When people plan a vacation, one of the things they like to prepare is a list of different foods and restaurants they want to try.
Most tourists head to the US with some idea of what American food will be like, perhaps imagining deep fried and sugar-laden. And while this is not inherently untrue, it’s often the most unsuspecting dining experiences that leave an impression worth traveling back for.
I usually like to try food trucks and locally owned diners, but I have another list which is worth considering for your next trip to the US. It may seem a bit silly at first, but trust me — I explain as I go. This is my list of American foods you must try. Not all are specifically American, but the way they are cooked or prepared in America is what makes the difference.
- McDonalds: Okay, now this one probably sounds ridiculous as everywhere on earth has Maccas (as it’s known in Australia), but I can assure you that McDonalds is different in every country. In Malaysia they had rendang burgers, in Singapore they served savoury porridge for breakfast (a type of oatmeal), in Australia they have fruit cups and decent salads. Well in the same vein, McDonalds in the US has items that you can’t get anywhere else. Sweet tea, and biscuits, are a great example of this, and they make really, really good sweet tea. They also have a range of pastries (think cinnamon rolls and chocolate chip cookies) that are different to what I was used to in Australia.
- Grocery Stores: I can’t get over how different the grocery stores in the US are compared to Australia. Firstly, the variety is overwhelming. There is just so much to choose from and that can actually make it quite difficult. In Australia I was used to a reasonably limited range so I always knew what I wanted and had tried most brands.
- Local burgers: In Australia, burgers are a popular option, and you can get one from Maccas or a takeaway store, and even a gourmet burger at a brewery or pub. But burgers are the national food in the US, and cooks both at home and in restaurants around the country know their way around a deliciously grilled piece of meat. Most restaurants (even those offering mostly only international cuisine) will offer a basic cheeseburger, along with a decent selection of variations. I’ve not been able to work out what exactly makes the American burger so good, but whatever it is works.
- Mexican Food: I have written about this continually but it’s seriously important for people to understand how incredibly good the Mexican food is here. It’s cheap, delicious, and the menus have about 6000 things on them. In the small town we live in there’s at least ten Mexican restaurants, if not more. We have tried four of them, but we love one in particular so much that we can’t help but go back there over and over again. I have taken to trying something different each time I go, and it‘s all very good.
- Shake Shops: I have become addicted to thick shakes. You can tell by my ever thickening waistline (well, where my waist used to be). The McDonald’s shakes are unbearably sweet, but the shakes from the mom and pop shops are fantastic. My favourite so far is the banana shake — they are so thick and creamy and delicious that they give you a straw and a spoon to eat them with.
- Amish Stores: The Amish are renowned for making delicious bread, jams/jellies, baked goods, pies, deli meats, pickles, coffees, relishes, butters, cheese and all sorts of home-grown goodies. They use the freshest ingredients and everything is top quality. They also sell natural health remedies and furniture. If you have an opportunity to visit an Amish General Store, do it, and take a trailer to carry your goodies home in!
- Pie Shops: I haven’t seen too many of these near where I live, but when I do see one I like to stop in and oggle the selection. Pie shops in Australia are the savoury kind — meat, chicken, and specialty meats like crocodile and kangaroo in more touristy places. But in the US pies are sweet — apple, peach, pecan, pumpkin, and berry pies (and many more of course). It’s especially good when they also serve coffee which you can enjoy with a sweet, warm pie and ice cream.
- Omelette Restaurant/Bar: This blew my mind — a whole restaurant dedicated to the humble omelette, but there are a number of these in America, especially New York. Some of these omelettes are masterpieces! Omelette Parlour in Colorado has an omelette called Pat’s Thunderbird, which has a sausage, potatoes, green peppers, onions, tomatoes and cheddar stuffed tortilla INSIDE the omelette! Yep, the omelettes here are pretty spectacular. I order the Philly Cheese Steak Omelette at a local diner for breakfast when I can. They are delicious, and are usually served with fried potatoes and a biscuit.
One of the many things I love about living in America is the variety of foods available. Some I like and some I don’t. At home I cook all of the ‘normal’ foods I grew up with, but when I’m out I like to try something new as often as I can. It’s really the only way to expand your palate, and to learn more about the place you are living in, or travelling through. For me, food is one of the most wonderful things about travelling. There’s something wonderful about food memories and they can transport you straight back in time!