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THE USA: Essentials - Must read

Essentials: Food, drink and cuisine in America

Find out what American food culture is really all about with our guide to options on campus and on the street, as well as by American regions geographically.


While America is known for almost-too-good-to-be-true junk food, those who are health-conscious need not fret: the USA is a big place, and there are plenty of other food options available for those who care to look. Each state has its own rich food culture and specialty dishes, and you might find you’ll never even want to grace the entrance of McDonalds.

Let our guide to making the most of America’s food culture help enrich your study abroad experience.



Think local

Each state has a distinct character, history, repertoire of cultural influences and specialty dishes. Chicago, for example, is famous for its thick deep-dish pizzas, whilst Philadelphia takes proud responsibility for the Philly cheese steak, a hot-dog style sandwich with an ingenious meat-and-cheese filling. Specific colleges are even famous for certain foods: Pennsylvania State University has a famous ice creamery on campus, whilst the University of California Los Angeles offers students and punters the chance to taste one of their famed cookie and ice-cream sandwiches.

As well as a quota of sugary treats and salty wonders, all states also have unique dishes sourced from local ingredients. Below we’ve given a brief overview of tastes and local treats you can hope to encounter across the country:



North-East, East Coast

America’s North East is speckled with vibrant cities packed with restaurateurs and foodies. Who can help getting lost amidst the sheer amount of choice in New York, or the fresh Amish markets in Pennsylvania? Food culture here, particularly in New England, is influenced by the USA’s British colonial past, and makes key use of seafood in its wares. Students in New England should try clam chowder in a bread bowl, or tuck into a fresh lobster roll, whilst those in Baltimore should opt for a blue crab in one of the state’s many ‘Crab Houses.’




Affectionately dubbed ‘soul food,’ cuisine from America’s South is rich and deep in flavour, and cites influence from Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Creole and Latin American flavours. Ingredients are often cooked all together, merging all their separate flavours into a singular, rich and complex taste experience. Taste a gumbo if you find yourself in Louisiana, and don’t shy from slow-cooked pulled pork or home-cooked chilli if you’re in Texas.




Sometimes called the ‘bread basket’ of the country, cuisine in America’s Midwest is simple, and relies on the few strong flavours of key ingredients. Casseroles, pot roasts and baked pastas are never excessively spiced, with vegetables, grains, dairy and meats sourced directly from the country’s core. The Native American heritage of Midwest States comes through in the prominence of corn and wild rice in local speciality dishes.




Enjoying a mild climate, states on the nation’s west coast boast a number of fresh fruits, vegetables, meat and seafood.  California is known for its oranges and avocadoes, and with big cities at the forefront of global food trends like San Francisco and Los Angeles there are infinite choices available for foodies, students and those simply curious alike. The further down the coast you travel, you’re more likely to encounter ‘Tex-Mex’ cuisine: America’s unique fusion of Mexican and local cooking styles. Try ‘arroz con pollo’, a classic rice and chicken dish or fresh ‘ceviche’, spiced raw fish cooked in lemon or lime juice.



Explore for yourself

Many states often hold food fairs and have plenty of local markets students are encouraged to venture out to. Keep an eye on student boards and community posts, and don’t be afraid to ask around about what’s going on in the way of food: locals will only be too happy to show off what their area has to offer. For example, students at the University of Pennsylvania or Drexel might complete an entire semester abroad without discovering Philadelphia’s Reading Terminal Market!


Street food and food trucks are also a relatively new phenomenon to hit the States. Anything from fresh steak sandwiches to falafel might be on offer, and are always cooked on the spot to be eaten fresh on the go. News of these food outlets often travels via word-of-mouth, local papers or via chance encounters when exploring a new city.




Now that you’ve worked up the appetite, why not discover American food culture for yourself whilst you study and start browsing courses in America now?




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About Author

Monica Karpinski received her BA (Media and Communications) and Diploma in Modern Languages (French) from the University of Melbourne, Australia. An art and culture aficionado, in her spare time Monica enjoys film, reading and writing about art.


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