We think one of the best ways to experience a country is by eating! Whether you're tucking into a seafood boil with the locals in Beaufort, sampling Jewish fare in New York, savouring delicious street eats in Savannah or indulging in a delightful banquet of Creole dishes in New Orleans, the United States boasts a melting pot of cuisines that many international cultures have influenced. From apple pie to bagels, and doughnuts to grits, here are some of the most iconic American foods to try.
Popular in New York and beyond, a bagel with a ‘schmear’ is a bagel with a small amount of cream cheese smeared on top. But of course, there are plenty of other topping options such as smoked salmon, peanut butter and jelly (jam), and bacon and cheese. Bagels make a great, low-cost or grab n’ go breakfast option when you're on the road.
Pies are a stock standard menu item in most diners, cafes and roadside truck stops. A slice of sugary stewed fruits enclosed within warm, buttery pastry is simply delicious. Choose from apple, cherry, pecan, blueberry, blackberry or peach (maybe with a generous dollop of ice cream on the side), and wash it down with an endlessly refillable cup of hot coffee with cream. Easy as pie!
3. Hot dogs
Take a figurative bite out of the Big Apple with a New York hot dog (tip: the best ones are from street vendors). Smothered in mustard and ketchup and topped with buttery fried onions and a spoonful of sauerkraut, this is a fave budget bite with locals and cash-strapped travellers alike.
If you have a sweet tooth and crave a sugary hit, look no further than an American doughnut. Dense and doughy, they’re delicious plain (with sugar), but you might also be keen to try them glazed or filled with jam, cream or custard. Whether you head to a Dunkin’ Donuts chain or a family-owned doughnut shop, you’re never far from doughnuts in America. On the road? There are even drive-thru doughnut stores in some states.
Grits is a popular dish that originated in the South. With a similar texture to porridge, it's made from coarsely ground cornmeal that is slow-cooked until thick and creamy. It's then mixed with butter and cream and seasoned with salt, pepper and cheese. You can also eat it with sweet toppings like nuts, fruits, cinnamon and syrup.
Gumbo is an iconic Creole dish that hails from Louisiana. This thick and hearty soup has many variations, but the soup base is usually made by stewing tomatoes, bell peppers, okra, onion, celery, and lots of herbs and seasoning. It's then loaded with shellfish, chicken, sausage or other types of meat. Gumbo is usually served over a generous mound of rice to soak up the rich sauce.
7. Fried chicken
American-style fried chicken originated in the South, but you’ll find it all over the country. From crispy buffalo wings slathered in hot sauce to buckets of Nashville-style hot chicken doused in cayenne pepper-spiked seasoning, chicken lovers will be in their element in the US. Oh, and forget KFC – the best fried chicken you’ll get in America will probably be from an unassuming family-run joint or a pop-up street food cart.
The Italians are the OGs of pizza, but the Americans broadened the pizza horizons and turned it into something much larger and heavier. There are several pizza styles across the country from New York pizza which is sold by the slice and often folded in half to eat, to deep-dish Chicago pizza (also known as ‘pie’) which is all about the stringy cheese and the dense toppings beneath it. Go wild and try them all.
The only thing better than the sweet smell of warm waffles wafting through the air is taking your first bite. The origins of waffles can be traced back to ancient Greece, but they only started gaining global recognition after the Dutch arrived in the US in the 1600s with a waffle iron. You can go simple or over-the-top with toppings, but fresh fruit, ice cream and chocolate sauce are all firm favourites. Fried chicken, bacon and maple syrup are also a hit, and if you’ve never imagined bacon and syrup would be a perfect match, all we can say is don’t knock it till you try it!
Barbeque is huge in the States, but it’s extra prevalent – and some would say extra delicious – in the South where the smell of sizzling meat tempts you at every street corner. From fall-off-the-bone ribs and lip-smacking pulled pork to tender brisket that has been marinated and smoked to perfection for hours, American-style barbeque is all about the ‘low and slow’. The meat is the star of the show, but your plate will often come with a side of creamy slaw, mac n’ cheese, smoky baked beans and buttery corn.
11. Key lime pie
Hailing from the Florida Keys (hence the name), key lime pie is another American classic. This tangy, creamy and refreshing tart is made with egg yolks, lime juice and condensed milk that is set in a pie crust and topped with meringue or whipped cream. Floridians love it that much, there’s even a Key Lime Festival in Key West celebrating “all things citrus, eccentric, people and pie”.
12. All-you-can-eat buffets
If your mouth is drooling at the sound of everything we’ve mentioned above, and you’d love to try all the foods, you can’t go wrong with an all-you-can-eat buffet. The staple diet of most Vegas visitors, a buffet session may not be for everyone, but you can’t argue that it’s not an economical choice. Fill up on soups, seafood, wings and ribs, and you’ll probably be able to skip your next meal!
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