The Melting Pot, a Stew Made Best with Many Chefs

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In my blog post two weeks ago about Social Media and its effects on racism, I questioned its correlation to slavery and is it was possibly a way to establish the sole chef in charge of mixing the Melting Pot America claims to be. The first part of this photo essay traces the history of some of the most prevalent cultures in America and how their culture effected the American Food Industry. The second part picks out numerous foods that we have adopted to be “American” and unveils their actual origins. Through this, it is my goal to help show that while social media can attempt to choose a specific chef, we all have a hand in stirring the Melting Pot.

All pictures were taken in Hoboken, New Jersey where the face of Lady Liberty can be seen, the statue that first welcomes all immigrants and their cultures to the United States of America.

Chinese

Asian food was introduced to the United States in the mid-1800’s when Chinese immigrants from Canton began settling in California. In the early California Chinese restaurants, Asian dishes intended for Americans placed emphasis on basic meat and vegetables served in sweet and sour sauce with fried rice. Restaurants spread to San Francisco, New York, Los Angeles, and eventually, every other American city. Before long, Chinese restaurants offered home delivery of egg rolls and chicken chow mein.  The Restaurant depicted to the right , Number One Fine Chinese Cuisine in Hoboken, New Jersey, symbolizes the American twist on the Chinese Culture: how many Chinese restaurants are actually number one?

Thai

Spiking in popularity after the stationing of Troops during the Vietnam War, Thai cuisine places a heavy emphasis on spiciness and food that arouses the senses of smell. Thai food offers a balance of four fundamental senses: sour, sweet, salty and bitter. This perfect balance is so appreciated in the United States, that when American’s are asked “what is your favorite cuisine?” Thai came in 6th place.  Today, Thai cuisine is present in thousands of cities in the United Sates. Bangkok City Restaurant depicted to the left is located in Hoboken, New Jersey.

Jape needle

Sushi, the most popular of all Japanese cuisine in America, originally began as a way to preserve fish in fermented rice. Despite the first appearance of a Japanese restaurant in Portland, Oregon in 1889,  it wasn’t until the mid-1960’s in the Little Tokyo area of Los Angeles. It was here that the California Roll was invented and soon Sushi became an America “fast food” associated with  the Japanese culture. The Sushi house, Ayame, depicted to the right is just one of the Japanese Restaurants in Hoboken, New Jersey.

Cuban

Cuban immigration to the United States began in the Spanish Colonial Period when Pedro Menendez de Aviles established St. Augustine, Florida. It was during this time that a plethora of Spanish-Cuban soldiers and their families moved to the Unites States to establish a new life. Cuban immigration continued well into the 20th century. Consequently Cuban culture, beginning with the cigar market quickly became central to specific areas of the United States, namely Key West and Tampa Florida. It was these cigar workers who created  and popularized  Cuban bread, a combination of French and Italian bread that acts as the foundation for the most infamous Cuban food, the Cuban sandwich. The popularity of the Cuban sandwich, often topped with cheese, Picadillo, Adobo and Goya, is no longer centralized to Florida and can now, along  with other Cuban foods, be found all of the Unites States. Pictured to the left is the “The Cuban” Restaurant in Hoboken, New Jersey.

Mexican

Without alot of history known about Mexican food before the time of the Taco, it is impossible not to question “what is authentic Mexican food?” Unfortunately, no one really knows. Many historians can only reach back into the 1930’s to the Cielito Lindo Food Stand in Los Angeles, famous for its fried taquitos and avocado sauce. They claim that once the popularity of these spread, combined with the invention of the taco shell( a combination of Fritos and Doritos) American- Mexican food, or Tex-Mex, was formed.

Despite the lack of history regarding the origins of Mexican Food, it is now the Most Popular Ethnic Food in America. Pictured to the right is the Baja Mexican Grill in Hoboken, New Jersey.

Indian

With restaurants originally appearing in 1921, Indian food is almost as diverse as the United States population with its many different varieties; the most popular in America being from North India. Often consisting of Curry, vegetables, and a special kind of bread(Naan), Indian food arouses the senses and provides for a delightful meal.Pictured to the left is the Indian restaurant,  Dhaba, in Hoboken New Jersey.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 

Italian

Pizza and Mac and Cheese, often the favorites of small children in America,  is often regarded as traditional American foods. However, Mac and Cheese is traced back to Italian Cuisine. Italian food first became popular after  the soldiers of World War Two returned home craving foods such as spaghetti and meatballs, sausage and peppers, ravioli, lasagna, manicotti, baked ziti and pizza.  Today, Italian food has become so intermixed with American culture that authentic Italian food only accounts for one-third of all Italian food purchased in the United States.To the right is Pizza Republic in Hoboken, New Jersey.

Scottish

The pancake, often a favorite breakfast food in American  is a flat cake  of batter cooked on a griddle or frying pan. While the Pancake seems to be simple, it has a long background and many different varieties that correspond with the different regions of the world. Most similar to the American version of the Pancake are those from Scotland. Made of  eggs, oil, and other dairy products, the Scottish made Pancakes to use up all the ‘forbidden’ foods before Lent in order to avoid spoiling and waste.Captured to the left  is one of the most popular breakfast spots in Hoboken,New Jersey, Stacks.

Dutch

“America Runs on Dunkin” is one way to accurately describe the need Americans have for a dose of sugar in the morning, most often in the form of a donut. However, if that statement were to be historically correct, it would read: “America Runs on the Dutch.”The Dutch often made olykoeks, or “oil cakes,” in the mid-19th century. These early donuts were balls of cake fried in pork fat until golden brown. Because the center of the cake did not cook as fast as the outside, the cakes were sometimes stuffed with fruit, nuts, or other fillings that did not require cooking. As Dutch immigrants began to settle in the United States, they continued to make their olykoeks, where they were influenced by other cultures continued to morph into what we call doughnuts today.

Polish

Besides the donut, another quick American breakfast that comes in a multitude of varieties is the bagel. Like the Pancake, the bagel was used to prevent being wasteful before the time of Lent.  Originating in Krakow, Poland, the name originated from beugal, the old spelling of Bügel, meaning bail/bow or bale.Pictured to the left  is Bagels on Hudson in Hoboken, New Jersey.

Africa

Coffee, the perfect side to donuts, may seem like an American tradition but it has rich roots in the African Culture. In Ethiopia, there is a long-held legend of Kaldi, a goatherd, who found the Ethiopian coffee trees that grow today as they have for centuries. The legend holds that he discovered coffee after noticing that his goats, upon eating berries from a certain tree, became so spirited that they did not want to sleep at night. Kaldi made a drink with the berries and discovered that it kept him alert for long amount of time.  As word moved east and coffee reached the Arabian peninsula, it began a journey which would spread its reputation across the globe.  To the right is Red Lion Coffee in Hoboken, New Jersey.

German

Burgers, steaks and ribs, the All American backyard barbecue basics, are not as American as one would think. Eating meat can be traced back to the beginning of time, but it wasn’t until 1209 that humans started cooking meat and it didn’t become popular until the late eighteenth century where the largest ports in Europe were in Germany. Sailors who had visited the ports of Hamburg, Germany and New York, brought meat and termed it “Hamburg Steak“. To attract German sailors, eating stands along the New York City harbor offered “steak cooked in the Hamburg style.” Hamburg Steak was low-grade beef with spices, and was originally  a favorite among the poorer classes.The picture to the left is of Arthur Steak’s House in Hoboken , New Jersey.

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2 comments

  1. I really love this photo essay because I only eat “ethnic” foods when possible. I actually hate standard American food unless it’s really upscale so this photoessay is like a feast to my eyes. Knowing the history behind the appearance or preparation of these foods is really interesting. Nice job!

  2. This post is great for a number of reasons. For one, it illustrates a point that you made in a previous post through the variety of cuisine in a city, a very creative idea. It is also very appealing take on your original point; everyone loves food! Secondly, you provide the reader with the historical origin of each cuisine, it’s emergence into the U.S., and it’s relevance today. I had no idea that Thai food gained popularity in the U.S. due to the Vietnam War. Lastly, the form is great. Everything is compact and flows nicely. It also reflects the form of a building, like the buildings you took pictures of. Great job!

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