Thursday, August 21, 2008

Do You Really Know American Food?

For many people American food conjures images of McBurgers™ and Coca Cola™ from the infamous Super Size Me documentary. Throngs of rather rotund yankee tourists abroad do not do much good to public's perception of US cuisine. That said, a great purpose of travelling is developing an unblinkered your vision of the world. There may be a certain truth to stereotypes but they often are just a small part of the wide picture.

Americans may stuff their faces with junk food on the run from home to job when they are pressed for time, but for dinner, if they are not too lazy and haven’t yet given up on themselves, they will reward themselves for the trials and tribulations of the past day with nice home cooking or a good frozen imitation of it. If you invest a bit of time and money, you can dine extremely well in the USA: hearty and tasty, all-American favourites are neither overly fancy nor bland and boring: meatloaf, corn on the cob, apple and pumpkin pie, maple syrup pancakes, Hoppin' John, chicken soup, candied yams, clam chowder, roasted turkey, jambalaya.

Classic American steak is a whole platter with steamed vegetables, baked potatoes with sour cream or cheddar and a nice crispy bun to butter or a thick garlic toast. When served with another most expensive items on the menu - with lobster - it is called Surf'n'Turf. Even in the US some frown on such an ostentatious combination: it is featured in the Encyclopaedia of Bad Taste. But no matter how much surf'n'turf may be lampooned by the doily-brandishing upholders of Olde Worlde finery but there is no denying it is a great treat.

With its dominant Anglo-Saxon heritage America belongs to the Anglo- Teutonic axis of ichthyophobes, or fish-haters, who possess a deep mistrust of the gifts of the deep brine. Seafood - a.k.a. them funny critters from the murky waters - gets mercilessly battered and deep-fried. Portions, however, are gargantuan: what you see on the left side is a seafood platter for one: alligator, shrimp, clams, catfish and squid.

Californian wines - I am not talking the Central Valley carton pack drab in your local supermarket - have experienced a tremendous success around the world ever since the (in)famous 1976 blind tasting when they beat best Bordeaux. Hard work and perseverance, so characteristic of the New World inhabitants, propelled American wines from obscurity to the well deserved top ranks. The same drive (motto: "Anything worth doing is worth overdoing"), however, is behind the alarming trend for wines here to become what California is good at, well, overdone. Technologically enhanced, overripe, fruity and heavy on alcohol - they lag behind Pamela Anderson only in silicone content.

In the restaurants for the polite society wines are only considered good when the price tag exceeds 100 dollars per bottle. When you thought it was a bit OTT, there are Napa charity auctions where fierce competition between the producers pushes Cabernet magnums to the $10,000 ballpark.


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