However, most of the world has experienced our cuisine only superficially. Today when many people think of American food, the images that come to mind are hamburgers, hot dogs, and other fast-food items globally recognized because of advertising. Luxury dishes such as grilled steaks and steamed lobsters demonstrate our wealth. But there is much more to our cuisine than these well-known foods.
People throughout the world—and even in the United States— are unaware of the many dishes American cuisine has to offer. In fact, most Americans have not yet discovered the richness of their own culinary heritage. They don’t realize that there is not just one American cuisine, but many. The United States is home to fifteen distinctive regional cuisines. Each cooking style is unique, with its own ingredients, techniques, and flavor combinations, reflecting the skill, creativity, and ingenuity of American cooks and the bounty of America’s food resources.
Many of America’s regional cuisines trace their origins to the earliest days of our nation. In fact, much of America’s regional cooking predates the birth of our national cuisine and is the foundation on which our national cuisine is based. Thus, in-depth knowledge of America’s regional cuisines is key to understanding modern American cooking.
Each of America’s regional cuisines developed from a unique combination of factors involving geography, history, and culture. Geography is the foundation of all regional cuisines because topography, soil type, and climate dictate the type of foods a region can produce. A region’s history influences its cooking because historical events affect different groups of people over an extended period of time and for many reasons. Knowing the history of a region enables us to understand its people and their food cultures. Food culture includes taste preferences, cooking technology, and beliefs and attitudes about food. Thus, learning about a region’s geography, history, and food culture enables us to understand its cuisine.