When traveling to any country, one of the top things to do on every list is to try out the local cuisine. Whether it’s phở in Vietnam, Vegemite in Australia, bread and cheese (with wine) in France, or waffles in Belgium, a trip isn’t complete until you’ve tried the food the country is famous for. But for people visiting the United States, the task is a whole lot harder than it is in many other countries: the U.S. is huge, and it has a vast number of culinary subcultures that can trace their origins to one of America’s hundreds of immigrant groups.
Because of the country’s incredible diversity, there’s no one dominant food type, no single “American cuisine.” Sure, you’ve got hot dogs, burgers, and barbecue, but none of those represent American food as a whole. American foods are typically mash-ups from Old World cultures. Their creators took recipes passed down by immigrants through the ages, and then improvised with whatever ingredients were more readily available, occasionally throwing in touches from other cultures they’d come into contact with in the U.S. In many cases, they improved on the Old World staple — American pizza is, in some opinions, tastier than the Italian original, and while bagels may have been invented in Poland, America's are the best in the world. American cuisine is mash-up cuisine at heart.
The other thing Americans do best is big. Our portion sizes are incredibly huge, which makes the already-daunting task of sampling the quintessential American foods even more terrifying. So if you’re visiting the United States from abroad, you’ll need to bring an appetite; if you live here, well, you already know the drill.
The saying “It’s as American as apple pie” exists for a reason. This is the quintessential American dessert. Apple pie can be eaten any time of year, but is best when apples are in season in the fall. As for where to eat it, you can find it in virtually every bakery in the country, but it’s by far the best when it’s cooked by someone’s grandmother. Try and get invited to someone’s Thanksgiving Day feast, and try it out there for the most authentic experience. Do not, for any reason, buy your first slice of apple pie from a gas station — or from McDonald's.
Bagels were invented in the Old World, but they were perfected here in the United States. Or, more specifically, they were perfected in New York. The reason that New York bagels are said to be the best in the world mostly has to do with craftsmanship, but they also get an edge thanks to the water composition in the area: New York water’s balance of calcium and magnesium makes for a crispy-on-the-outside, soft-on-the-inside bagel that can’t be matched anywhere else.