What to eat in USA
While foreigners often conjure up images of hamburgers and hotdogs, there is no “traditional” American food and what is seen as traditional will vary widely depending on which region you are in. Many types of food found in the United States have foreign influence, but differ significantly from the cuisine of the country that it is marketed as. Therefore, the food that you find at a “Chinese” or a “Mexican” restaurant will often be very different from traditional Chinese or Mexican cuisine.
The variety of restaurants throughout the U.S. is remarkable. In a major city such as New York or Chicago, it may be possible to find a restaurant from nearly every country in the world. One thing that a traveler from Europe or Latin America will notice is that many restaurants do not serve alcohol, or may only serve beer and wine. Another is the sheer number and variety of fast food and chain restaurants. Most open early in the morning and stay open late at night; many are open 24 hours a day. A third remarkable fact is the size of the portions generally served by US restaurants. Although the trend has moderated in recent years, portions have grown surprisingly large over the past two or three decades.
With a rich tradition of immigration, America has a wide variety of ethnic foods; everything from Ethiopian cuisine to Laotian food is available in major cities with large immigrant populations.
Chinese food is widely available and adjusted to American tastes – by default; a “Chinese” restaurant will serve a menu only vaguely related to authentic Chinese food, usually meat in sugary sauce with rice and noodles, often in an all-you-can-eat buffet setting. Authentic Chinese food can be found in restaurants in Chinatowns in addition to communities with large Chinese populations. Japanese sushi, Vietnamese, and Thai food have also been adapted for the American market in recent years. Fusion cuisine combines Asian ingredients and techniques with more traditional American presentation. Indian food outlets are available in most major U.S. cities and towns.
Mexican/Hispanic/Tex-Mex food is very popular, but again in a localized version. Combining in various ways beans, rice, cheese, and spiced beef or chicken with round flatbread loaves called tortillas, dishes are usually topped with spicy tomato salsa, sour cream, and an avocado-based dip called guacamole. Small authentic Mexican taquerias can be found easily in the Southwest, and increasingly in cities throughout the country.
Italian food is perhaps the only cuisine that rivals Mexican for widespread popularity. All manners of pasta can be found here, and American-styled pizzas (typically a thick crust topped with tomato sauce and cheese, in addition to other meats and vegetables) are a popular choice for social events and casual dining. Italian restaurants can be found almost everywhere, and even non-specialty restaurants and grocery stores can provide you with basic pasta meals.
Middle Eastern and Mediterranean foods are also becoming popular in the United States. The gyro is a popular Greek sandwich which is similar to the Turkish Doner is made of sliced processed lamb on a pita bread topped with lettuce, tomatoes and a yogurt-cucumber sauce. Hummus (a ground chickpea dip/spread) and baklava pastries are frequently found in supermarkets, along with an increasingly widespread and high-quality array of “pita” products.
Vegetarian food is easy to come by in big urban areas. As vegetarians are becoming more common in the U.S., so are the restaurants that cater to them. Most big cities and college towns will have vegetarian restaurants serving exclusively or primarily vegetarian dishes. In smaller towns you may need to check the menu at several restaurants before finding a vegetarian main course, or else make up a meal out of side dishes. Wait staff can be helpful answering questions about meat content, but be very clear about your personal definition of vegetarian, as dishes with fish, chicken, egg, or even small quantities of beef or pork flavoring may be considered vegetarian. This is especially common with vegetable side dishes in the South. Meat-free breakfast foods such as pancakes or eggs are readily available at diners.
People on low-fat or low-calorie diets should be fairly well-served in the U.S., as there has been a continuing trend in calorie consciousness since the 1970s. Even fast-food restaurants have “lite” specials, and can provide charts of calorie and fat counts on request.
For the backpacker or those on very restricted budgets, American supermarkets offer an almost infinite variety of pre-packaged/pre-processed foods that are either ready or almost ready for consumption, e.g. breakfast cereal, ramen noodles, canned soups, etc.
In the largest cities, “corner stores” abound. These small convenience stores carry a variety snacks, drinks, and prepackaged foods. Unlike most convenience stores, their products are sold at relatively low prices (especially by urban standards) and can provide for snacks or even (nutritionally partial) meals for a budget no more than $5 a day.
Seafood is abundant on the coasts, with freshwater and saltwater varieties of fish and shellfish (although finding squid, octopus, and jellyfish will require a bit of effort). The Northeast is famed for its Maine lobsters, and the Southeast has a variety of shrimp and conch. Most of the seafood in Florida is served spicy, as influenced by the Caribbean taste. Seafood dining on the west is equally abundant, and Alaskan salmon is served in high quantity through the Pacific Northwest. The state of Maryland is famous for its Chesapeake Bay blue crabs, which are usually steamed, live in a pot with a spicy seasoning. There is a bit of a learning curve to eating Maryland crabs, though any server or local, for that matter, in a crab house will gladly give you a lesson. It is not recommended to wear a plastic bib or napkin when eating Maryland crabs or Maine lobster. You will be instantly pegged as a tourist.
Smoking policy is set at the state and local levels, so it varies widely from place to place. A majority of states and a number of cities ban smoking in restaurants and bars by law, and many other restaurants and bars do the same by their own policy. Some states (like New York, Illinois, Wisconsin, and California) have banned any smoking indoors, while some still allow designated smoking areas.