The concept of ‘American food’ tends to get a bad rap from the rest of the world. How many people would cite it as their favourite cuisine? Despite this, it has become one of the most widely eaten in the world. From burgers to Caesar salad, dishes created in (or on the way to) America have sneaked into our daily diet wherever we live.
Aside from dishes created in America, a common story is of dishes brought to the country by the scores of immigrants that have made up its population throughout history. As American as apple pie? In fact, this ‘traditional’ dish has its roots in both English and German cuisine, two of the largest communities that first came to America as settlers. Ahead of Independence Day on Wednesday July 4, we learn more about the origins of America’s most famous dishes.
The bagel Bagels have become synonymous with New York, but it was immigrants from eastern Europe that first brought this snack to the city. Proper New York-style bagels are boiled, which gives them that shiny coating. They shouldn’t be soft and fluffy: instead, authentic bagels feature a hard, tough dough – so much so that, in the days before more advanced medical techniques, women were given bagels to bite on during childbirth, to take their mind off the pain. The bagel’s most iconic accompaniment is cream cheese and smoked salmon (or ‘lox’, as it is traditionally known). This is another import from the eastern European community: the cream cheese was originally added to counteract the extreme saltiness of the lox. Here in Dubai, you can get hold of an authentic New-York style bagel at Bagels and More. Go for the classic lox version, served with onions and capers. Dhs26 (lox and cream cheese house special). Open daily 6am-7pm. Marina Diamond 3, Dubai Marina (04 430 8790).
The burger The lowly burger has, over the course of history, infiltrated eating-out options through the world. The invention of this dish is usually credited to the Americans and, while it is certainly the US that has made it famous, this is only half the story. In reality, burgers are believed to have been invented as an easy meal by a group of immigrants from Hamburg in Germany (hence the name ‘hamburger’), while aboard a boat to start a new life in America. If you need further evidence, the Germans have their own similar version of this minced-beef patty, known as ‘frikadeller’, and the classic burger toppings of pickled cucumber and onion are quintessentially German too. For a distinctly American version in Dubai, head to Johnny Rockets, a vintage themed diner like no other. Burgers from Dhs37. Open daily noon-12.30am. Mall of the Emirates, Barsha (04 341 2380).
The dessert In common parlance, cheesecake is no longer just cheesecake, it’s ‘New York cheesecake’. Like the bagel, the baked version of this dessert was brought to America by eastern Europeans. The dish can be spotted in various guises, made with different cheeses across eastern Europe from Germany to Russia. The recipe is thought to have originated as a way of using up leftover dairy products, which are not allowed to be eaten during certain religious observances. If you like cheesecake, you’ll be spoiled for choice at Fazaris’s brunch: the cheesecake station boasts at least ten different varieties, including Arabian date, mango and a New York baked style. Dhs290 (soft drinks), Dhs425 (selected beverages). Fri 12.30pm-4pm. The Address Downtown Dubai (04 436 8799).
The fusion dish American cuisine has developed in such a way that fusion is its greatest unique selling point, with examples stretching to cuisine sub-categories such as ‘Tex Mex’. A few years ago, American chef Roy Choi gained cult popularity in America when he began selling ‘Korean tacos’ as street food from a van. The idea was to combine the spicy marinated beef and fresh pickled flavours found in both Mexican and Korean cooking. Although not American in origin, here in Dubai we have our own version of Asian-American fusion at Nobu. Aside from the other Japanese-Peruvian mix-ups on offer here, the Japanese-inspired tuna taco is the perfect expression of American-style fusion – confusing but successful. Dhs95. Open Sat-Wed 7pm-11.30pm; Thu- Fri 7pm-12.30am. Atlantis The Palm (04 426 2626).
The salad The famous Waldorf salad was developed at the hotel of the same name in New York. Yet its creation is credited not to anyone in the kitchen, but to the maître d’, Oscar Tschirky. The original recipe didn’t contain nuts, but was made with apples, celery and mayonnaise. You can try California Pizza Kitchen’s version, which features chicken, grapes, apples, walnuts, celery and gorgonzola. Dhs35. Open Sun-Thu noon-11pm; Fri-Sat noon-midnight. Mall of the Emirates, Barsha (04 341 9090).