1. Apple Pie
The saying is "American as apple pie" for a reason: this sweet treat is a national institution. Forget anybody who will try to tell you pecan or key lime is better, because they are lying. The simple combination of sugar, buttery pastry and tart sliced apples produces a dessert so extraordinary people have devoted their entire lives to perfecting it. For a particularly excellent example, try the apple pie with added green chilies at the Pie-O-Neer, in Pie Town, New Mexico. Phone ahead and Kathy Knapp, the self-proclaimed "Pie Lady of Pie Town", will save you a slice. See pieoneer.com.
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Pie Town, New Mexico. Photo: Alamy
2. The Hamburger
Every single American will have a different idea about where to find the best hamburger in the country, ranging from fast food on the West Coast (In-N-Out Burger) to fine dining in New York (The Spotted Pig). But only one place is recognised by the Library of Congress as being the birthplace of hamburgers: New Haven, Connecticut. The year was 1900 and the establishment was Louis' Lunch, run by one Louis Lassen. Today his great-grandson, Jeff Lassen, guides the ship, which still serves burgers made from five-meat blend and cooked in a century-old cast iron grill. See louislunch.com.
Everyone argues about where you'll find the best burger in America.
3. Clam Chowder
It is basically illegal to visit Boston without trying New England clam chowder. The fragrant soup is sold everywhere, and it looks hideous, being white and lumpy. But one taste is all it takes to fall in love. Whoever decided to mix the quahog shellfish with tender potatoes, salted pork, heavy cream and herbs is a total genius. There are many ways to eat it, but you may as well go all out and get a bread bowl at the Atlantic Fish Co., where the chefs carve out a cavity in a fresh boule, pour in the heavenly juice, then put the top back on. Edible dinnerware. See atlanticfishco.com.
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4. Bagel and Lox
Trying to narrow New York down to a single representative cuisine is a fool's errand. A Nathan's hot dog? Pastrami from Katz's? A bad cup of diner coffee? Let's pay respects to the city's strong Jewish population and go with bagels and lox, a weekend staple on many Manhattan tables. Scientific studies have been conducted trying to work out why the New York bagel reigns supreme over all others; legend attributes it to the water. Whatever the cause, head to Russ and Daughters on the Lower East Side and tell them you want a selection of smoked fish, cream cheeses and, if you're feeling flash, caviar. See russanddaughters.com.
Russ & Daughters, New York.
5. Deep-Dish Pizza
Pizza in Chicago looks and tastes different. The dish is deep, as the name suggests, meaning the crust rises high and allows for an artery-choking volume of cheese and tomato sauce. Unsurprisingly, they call it a "pie". It is not for the lighthearted and should only be attempted while wearing dark clothes or a large napkin. For a particularly authentic meal, pair the pie with sugary soda. You might like to do this at an Uno Pizzeria, which claims to have invented the Italian American hybrid dish in 1943. See unos.com.
6. Drop Biscuits and Sausage Gravy
A biscuit in America means, essentially, a flaky scone often made with lard and buttermilk. In places such as Montana, where people burn energy working on horse ranches, biscuits are eaten at breakfast smothered in a thick white gravy that is studded with bits of sausage. It certainly wakes you up in the morning. For a fun twist, try a musical version in Austin, Texas, where Biscuits and Groovy offers varies with names like "the Aretha Franklin" (maple bacon, colby jack cheese). See iwantbiscuits.com.
7. Texas Barbecue
Australians might like to stoke up a barbie on the weekend, but Texans live and die by the practice. Mesquite smoked meats and tenderising rubs are common obsessions, and it is not uncommon to go to football games and find people have brought entire ranges to the parking lots that are worth upwards of five or even ten thousand dollars – a pastime called "tailgating". For excellent brisket, head to the Dallas Farmers Market, stand in line for a bit, then find a seat at Pecan Lodge. Also good are the pork links, pulled pork, beef ribs and collard greens. Basically everything. See pecanlodge.com.
Texas barbecue, family style. Photo: Alamy
8. Hominy Grits
Southern food seems to exist in its own universe, and an entire list could be written just focusing on things like chicken and waffles (yes, you read that correctly). So perhaps it's a good idea to just go with one of the basics: hominy grits, which is essentially corn milled into a rough powder and then boiled up with butter or bacon grease. It sounds rough but it's actually sublime. For proof, try Blossom Restaurant in Charleston, South Carolina, which offers Geechie Boy grits with shrimp and andouille sausage. Pair it with brussels sprouts and sweetened ice tea. See blossomcharleston.com.
Hominy Grill restaurant, Charleston, South Carolina.
Los Angeles is a city with a taqueria on every street corner, basically. With so many Spanish-speakers it's possible to find anything from greasy nachos on Venice Beach to exquisite Michoacan-style goat stews. For a good sampler, forget the chain stuff and try El Huarache Azteca, a tiny, no-fuss eatery in the neighbourhood of Highland Park, where menus run the full gamut from fajitas to mole verde and "flautas" – fried crisp taquitos stuffed with chicken. (Guacamole is a no-brainer.) Keep in mind that Mexican food and Tex-Mex are two very different things. See elhuaracheaztecala.com.
Chicken taquitos served on a bed of lettuce topped with sauce, salsa and cheese. Photo: Alamy
So "thanksgiving" isn't technically a food, but it's such a legendary date on the American culinary calendar (the fourth Thursday of each November), that it needs to be acknowledged. Officially, the holiday is about friends and family, but everybody knows it's really about turkey, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie, green bean casserole and bellyaches. While the recipes, like most things on this list, seem custom-made to give you a heart-attack or diabetes, they're all delicious, and taken together create one of the most ridiculous and enjoyable feasts you could ever attend. Many restaurants offer a menu, for the most special option is always a friend's house, even if they burn the bird.
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