American food gets a bad rap. Our barely-classifiable-as-edible fast food behemoths have wrapped the globe, promoting the idea that we Americans eat nothing but hamburgers, french fries and mystery meat-filled tacos washed down with swimming pool-sized cokes. Headlines about the obesity epidemic and Hollywood’s affinity for fatty product placement only magnify the stereotype.
But enough is enough.
The United States is not a place where fresh produce goes to die nor is it a wasteland of culinary talent. We Americans are not all overweight and we don’t all feast on drive-thru double cheeseburgers. This fast food stereotype has gone on long enough.
I just spent a month hopscotching my way across the U.S., from Washington, D.C., to Austin, Texas, to Tucson, Arizona. In each city I saw inspiring trends.
Restaurants were proudly sourcing their ingredients from local farms. Menus read like mission statements, specifying how meats were raised and processed. Organic was no longer a high-priced buzz word but an expectation, including at conservative Texas grocery stores.
It would be blind to deny that a food revolution is taking place in America. People’s consciousness and concern for what is on their plate is apparent in the way menus are being written and grocery store shelves are being stocked.
And it made eating in America easier to stomach, both because the food was fresher and tastier and because I felt good about what I was consuming.
This is what I think of when I think of American food. Not fast food. Not mystery meat. Not jumbo soft drinks. American food is diverse. It’s complex. And it definitely doesn’t suck. Here’s proof:
Whether it’s an eggy migas breakfast taco or a fried avocado Torchy’s taco, there are few foods in American than can top a taco.
The best I had this summer were from Tacodeli. The menu at this classic Austin haunt single-handedly makes me rethink my country of residence.
Organic corn tortillas are laden with “Grilled line caught Texas Gulf drum” or “organic pork shoulder” or “Seasoned HeartBrand Ranch Akaushi ground beef” and topped with locally sourced, organic cilantro, guacamole and homemade salsas.
2. Wild Meats
I come from a family of hunters which means dinner at my house usually turns into a game of Guess What We’re Eating Tonight! I was lucky to grow up on dinners of elk-meat burgers and breakfasts of antelope sausage. Our pot roasts were usually venison and our appetizers included everything from shark to alligator to pheasant.
Since the animals freely ate what nature offered and were active throughout their lives, their meat is extremely lean and marvelously flavorful. Fatty, industrially produced hamburgers could never compete.
The specialty of the summer this year was wild hog. We feasted on slow-smoked shredded pork and fire-grilled pork chops. But the best wild game dish for me this year was the fresher-than-fresh pork hamburgers…
3. Craft Beer
It seems like every time I visit the U.S., the craft beer offerings triple. I love me some Madrid Mahou but I could seriously get used to these new (and seemingly unending) flavors!
No longer is craft beer relegated to specialty shops and beer-centric bars. Even the “oldest dancehall in Texas” was serving half a dozen bottles from small, local breweries!
I’ve never been a doughnut person. In fact, I don’t particularly like them. That is, until District Doughnut came along. Wandering wifi-less and tired through Washington, D.C.’s Eastern Market neighborhood we took refuge (and internet) at District Doughnut.
The shop’s founder JP (aka the bearer of joy and deliciousness) was extremely welcoming to us out-of-towners and sent us on our way with two of the most heavenly doughnuts in the history of doughnuts. My fingers are staying crossed that District Doughnut II will being coming soon to Madrid.
5. BBQ and Beans
If it hasn’t been on the grill for more than four hours, it’s not barbecue. Time is the secret spice when it comes to my dad’s world-famous (yes, they’ve made it all the way to Spain before!) ribs. They are what I dream of after months away and what I beg for before boarding my flight home.
Like in life, the perfect compliment to Kurt’s smokey ribs are my mom’s slow-roasted beans. Hearty, smokey and just the right amount of sweet, these barbecue baked beans are a thing of magic.
6. Flakey Biscuits
Much to my students’ English books’ chagrin, biscuits are NOT hard, packaged things you dip in coffee. They are pillows of buttery possibility. In America, biscuits crumble and flake. They do not break. And they do not dip.
At Bayou Bakery in Arlington, Virginia the full force of Southern cooking is manifested in their New Orleans-style breakfast biscuits. Loaded with thick bacon, fluffy egg and melty cheese, this is what breakfast was made for.
7. Jalapeño-Infused Tequila
It is everything I miss about American cocktails infused into a tumbler glass on ice. Spice (which is MIA in Spain) meets Tequila (the good stuff, not the fireball Jose Cuervo they serve here) meets happy hour (an irrelevant concept in the land of 1€ beers) to create the cocktail my life has been missing.
The punch of jalapeño is softened by a fresh shot of strawberry, a squeeze of lime and a drizzle of not-too-sweet agave syrup. They call it the Jale Berry. Cheers to you, Searsucker in Austin, Texas, for creating the perfect cocktail.
8. Food Truck Friday
Although I very much appreciate what Madrid is trying to do with food trucks, no mobile food event will ever be as great as Food Truck Friday.
Dozens of trucks bearing all variety of foods circle Washington, D.C.’s Farragut Square every Friday for the most exciting thing that has ever happened to the workday lunch hour. There’s the grilled cheese truck and the lasagna truck and the arepa truck and the crab cake truck and the falafel truck and…
9. Bottomless Guacamole
Just when you thought avocados couldn’t get any better, Rosa Mexicano introduced bottomless happy hour guacamole. Their made-to-order lava bowls of guac just keep coming until their margaritas get the best of you.
10. These Hamburgers
America is known for its hamburgers for good reason, just not the reason that many non-Americans might think. Forget those floppy prefabricated things they sell at fast food joints. The real deal is thick, juicy and all natural.
Exhibit A: Hopdoddy’s Terlingua burger piled with just the right amount of chili con carne, corn chips and sharp cheddar.
Exhibit B: Diablo Burger’s The Blake smothered with homemade hatch chili spiced mayo, roasted green chilis and sharp cheddar.
11. Tart Margaritas
No sugar. No mixes. Just tart lime and agave. Margaritas should be a celebration of the joyful matrimony of tequila and lime. You can’t rain sugar and radioactive green pre-mixes on that magical parade.
12. Sonoran-Style Mexican Food
If it doesn’t all run together, it’s not real Sonoran Mexican food. This style of Mexican food is impossible to find outside of Arizona (and of course Sonora, Mexico).
Lakes of refried beans wash up against floods of red enchilada sauce. Green corn tamale dams are stained with rivers carne asada juice. The grated cheese rains mottled yellows and whites over the scrumptious landscape. This is my kind of Mexican food.
13. Loaded Nachos
There’s no place like home when it comes to nachos. Nachos are a build your own adventure at my house where each person claims their own canvas (aka cookie sheet of corn chips).
I heap mine with black beans, kidney beans, ground wild hog meat and sauteed onions and peppers. Next comes a blanket of shredded cheese. After a hot second in the oven, I finish it off with a hefty helping of avocado, many a spoonful of salsa and a dollop of sour cream.
14. Homemade Pancakes
There are few foods that smell more like “home” to me than the early morning smell of sizzling pancakes. At my sister’s house that means lactose-free, gluten-free, sugar-free and all the other frees-free pancakes.
She whips them up from scratch using whichever ingredients she’s in the mood for. A bit of banana, a trickle of coconut oil, an egg or two, some chestnut flour, some almond flour… no two batches are the same and every single one is spectacular.
What are your favorite foods from America?