I celebrated my American Thanksgiving Holiday in Sevilla, Spain. I was lucky enough to be invited by a friend (an Australian friend, no less), Kristy, to the traditional American feast at where else? An Irish Pub, of course. I have found that these are the unofficial meeting spots of expats all over the world. And there seems to be an Irish Pub in just about every city and small town I have visited. Since moving to Sevilla to be with her Spanish boyfriend, Kristy has fallen into a group of American girls who also live there. They call themselves “the Americanitas, and one odd Aussie.” Catchy, isn’t it?
There were about twelve of us on a back heated patio of the Irish bar that was advertising a special scrumptious ‘Thanksgiving’ feast for 20 Euros—not very cheap for what they gave us, but it was worth it to me to be meeting new people and spending the holiday laughing and socializing.
Okay, I’ll admit the food they served looked more like airplane food or the ‘fine cuisine’ we got back in the day under the fluorescent lights of the high school cafeteria. The stuffing and mashed potatoes looked dry and were perfectly round ball shapes probably scooped out of some huge prison-like cooking vessel with an ice cream scooper. But looks can be deceiving, because it actually tasted quite good.
And, believe me, it wasn’t because I was missing ‘American food.’ In fact, that brings me to my next point actually. What really is American food? Recently, a Spanish friend asked me to make him some traditional American dishes. He wanted to know, “What is American food?” It took me mere seconds to answer, “Mexican, Chinese, Sushi, Indian, Thai, Italian (really what is more American—than pizza?!), Greek, Middle Eastern, Ethiopian, Polish, on and on.”
He was like “No, I mean real American food?”
Unfortunately, around the world, for those who haven’t stepped onto our fair shores, many assume we are all chowing down at the ‘Golden Arches’ (McDs) or KFC and eating hamburgers and hot dogs ‘til we explode.
Now, for some, I guess there is some truth to this. But, I would say, living in Chicago, I have food from all over the world right out my front door. I guess it’s just like the stereotypes Americans have about some foreign cultures. Well, don’t feel bad ‘my fellow Americans’ because there are many, many negative stereotypes floating around the world about America and Americans especially amongst people who have never traveled to the US, but feel they have because they have seen “Cops” reruns or movies like “Dumb and Dumber” and “Dude, Where’s My Car?” (cinematic excellence I’m sure… but this American hasn’t seen either of these Oscar-worthy films).
“Okay, fine, but what did you eat growing up?”
Well, that was easy—like most people coming from the Northeast—Pizza and Chinese food.
Still not sounding very ‘American’ to him he replied, “Okay, but what foods did your parents or grandparents cook at home?”
Okay. Okay. We had our fair share of meatloaf, chicken with rice, and the occasional spaghetti with meatballs (still sort of Italian I guess—although, I’m sure the Italians would scoff at this 1970s American dish or some horribly lame can of ‘Chef Boyardee,’ a chemical-laden packet of ‘Hamburger Helper,’ or my personal childhood fav: a tasty, comforting box of completely processed, bright yellow Kraft Macaroni and Cheese.) Mmmmmm-mmmm. My mom would always add some onions and an extra slice of plastic-wrapped canary yellow Kraft ‘cheese-food’ for that just-right, gourmet touch.
But for many, actually, having their grandma’s cooking, was even more ethnic since the grandparents were often literally just ‘off the boat,’ from some far off land. So what is my point? What is American cooking? I guess I can consult the master chefs in America: Chicago’s Charlie Trotter and Grant Achatz, NYC’s Mario Batale (before his Food Network fame) and Alfred Portale (Gotham Bar & Grill), and Thomas Keller of the French Laundry who all use a lot of seasonal locally grown and farmed ingredients in their internationally influenced masterpiece fish, meat, and poultry dishes. But I think it is indisputable that American cooking has been influenced by the millions and millions of immigrants that started it all and that now call America home. Buen Provecho!