1. Cobb salad
As one of America’s favorite salads, who knew the Cobb salad was invented in America. And it also has a pretty cool story at that. The year was 1937, and Bob Cobb, the owner of the once famous Hollywood hotspot known as The Brown Derby, was said to have just been scrounging around its quarters, looking for something to eat. That’s when a new trend was born. Bob supposedly made this unique salad with the contents he found in the fridge: a head of lettuce, an avocado, watercress, tomatoes, some cold chicken breast, a hard-boiled egg, chives, cheese, and some old-fashioned French dressing. The story goes that he just started chopping and for the final touch, just added some crispy bacon he had swiped from a chef. Lucky for all of us, the salad went onto the menu and eventually became one of America’s most popular dishes.
From crawfish to gumbo to Po’ boys, Louisiana’s cuisine is richly infused with southern culture and comes with some tasty twists. But if you’ve ever been to places like New Orleans, you know that you absolutely cannot leave there without trying some good old-fashioned jambalaya. This dish became such a favorite that it even was the subject of a 1952 hit song called “Jambalaya (On the Bayou),” written and recorded by country music singer Hank Williams. Not to mention the numerous covers that came after it. Similar to Spanish paella, jambalaya comes in either Creole or Cajun, the difference being red (with tomatoes) and brown (without). It’s made with meat, vegetables celery, peppers, onions, rice, and of course shrimp and andouille sausage. Jambalaya is a staple dish in Louisiana, and it’s one you must try if you’re ever passing through the state.
3. Smithfield Ham
There’s nothing like Virginia ham. For people who truly love ham, Virginia is the place to be. In fact, Smithfield, Virginia is known as the “Ham Capital of the World.” Their motto is: “Ham, history, and hospitality” – in that order. Out of all of Virginia, Smithfield is the hub of curing and production. There’s even a law dating back to 1926, which states that ham must be processed within the city limits. Yup, ham has always been a huge part of the state. So much so that authentic cured Virginia country ham was even said to be a favorite of Thomas Jefferson. Back in the day, country style American ham was dry cured for preservation. It was salty and hard and could keep until soaked in water, which is how you’d remove the salt and reconstitute before cooking. But thanks to Smithfield and other places in Virginia, today, you could say that ham is where the heart is.
What would America be without grits? Grits are a food made from corn that is ground into a coarse meal and then boiled. They’re one of the most popular dishes of the south and can be found anywhere from Virginia to Texas. You’ll often see them on the menus of restaurants found in that region, which is also known as the “Grits Belt.” Grits are more or less simple and inexpensive, yet extremely versatile, which is why people love them. From plain to savory, to sweet, whether they’re pan-fried or porridge-like, this dish will always offer you a taste of southern comfort and will remind you why a good southern hot breakfast can sometimes turn out to be the ultimate American cuisine.
5. Fortune cookies
OK, by now you’re probably shaking your head. But yes, fortune cookies are not (and have never been) authentic Chinese cuisine. When Chinese immigrants first came to America, they established themselves in big cities such as New York and San Francisco. As they settled into American life, some opened restaurants, bringing with them the cuisine of the Far East and matching it with the taste buds of the West. Other popular American (yes, American) dishes like General Tso’s chicken, Mongolian beef, broccoli beef, lemon chicken, and things like deep-fried spring rolls, were born, ushering in the age of Chinese-American cuisine. Thankfully for us, the fortune cookie made the cut. People believe it originated somewhere in California in the early 1900s, although no one knows if it was in San Francisco, Los Angeles, or somewhere else. The good news is that fortune cookies can now be found in restaurants and Chinese food joints all over the world. Except, of course, in China.