Food & Drinks
If you think that United States is all about burgers, fries and not much else, you’re in for a real treat as you discover the quality and diversity of dishes you will find during your American journey! The choice of delicacies for your palate is overwhelming – are you ready?
Food & Drink – you can rest assured that the United States will amaze you even in that department!
Go beyond the classics and surrender to the thousands of flavors the States can offer, from the plentiful American breakfast to perfectly mixed after-dinner cocktails, through delicious fish dishes, juicy steaks and dishes influenced by the Caribbean and Mexico.
Not to mention excellent wine and extraordinary craft beer you can come upon on your travels: from the Atlantic coast all the way to the East Coast and small towns all over Pacific Northwest, United States are truly…a mouthful!
Dare, try, taste and surrender yourself to the infinite ways of American dining.
Mouth-watering gastronomic combinations
The history of North America and its colonization by various ethnic groups has made a profound impact on its culture, and this can be seen in its culinary traditions.
In the American South, all the French, Spanish, Native, African and Caribbean influences have resulted in Creole and Cajun cuisines, which can best be observed in Louisiana and regions between this state and Texas, known as the Cajun County.
Creole cuisine derives mostly from the French gastronomy, combined with a melting pot between the classic and the most refined of Europe’s cuisines and a spicy touch coming from the Antilles.
Cajun cuisine is very similar both in terms of ingredients, such as various Caribbean spices, celery, peppers and onions, and in terms of the French origins, but it also has a more rustic spirit, with stronger, more substantial dishes. Some of the most famous specialties include crawfish etouffée, which is a stew made with freshwater shrimp and rice; gumbo, a soup made with meat, seafood or catfish with vegetables; bread pudding with vanilla and whiskey cream; jambalaya, which is similar to paella, as well as Cajun fried fish with corn flour and beignets, deep-fried rectangular pastry similar to krapfen, covered in powdered sugar.
Coffee is another specialty in the region, and it is often prepared using chicory.
Creole and Cajun cuisines are truly unmatched in the world, so, if you want a taste of it, what are you waiting for? Head to the United States!
Eating (excellent) fish in the United States
When you think of food in the United States, you instantly think of hamburgers, Thanksgiving Day turkey and thick steaks as those cowboys would eat, but in fact the United States also have a very rich tradition of fish-based cuisine!
Specialties obviously change depending on the region you are visiting. In New England, you can eat some excellent lobster for only a few bucks, whether we are talking about whole lobsters (brace yourself – they are huge!) or in form of Lobster Roll, a type of hot dog filled with meat of this delicious crustacean, mixed with butter and mayo. Another delicious specialty of this region is Clam Chowder, which is a thick clam soup with potatoes and onions.
Louisiana, with its cultural contamination, is definitely a state in which you will find the strangest recipes: from a shrimp remoulade to crab ravigote, including some weird combinations, such as gumbo, which is a stew made of chicken and shellfish, and jambalaya, made with rice, sausage and shrimp.
In mountainous United States and in Alaska, the favorite fish is obviously salmon, which is consumed in many ways: smoked, baked or grilled. Hawaii, located in the middle of the Pacific, has a cuisine that is largely based on fish, with some distinct species like mahimahi, wahoo and opakapaka.
Finally, even though it’s not fish (but still it lives in water), if you are looking for an alternative culinary experience, in Florida there are restaurants serving some delicious alligator filets!
Junk But Good
Once upon a time (so to speak) there was junk food..
What comes to your mind when you hear about hot dogs, fried chicken, French fries, burgers, sugary drinks and peanut butter? Surely your first thought is of what they call junk food, typical of American fast food chains and synonymous with low quality and little care for proper nutrition.
There was a constant need to make huge amounts of quick and cheap meals and make a fortune on chains like Burger King, McDonald’s and KFC, which have colonized the West and beyond, to the point that hold a true and proper monopoly over the junk food market.
However, lately, this stereotype of junk food has began to gradually change: whether it is thanks to the numerous campaigns against obesity, or to the growing awareness about healthier and organic ingredients, the junk food market has started to turn towards high quality products.
The old frozen, pre-cooked and fat-ridden ingredients are gradually replaced by organic products, without additives, and with excellent meat from the best American farms.
Now we have high-end burger places and renowned chefs bringing back in fashion certain junk dishes recreated in in a chic and trendy way. There are, of course, still many fast food milestones that you simply cannot avoid: for instance, you can’t go for a walk along the streets of New York without a hot dog from one of the countless corner stands!
Forget about the old and boring sandwich trucks...
The phenomenon of truck food or gourmet truck food was born in the United States with the idea of offering high quality street food at affordable prices.
Today, it involves many culinary varieties that are no longer limited to the classics like hot dogs and sandwiches. Food trucks are spreading like a wildfire throughout America and the nation today has over 20,000 of them.
These restaurants on wheels often involve actual chefs who offer ad hoc recipes ranging from local cuisine to vegan food, from yummy cupcakes and waffles to distinctive ethnic dishes. It is precisely this last type of truck food that has gained the most success by bringing food from all over the world to the streets of America.
From Caribbean and Jamaican specialties to Korean and Mexican ones, from Israeli and Cuban traditions to Japanese and Brazilian cuisine – the offer is truly rich.
In addition to Austin, Texas and New York, where it is safe to say the food truck mania had started, a city where these restaurants have assumed a new level is Portland, Oregon, where they are known as food carts. In this case, they are really actual semi-permanent kiosks that circulate various parks in the city, complete with tables, port-a-potties and even ATM machines.
So, if you want to make a fun and delicious experiment and try all the culinary delicacies the United States have to offer, food trucks are the right choice for you!
Did anyone say barbecue in the USA?
To talk about BBQ in the United States means to talk about more than just cuisine, but also about tradition and culture, an essential moment for every American family.
Barbecue, as a culinary habit, is almost a religion, especially when it comes to important events. Because of this, BBQ is considered a specialty Made in USA per excellence, celebrating slow and long cooked meat.
The low & slow cooking can take up to 16 hours and it can involve techniques that vary depending on the region and also on the type of meat. In general, in eastern states on this side of the Mississippi they favor pork, while beef is preferred in the western states, especially in Texas.
The cooking method that is generally considered the best is pit smoking, which involves smoking of the meat in a hole (pit) or an ad hoc oven, using only wood. The meat is then generously covered in sauces based on aromatic herbs, vinegar and sometimes sugar, which give the meat the distinctive and mouth-watering glazed look.
One of the most famous barbecue cities is Kansas City, which has over 100 specialized places where you can try the “burnt ends” of different meat cuts, and it is something no traveller should miss. The favorite in North and South Carolina is pulled pork, or finely cut pork drizzled with barbecue sauce that is served in an enormous sandwich.
In Texas, the main BBQW specialty is brisket, which is beef breast or lower chest, and the best part of it is the smoke ring or a pink strip of meat cooked using the low & slow method.
The caliente Southwest
US Southwest has a cuisine that is influenced by typically Spanish and Mexican flavors, under the influence that dates back to the mid-19th century, when California and Texas were still dominated by these nations. The fusion of these two culinary traditions gave rise to what is currently considered to be typical Southwestern delicacies.
Adding Spanish-imported beef to traditional Mexican dishes based on corn and chili led to the birth of burritos, enchiladas, fajitas, tortillas, tacos and chimichangas, filled with beans, chicken, minced meat, eggs and…well, you name it!
Typical menus in this region also feature grilled meat, steak and other spicy and zingy delicacies, such as huevos rancheros. What happens when Mexican ingredients meet American meat? In Tucson, you have the famous Sonora hot dog, which is a city specialty, wrapped in bacon and tipped with tomato, onion, sliced cheese, tomatillo sauce, ketchup, mustard or mayonnaise.
If you are traveling through New Mexico, make sure not to miss the hot chilly stew in one of the restaurants in Santa Fe, which also offer some modern interpretations of rustic dishes, such as sweet and spicy chilly shrimp grilled with honey, or moose fillets with bacon smoked on apple wood.
Don’t miss the burritos in San Francisco’s Mission District or famous fish tacos in San Diego, and don’t forget to wash it down with a good beer, the favorite beverage in bars and over dinner.
Breakfast at Tiffany's
It’s time for American breakfast!
Breakfast is, as we all know, the most important meal of the day, and this is particularly true in the United States, where breakfast is a big and rich meal that allows you to only have a light lunch and make it to dinner time without being too hungry.
The origins of such a substantial breakfast go back to the colonial times when farmers and pioneers went to work very early in the morning and they needed substance to keep them full throughout the day, as they often skipped lunch.
Today, however, due to hectic everyday tempo, Americans prefer a quick and simple breakfast, reserving the traditional one for the weekend. Somewhat similar to the English breakfast, the American one unites the sweet and the savory, with classic foods like bacon, eggs, buttered toast and sausages, along with cereals with milk, muffins (especially blueberry ones), pancakes with maple syrup, chocolate cookies and glazed donuts in all colors, with coffee and orange juice.
In Hawaii, the traditional breakfast consists of fried eggs, rice and Spam (canned pork), topped with chilli salsa.
In the recent decades, many chains such as Starbucks, Sunrise Bagel and Dunkin Donuts have introduced breakfast menus, often accompanied by huge cups of coffee that comes with free refill, a sacred custom for the Americans, which allows you to pay for one cup and then refill it as many times as you want.
Its majesty, The Steak
Rare or well-done?
Meat is certainly the primary food item in the American diet, but it doesn’t come just in form of junk food like low level burgers or fried chicken as it is served in fast food chains.
During the 1800s, many restaurant owners have started to specialize in steak cuisine: from the choice of meat to the cooking method and sauce pairing, each of the details was important in making this seemingly simple dish unique. The recipes have gradually become more elaborate and more successful, and first steak-only restaurants have started to pop up.
By the end of the 19th century there were dozens of steakhouses in the nation and the best part of all is that many of them are still open. Keens, Peter Luger, Gallaghers, Cattlemen’s, these are just some of the legendary local names that have been serving delicious steaks for over 100 years in interiors that still look exactly as they did back in the day. The typical side for a steak includes potatoes and spinach, but the menus include other alternative pairings too. Special attention is always on the way the meat is cooked: each time you order a steak, you will be asked to specify how you want it made - there are five different cooking levels ranging between barely seared to well-done.
Such high quality obviously doesn’t come cheap: don’t be surprised if you have to pay $30-$40 for a steak, just remember that in addition to being delicious they are also enormous: a single plate will surely satisfy even the biggest appetite!
Classic, evergreen, timeless (and bizarre) American dishes
American cuisine was always subject to bias, represented in the collective consciousness only by burgers, fries and gallons of soda, but not everyone knows that there are, in fact, gastronomic specialties typical of every single American state.
Some of the dishes are downright bizarre, and the others are truly delicious and distinctive, so much so they can be appreciated even by the most refined palate. One of the delicacies is definitely gumbo, a typical soup from Creole cuisine in Louisiana, made with meat, seafood and okra; then there are the Alabama fried green tomatoes, like in that movie of the same name with Kathy Bates and Jessica Tandy, or perhaps cedarwood-smoked salmon with wine, typical of Washington State.
If you are travelling in the East Coast, do not miss Lobster Rolls in Maine and crab cakes in Maryland.
The most curious gourmets should definitely try dishes like Akutaq in Alaska, which is a hash made of reindeer fat, water or snow, blueberries and sometimes fish, then corn dogs in Iowa, which are wieners in butter fried on a stick, or bull testicles in Montana.
In Chicago, you have to try the local deep-dish pizza, with the crust thick three centimeters and filled with cheese, which has been described by many as an astounding experience on the verge of transcendental…
Then there are desserts: you have to try the Georgia peach pie, wild blueberry pie in Oregon, Mud Pie in Mississippi, made with the same dough as brownies but soaked in a delicious chocolate syrup, and, as a cherry on the top, the Florida Key Lime Pie, which is a cake made with crushed biscuits and a filling made of condensed milk and lime zest.
It’s impossible to resist!
Ever tried an IPA in the American Northeast?
In American tradition beer is more than just a refreshing beverage, but it is also, and above all, a fundamental means of socializing, an institution of the same kind as the BBQ, the apple pie and football. Just think of the ads from the big beer industry players in North America, like Budweiser, Coors and Miller, exalting some of the core values of the American culture, such as authenticity, sociability and love of the “wild.”
American beers were historically frowned upon because of its light taste and low alcoholic content, but today they are more and more appreciated thanks to the nationwide spreading of high-quality craft microbreweries.
The epicenter of the “beer for connoisseurs” phenomenon is the Pacific Northwest: of approximately 1500 microbreweries in the United States, over 300 are located in Washington and Oregon, 50 of which in Portland alone.
Many restaurants in major cities organize evenings dedicated to tasting and sampling craft beer with specialized sommeliers and refined dinners where each dish is accompanied by a different kind of beer. If you are a “beer geek,” lover or aficionado, you will be able to see just how the American beer reinvented itself in recent years.
Whether you are visiting big cities, small towns or places in the middle of nowhere, you will always find some great local beers, from traditional types to original ones, infused with vegetables, fruit and spices.
Land of Wine
Hills, vineyards, great wine...discover unusual California and Northwest!
Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel and Merlot: these are the leading wines of the current wine production in the United States, wines that in the recent years made themselves known across the world, making some of the big European winemakers drop their jaws.
With numerous wine brands that have won the most prestigious international awards, the United States are today the fourth biggest wine producer in the world, thanks mostly to the excellent Californian wines that make up as much as 90% of the whole national production. Thanks to the very favorable climate, the Wine Country in northern California (and Oregon), celebrated in the movie Sideways, is the ideal place to grow vineyards, which extend from the coast of Sonoma to the sunny backcountry.
Just an hour's drive from San Francisco, soft hills of the Napa Valley host more than 200 vineries, from the most refined and elegant ones to those more informal and rustic, where you can taste some excellent Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and sparkling wines.
Although California is the absolute queen of American wine production, other regions have been emerging with high quality wines and enology tourism in those regions is on the rise.
Pinot Noirs and Rieslings from Willamette Valley in Oregon and from Hill County, Texas, as well as some wines from the Hudson Valley and the Finger Lakes in New York State are definitely worth trying.
After this, you will be quoting Marlon Brando in The Godfather: “I like to drink wine more than I used to.”
Whisley and (especially) Bourbon
Not just Jack Daniel’s but so, so much bourbon too!
Two of the most famous and most exported alcoholic beverages in the United States are whiskey and bourbon, but only the latter is an authentically, 100% American product.
The difference between the two beverages, which have similar ingredients, distilling and aging methods, is that before putting it in oak barrels, whiskey is actually filtrated drop by drop through a thick layer of charcoal from Tennessee hard maple.
And it is precisely in Tennessee, in the small town of Lynchburg, that the old Jack Daniels (just Jack, for Americans) founded the distillery in 1870, creating what will subsequently become the most famous whiskey in the world. Even though located in one of the so-called dry counties, the factory offers 1-hour guided visits during which you can savour the intense aroma of the golden beverage.
If Tennessee is synonymous of whiskey, then Kentucky is definitely a synonym for bourbon. Distilled for the first time in 1789 in the Bourbon County, after which it takes the name, today almost all American bourbon is produced in the Bluegrass State, the only American state that is allowed to put its name on the label.
If you want to taste a truly high-quality product, make sure it was aged in oak barrels for at least two years and that it contains at least 51% corn.
You can’t go wrong whichever of the many distilleries scattered across Kentucky you decide to visit.
Also make sure to try Mint Julep, a bourbon-based cocktail with crushed mint and sugar syrup, which will give you a taste of Southern atmosphere.
Cosmopolitan made famous by Carrie Bradshaw in Sex and The City, White Russian, the favorite of Dude Lebowski, Banana Daiquiri Fredo Corleone's drink in The Godfather, Gin Rickey consumed during meals in The Great Gatsby…these are just some of the examples showing how widespread the culture of cocktails is in the United States.
In Italy or France the people have learned to appreciate and notice the nuances in different wines, in Northern Europe they prefer aromas and flavors of different beers, and in the USA it’s completely normal to wait in a long line to get into a famous cocktail bar, just like it’s normal to spend 15-20 dollars for a good drink.
Almost all of the most famous cocktails in the world were created in America: from Manhattan to Tom Collins, all the way to Vodka Martini, the famous beverage of choice of James Bond (“Shaken, not stirred, please”).
Obviously we are talking about major cities here: the most famous bars are located in new York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Miami…all the places where people love going out in the evening and where, above all, they love a good drink.
Every year, Time Out magazine makes a list of the best bartenders in New York, and whoever makes the list becomes a kind of superstar, with an unbelievable salary.
If your voyage in the United States takes you to one of the major cities, we recommend you spend at least one evening in the middle of the crowd in a trendy bar, just remember to check the menu before ordering, since the check can turn out to be quite high.