What Is American Food? We’re All Wondering…

what is American food

Every country in the world has their own signature cuisine, and while it can be replicated elsewhere, it never seems to be as good outside of the place where it originated from. When you think of Italian food, you probably think about pizza, pasta, and gelato. When you think of British food, you might think about a traditional breakfast including baked beans and tomatoes or fish and chips. Think about French food: you probably picture lots of soft cheeses and croissants. America definitely isn’t excluded from this, but… what is American food? There are a ton of foods that are super popular in the United States that can barely be found in other countries… or if they are found, they’re usually referred to as American foods.

But what does American food mean to you, and is it actually American, or was it just adopted from another country? It’s a really interesting question to think about! What many people imagine is the quintessential American meal: burgers, apple pie, and anything made with bacon. But there are so many more American foods out there. We took a look at this Reddit thread to see what American food means to some people, and the answers were pretty eye-opening:

1. Meatloaf… wrapped in bacon.

A bacon wrapped meatloaf with green beans and roasted red potatoes.  The meatloaf is on a rustic farm table with a rustic cutting block in the background.  Please see my portfolio for other food and drink images.

For many, American food means meat on meat. User Heroic_Dave said, “I was just in Tokyo, and saw a place called Bubby’s American Cookery. Their special was meatloaf wrapped in bacon, so that, I guess.” User Fluffatron_UK added, “Meatloaf is incredibly American. Wrapping things in bacon isn’t strictly American, but I have a strong connotation with Americans and bacon because of the bacon is good for me kid. Bacon wrapped meatloaf is amazingly American. It just needs some chunky chips covered in pulled pork and some bbq slaw.”

2. S’mores are a pretty American dessert.

Close up image of S'mores dessert with roasted marshmallows and a chocolate bar sandwiched between two square graham crackers.  The dessert is displayed on a dark gray background, with two more S'mores in the background.  The background is slightly out of focus.

Think about it: have you eaten s’mores in any other country? User SettingIntentions said, “I’ve traveled the world and no one knows what s’mores are besides Americans, whereas even if burgers or whatever are American, everyone everywhere knows what they are soo…”

3. Chicken fried steak seems to be confusing to many.

Homemade Country Fried Steak with Gravy and Potatoes

User willbo2013 said they think of American food as, “Chicken fried steak with cream gravy and mashed potatoes.” User Nightmare1990 added, “What does chicken fried mean? As a non American it sounds like a verb but chicken is a noun.” It’s a valid question!

4. Ranch dressing is bigger in America than really anywhere else.

Homemade ranch dressing in a dish

Does any other country like ranch as much as the U.S.A? User boho_chic said, “I don’t think anyone else eats/uses ranch like us Americans. We eat it with everything. Salads, fries, pizza, wings, burgers….” User DoubleNickels added this adorably perfect comment: “In Holland Ranch Doritos are ‘Cool American’ Doritos.”

5. Cranberries are actually American.

Cranberries don’t just seem American — they originated here. User TheLadyEve said, “One of the few fruits native to North America. We may champion apples here, but cranberries have been here longer, and I think they’re underused.”

6. Peanut butter is actually extremely American.

Who knew that something as delicious as peanut butter could be confined to just one country? User Dirk_Bogart said, “Peanut butter is a very American thing.” User Zack1018 added, “PB&J is the only thing I eat that actually makes people go ‘WTF’. [E]verybody here (Germany) eats burgers, barbecue, fries, corn, etc., but when they see me eat PB&J it’s like some weird gross foreign food to them.”

7. Chili is based in America.

Homemade Chicken Chili with Corn Bread

Have you ever seen chili anywhere else? If you have, it’s probably an American thing. User swamp-hag said, “Chili. It’s based on New World ingredients. Every region of the U.S, has its own variation, families have their own recipes, and internet wars have been fought over what ‘real’ chili is. Most of us agree that Cincinnati is wrong, no matter our own regional type. We’ve made it mass produced, added it to fast food, made it healthier with less fat, made it worse for you with tons of cheese and poured over fries. ‘Murica.”

8. A steak with cornbread is a pretty typical American dish.

Grilled steak on frying pan and cornbread

Other countries have steak, of course, but it’s the sides that make it unique to the U.S. User Fokale said, “A steak with corn, mashed potatoes, and cornbread.” User Charles_Chuckles added, “This just made me realize that cornbread is very obviously an American thing. Damn, that sucks for the rest of the world.” It really does.

9. Hamburgers are the number one American food.

As user victini3521 says, “I’m American and I imagine people think of us as obese cowboys who only eat cheeseburgers.” User sashuke25 added, “Every burger joint we have in London is ‘American-themed’ because it’s so inherently part of the branding that burgers come from America, so the menu and the names have to match as well.” Perfect.

10. Proper BBQ (especially the sauce) is pretty unique to the States.

Beef ribs being basted with bbq sauce on a grill with a basting brush

User Batmaners said they find “proper BBQ” to be American food, explaining, “I consider myself lucky to have tried Buddy’s BBQ in Knoxville, TN.” User terrendos added, “Proper barbecue, pulled pork, or ribs cooked low and slow for ages with hardwood smoke, is pretty quintessentially American food. My million dollar idea is opening a chain of real barbecue joints in Europe.”

11. Giant salads with lots of ingredients are not common elsewhere.

Vegan Thai Cabbage Salad with Creamy Cilantro Dressing

User Cartoonzinho said, “I’ve noticed Americans make the best and most creative salads in the world.” User 2boredtocare added, “I agree! When traveling out of the country, salads don’t seem super popular, or as creative.” It’s true! Salads just aren’t quite as popular everywhere else.

12. Cocktails were actually invented in America.

vodka drink

Who knew? User Muadibz explained, “I’ve answered this before, but unknown to most people. Cocktails are actually an American invention, or at least have their roots deep in American history. They started before prohibition, but when Prohibition happened a lot of the really good bartenders left and went overseas to Europe. The ones that remained had to totally change their game to deal with the increased regulations and limited supply of ingredients. From this era, a whole new genre of ‘Prohibition Era’ cocktails were created like the Gin and Tonic, Sidecar, Tom Collins, and maybe others you may have had. After Prohibition, many of the best bartenders stayed in Europe. It’s only more recently (in a relative sense) that cocktails have really taken off again in the U.S., as seen by the huge rise in good cocktail bars in most Urban areas. But, despite their new trendiness their origins were already here!”

13. The classic New England meal of clam chowder and lobster is pretty unique to the States.

As user PM_ME_BALLOON_KNOTZ says, “Clam chowdah & lobstah rolls” are really American. Have you ever seen a good lobster roll anywhere else?! User cherrytarts added this perspective: “Yeah, as a foreigner I don’t understand putting lobster meat in bread, or making soup with clams and dairy. You guys are weird.” Maybe, but it’s still delicious!

14. Bagels are very American.

Vegan Cinnamon Raisin Bagels

Think about it: have you ever seen a bagel in another country that was as good as a New York bagel? User Brinner simply said, “Bagel, cream cheese, and lox” are American, and we have to agree. Cream cheese alone is pretty American!

15. Cajun food is actually from the States.

Spicy Homemade Cajun Jambalaya with Sausage and Shrimp

If you really want to find real American food, look no further than Cajun cuisine. User JellyKaques says, “Cajun. Birthed in Louisiana inspired by French/African/Spanish cuisine, it is an original creation of America.” Pretty interesting!

16. Giant pancakes are a classic breakfast here.

Breakfast of coffee, pancakes and sausage

Americans do breakfast differently than most countries. User VanillaLatteJunkie said, “When I think of American food the first thing that comes to my mind are pancakes — really fluffy ones with blueberries…” Other countries do make pancakes, but they’re often based on an “American breakfast.”

17. Chocolate chip cookies are pretty unique to the States.

Who would have thought people considered chocolate chip cookies to be American? User jay_emdee said, “I remember my old boss told me he made them for his friends in France and their minds were blown by those hot, fresh cookies. Also brownies. Good lord, brownies, I love you.” Is anyone else starving, by the way?

18. Buffalo wings are another food that was invented here.

Buffalo chicken wings

A lot of people answered “buffalo wings,” and for good reason. As user umair340 explained, “Buffalo wings, invented and perfected in New York. No roots in any other countries, just the Anchor Bar in Buffalo, NY.” Good to know!

19. Grits are a typical American dish.

boiled hominy

In the thread, many foreigners didn’t even seem to understand what grits were. User feckinkidleys said, “Grits. I grew up in Kentucky where grits just came with your breakfast — just plain grits, that you put salt, pepper, and butter on. Now we live just barely north of the ‘grits line’, so it’s less than a 50/50 chance of being able to get grits at all, and half that time they have cheese or some other adulterant in them.”

20. Basically, any interesting mashup you can think of.

pineapple pizza

As user agate_ explains: “American food is at it’s best when it’s borrowing other cuisines and doing its own crazy mashups with them. Not just modern ‘fusion’ cuisine, the stuff we’ve been doing for decades too. American food is Hawaiian pizza, Chicago-style pizza — hell, any pizza — it’s cioppino, jambalaya, fajitas, the California roll, it’s General Tso’s chicken, and shrimp burritos. We’re at our best when we’re bringing in ideas from the whole world, throwing out the bits we don’t like, and building something new and awesome out of it without giving two sh*ts about ‘authenticity.’ To hell with the bald eagle, the true symbol of America is the Korean taco.” Good point!

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