American Food Is Underrated

Usually, when you somebody tells you about delicious and fine food, you’d think of somewhere like Italy or the South of France. Certainly not the East Coast of America. Hopefully, I’m going to change your mind with this post because American food has a huge range of diverse food to offer, from Italian-American to Puerto Rican and Chinese in New York.

I like to think of myself as pretty good in the kitchen, mostly thanks to my ten years in the catering trade when I was younger, where I would do every job from washing dishes, to waiting tables and making food for hotel guests. I even met the Royal Family on a Navy ship in Portsmouth many years ago, and served their wine.

In short, I have an appreciation for great food and I’m not alone there either – the Americans seem to use it as their favourite pastime. There are fast food places everywhere.

In New Jersey, for example, you can go to Wawa at lunch time and make your own sandwich up on touchscreens which is pretty much like the automated version of Subway, and grab a water ice (known as a Slush Puppy in the UK) from an ice cream place after. Then in the evening after dinner you can head down to a local funfair and get some funnel cake. We did all of these things, and while I wasn’t particularly fond of the funnel cake, I loved the atmosphere there – it was exactly like being on the set of a movie.

Not too long ago, I read a discussion about living cheaply in New York City and food was mentioned. It turns out that a hugely popular dish is something called Pernil, which is slow-cooked pork shoulder. It’s cheap, and because it’s slowly cooked at a low temperature it turns out to be amazingly tender when done. It’s pretty common in the Puerto Rican community in NYC, and one day I had a go at making it myself! Here’s how it turned out:

Pernil, cooked by yours truly

Restaurant-quality food for not a lot of money…

I’m going to turn my attention to the inevitable here: burgers.

Burgers, burgers everywhere…

You see, in Britain we also have McDonald’s, but the portions are a lot smaller than in the US. When you order over there, they hand you an empty cardboard cup with your meal and your first thought is “where the hell is my drink?”. Fear not young man; you get unlimited drink refills in virtually every food place in America. Also, the smallest burger they do is a double quarter-pounder:

Eating a McDonalds in Philly. It tastes the same as the UK, by the way

We also went to a cute little place called Johnny Rockets, which is a 50s-themed restaurant on South St in Philadelphia. The staff inside will sing to you and put on a show sometimes. I felt like I was on the set of Back To The Future. Cherry Coke with a straw in it was the obvious choice of beverage to accompany the food.

No burger is complete without bacon

While in New York on our second visit to the city, we were feeling a little hungry when we saw a board outside an Irish bar which advertised something called a “Hulk Burger”. I was already sold by the name of that thing, so we went in. It was an absolute monster and I finished it all. Glorious.

I’ve already mentioned the Chinese food in a previous post, so I’ll skip that for now and move straight onto my favourite: Italian-American.

Now this is where I feel at home – I love pasta, chicken, and white pasta sauces (I’m not a huge fan of tomato). While talking on Skype with my friend from South Jersey, she’d tell me about all the wonderful food they would have as an Italian-American family and a particular dish called Chicken Florentine.

I’d link it to you, but most of the recipes you’ll find on Google are just plain wrong. The way I learned to make it was directly from an American mom. In a nutshell: you take chopped chicken breast, fry it until cooked in a large pan/wok, then add cute bow-tie pasta, salt/coarse-ground black pepper/garlic/oregano, cream, milk and spinach then serve it in little bowls.

It’s heavenly.

A work in progress…

…aaaaand DONE!

I also remember having a conversation about deep fried food, and she mentioned deep fried Oreos. Yep – those little cookie things. I was skeptical and thought I’d probably throw up if I tried one, but when we went to Atlantic City on the Jersey shore, I had my chance.

They were incredible. Like little chocolate cakes!

These weren’t greasy at all, and I liked them so much I had two!

If you know Philadelphia or have been there before, you’ll know what the holy grail of food in that city is. I probably don’t even have to say its name, but for the benefit of everybody else: Cheesesteak.

I had no idea what to expect when I first heard of it. My first thought was: “so what do they do, put a slice of cheese onto their sirloin or what?”. Nope, not at all. What a Cheesesteak is (apart from being the most delicious way to eat steak ever), is an 8-10″ long baguette-style bread roll filled with very thinly sliced ribeye steak mixed with cheese and onions, served hot.

On my final day in Philly, her dad drove us down to Geno’s to try out the famous steaks they do there. I’d had one before, but this is different. This is where Cheesesteak was invented. I placed my order at the little window and literally in 10 seconds I had a “wiz wit” in my hand for $8.

I’m not exaggerating when I say it’s the best fast food that I’ve ever had, by a long way!

If this kind of food replaced kebab shops in the UK, I would be a very happy man indeed. There’s also a potential business idea there… #hint

I could talk forever about American food, because it’s far more diverse than I expected. I loved the fact that I got to use the little food stalls they have on a lot of the street corners to grab a hot dog or a pretzel. They love pretzels there and I’m not talking about the tiny little snack we get in the UK either:

A food truck on the corner of 8th & Market in Philadelphia

Being back in the UK doesn’t mean that I have to go without the new style of food that I’ve discovered – I’m a decent cook so I can make most things. If I can’t, then I can just order it from a specialist importer!

You can’t make a proper Cheesesteak without Whiz.

These are sold by my local Asda store (owned by Walmart)

In summary, American food has more variety and depth than I could have possibly imagined. We didn’t even go to any classy/expensive places to eat out either. As I’ve probably explained in a previous post, being a guest at their Jersey home for dinner was a fantastic experience for someone who doesn’t even live in the same country.

In short:

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