Being a country of immigrants, there are no staple foods that exist across the U.S.A.. Many of the immigrants and American
Indians, however have staples, from rice for many Asian immigrants
to corn tortillas for Hispanic immigrants.
Regional Variations, Specialties, & Unique Dishes
BBQ: popular everywhere, but centered in Memphis, Tennessee; Kansas
City, Missouri; & Texas
California: fresh ingredients and Asian foods dominate here
Chicago: famous hot dogs, Italian sausage, and deep dish pizza
Hawai'i: focused on pork products and a local root called taro,
today Asian immigrants have altered the food even more
Louisiana: Cajun cooking (essentially French influenced with more
rice and seafood) rules here and includes po'boys, jambalaya,
and gumbo to name just a couple
Midwest: known for their meats, cheeses, and dishes based on Germany,
Irish, and Polish foods
New England: on the sea, their food is based on multiple fish and
New York City: well known for their Kosher delis, pizza, hot dogs,
and ethnic foods
Philadelphia: cheese steaks rule here; traditionally served
with beef, fried onions, and cheese whiz on Italian bread
South-Western: similar to Mexican
food, but typically with more meat and more inventive as each chef tries
to create his own dish
Southern: also known as comfort food, some of the favorites
include cornbread, pecan pie, and fried chicken
Tex-Mex: a name given to foods that are influenced by Texas and
Mexico; popular in Texas, the southwest, and California
Dining in the U.S.A. varies from highly
sophisticated to extremely informal and, fortunately, usually falls closer to the
informal side of the spectrum. With a fast food culture growing and eating on the
run popular, eating as you walk or in the company of others isn't considered
rude. While eating in quick service restaurants essentially means there are no true
In more formal settings, place your napkin on your lap, wait to eat until everyone
is served, and use your silverware (cutlery) from the outside in. These rules also
apply if you're a guest at anyone's house, although there may be appetizers
you can snack on without waiting, plus some people are extremely informal so just
follow your host's lead.
If dining as a guest at someone's house, always arrive on time, bring a small
gift (or a dish if asked), and follow the host's traditions; this could mean
a pre-meal prayer or toasts, which are typically limited only to the host, but if
others join in, all are welcome to participate. It is also not considered rude to
turn down a dish that does not appeal to you, however do so quietly and ask for
another dish instead. Once you have food on your plate, it is considered polite
to finish everything you have taken; leaving food can implied that the food was
not satisfactory, unless of course, you're on your third helping.
If dining out, who pays for dinner varies greatly based upon the company. For business
dinners the inviter typically pays the entire bill. For a more informal or friendly
meal there are no set rules. Although the host may pay the entire bill, you should
offer to contribute money and, many times, the offer will be accepted or the bill
will be divided evenly among all guests.
When eating out at a sit-down restaurant a tip of between 12-20% is expected (depending
on the quality of the service). Unlike in Europe, waiters and waitresses get low
pay and are reliant on tips as a supplement to their income. In bars a tip of $1
per order is standard.
Celebrations & Events
A few American holidays and celebrations
include specific foods. The holiday most associated with a particular food is Thanksgiving
(third Thursday in November), which serves turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, and
yams along with numerous other side dishes and desserts, most commonly pies.
A couple holidays are notorious for being outdoor festivals and therefore grilling
meats, including hamburgers, hot dogs, and various sausages (Polish
kielbasa and German bratwurst among others) are common along
with much junk food like chips and desserts. Independence Day (July 4), Memorial
Day (last Monday in May), and Labor Day (first Monday in September) are the best
outdoor eating holidays in the United States.
Numerous other holidays have foods associated with them. Halloween (October 31)
is filled with candy as is Valentine's Day (February 14). Birthdays, anniversaries,
and other celebrations often include cake and perhaps ice cream. Some foreign holidays
are also celebrated with the foods and drinks from those countries; St. Patrick's
Day (March 17) is celebrated with beer, corned beef, and cabbage while Cinco de
Mayo (May 5) is met with much Mexican food.
Americans drink just about every type of
alcoholic and non-alcoholic drink depending on personal taste. Many sodas (or colas
or pops) are from the United States with Pepsi and Coca-Cola being the most well-known
and popular. However, juices, water, and other non-alcoholic drinks are also popular
and easily accessible.
Wine, beer, and hard liquors are all popular. Perhaps the most authentically American
drink is bourbon, a type of whiskey. Depending on your location in the United States,
differing drinks are more or less popular, including vodka, whiskey, tequila, and
rum. Beer is still the most popular alcoholic drink though and wine is growing in
popularity, especially as the reputation and awareness of California wines expands.
The tap water is safe to drink in the United States.
However, many people may have trouble adjusting to the local tap water, as it will
most certainly be different from what your system is used to if you are not from