Living in another country, I often think about, talk about, or make reference to American (USA) foods with non-Americans. Many of my Italian friends have asked me for a list of American foods they should try when visiting the United States of America – here are my suggestions, in a short series of posts. I will be making the entire list available as an ebook for download! So halt your printers :)
- Part 1: Desserts
- Part 2: Main Dishes and Savoury Snacks
- Part 3: Drinks and Location-specific / Regional Specialties
- Parts 1-3 in an Ebook / PDF
**Important Note** This is not an exhaustive list! These foods are also not the most healthy or best-tasting food that the USA has to offer. I know that. Outside of this list there are wonderful, healthy and delicious food to be found in the USA.
This list is a mix of notable, iconic, and classic foods, and what I think a newcomer to American foods should try at least once, in America, or at least made by an American directly for them (none of those themed restaurants in other countries, please!) so as to understand some of our cultural references and films (how can you explain a Twinkie to someone if they’ve never eaten it?)
What would you add to this list? Is there an iconic or famous American food that you’d recommend a foreign visitor try? Put it in the comments!
In no particular order…Desserts
- Cupcakes – fabulously popular in my childhood, these tiny cupcakes are topped with sugary/buttery frosting and presented in a paper wrapper “cup” are now are for grown-ups, too, and there are even entire bakeries dedicated entirely to them. (img by wendycopley)
where to try: bakeries, specialty cupcake bakeries (like Sprinkles or Magnolia), at home.
[Read: Cupcake takes the cake blog]
- Chocolate chip cookies – there’s nothing that can compare to a warm, chocolate chip cookie straight from the oven. The “original” is the Toll House chocolate chip cookie is the original. (img by esthereggy)
where to try: bakeries, specialty cookie shops (like Mrs. Field’s Cookies), or at home.
[Recipes: chocolate chip cookies – chocolate chip cookies – mesquite chocolate chip cookies]
- Red velvet cake – more popular in the south, and made with copious amounts of red food coloring, this chocolate cake is often layered and paired with a buttercream / cream cheese frosting. (img by La Mia Cucina)
where to try: bakeries in the south, at home.
[Recipes: red velvet cake – red velvet cake – red velvet cupcakes]
- Brownies – these chocolaty treats come in two varieties: fudgy or chewy, and most people are in one camp or the other (me: chewy). Brownies are sometimes frosted with a chocolate frosting, and often include walnuts or other mix-ins (chocolate chunks, etc.) in the batter. Bonus: get a warm one with a scoop of ice cream on top as dessert. (img by rachel is coconut&lime)
where to try: bakeries and restaurants, at home.
[Recipes: brownies - dark chocolate brownies – cheesecake brownies]
- Fluffer Nutter – peanut butter and marshmallow creme in the same sandwich – what’s not to like? – proposed as the official Massachusetts state sandwich. Spread the peanut butter first! (img by jensteele)
where to try: at home. [Recipes: banana bread fluffernutter]
- Blueberry muffin – a sweet morning bread dotted with blueberries, normally served in a paper wrapper/cup, similar to cupcakes but not considered a cupcake. (img by kitsunebabe)
where to try: bakeries, supermarkets, at home.
[Recipes: blueberry muffins – blueberry muffins – blueberry muffin cake]
- Rice Krispie Treats – made with Kellogg’s Rice Krispies cereal, marshmallows and butter, a sticky treat that is the first thing to disappear at bake sales and birthday parties. (img by rachel is coconut&lime)
where to try: bake sales, or at home.
[Recipes: the original - rice crispy treats – caramelized brown butter rice krispies treats]
- Cranberries – cranberries are a fascinating little fruit that is quite sour but when sweetened are delicious. Try them in baked goods, in a sauce form with a turkey dinner or sandwich, or as juice. (img by Muffet)
where to try: berries/juice – any supermarket, baked goods in bakeries and at home.
[Recipes: cranberry-apricot muffins - cranberry sorbet – cranberry sauce - cranberry sauce]
- Banana (nut) bread – a sweet bread that is usually made in a small loaf (like a pound cake) or in muffin form. Walnuts are traditionally used as the nuts, but you can add chocolate, peanut butter or other nuts as desired. (img by TransplantedVTer)
where to try: bakeries, some restaurants, at home.
[Recipes: banana bread – nutella banana muffins - banana bread bakeoff recipes]
- Zucchini bread – who could take a green vegetable and make it into a dessert? Only in America. Another sweet bread in loaf or muffin form, made with shredded zucchini and nuts. (img by Vanessa-Pike Russell)
where to try: bakeries, at home.
[Recipes: zucchini bread – zucchini bread – zucchini and chocolate bread – double chocolate zucchini bread]
- Pumpkin pie – in the autumn there’s no better time to eat a clove / cinnamon / nutmeg – spiced pumpkin pie with whipped cream. Or so I hear (not a pie lover). This pie makes an appearance at many a holiday event. (img by jamesjyu)
where to try: bakeries or supermarkets with a bakery department, at home.
[Recipes: silky smooth pumpkin pie – pumpkin pie – pumpkin pie]
- Pecan pie – sticky pecans and a buttery filling make this pie a sticky gooey mass. (img by pierrotsomepeople)
where to try: bakeries (especially in the south/southwest), at home.
[Recipes: grandmother’s pecan pie - pecan pie – classic pecan pie]
- Funnel cake – a “cake” whose shape is not a funnel, but refers to the way it’s made – poured through a funnel directly into hot oil and fried, then topped with powdered sugar and sometimes jam, whipped cream or fresh fruit. A classic fair food. (img by joits)
where to try them: some ballparks, at a street or county fair.
[Recipe: funnel cake]
- Gingerbread cookies/house – a cookie made with spices, mainly ginger, its “gingerbread man” or “gingerbread house” forms are famous around Christmas time, especially with a glass of milk. (img by Stuck in Customs)
where to try: at a bakery, or make it at home.
[Recipes: gingerbread / gingersnap]
- Caramel apple – take an apple, stick a stick in it, and cover it in caramel, and you’ve got a classic Halloween treat now eaten round the year. (img by QuintanaRoo)
where to try: at a fair, in the fall, or make it at home.
[Recipe: caramel apple]
- S’mores – anyone who has ever gone camping has eaten a S’more (short for I’d like some more) – graham crackers sandwich a fire-roasted marshmallow and a slice of chocolate. (img by Colin Purrington)
where to try: buy the ingredients at a supermarket and do it at home / while camping.
[Recipe: history of S’mores]
- Cheesecake – a graham cracker or cookie and butter crust with a creamy fresh cheese filling, often topped with fresh fruit and/or sauce. Can be baked or unbaked. (img by zingyyellow)
where to try: bakeries, specialty restaurants (like The Cheesecake Factory) or make it at home
[Recipes: cheesecake – cheesecake - sour cream cheesecake]
- Apple pie, and pies in general – we have a phrase “…as American as apple pie” because we have so many pies and variations. A buttery crust, and a delicious filling. (img by romanlily)
where to try: bakeries and specialty pie stores / restaurants, at home
[Recipes: pie crust – apple pie – hundreds of pie recipes]
- Doughnuts / Donuts – glazed, raised, cake, claw – this sweet treat with a hole is fried or baked and is eaten mainly for breakfast across the country. You probably have a favorite donut and you just don’t know it yet. (img by bunchofpants)
where to try: specialty donut stores (like Krispy Kreme, Dunkin’ Donuts, or Winchell’s)
[Recipes: baked doughnuts – raised doughnuts - doughnuts]
- Fudge – not to be mistaken with brownies, this dense chocolate is often made during the holiday times and given away to loved ones. I have a favorite recipe. (img by jkblacker)
where to try: chocolate and candy shops, at home.
[Recipes: baked fudge - fantasy-ish fudge - muscovado fudge]
- Popcorn, Caramel and Kettle Corn – from an old-fashioned air popper, topped with butter you melt yourself or in that little tray that sits above the popper, or made in huge cast iron kettles that is both salty and sweet (kettle corn), or covered in sticky caramel (caramel corn). (img by DawnVGilmore)
where to try: fairs and festivals, at home. If you must buy Cape Cod Popcorn is pretty good.
[Recipes: caramel corn - chile lime tequila popcorn - homemade kettle corn]
- Whoopie Pie – more like a cookie/cake sandwich than an actual pie, supposedly the name comes from your exclamation of “Whoopie!” upon finding one of these two chocolate cakes sandwiching a creme filling. (img by joyosity)
where to try: in Pennsylvania/East Coast, at home.
[Recipes: whoopie pie - strawberry whoopie pies - lemon whoopie pies]
- Oatmeal cookies with California raisins and walnuts – a dense and craggy cookie, oatmeal cookies are usually made with raisins and walnuts and are slightly cinnamony. (img by esthereggy)
where to try: bakeries, at home.
[Recipes: oatmeal raisin cookies - oatmeal cherry white chocolate cookies]
- Baked yams / sweet potatoes and marshmallows – these sweet, orange potatoes are usually eaten at Thanksgiving and/or Christmastime, with marshmallows baked right on top. Marshmallows are a point of avid controversy among lovers and non-lovers. (img by dougww)
where to try: at a Thanksgiving meal, at home.
[Recipes: mashed sweet potatoes]
- Hostess Twinkie – around since the 1930s, this vanilla creme-filled shortcake-like treat has been widely consumed, but perhaps more widely known for the urban legend regarding its incredibly long shelf life (it was in Wall-E, too!). The original banana-creme has now come back as a limited edition flavor. (img by foonus)
where to try: supermarket, and then at home after you’ve tasted the original.
[Recipes: gluten-free twinkies – homemade twinkies – homemade twinkies]
- French toast – Thick slices of bread or baguette, dipped in beaten egg/milk/spices and fried in a pan and topped with maple syrup means you have a hearty breakfast! (img by roboppy)
where to try: breakfast restaurants, at home.
[Recipes: basic french toast – easy french toast – classic french toast]
- Berry / Fruit Cobbler – a fruit filling (berries, apples, etc.) is poured over a sweet batter and baked – it rises and fills in the cracks between the fruit. (img by sean dreilinger)
where to try: at bakeries, at home.
[Recipes: blueberry-strawberry cobbler - peach cobbler - berry cobbler]
- Candy Canes – these cane-shaped hard candy treats come in all sizes and are plentiful around Christmas – their peppermint flavor (other flavors, too!) is quintessential of the holiday spirit and a very popular mint flavor in general in the U.S. (img by Jenah Crump)
where to try: supermarket, candy store.
- Fruitcake - another controversial pick, the controversy is exactly why you should know fruitcake. This dense cake is dotted with nuts and candied fruits and usually soaked in liquor/rum and is the butt of many jokes as being hard as a rock, lasting forever, growing in your closet.
where to try: at a holiday party, at home.
[Recipes: holiday fruitcake - dark fruitcake]
- Ice cream sundae / Banana split – the ice cream sundae has a controversial history, but it has several consistent components: (any flavor – vanilla is popular) ice cream, whipped cream, some sort of sauce (caramel, berry, fudge/chocolate), nuts and maybe a (maraschino) cherry on top. Served inside a split banana, it’s a banana split. Each person makes their own according to their tastes. My favorite: hot brownie, caramel sauce, whipped cream, chopped peanuts. (img by zorbs)
where to try: ice cream parlors and stores, restaurants, at home.
[Recipes: chocolate chip cookie bowl sundae - vanilla ice cream - hot brownie sundae]
- Jello / Jello salad – a gelatinous, colorful sugar treat, as kids we eat it in its “pure form” for dessert, and it appears in some family gatherings in a “salad” form – sometimes with cottage cheese, cream, carrots, or other fruit. Each family will make it different, though. Also, Jello shots (chilled jello with vodka) are a favorite at college parties. This picture is demonstrative of how many varieties of Jello molds there are. (img by Victoria Belanger)
where to try: at a barbecue, supermarket, at home.
[Recipes: double berry jello salad - lime jello salad]
- Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups – Peanut butter, and chocolate, together? It’s heaven. The most well-known brand is Reese’s. The slightly-salty peanut butter filling contrasts wonderfully with the chocolate. This is one of the things I usually bring with me back to Italy. (img by Bob Fornal)
where to try: supermarkets, at home after you’ve tasted the original.
[Recipes: white chocolate peanut butter cups - homemade peanut butter cups]
- Ambrosia fruit salad – not that different from jello salad, this creamy, sweet salad is made of sour cream/whipped cream/marshmallows and mixed with oranges, pineapple and coconut. (img by Marshall Astor)
where to try: barbecue, supermarket, at home.
[Recipes: ambrosia - modern ambrosia]
- Dairy Queen Blizzard – long before the McFlurry, a small fast food chain decided you could put anything you wanted in your ice cream, and blend it up so you had a thick, personalized ice cream shake. I still think it’s one of the best available by a big chain. Try yours with Reese’s Peanut Butter cups! (img by jfer)
where to try: Dairy Queen fast food restaurants.
- Sugar (cutout) cookies – Thousands of shapes and ways to decorate, sugar cookies can be found for any occasion or holiday. Not as rich as butter cookies, these low, slightly-cakey cookies are then decorated with different colors of icing and colored sugar. (img by Kitchen Wench)
where to try: bakery, at home.
[Recipes: sugar cookies – ghost sugar cookies – 5 tricks to perfect sugar cookies]
- Black and White cookies – cakey cookies iced equally with chocolate and vanilla icing. (img by bionicgrrl)
where to try: bakeries in NYC, on the East Coast, at home.
[Recipes: black and white cookies - black and white cookies]
- Pancakes – a sweet, flat bread that is cooked in a skillet/frying pan, and covered with maple syrup (traditional), butter, fresh fruit or other sugary-syrup. (img by Strausser)
where to try: at home, IHOP, or other breakfast restaurants.
[Recipes: pancakes - blueberry buttermilk pancakes - pumpkin pancakes - cinnamon pancakes ]
Up next…Main Dishes and Snacks!
Note: Many of the photos in this post are possible thanks to the authors providing them with a Creative Commons license that allows sharing. Please visit the photo authors to share some love! Also hat tip to Food Blog Search for help finding recipes!