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By Tom Stockwell from Waegook Tom
American food is famous the world over; clam chowder, blazing Tex-Mex chilli, gut-busting barbecue and of course, everybody’s favourite junk food, the greasy hamburger. Being the ‘melting pot’ that America is, it’s no surprise the cuisine is so varied. With so much on offer and your taste buds tearing you in so many directions, it can be hard to know where to start.
However after a month in the United States, and maybe a few too many pounds gained, I’m here to help. Here are the top 8 must-munch morsels you have to hunt down if you ever find yourself in the good ole’ US of A.
1. Fried Chicken
Known the world over thanks to a certain mustachioed colonel, fried chicken isn’t something you eat if you’re trying to watch your weight, that much is certain. Yet it’s a must-do if you find yourself in the USA, particularly the South. Jestine’s Kitchen in Charleston, South Carolina was where I took my first bite of real southern-style chicken, served the classic way, with three massive chunks of tender meat, generous scoops of mashed potato and collard greens on the side. For just €10, you’ll feel satisfied well into the evening – and you’ll probably just want something small for dinner – think about how your wallet will thank you, even if your waistline doesn’t.
2. Key Lime Pie
As a Brit, the whole concept of Key Lime Pie was new to me, what with the tangiest dessert in my home country being the lemon meringue pie. Key Lime Pie is a whole different matter. Sour, sweet, and sublimely southern, the best are found ‘down in Dixie’ where they grow the limes that make the cheek-sucking filling. When it’s sweltering, order it with a dollop or vanilla ice cream. Or go one better and hunt down some Key Lime ice cream cake from the likes of Ice Box Cafe on Miami’s Lincoln Road, where they regularly do deals for €3.
Sure, you can get cheesecake in any metropolis in the world now, but how does it compare to New York cheesecake? Probably not too well. Everyone who lives in, or has ever been to, NYC will attest to knowing the single best place to sample the creamiest, crumbliest cake known to humanity – and to be fair, every recommendation is probably worth trying out. My recommendation? Try the Italian cheesecake at Veniero’s in lower Manhattan. I almost cried when I finished the last bite.
4. Mexican food
OK so yes, Mexican food is, of course, from Mexico. But the Mexican community in the USA has had a clearly noticeable influence on the country’s cuisine. Friends from the USA always tell me that you can’t get good Mexican food outside of North America. I always thought they were being snobby, until I tried it for myself in the USA.
They were completely right. The burritos, enchiladas, tacos and quesadillas here all put their otherworld imitators to shame. They beg to be devoured, and you’ll find yourself showing little concern for the spillage that slops its way right down your fancy new t-shirt. Not to be consumed before a night on the town, unless you’re aiming for guacamole chic.
5. Soul food
Soul food is a bit of a broad category, and one best found, again, in the south (they really do know how to do food down there). Soul food generally refers to dishes and recipes that come from the USA’s African-American community, with the likes of gumbo and shrimp and grits taking centre stage.
My favourite has to be okra soup. Here the okra, a tasty African vegetable, is simmered in a pot with pork neck, pig tail and lima beans. Where to eat it? You should be able to track it down pretty easily in the south, but Ernie’s on Charleston’ Spring Street is my personal pick, where you can dine like a king for under €10.
Americans constantly bicker about which of their restaurants serves the best pizza in the world, which is ironic, considering the dish is Italian. Chicago, New York and St. Louis are all big contenders for the doughy top-spot, but based on what I’ve eaten, I’d have to hand it to NYC.
Here you can find great big, tasty slices of pizza for less than €1, much better than anything you’ll find in Dominos or Pizza Hut. They are also the perfect way to keep your tummy satisfied on a budget. Look out for the places that top their pizza with real fresh mozzarella, you won’t be disappointed.
7. Food trucks
Right, health and safety first; please don’t read this title as a recommendation to chomp on the truck itself. I suppose that’s needless to say, I’m guessing that since you have the ability to read this, you probably know not to eat… metal.
Food trucks are a whole subculture unto their own in the USA. What’s more, you’ll be hard-pressed to find anything that pushes the €10 mark, so it’s ideal for feasting on a budget. Kimchi tacos, gourmet burgers and BBQ ribs are just three things that spring to mind from the endless selection that America’s food trucks offer. Even if you usually avoid the British burger van, you’d be a fool to miss out on the American equivalent.
The notion of the American biscuit always confused me. To a Brit, a biscuit is roughly the same as a cookie, and it’s something we usually dunk in our tea. My American friends would instead talk about biscuits being served with the weirdest foods, things like sausage, gravy and fried chicken.
After going to the USA, I found that a biscuit was more like a savoury scone, served as a side to all manner of dishes. My favourite pairing? Stuffed with some seriously salty Virginia ham and served with an old home-style stew. It’s perfect for soaking up and wiping clean the last traces of that sauce from your bowl.
Fancy a trip out to sample all the delectable delights America has to offer? Find yourself a hostel and book now.
Have you eaten your way across the USA? Let us know your favourite American dishes in the comments below…
Author bio: Tom is a twenty-something blogger hailing from northern England. After teaching in South Korea for three years, he decided to pack his bags and go on the trip he’s always dreamed of, with the aim of stepping foot on each continent before his 30th birthday. Right now, he’s eating, exploring and hand-gesturing his way around the world.