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A taste of...the USA

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18 October 2012 by Alex Stewart

From the melting pot of New York City to the pineapple plantations of Hawaii, US cuisine is all about diversity. Specific cuisines for the northeast, southwest and the Deep South are the tip of a tasty iceberg.

hamburgers | food trucks | bite-size diversions

Take a stash of home-grown bounty: the salmon, clams, corn, potatoes, beans, squash, wild berries and rice enjoyed by Native Americans. Add the culinary twists of early colonists from England, France, Spain and the Netherlands, and you have a pattern of culinary innovation that still defines the way Americans eat today.

In this country of immigrants, pockets of people from around the globe have created distinct regional cuisines within urban neighbourhoods: Norwegians smoking freshwater fish; Chinese families making dumplings; Italians rolling out pasta; Mexicans pressing corn masa into tortillas; and Russians boiling borscht.

The result is a country where, in the big cities at least, you can order a plateful of just about any kind of global cuisine you choose. Grains are sourced from the flat and fertile Midwest, where corn and wheat fields stretch to the horizon. Seafood feeds the populations in the northeast, south and along the West Coast, while Western ranch lands produce the beef.

Hamburgers

Classic American burger

Quintessential Americana

If the US had an emblematic food, it would be the hamburger. In its purest form, a burger is simply a patty of cooked ground beef slipped inside a bread bun - the perfect symbol for a country with a Midwest breadbasket and a love for the Wild West and its cattle-herding cowboys. The quality of the meat and what accompanies it sets the gourmet burger apart.

The hamburger arrived in New York City with German immigrants in the late 19th century. Named after the German city, Hamburg steak was a shredded-beef dish that used cheap cuts of meat and was eaten by the less well-off.

The burger can now be found at most fast-food joints and even in traditional Chinese and Mexican restaurants. Since around 2000, it's been de rigueur for high-end restaurants to feature their own signature burgers made with high-grade aged and imported beef cooked to order.

Celebrity chefs have elevated the dish to gastronomic heights and price tags, notably Daniel Boulud and his famous DB burger made with short-rib meat braised in wine and stuffed with foie gras and truffles. Restaurants like the Shake Shack chain and the Spotted Pig gastropub in New York City also serve memorable burgers.

Burger fetishism has created an infinite number of interpretations of the classic. While purists may still worship the standard American cheese-tomato-pickle-onion-and-ketchup combo, you're just as likely to come across burgers composed of focaccia and Roquefort as well as onion rings, fried eggs, pickled beets and bacon.

Where to Eat: In-N-Out Burger

This out-West chain, which first opened outside Los Angeles in 1948, is famous for outstanding burgers made with top-quality ingredients - rare indeed.

Menus are basic: burgers, fries and shakes. A 'secret', unprinted menu includes upgrades like 'animal style', which is a patty cooked in mustard and topped with a slathering of secret sauce.

The Rise of the Food Truck

When a Korean taco truck in Los Angeles has 100,000 followers, you know that something zeitgeist-y is happening. Visit any major metropolitan area in the US and you're likely to come across a food truck, a mobile vehicle fitted out with a kitchen and a window where customers can place orders.

But we're not talking common or garden hot dogs or bagels. In Portland, Oregon, for example, more than 400 carts dot the culinary landscape, serving everything from phat thai to grilled cheese.

On the east coast, munch churros or empanadas from trucks in Miami. And in New York, gourmet options include topnotch burgers from Frites 'N' Meats, couscous or kofte from Comme Ci Comme Ça and falafel from the black-painted truck of Taïm.

Bite-size Diversions

Taste of the USA, snack sign

Wherever you're on the road in the USA, there'll be a tasty snack nearby to keep you going until the next stop.

San Diego, California

Sample Baja-inspired fish tacos: grilled or fried fish, shredded cabbage, slices of avocado, fresh salsa and a white sauce folded inside a corn tortilla.

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New York

Nosh on a New York City bagel, the chewy, ring-shaped bread introduced to the US by Polish Jews. Purists claim a true NYC bagel can only be made in the city, because of the properties of the local water, in which an authentic bagel is boiled before baking.

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Wisconsin

Nibble on artisan cheeses from the growing group of small-batch cheese-makers in a state long known as a dairy and cheese-making powerhouse.

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Midwest

Pop into one of hundreds of summertime country fairs for a taste of classic American apple pie. Choose from homemade pies, pie-contest winners and, best of all, fried pies.

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Aspen, Colorado

Rub shoulders with celebrity cooks, food industry insiders and dedicated amateur foodies at the weekend-long Food and Wine Classic, the country's most famous food festival. Claim an early seat at the cooking demonstrations and superstar chef Q&A sessions, which are the most popular events.

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Fort Valley and Byron, Georgia

Slurp the sweet juices of a fresh Georgia peach during the fruit's prime season (June) at the Georgia Peach Festival. The state grows more than 40 varieties of peach, harvesting more than two million bushels of the fruit. And did you know that the peach is part of the rose family?

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Alaska

Catch your own fresh salmon between May and September, when at least one kind of salmon is always swimming upstream: chinook, sockeye, keta or coho. Prepare for a fight: chinook can grow up to 1.5m and weigh 60kg, Anglers also take to the ocean in pursuit of huge halibut.

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New York

Learn how to do everything from butchering a pig or baking a cake to cooking veal seven ways during the single-day courses at the Institute of Culinary Education.

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Hawaii

Cool off with a shaved ice, a mound of soft, fluffy ice drowned in sweet syrups of guava, mango, pineapple and coconut.

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Walla Walla, Washington

Tour vineyards and tasting rooms along the border with Oregon in one of the country's hottest emerging winemaking regions, known for cabernet sauvignon, merlot and syrah (shiraz) wines.

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Lonely Planet Food Lover's Guide to the WorldThis guest article was contributed by leading publisher Lonely Planet, from their sumptuous Food Lover's Guide to the World, which presents a lifetime of eating experiences that will lead you from one end of the globe to the other.

Take your taste buds on a tour around the world and then give us a call once you've wheted your appetite for your next culinary adventure.


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