In North America we take a lot of our dishes from countries around the globe. They are from places like Europe, Asia, and even South America. This often leads to confusion about which foods are truly unique to this continent, and more specifically, The United States.
America conjures an image of excess, super size, and heavy meals that might leave your jaw hanging open in disbelief. Hearty dishes that are carb and meat heavy seem to be the common theme here, with a dash of processed cheese. Usatoday.com reported in October 2018 that 1 in 3 adults from the US consumed some sort of fast food each day and Blog.partnersforyourhealth.org reports that 20% of all local meals are consumed on the go, in the car.
Certainly not known for its health foods, these US dishes may seem like a cheat day meal for foreigners. As for vegetarians and vegans...you may not find what you’re looking for here. From the food of the South, to Ohio and Minnesota, these 25 dishes have been gifted to the world by the US and while travellers may look forward to visiting the 50 states for a taste, perhaps they should think twice before indulging. Not only are some of these dishes a major turnoff to herbivores, they’re not exactly packed full of wholesome goodness.
These spongy, cream filled delights have been an iconic junk food since they were invented in 1930 in Illinois. Satisfying the Nation’s sweet tooth, Twinkies have been a great snack for kids and served as a criminal defence for Dan White in 1979 (Thespruceeats.com).
But what’s beneath the sugary surface? In 1 meager bite-sized twinkie you’ll consume 1.8 grams of saturated fats, 14.5 grams of sugar, 21.5 grams of carbohydrates and a 175 mg of sodium. Certainly delicious but worth taking a trip for? Jury’s still out on that one.
24 Chilli Cheese Hot Dogs
Chilli cheese dogs are the epitome of the US ball game. Loaded with chilli, shredded cheese and sometimes other toppings like beef, pickles or parsley this is certainly a “treat yourself” menu item.
A fun twist on the classic, the US also boasts the “Michigan Dog” which is a meat sauce with a tomato base and both the hotdog and the bun are steamed. There are no beans in this sauce as you find in chilli, but mustard is put on the hot dog underneath the sauce. Certainly an interesting combination.
23 Doughnut Burger
It may be difficult to wrap your head around why anyone would want to do this; burgers and doughnuts were doing just fine independently, but now they’ve been brought together to create a fast food super power: The Doughnut Burger.
Commonly known as the Luther Burger, this is a classic burger with a Krispy Kreme doughnut for a bun, and it can sometimes be bacon-wrapped. Yes, all the calories of a burger and the sugar content of a doughnut combined; buyers beware.
It may be tempting for travellers with a junk food hankering to seek this one out in the US, but if you’re sure you want to try it, it’s perfectly possible to fashion your own at home by purchasing a box of Krispy Kremes, a pack of patties and getting to work.
22 Deep-Fried Butter
Of all the things to deep-fry, butter may not seem obvious to many foreigners, but in the US these battered, deep-fried butter balls are a popular snack at fairs.
In addition to the ball form, it’s also now possible to purchase an entire stick of butter, deep-fried and served on a stick. Eater.com cites the debut of Deep-Fried Butter Balls at the Texas State Fair in 2009, but the deep-fried butter on a stick inception occurred in 2011 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of a full scale cow statue made out of butter annually for the Iowa State Fair.
21 Frito Pie
There’s some dispute about whether or not this dish originated in Texas or in Santa Fe, New Mexico, a controversy stoked by Anthony Bourdain in Parts Unknown back in 2013.
So what is this mystery dish? Literally a pile of chilli on top of chips, sometimes even served in the bag. Not well-reviewed by Bourdain, who christened it “warm crap in a bag” at the time, the dish is still very popular in the United States and is sometimes called the “walking taco” in the Midwest. Let’s be honest, you can probably make this one at home.
20 Sloppy Joes
Originating from the US, you’ll now find Sloppy Joes have spread to other countries as well. This minced meat mess of a burger is well loved in America, but you don’t really need to travel all the way there to have a taste.
Potentially created in Iowa where a cook named Joe, allegedly, added red sauce to a loose meat sandwich in the 1930s (blog.blueapron.com), this dish does have its roots in America, but it's easy to replicate at home, or even purchase in Canada and Europe.
19 Spray Cheese
Processed cheese is abundant in America with everything from Velveeta to Cheese Whiz being consumed in excess, but perhaps the most bizarre to outsiders is the cheese that comes in a can.
Easy Cheese, sold in a pressurized can, is promoted as being delicious on “vegetables or salty snacks” by Myamericanmarket.com. Surely, the last things vegetables need is spray on cheese.
Easy Cheese’s status as a cheese is debatable after scouring its ingredient list, which is chock-full of flavour enhancers and added preservatives. Your body will thank you for sitting this one out.
People coming to the US may be eager to try the traditional dish of chitterlings or chitlins, until they find out exactly what it is. The southern US loves to serve up this dish of pig intestines but it’s a lengthy process to prepare.
Sold only partially cleaned, they must be soaked in cold water and then gently scrubbed before they are ready to prepare, and if preparing from raw, it’s recommended they are pre-boiled to prevent bacterial contamination.
They allegedly have a very strong smell, but the taste is said to be very satisfying, if you can get past that.
17 Grits N' Gravy
A staple of the Southern US, some people may not even know what a grit is before coming to America. Sometimes equated to Italian Polenta, grits are made with dry white corn, and have a consistency similar to porridge...which begs the question, why are they being eaten with gravy?
Grits are just one ingredient in the dish; the gravy adds flavour, but locals eat grits in other combinations as well, such as with cheesy sauces, salt, butter or garlic. Definitely a hearty meal, but if this is your reason for travelling to America, it might be time to consider a new destination.
Often compared to Gumbo, but not quite the same thing, this heavy dish is more rice than sauce and is inspired by Spanish Paella. There are two versions, one originating from South Western Louisiana and the other from the French region of New Orleans.
Creole Jambalaya or Red Jambalaya, is from the New Orleans’ French Quarter and includes tomatoes in its sauce. These were substituted for saffron initially in an attempt to make Paella (196flavours.com), and low and behold, Jambalaya was born. The Southern/Central Louisiana version of this dish (Cajun Jambalaya) looks down on the inclusion of tomatoes and instead includes seafood and game meats local to the region. Do you need to be in the state to give this a try? Not necessarily; it’s easy enough to try this dish at home!
15 Pastrami Sandwiches
Who doesn’t love rye bread and Kosher dill pickles? New York’s signature sandwich is well known in the United States and Usatoday.com says it can be traced back to the Romanian Jewish communities who came to the city way back in 1872.
New Yorkers will wait in massive lineups for one of these, and if you find yourself in the city you’ll likely want to try one too. But should these be consumed on a regular? Though the sandwich is just rye, mustard and, of course, pastrami, the meat is high in salt and cholesterol, so regulate your intake.
14 Chicken and Waffles
Certainly not an obvious combination, and some might even label it as downright strange. While fried chicken is well-known as a food of the Southern US, combining it with a Belgian breakfast pastry could be seen as an unwise decision.
With this dish popping up in Harlem in the 1930s at Well’s Supper Club, it has gained popularity as both a breakfast and a dinner food not just in the United States, but in the UK and Canada as well. It has even come to the KFC menu at some locations, making it easier than ever to get your fix. You don’t have to travel all the way to the US for this one, chances are it’s within driving distance already.
13 Ambrosia Salad
A southern United States traditional Christmas dessert dish, Ambrosia salad dates back to at least 1867 (Seriouseats.com). It began with a base of coconut and orange, but in the modern day has turned into more of a fruit salad with whipped topping.
Vanilla yoghurt, mandarin oranges, maraschino cherries and pineapple topped with pecans and fresh whipped cream, the recipe also calls for sweetened coconut and marshmallows.
Though colourful and likely very delicious, it does seem like something easily replicated at home, rather than scoping it out abroad. Like most things on this list, there is little nutritional benefit to be gained by partaking in this dish.
12 Cincinnati Chilli Spaghetti
Chilli and spaghetti are two well-loved dishes around the world, but when you put them together...it’s significantly less appetizing. Cincinnati Chilli is a spiced, Mediterranean meat sauce, packed full of the usual beans, veggies and all flavours associated with a bowl of chilli.
However, people from Cincinnati suggest that you change the way you think about it; it’s more of a pasta sauce than a meal in itself, hence the spaghetti. If you’re an adventurous pasta lover then maybe this dish will impress you, but for the most part...we’ll have to pass on this one.
This classic Kentucky dish combines a variety of meats like pork, beef, and chicken, with lima beans, cabbage, and potato, among other vegetables. Meats like pigeon, squirrel, and other wild game have all been used in Burgoo, and so if you’re wary of strange meats it’s best to approach this one with caution.
Vegans and vegetarians, you’ll want to steer clear, but this dish gets a lot of attention in the South and has even become part of the Kentucky Derby tradition. Thinking it would bring good luck, race goers would get ready for the race by consuming a bowl of Burgoo and a glass of Kentucky bourbon (Usa.today).
10 Chicken Gizzards
Crazy though it is that anyone would travel in order to consume the digestive tract of a bird, this is an extremely famous dish in the Southern US that peaks international interest.
Sometimes sold in combination with chicken hearts and often prepared as a fried dish, gizzards are extremely high in cholesterol which means it’s necessary to consume them only in moderation.
If eating chicken giblets appeals to you, it might actually be worth the trip for this one as preparing gizzards yourself it quite a process.
9 Sweet Potato Pie
You can eat it hot or cold, and while it may be confusing to some, it is in fact a dessert. Looking deceivingly like the more commonly known pumpkin pie, this sweet potato puree in a pie crust has been gracing holiday dinner tables for hundreds of years.
Brought to America by Africans (who had been introduced to pumpkin pie by Europeans in West Africa during the sixteenth century), they substituted sweet potatoes and yams for pumpkin as this was the vegetable that was available to them (Blackamericaweb.com).
8 Smithfield Ham
This famous brand name ham is the pride of Virginia, coming from the biggest pork producer in the world, according to Myrecipes.com. Their uniquely cured hams have been sought after in the US for years, with no other brand even coming close.
In 2013, Smithfield Ham was purchased by a Chinese investor for $4.7 billion (Usatoday.com), which sparked uproar in Smithfield, Virginia over concerns that the quality of the meat produced would not remain the same.
However, the hams have sustained, though in 2018 the original smokehouse for Smithfield Hams was closed, again provoking outcry among dedicated customers, but the company maintains that their famous ham will continue to be produced at another location within Smithfield.
7 Cheese Curds
Most notably from Wisconsin, Usatoday.com states that 2.5 billion pounds of cheese are produced here every year, the most of any State in the nation. The unsightly leftovers of these cheeses become the byproduct, the cheese curd.
Commonly found at state fairs, this fun, deep-fried snack is delicious but serves little nutritional purpose. Cheese curds, though famous in Wisconsin, can of course be found elsewhere. If you are seeking an option that’s not deep-fried, Canada serves a pretty mean cheese curd in their world renowned poutine.
6 Sweet Potato Casserole With Marshmallows
America loves its sweet potatoes and its marshmallows. Another dish classically found on holiday dinner tables at Thanksgiving or Christmas, this whipped sweet potato base in a casserole dish is topped with marshmallows so that the potato cannot be seen, then baked in the oven until the marshmallows are a golden brown.
It might seem like an odd combination of veggies and sweets, especially a main meal dish, but the gooey goodness is likely to win you over. Nevertheless, this traditionally US casserole is easy to replicate at home and you’ll be just as satisfied with DIY results as you would be at a restaurant in the US.
This staple of the local diet can be found at most sit-down diners in the country. While some speculate it was born out of resourcefulness during the Great Depression, other sources suggest its origins date back to the Roman Empire in the fifth century AD.
Wherever it came from, it’s serving America exceptionally well and is not only filling and nutritious but is a very versatile dish that can be served with a twist on the Classic by adding spices or flavours like dill or spicy sauces. Certainly popular in Canada as well, this dish is not one you need to purchase at a restaurant but rather one you can thank America for as you fashion an easy and satisfying meal for yourself at home.
4 Wedge Salads
Coming into existence in the United States between 1950 and 1960 (Kitchenproject.com), wedge salads are one of the healthier dining options you’ll find on this list, though it’s puzzling why people would travel all the way to the US just to try one.
Quite literally a wedge of iceberg lettuce topped with cherry tomatoes and loaded with cheese and nuts, it seems to be the creamy dressing that seals the deal on this dish. Combining Greek yoghurt, mayonnaise, milk, sour cream, Worcestershire sauce and blue cheese, it’s certainly a hearty topping to an otherwise seemingly average dish.
3 Olive Loaf Luncheon Meat
Some people like olives, some people like cold cuts. Some, apparently, like them together. While variations of this are available in Canadian delis (so it’s not really necessary to seek it out at the source), Olive Loaf is known for being a very common lunch meat in America.
Even if you can get on board with the unique flavour, the amount of processing that occurs for olives and meat to become a loaf alludes to high volumes of added preservatives, sodium and fats. According to Fitbit.com, 2 slices of Olive Loaf contain 845.5 mg of sodium and 21.7 mg of cholesterol.
This well-known dish has its roots in Louisiana, and is a versatile meal in that its contents can be different from one table to another depending on what each cook has in their kitchen.
Chicken sausage gumbo, seafood gumbo and many more varieties are well known not just in the US, but in the world. Traditionally served with rice, this hearty stew is no doubt delicious, and even nutritious, but these days it’s not exclusive to the US so you’ll be able to try it without paying for a flight first.
1 Fry Sauce
Everyone loves a good dipping sauce and while in Canada they like to dip their fries in Ketchup, everyone has their own way of doing it. Brits like salt and vinegar, the Dutch prefer a creamy mayonnaise instead. But we want the best of both worlds.
Fry Sauce is a combination of Ketchup and Mayonnaise, commonly sold and used for dipping fries across the United States, and Heinz has even produced a new product called “Mayochup” which hit US shelves in September 2018. It’s up to you to decide how you feel about this combination, but you don’t necessarily need to go to the States if you want to try it. First, give your ketchup and mayo a mix and decide if it’s worth a plane ticket for a taste of the real thing.
References: Usatoday.com, Abc.go.com, Nutritionix.com, Nytimes.com, Quora.com, Washingtonian.com, Eater.com, Foodbeast.com, Bustle.com, Whatscookingamerica.net, Mybakingaddiction.com, Healthyeating.sf.gate.com, Newsleader.com, Today.com, Myrecipes.com, 196flavours.com, Tasty.co, Seriouseats.com