I love food! I’ve taken foodie souvenirs from wherever I’ve lived and many of the places I’ve visited. Often they’re not a physical item but an unshakeable memory of a particular dish, and maybe a recipe that I promise myself I will attempt to recreate. Though I’m not much of a chef, from time to time I do try to cook at least some of the things we miss.
Two years into our U.S. ex-pat stint, I began to think about which foods we have discovered through our life and travels in this part of the world. I’ve reflected on what has become part of our regular diet here and those that I’m likely to take with me when we leave. I generally find American fare overly sweet (even wholegrain bread tastes like cake), excessively processed, or downright odd (fried chicken and waffles, I’m looking at you). However, I have found some to love.
I’ve quickly acquired a taste for North Carolina style BBQ and slowly learnt to appreciate berries in my salad. I’ve become a fan of Jambalaya; and fallen head over heels for pumpkin pie. Here are the dishes that have most tickled my travelling foodie tastebuds and my recommendations for foods to try in America.
North Carolina Style BBQ
Until moving to the U.S. I thought barbeque was barbeque, although different to what us Aussies call barbeque. Turns out its quite the regional cuisine, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Kansas, Texas etc… they all do it a little bit differently and all claim to be the best of course.
First, let’s break it down for the Aussies in the house. “Barbeque” as you and I know it, is anything cooked outdoors over a flame. Aussie barbeque is what American’s refer to as grilling—it’s more of a general cooking technique or device. American barbeque can be thought of as a dish that requires specific preparation. Depending on where you are, the particular type and cut of meat, cooking method and condiments are all insinuated by the word “barbeque.”
I found my favourite barbeque in North Carolina’s slow-cooked pork doused in a spicy vinegar-based sauce while cooking. This differs from say Texan BBQ which is primarily beef, and Memphis/Tennessee style that uses a tomato-based sauce. Now, even the west of North Carolina serves their smoked pork differently from the east with a few different nuances in between. So if we want to get fussy: Eastern North Carolinians serve theirs alongside coleslaw, boiled potatoes, Brunswick stew and cornbread. Those on the Appalachian side of the State, are more likely to add the meat to a sandwich with coleslaw and dunk it in a tomato and brown sugar-based dipping sauce.
Personally, I don’t have the time or equipment to smoke a whole hog, so I use a delicious slow cooker recipe by The Domestic Front (sans the liquid smoke).
A lobster roll a day keeps the doctor away, at least that’s the philosophy we lived by while road tripping around New England one summer. During the 17th and 18th century lobsters were so abundant they were considered lower-class food – can you imagine? They were even fed to animals and used as fertiliser! During the 19th century, the seafood came to be considered more of a delicacy and prices fluctuated with culinary trends and availability. The exact origin of the lobster roll is debated but is firmly considered a New England dish. The original was served warm in a hotdog style bun with plenty of butter and is now known as a “Connecticut Lobster Roll”. The modern, “Maine-style” lobster roll substitutes mayonnaise for butter and is garnished with a mix of lemon juice, celery and spring onions.
Pumpkin as a dessert
We arrived in the U.S. in autumn, prime pumpkin season. I was bewildered by the array of pumpkin flavoured everything on offer. It is safe to say in Australia that pumpkins are strictly considered a vegetable, preferably to be served baked alongside your Sunday roast or as a creamy soup, but never as a sweet dish. While my first pumpkin spiced latte was a bitter disappointment, my first pumpkin pie was amazing! At home, I make Diane Sanfilippo’s Pumpkin Custard from her Practical Paleo cookbook. It’s basically a crustless, dairy-free version of the old favourite and tastes unbelievably scrummy.
Alternatively, these Pumpkin Spice Cookies with Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting were made by a friend of ours for a recent get-together and will fulfil all your pumpkin dessert desires.
Low Country Boil
Low Country Boil, otherwise known as Frogmore Stew and Beaufort Boil, is a classic South Carolina meal. This one-pot wonder usually consists of fresh, locally-caught shellfish, corn on the cob, potatoes and spicy sausage, spiced and boiled. This dish is the very picture of a summer beach picnic, often served humbly on paper plates or a newspaper-covered picnic table and devoured using the hands. JP and I tried our first Low Country Boils in Savannah, a river’s breadth away from its native State. It is a messy, hands-on experience and completely worth it. I can’t wait to cook this one up for my sea-foodie friends in Australia!
I can pass on most American breakfasts as they are far too sweet or heavy, and seriously, what’s with the bacon? However, the humble hash is one dish to note. The classic American corned beef hash began as a breakfast that made use of leftovers and originated in the New England region. It generally consisted of beef, potato, cabbage and onion remnants from a boiled dinner, which are fried in a cast-iron skillet to create a hearty breakfast. A contemporary hash has many incarnations only limited by the creativity of the chef and ingredients at hand. You can find a simple formula for creating your own hash here.
Special mention: fried green tomatoes
I had a very high expectation for fried green tomatoes (FGT) after having known and loved the movie for as long as I can remember. I thought they would be like the comforting, buttery parcels of hot tomato that were the toasted sandwiches my mum would make on rare cheat-night when a full home-cooked meal was out of the question. However, I have ordered fried green tomatoes on almost every occasion they have been on the menu and made them myself—I’m still not satisfied. Maybe I just need to let go of my preconceived notion and embrace them for what they are, but I’m convinced there is a perfect FGT out there. Therefore, I’m adding them here as a work-in-progress. If you have a favourite fried green tomato recipe please share it with us in the comments below.
Louisianan cuisine deserves a post of its own, so you will find more foods to try in America over here. For more of my favourite global food finds, from the Cook Islands to Peru, see the Foreign Cuisine Finder series.
What foodie souvenirs and memories have you taken home from your travels? Is there any American food you wish they served in your home country? Let me know in the comments below.
Peace, love and inspiring travels,