produce (elderberries, cranberries). Muffins, specialized types of bread, and cookies (looking at you, chocolate chip!) were also popularized here before spreading to the rest of the country.

Mid-Atlantic

Spaghetti and meatballs, and Italian-American dish
spaghetti & meatballs – jeffreyw

The Mid-Atlantic has undoubtedly had one of the biggest impacts on all American cuisine since some of the largest cities and cultural centers are here. In New York alone, Jewish and Italian influence would introduce many New World concepts like spaghetti and meatballs, American-style pizza, crab cakes, eggs benedict, the Reuben sandwich, and pastrami on rye.

Besides keeping it kosher, this region loved its sweets, with many concoctions such as the New York cheesecake, American-style donuts, and milkshakes owing their births to this region. There’s also Philadelphia which most notably contributed cream cheese and the Philly cheesesteak, but also played a major role in the westward expansion of New York dishes. We can’t forget that Upstate New York would make one of the most beloved American dishes known to man: buffalo wings

Mid-West

hot dogs with different styles of sausage and baked beans pickels and lettuce, other with onions, bbq sauce and blue cheese, with sauces and fries on the side
some variations of hot dog – Victoria Shes

Staying on the “Middle” route, the Mid-West is a region that was settled by lots of Europeans. This might explain why German, Scandinavian, and Eastern Block influences are so strong there. Aside from the many dishes brought over from those European tables, one that seemed to stand out was the sausage.

Polish and German sausages (especially Bratwurst) take the cake in this part of America, and they have gone to take many shapes and sizes. Adding pickled veggies will get you the hot dogs so popular in these parts. The major cities here have their own unique styles of pizza (most famously Chicago deep dish) and barbeque (most famously Kansas CitySt. Louis). Oh, and brownies apparently came from America’s wonderful heartland.

Southern

grits and greens, two classics of southern cuisine in America
grits & greens – Kim Daniels

When referring to “the South” in any case, especially when it comes to food, there is no umbrella that can cover it all. The South is one of the richest and most diverse culinary regions in America, many claiming it is the only part of the U.S. that gives the country a unique culinary style. Still, they learned a lot from the Natives and Africans. Corn dishes like succotash, corn of the cob, cornbread, and grits all have their origins down here. As we saw earlier, melons, yams, okra, black-eyed peas, and rice also get the highlight from Africa.

Barbeque is a key style of food with famous contributors in Tennessee and the Carolinas.. Buttermilk biscuits, country ham, and fried chicken are dishes that developed in the South, along with popular deserts like sweet potato pie, pecan pie, and peach cobbler. Oh, and sweet tea which is practically a dessert. Many fried classics like fried chicken, country fried steak, and fried pork chops would get their call to fame in the south. And don’t forget to throw some gravy on it!

Cajun & Creole

Gumbo, a classic Louisiana dish, cajun/creole cuisine
gumbo – Amadscientist

Throughout the coastal South such as the Carolinas, seafood is considered a staple in the cuisine. But nowhere else, I dare to say, does seafood play a bigger role in the culinary ID than in Louisiana. Cajun and Creole traditions took heavily from French-Acadian, Afro-Caribbean, Spanish, and indigenous foods to make it its own unique thing.

There are way too many specialized dishes to name here, but many of them take advantage of the prevalent shellfish, crawfish, and regular fish of the region. The food is known for being one of the most flavorful and spiciest in all of the U.S. Cajuns love their cayenne pepper. Some of the most-known dishes include gumbo, jambalaya, boudin sausage, red beans and rice, and po’boys

Florida & the Caribbean

jerk chicken grilling with a Heineken beer, part of Caribbean cuisine
jerk grilled chicken – S kelly

Anyone who’s ever been to Florida knows how nice (or chaotic) the weather can be. It’s known as the only part of the contiguous United States with a tropical climate. This plus its proximity to the Caribbean has brought many fruits that simply can’t grow in other states. Immigrants have brought culinary styles from Cuba, the DR, and Haiti, among other flavors such as allspice, coconut, oranges, banana (plantains), Jerk, and curry.

Some of the tropical fruits available like soursop and mangoes are almost unheard of in other parts of the South, making Florida a standout. The Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico also add their own twist of flavors, being U.S. territories with tons of Spanish, African, and French influences too. The region is also a key location for seafood and for peppers like bell and habanero. It’s said the famous key lime pie was invented (or at least inspired) in the Florida Keys.

Northwest

sesame chicken, an Americanized dish of Chinese food, popularized in the American West
sesame chicken (I couldn’t find moose sausage) – Israel Albornoz

The American Northwest has two standout factors in its culinary styles. For one, the proximity to the Pacific gives it some unique fish and seafood not available in the East. The other is due to the fact that most of this region is wilderness, allowing for access to more big game. This is especially true for Alaska where animals like the ptarmigan, moose, and bison can be consumed more regularly than in other parts of the U.S.

I was also thinking bears and beavers, but I don’t know how often those get eaten. The Pacific Northwest is also famous for its extensive berry and hazelnut harvesting. And not to mention the major cities like Seattle and San Francisco that created many of the Asian-American dishes beloved around the country.

Southwest

Tex-Mex dishes including rice, tortilla chips, fajitas and tacos, part of American cuisine
Tex-Mex dishes – Scott Bauer

The Southwest is a huge area with tons of culinary styles and influences. The most prevalent of these is probably American Mexican food. From Tex-Mex to SoCal to New Mexico, each place has its own unique turn. Notably from Texans, we get iconic dishes like beef chili, queso dip, American nachos, taco bowls, and holiest of all, Fritos. Chimichangas are reportedly from Arizona, and New Mexico has lots of traditional dishes that put an American twist to north Mexican fare.

A constant in many of these is the use of tomatoes, peppers like chiles and jalapeños, cheese, corn, and beans. Salsa, tortillas, and guacamole are also part of the staple dishes. With influences like the Native American horno, a type of oven, other animals such as elk and even rattlesnake are consumed, likely in the boonies.

Still, beef and barbeque hold a special place here, with Texas having some of the most famous BBQ in the world. Burgers are also an important feature, the Southwest being home to the cheeseburger and many types of Mexicanized and Asianized burgers following soon after. California was pivotal in introducing many Asian foods to the country (as well as the concept of fast food). From Vietnamese, Thai, Chinese, Japanese, to Korean and more, these foods have gone to shapeshift into something truly American.

Pacific

Spam musubi, a Hawaiian / pacific dish in American cuisine
SPAM musubi – bandita

The Pacific Islands take up a special portion of American cuisine. Due to tropical weather and an abundance of seafood, this region has access to many foods otherwise not available in the rest of the country. Regional natives and tropical fruits like bananas, papayas, lemongrass, and sweet potatoes have all contributed. Alongside Samoan and Mariana traditions, Hawaiian food is of the most beloved in America as well.

Also paying due to imports like chicken and pigs, pork and ham are heavily associated with this region, as are pineapples. Asian foods and styles like poke (Hawaii original), tofu, soy, sushi, teriyaki, kimchi, and noodles like ramen are all part of the cuisine. Many American troops were sent to the Pacific during wartime as well, and canned foods like beans, meat, and SPAM are derived from those army rations. 

Other Food

lamb kebab with pita bread, a popular mediterranean dish in America
lamb kebab – Lesya Dolyk

One of the most popular cuisines not owing to a particular region of the U.S. is Mediterranean food. This is usually with a Middle Eastern flare and includes things like kebabs, hummus, shwarma, falafel, pita bread, and creamy salads. Desserts like rice pudding and baklava also have an impact on this food. Ethiopian and other African styles are on the rise due to increased immigration.

Indian food has been popular for a while with tikka masala, naan bread, lentils, and curry being some of the most popular items. South American barbeque styles like Brazilian churrasco and gaucho asado are gaining in popularity, as are exotic fruits like “acai” (açaí) or tubers like cassava (think tapioca). Pretty much everyone’s got a hand in this American pie. 


**That’s it for now! I look forward to going more in depth with the distinct American cuisines in the future. What do you think? Were any of these shocking to you? Still don’t think the U.S. has its own cuisine? Let us know! And take care, as always. Peace 😉

Belize on the Map: Straight Facts

Continuing our quest to explore the world’s English-speaking countries, today we’ll take a look at Belize’s place on the map. Have you ever wondered Where is Belize? Or simply, I want to learn about Belize. Here we’ll see a bit about its geography and help you all understand this place a bit better. Of course, this won’t be a definitive description, so whoever wants to add on to it can feel free to chime in! You can find more about Geography on The Actual English World. And the Geography Now video is below to enjoy. Let’s get started.

A map of Belize highlighting its six districts and nearby islands, reefs and cays.
Belize’s place on the map – from AmbergrisCaye.com

Mapping out Belize

To start off, Belize is a pretty small country, a drastic contrast to our last country, Canada in many ways. The country is broken up into six districts. From north to south:

  • Corozal
  • Orange Walk
  • Belize
  • Stann Creek
  • Cayo
  • & Toledo

Belize has got over 403 thousand people in an area of almost 23,000 square km, or 9,000 square miles. That places Belize as smaller than countries like Haiti or Albania, about the size of states like New Jersey or New Hampshire. It’s also the second-smallest country on the American mainland, but don’t let that fool you! This place has a lot to offer in such a small area.

Belize Geography – Where We At?

Belize has a very interesting place on the map. It sits right at the crossroads of Central America and the Caribbean, making its land features and culture really unique. It’s actually the only country mostly on the mainland to be considered a full Caribbean nation on par with Jamaica or Trinidad & Tobago, even though it does still have lots of little islands and cays. The landscape is generally flatter with plains in the north and gets more hilly and mountainous as you go south. This also goes for traveling from the east coast as you get further inland. At last, you culminate with the Mayan Mountains in the interior of the south. Most of the country has rainforests and jungles too since Belize has some of the best-preserved forests that exist.

The Great Blue Hole, a giant sink hole off the coast of Belize surrounded by coral reefs
the Great Blue Hole off Belize’s coastBy U.S. Geological Survey (USGS)

Going back to the coast, Belize also has lots of reefs. If you’ve seen pictures of this country, you probably know there are tons of reefs, not to mention some giant blue sinkholes. Belize and its neighbors are actually home to the second-biggest reef system in the world after the Great Barrier Reef in Australia (we’ll talk about that one later). That makes it a perfect place for snorkelers and a haven for marine life to grow and reproduce. Put that together with the jungles that are havens for wild creatures like jaguars and you’ve got a pretty big refuge for tons of important critters.

What’s the Weather?

Besides the flatter north to the hillier south, the weather also changes a bit depending on location. North Belize is a bit drier and has a more savanna-type setting. Meanwhile, south Belize is wetter and gets more rain, which can explain the thicker forests down that way. Another thing to keep in mind is the storms. Belize does sit right on the Caribbean and just below the Gulf of Mexico. That means it’s not just a paradise for people, but for hurricanes too! To talk more on that, you might notice that Belize City is the biggest city in the country. It actually used to be the capital, but that all changed when a series of storms knocked it nearly out of place. Nationals picked up and moved their capital to Belmopan which is the current capital, a nice safe distance from the sea (in Cayo district, if you wanted to know).

An example of a hurricane from as seen from space to portray Belize's position in hurricane alley.
live footage of a hurricane over Belize – by Pixabay, Pexels.com

But not to dwell too much on that, you’ll see a common trend of hurricanes in pretty much all the Caribbean/West Indies countries. Belize is still beautiful as heck and has a lot of biodiversity for such a small country. They owe it to their numerous habitats and the protection provided for them.

Enough Map Stuff, Talk About Belize’s History

Okay, I feel you. You want to know about some history. I know this isn’t a history post, but you might know that Belize is the only country in Central America where English is the official language. That doesn’t mean Spain didn’t try to take it. Spanish sailors were actually the first Europeans to claim what we call Belize, but they didn’t really care to settle it. In fact, they cared so little that eventually the British swooped in and just took it for themselves. Caught you sleeping, Spain. Well, even with that, the country was called British Honduras for a pretty long while because Honduras is what Columbus called that whole bay region. It wasn’t until the 1970s that the name was changed to Belize, and the country became independent from Great Britain only in the 1980s. That’s not even that long ago.

Belize of course had a big African slave trade initially which brought tons of black people to the country. There were also lots of migrants from other Caribbean countries like Jamaica which continues to this day. Before Europeans, the region was inhabited by indigenous Americans, most noticeably the Mayans. Proof of this exists all across the country with majestic Mayan ruins being a major tourist draw and source of general awe. There have also been many other migrations from neighboring countries like Mexico, Guatemala, and Honduras of people seeking refuge from war, violence, or poverty. You also have migrants from further in the past like the Russian Mennonites, Pennsylvania Dutch, and American Southerners who were looking for religious freedom, cheaper land and whatnot.

An example of a Mayan temple ruin you might find in Belize
Mayan ruins – by Cristian Rojas, Pexels.com

OK, Now You’re Talking Belizean Culture

Even with all of those diverse cultural influences already listed, I still didn’t talk about the South and East Asian (mostly from India and China) communities that were taken to Belize to do the work that slaves used to do. And I’m sure that I’m forgetting somebody. Oh, yes, the Garifuna! The Garifuna are mostly descendants of Africans that were able to escape slavery or ended up shipwrecked and founded their own communities on the Caribbean coast. Most of the other countries in Central America have Garifuna or related cultures, but we won’t talk about them in this section since those countries speak mostly Spanish. Still, it’s an interesting fact to know. Garifuna, no matter where they live, much like the rest of Belize, speak a creole language (in Belize’s case, Kriol), although their creoles are a bit different. Here you can read some examples of Kriol phrases.

That’s right, even though English is the official language and most people can speak or understand it, Creole is the main language for a large portion of the people. It’s a more informal way of speech, but it serves a lot for the national identity of Belizeans no matter what their ethnicity or background is. Besides that, it’s kind of interesting as an American seeing people who look Mexican/Mestizo or Chinese speaking Belizean Creole.

What Else You Got?

Much like Canada, Belize is also a Commonwealth state of the British Crown. If you want to read about Canada, I explain more in-depth what the Commonwealth is (kind of). Otherwise, just know that Belize was part of Great Britain for a long time before it became an independent state. Like most Caribbean nations, Belize celebrates versions of Carnival and has some special events of its own. September is considered an entire month of festivities and celebrations by itself. Because of nearby Latin American contact, there are some Spanish-influenced traditions as well, and many people even have Spanish surnames. Spanish itself is widely spoken in Belize too, given that most of the population is multilingual in at least two of the national languages like Creole, Garifuna, or the several German and Mayan dialects used throughout.

In Closing

So that’s that! I hope you enjoyed mapping Belize with me. It’s a spectacular country with tons of diversity right up in your face. It’s colorful, tropical, all kinds of paradise and beautiful. It may be English-speaking, but Belize has a whole identity unique to its own. Comment below if you love Belize. If you’re Belizean or know some Belizeans, please tell me how I did. What do you have to add about this compact powerhouse? Can you teach us some words in your language? Be well, and I’ll be writing to you soon!