Monday, October 24, 2011

American Food

As a study-abroad-student in Tuebingen back in the 90s, I had the pleasure of living in a German dormitory.  My floor, save for me, two French students, and an angry Turk who'd grown up in Germany, was entirely German.  We shared a rather large kitchen.  Most of us used the kitchen almost every night to cook meals.  Occasionally, we'd cook a shared meal, but, more often than not, we cooked solitary meals to be consumed near one another at the table.

I was enamored of the market that set up each Wednesday in the town square and took to buying fresh fruit and veg on a weekly basis.  I didn't know it initially, but by buying fresh produce and cooking it for dinner in our dorm kitchen I'd managed to break down a rather large stereotype the Germans held about Americans.  That is, of course, that we ate heavily processed foods at every meal, and didn't really cook so much as eat McDonald's (they had said this to me) or pour goop out of cans to heat up.

Am Markt
I am a child of the 70s and, sure, we'd eaten our fair share of canned and frozen veggies, but we had also had the pleasure of growing our own produce in the back yard as well as buying it fresh at our local market.

My grandparents and great-grandparents hailed from Scandinavia, England and Ireland.  I have relatives from Mexico and China, too.  So, what does an American eat?

Chilaquiles?  Flank steak over rice with soy sauce?  Pickled herring on brown bread?  Mac-n-cheese?  Avocado and shrimp over lettuce?

We are a country made up of a many different ethnic groups.  We are a lumpy stew, if you like.  So, too, is our food. 

American food is the food you grew up eating.

American food is not burgers, fries and a milkshake, unless, I suppose, that that is what you grew up eating, and, might I say, bummer for you.  My parents never cooked us french fries, nor did they blend us milkshakes for dessert.  Never once was uttered, "Just one more bite of double cheeseburger, then you're excused from the table."

In addition to the above mentioned fare, here is a sampling of the food we ate:

boiled garlic sausages with cabbage, carrots, and potatoes (cooked in a pressure cooker) served on a plate with spicy mustard on the side.  

artichokes from the garden with mayonnaise, and some sort of casserole.

dad's homemade cioppino with shellfish that he had caught himself.  I'd write 'we', but I can't say any of us kids really helped much outside of baiting the crab traps.

lasagna-dad's recipe-with some green vegetable accompaniment.

stir-fried tofu with veggies--this was the 70s in California, folks!

Limburger cheese sandwiches--dad was the only one who ate them, actually.


a lot of broccoli, lima beans and brussel sprouts.  <--I had a hard time with these three.

baked chicken with rosemary and garlic.

Fridge staples: pickled herring in wine sauce, stinky cheese, Parmesan cheese, mayo, mustard, ketchup, butter pickles, dill pickles, butter, milk, yogurt and orange juice.

If we did have burgers a la fast food, then it was an occasional 'treat' and not at all a daily occurrence.  McDonald's wasn't the end-all-be-all either.  A & W Rootbeer was our fast food place of choice.
Good eats.
A few days ago, I had the pleasure of chatting with a lovely woman at the shop where I work.  I couldn't tell where she was from by her accent, but it was full of heavy consonants and flat vowels.  Her English, however, was fluent.  She was buying a housewarming gift for a friend.  We chatted about mini Le Creuset cups, milk pitchers with floral prints, and what we would like to receive as housewarming gifts ourselves.  As usual, I found a way to slip in the fact that I was from the States.  "Me, too!" the woman with the Eastern European accent exclaimed.  -turns out she was "from" Philly.  I love Philly and told her so.  We each took turns talking about the things we liked best about her city.  This woman, although differently accented and living abroad already 7 years, is as American as I am.

Lumpy stew are we.

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