The glories of American cuisine: Slate disses pie

June 5, 2011 • 10:18 am

I’ve always said that the world’s three best cuisines are these: Chinese, French, and Indian (in no particular order).  I’m told Italian cuisine belongs in this pantheon, but I’m less familiar with it since 1) I’ve been to Italy only once, and there was restricted to the grounds of the Rockefeller Center at Bellagio, and 2) I’m timid about ordering in an Italian restaurant (do you have to have every course? and in which order?).

And while American food is dissed—often by Europeans—we do have our own indigenous and glorious foods.  Were I to list the high spots of American food, it wouldn’t be haute cuisine, but comestibles like those on the following list, which I just scribbled down off the top of my head (readers, please feel free to supplement this in the comments):

  • Fried chicken (what a glorious dish when it’s made right!)
  • Pancakes, especially with maple syrup (another wonderful American product)
  • Barbecue, all styles from North Carolina pulled pork to Kentucky lamb to Memphis and Chicago ribs to Texas brisket
  • Clam chowder (New England style only, please) and fried clams
  • Hamburgers and cheeseburgers (I predict that the green chile cheeseburger, a transcendent sandwich, will become a classic)
  • Hot dogs (yes, I know the Germans have their wursts, but they’re bunless, and only America has the chili dog and—best of all—the Chicago-style dog loaded with condiments and veggies).

  • The southern breakfast: good biscuits with red-eye gravy, country ham (what a wonderful thing is a well-cured country ham!), eggs and grits
  • The Creole and Cajun cooking of Louisiana, including jambalaya, gumbo, boiled crawfish, beignets, and po-boys)
  • The southern meat-and-three lunch, washed down with sweet iced tea and followed by banana pudding
  • American-style pizza, by which I mean Chicago’s deep-dish or stuffed pizza
  • American Jewish deli food: pastrami and corned beef sandwiches, potato latkes, pickles, blintzes

Note, before someone points out that this food is unhealthy, yes, I already know that—if it’s all you eat.  But the stuff above is good!  Oh, and there’s one more item:

  • PIE!

Pies of all sorts are awesome, and—save for the odious rhubarb, often found in combination with strawberry (why do they do that?)—I’ve never met one I didn’t like.  Sadly, Nathan Heller, a columnist at Slate and clearly a man with too much time on his hands, has just taken it upon himself to criticize American-style pies. His “critique” is in a Slate banner article called “Pie: It’s gloppy, it’s soggy, it’s un-American.”  I don’t understand why Heller wrote it, since it just seems like a curmudgeonly attempt to attack something that many people love with good reason.  And despite his rant, Americans will go on scarfing down pies.

Heller’s indictment? Pies are sloppy, unpalatable, and, worst of all, not American.

The pie, because it is a pie, does not so much “slice” as volcanically erupt under the pressure of the knife, oozing its livid fluid everywhere; your own piece, when it comes, is a miniature apocalypse of broken pastry parts and heat-blitzed fruit. You demur, mumbling about having eaten too much cornbread. Someone’s aging, wild-eyed mother stares you down. “It’s pie,” she says. You are handed a fork. You start to peck at a morsel of fruit. Your plate is promptly whisked away again: Because it’s hot outside, you’re told, you’re supposed to enjoy your dessert “a la mode.” The pie is warm; the ice cream melts at once. You contemplate what now looks like a slice of jammy toast that has been soaked in milk for half a day and masticated by a dog. You work your fork into the only structure still intact, the woody, crenulated crust, beating and twisting this bumper of dough against each leverageable surface on your plate, trying to break it up. Your fork loses a prong. Abandoning all hope, you finally drive your broken-fork-with-giant-crust-piece through the mire of sloppy dough and heft the entire, dripping mass into your mouth. “Mmm,” someone says. “Isn’t it so great to have pie?”

Yes, it is great to have pie—much better than having, say, a slice of cake at a picnic. The man is a jackass.  And he helpfully points out, as we already knew, that Europeans have had savory pies for centuries:

The pies of the ancients, rather than being oozing desserts, were combinations of savory foods baked in a pot made of tough dough. . . Our modern pie of piled fruit stewing in a shell of fragile dough is not an innovation but a replica of something primitive—piled meat entombed in hard crust—nudged in the vague direction of dessert.

Who cares if it’s a replica? It’s a good one!  Finally, Heller sees pies as a debasement of their contents:

Today, this myth of historical continuity inspires many people to take pie as a given, though it makes little sense as a 21st-century dessert. In an era of refrigeration, produce shipping, and advanced kitchen tools, there’s little in a pie that would not be better out of a pie. Who but a sadist would take a basket of ripe seasonal fruit and bake it into mush? Who would labor over flaky pastry crust that’s destined to get soaked before it’s ever tasted?

Well, Mr. Heller, what would you have us do with tart cherries or gooseberries, which reach their full glory only in pies or jams?  And yes, a ripe peach is very nice, but a warm peach pie is a luscious transformation.  But Heller seems to have forgotten that some of America’s very best pies don’t include fresh fruit. I’m referring to lemon meringue pie, chess pie (a Southern delight), sour-cream raisin pie (oy vey, could I do with a piece right now!), sweet potato pie, peanut butter pie (don’t knock it if you haven’t tried it), chocolate cream pie, coconut cream pie, shoo-fly pie and, finally, the Queen of All Pies:

Is there any dessert more American—and more tasty—than pecan pie warm from the oven, made with freshly shelled pecans, and chock full of big nuts? (I scorn those versions with only a thin layer of nuts atop a wedge of molasses-flavored gelatin.)

Heller’s piece is simply bad food writing, the attempt of a journalist who wants money and column space to stir up a trivial and unsustainable controversy.  He can stick his piece in his pie-hole.


nb: I did not mention pakes

155 thoughts on “The glories of American cuisine: Slate disses pie

  1. Thai and Vietnamese definitely belong in that pantheon of great cuisines – to my palate, they are better than French or Italian cuisines.

  2. Take it from me because I’m a self-proclaimed expert on the subject (just ask me), the very best recipe evah for pecan pie, and, believe me, I’ve tried many, many pecan pie recipes, the very best is on the side of the Karo Syrup bottle.

    Follow that simple recipe exactly and you’ll have consistently good, nay, outstanding pecan pie.

    Anybody who disagrees with me is simply wrong by default. Ain’t that right, Kink?


  3. If I could only eat one food for the rest of my life*, it would be pie. My mom makes awesome pies. When I go home to visit, thats all I want for dessert, and I will eat it at least 3 times a day (breakfast, snack, after dinner).

    We have apple, peach, and pecan orchards within 15 minutes of my parents house, though. And Mom also has an ancient family recipe for eggnog pie… OMNOMNOMNOM!!!

    * Actually if you could only eat one food for the rest of your life, you should pick dog food. Its the only single food formulated to keep a large mammal alive.

  4. The French Canadian “Poutine” is the hero of all delicious food. As for American food, I’m not aware of any.

    The French Canadian “Marie-Fendue” – Split Mary – is also great. It’s like a pan fried doughnut made with bread dough, so it’s chewier. Eaten during breakfast with maple syrup.

    1. Poutine?!? Prefer not to eat anything that requires my cardiologist to be notified in advance. Worst thing ever invented.

      1. You barbarian, poutine is awesome, it is like a flavour assault on your body. Where I am from the make it with smoked cheddar and you can add half a pound of pulled pork (or beef, or chicken if you are calorie concious) to the top.

        Long live poutine!

  5. I usually agree with the scientific views on this site, but today I must disagree completely.

    Mexican food is by far the best(I’m biased). And i’m not just talking about tacos and burritos here.

    Visit real Mexico and you’ll find great sea food, shrimp, etc. You’ll find better versions of American food: better hot dogs(with bacon wrapped, soft fresh bread and real veggies to choose from), better hamburgers too. Natural ingredients are key over there.

    I could go on, but American and European food do not compete with Mexico’s and Latin America’s cuisine. Asian cuisine will compete but no one else really.

    1. Yes. Mexican food in Mexico, even just from a roadside stand or street vender, is often amazing. I’ve long wondered why so many reasaurants here can’t seem to quite get it right, or even close.

      1. I ate, the one time, on the street of Mexico.

        I haven’t been the same since.

        The lover I was driving home? So much sicker than me. Blamed me for the whole thing.

        Now, whenever I’m thinking romantic getaway, Mexico never comes to mind.

  6. First, how is it possible that you weigh less than 500 pouds? 2nd, the problem with rhubarb pie is that it’s dificult to pull off. You absolutely must start with fresh ingredients, and you must strike just the right balance of sweet vs tart. Every batch is different, so you can’t rely on a recipe. Done right it’s sublime.

    1. Agreed. But, even if done wrong it’s still pretty darned good. If it comes in bad, I’ve never encountered that version.

      I don’t know why some people insist on contaminating it with strawberries though. It’s still alright, but so much better if the berries are just left out.

        1. No, I don’t.

          Having both eaten and made what many call ‘delicious’ rhubarb in what surely exceeds its one hundred thousand forms (yum, rhubarb porridge! (sarcasm)), I still think of it as a noxious weed (in that the leaves really are poisonous). Just as a tip to those who

          a) doubt my rhubarb expertise, and

          b) add buckets of sugar to make some rhubarb recipe edible,

          please, for the love of pancreases everywhere, heat it slowly WITHOUT water and allow its natural juices to collect and retain its faint sweetness. This also has the benefit of allowing you to make different rhubarb ‘dishes’ that calls for cooked rhubarb without it being a pulpy, stringy, sickly sweet mash.

          But I stand by my comment that it’s a weed almost impossible to kill (and I have tried, believe me) and an ingredient that makes every dish less than what it could be.

    2. Rhubarb crumble, hot, with custard, is the best kind.


      PS. Putting strawberries in is a waste. They should be eaten sans pie, and dusted with icing sugar. Fresh cream optional.

    3. What kind of jackass would diss rhubarb pie? I know! Someone who never had a proper rhubarb pie. Just like Nathan Heller who obviously never had a proper fruit pie disses all fruit pies. Odious is the fellow who calls odious something he doesn’t like.

  7. My grandmother made pecan pies to die for. Made with fresh pecans from the trees in our yard in Texas, of course. And her blackberry cobbler was divine. Not to mention the cinnamon bread. Drool…

    1. Pecan pie, a thoroughly noxious concoction, is many things, but not one of them is pie.

      Nevertheless, I forgive you. I have found you brilliant on other subjects here, but you must keep your views of pecan pie to yourself.

      1. You don’t want to eat in Mexico, and you don’t like either rhubarb or pecan pie? Yikes! This is inconceivable! How can someone live like this?

        1. I ate in Mexico. On the streets. Here I am telling you that I lived.

          Rhubarb’s not so bad. You need plenty of ice cream or whipped cream, though.

          Pecan pie, though? NO. Just eat the pecans out of the shell, as god intended.

          ps. You made me laugh.

    1. Well, there’s patriotism and then there’s theft.

      Maple syrup is an Algonquin food and Quebec has the forests for it. We’re talking Canadian here, eh? And you can thank the French Acadians (from the northern shore of the marshlands of New Brunswick) expelled to the Mississippi delta for their famous spicy food. I mean, c’mon: there’s a reason why it’s called Cajun (short for Acadian, fer sure donchaknow).

  8. Slate long ago decided to devote itself to contrarianism for the sake of contrarianism (roughly around the time Jacob Weisberg took over as editor). I wonder if the authors of their articles would even stand behind half of what they write, or if they’re just exercising some contrarian writing muscle for a quick paycheck.

    This one is particularly egregious, with the author trying to speak for the reader. It might work for a reader that’s already inclined to agree, but for one that isn’t it completely fails.

  9. Being on a diet this blog sure has it’s ups and downs…

    Anyway, having watched the very funny British series “the Supersizers eat” where they try out various historical/traditional European food I would unhesitatingly pledge eternal allegiance to the american pie. Traditional pies were horrible.

    1. Listen. All you need is Apple pie. Anc Cherry pie. Expertly made, you will need nothing else. Maybe some vanilla ice cream, or whipped cream, or a decent slice of New England cheddar cheese. Or both. But be respectful.

      Truly, you come to America, this is what we do for dessert, better than anything you’ll ever want again.

      1. Spoken like someone who’s never tasted my grandmother’s peaches and cream pies. You are not going back to plain old apple after that.

      2. Add pumpkin pie for me, please! None of that canned crap–gimmee fresh pumpkin with freshly grated ginger & nutmeg, in pastry crust with a little toasted hazelnut meal thrown in.

        Second only to an Oregon blackberry pie.

          1. Perhaps rhubarb is the Marmite of the pie world

            I don’t think so. This is the first time I’ve ever heard of anyone not liking rhubarb pie, but it appears the dislike is not of the pie but of the plant itself which is not the same thing really since nothing with rhubarb in it will likely ever appeal to people who so strongly dislike rhubarb.

            1. >Perhaps rhubarb is the Marmite of the pie world

              Ara “I don’t think so. This is the first time I’ve ever heard of anyone not liking rhubarb pie”

              Me too, except that some kids don’t like it — though they usually grow out of that.

              I don’t know what’s up with some of the folks around here. Otherwise perfectly rational people who don’t like rhubarb? It’s too bizarre for me to grasp.

              Oh, well. More for the rest of us.

              1. Not sure marmite pie would ever be any good – and I love marmite. Never had rhubarb pie, but rhubarda and apple crumble? Oh yes! with custard of course

        1. You also chose Martin Scorsese over Woody Allen over at Russell Blackford’s place, so I’ll take your taste in pie with a grain of salt (although I would never put salt on a delicious rhubarb pie).

  10. As a pie baker (and a good one at that- and I make an excellent pecan pie!) I appreciate your defense! All pies are good except for the deservedly maligned rhubarb pie. I’ve only known one person who could do anything acceptable with rhubarb and I don’t know why she bothered as it was acceptable because she managed to completely disguise it! 🙂 She may as well have left it out and saved herself the work.

    Perhaps Slate was abused with a bad crust as a child- whatever the reason for his malignment of pies, he is clearly wrong.

    1. “All pies are good except for the deservedly maligned rhubarb pie.”

      No! Mince pie is deservedly maligned. Rhubarb is wonderful almost beyond description. If rhubarb is available, I’ll always take that in preference to any other.

      I admit that I come from people who eat lutefisk, rutabagas and stuff like that so I might have an unusual set of early experiences. But, I can’t stand lutefisk so it’s not all cultural.

      1. I come in defence of the mince pie. Mince pies are one of the best things about Christmas. The problem is that most of the commercially available mincemeat is heinous. Here in the US it consists largely of apples, contains very little dried fruit and a lot of vinegar.

        Mincemeat is so easy to make. It only requires mixing together a bunch of ingredients (including liberal amounts of rum, brandy, Grand Marnier, or whatever your favourite tipple is) and storing it in the fridge for several weeks. We make ours around the end of September and use it to make a big mince pie for Thanksgiving dessert and little mince pies for Christmas and they are both delicious.

        The above refers to fruit mince pies. As I write it occurs to me that you might be referring to meat mince pies. If that’s the case, then yeah, I’m with you…

        1. Laura “The problem is that most of the commercially available mincemeat is heinous.”

          Yeah! That’s the stuff.

          I agree the meat is worse, but I’ve never had any of either sort that I found even remotely palatable. Couldn’t swallow one bite. I’d rather eat with the dog.

          1. A little mince pie, two bites at the most. Still warm from the oven. Tender short crust pastry sprinkled with icing sugar. Filled with plump vine fruits, swollen and succulent with brandy and Cointreau, redolent of clove and oranges…

            Enjoy your dog food 🙂

            1. I concede that yours sounds like a completely different thing from what I’ve experienced. I promise to quit saying bad things about mince. Maybe I’ll try to find a proper recipe and make my own.

        2. Okay, I am with you on Mince pies- meat or otherwise. I was raised in Oklahoma where they made it traditionally and I could never eat it -blech! I know there are plenty of people who like rhubarb but I feel that anything that reappears whether you hack it down as a weed or not should be treated as a weed not put in a pie! 🙂 And Mince meat is made from the most abominable (at least the kind my aunt made) parts of the cow and it should be run away from at all costs! But a well made crust can make just about anything else a culinary delight.

          1. Danette “I know there are plenty of people who like rhubarb but I feel that anything that reappears whether you hack it down as a weed or not should be treated as a weed not put in a pie! ”

            In lowland southern CA I can’t keep it alive more than a couple of years and the plants never get as large at they do in South Dakota (for example). I have to baby the heck out of them and they still die over the winter. They seem to need frozen ground. I’ve given up trying and just buy bags, when avail.

        1. Swedes are often reasonable people, even the kind from the Dakotas.

          Rhubarb is good too. That’s why people have moved it all over the planet (cool parts) from its original home in central Asia.

  11. Cornbread is also a wonderful American food. Also, I generally approve of the cookout picnic — hamburgers and hot dogs and ribs* and grilled vegetables and corn (grilled in its husks), perhaps accompanied by potato chips**, and, perhaps, grilled pineapple slices for dessert. Part of that is the social aspect of eating things fresh off the grill with friends and being outside in pleasant weather.

    But, seriously, I do like me a slice of pie, especially a well made one, where the top crust is flaky and the fruit (or nuts) is both in a delicious syrup but still distinct.

    (And now I’m hungry…)

    * Or whatever else you like to put on a grill.

    ** Here I recommend some of the lesser known brands of potato chip, where you can still taste the potato potato under the salt and grease, and that are often cooked in more flavorful oil. Russet potato chips are also acceptable. Lays potato chips are a sin against tubers.

  12. I’ve traveled a fair amount, and I’d put Italian food at the top of the good food pyramid. But there is plenty of good food to be had in many countries, including of course the USA.

    As to pie not being American: The USA is a young country. We didn’t invent everything — we just put our own spin on it.

    1. You have to eat Italian food with a big Italian family to appreciate it – Easter with half a sheep’s head for example, which is probably also popular in Iceland.

  13. I was thinking of pecan pie before I reached the end of your post. First time I’ve heard of sour cream raisin pie.

    In my view, the best cuisines are Mexican, Italian,* and Indian, with Thai a close fourth (though I’ve never had Indian or Thai there). And I’ve always had a fondness for traditional New England food.

    (readers, please feel free to supplement this in the comments):

    Club sandwiches
    blueberry and corn muffins

    *and a generalized Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, mostly vegetarian kind of thing

  14. > And while American food is dissed—often
    > by Europeans—

    I think this is because we don’t exactly get your best exports. When many Brits think of American food they think McDonalds, KFC…

    I’m not one of them. I’ve had some great food in the US and your list had my mouth watering.

    But it’s worth pointing out that you Americans do the same to our food. Surprisingly many US sitcoms make fun of British food in a way that surprises me. It’s fair that we went through a few bad decades. When I grew up in the 70s, the state of restaurants in general was woeful. They seemed to think that the bare minimum in terms of ingredients, service and especially effort was the key to financial success. But this has changed a *lot* over the years and there are lots of really outstanding restaurants and huge numbers of really good places to eat. We still have awful chains with very mediocre food, but if you go into one of those, you ought to know what you’re going to get.

    Besides this, the UK has an excellent tradition of local food and world-class ingredients. The trick is to travel around and look for the local specialities.

    1. But it’s worth pointing out that you Americans do the same to our food. Surprisingly many US sitcoms make fun of British food in a way that surprises me.

      That’s unfortunately true.

      Perhaps we can all come together around good fish & chips. 🙂

        1. And the purveyors of bad fish and chips – like the fish supper I had just 5 minutes ago – should be strung up by their goolies and fed hugh dollops of empty batter accompanied by lard covered raw chips. And then they should be put in the public stocks and have runny gravy and unmushy mushy peas tipped over said goolies.

          Should such purveyors be found to be female, they should be made to borrow thier husband’s goolies!

            1. This is the way I feel about people who graphiti, especially the ones who write on my wall.

              Depants them, stick ’em in stocks in the town square, and let all of us laugh at the perp at the size of their penis.

          1. There’s no excuse at all for bad fish and chips and yet so many chip shops seem to manage it anyway.

            For some of the best, try the North-East coast. For example, Whitby.

            There’s also some amazing seafood along that coastline, especially as you get up into Northumbria. There are some great smokehoses there and wonderful places for crab and other shellfish.

        2. Best fish and chips I had in a long time was in Sydney. Barramundi in beer batter, with good sized chips made from waxy rather than floury potatoes. Indeed a delight unto the heavens…..

          1. Barramundi!


            We’ve had it several times in Australia, even from the local chippie, and it’s always been fabulous. Then we had it at Tenaya Lodge at Yosemite… what a disappointment. Apparently, it doesn’t travel well.

            Oh, and thinking of Australian sea-food: Moreton Bay bugs!!!


    2. And may the Lord have mercy
      On the people of England
      For the terrible food
      These people must eat

      -Frank Zappa, 200 Motels

      1. I’m not sure I’d credit Frank Zappa as a credible witness. Of course, 200 Motels was made in the early 70s when restaurants in Britain were not generally in a great state. I’d argue that we’re as good as anywhere else in the world now and our cuisine has always been underrated internationally.

        At its best, it’s simple: a piece of grilled skate with some new potatoes and spinach and a black butter sauce. Scallops with wild garlic and samphire. Loin of venison with game chips, fresh peas and gravy. And why not roast beef, yorkshire puddings, roast potatoes and gravy? Why not steak and kidney pudding or pork pie?

        When done well, these are dishes that can rival any other cuisine for flavour and finesse. I think it’s almost good enough to forgive us for Findus Crispy Pancakes and Bernard Matthews Turkey Twizzlers and all the other orange food many of us were (and are) subjected to as kids.

  15. New England style only, please

    You fool.
    One trip to Bracco’s clam bar in Freeport, Long Island will cure that all-too-common error.

  16. Breakfast in our house is a big deal, and other half is usually the breakfast chef. Highlights are:

    Dutch Babies (Sunday breakfast; it’s like a larg popover, or Yorkshire pudding. Very soft in the middle and crispy round the edges.

    Waffles. Sometimes plain, sour cream waffles. Often bacon waffles. Breakfast Chef puts the batter in the waffle iron places strips of bacon on the top and closes the lid. Waffle and bacon cook together and are delicious. Cornmeal waffles work best with bacon. We have these on holidays or when we have guests.

    French toast (Wednesdays)

    Bread pudding, whose ingredients include vanilla, cinnamon,orange zest and golden raisins. This is New Years Day breakfast, in which heel ends of bread stored in the freezer are used up.

    All of these breakfasts require maple syrup. I recommend squeezing fresh lime juice onto your maple syrup. It gives it a ‘hole ‘nuther dimension.

    1. I recommend squeezing fresh lime juice onto your maple syrup. It gives it a ‘hole ‘nuther dimension.

      Hmm, that does sound like something worth trying.

      1. If you can ever get hold of Seville oranges (round here Central Market sometimes has them at Christmas), they are also good to squeeze onto maple syrup. Bon appetit!

  17. Could this actually be an oblique criticism of the new pie-shaped “plate” that the USDA and Michelle Obama are promoting as a replacement for the old nutrition pyramid?

  18. Pies of all sorts are awesome, and—save for the odious rhubarb

    What? You must not have had fresh rhubarb pie with a scoop of homemade vanilla ice cream on the side when you visited Alaska. I’d say it competes readily with pecan pie, though I like both.

    1. The best pie I ever had was in Alaska. It was a roadhouse about a half hour outside Fairbanks. It was a pear pie about six inches thick. For that pie I will forgive Alaska for Sarah Palin.

  19. Bravo! To each their own. One man’s gourmet could be better reserved for another man’s dog. Chinese, Thai, and Vietnamese are excellent but can never be weighed more gourmet than the next. Food staples, spices, and styles are varying and scattering. America has it all. For lunch French, for dinner Thai. American food is gathering the best aspects of all cultures and making it our own. That is as American as Apple Pie, or should I say General Tso’s Chicken, or better yet barbecue pizza…

  20. In re.:
    Clam chowder (New England style only, please)

    rhubarb, often found in combination with strawberry (why do they do that?)

    finally the queen of all pies: …PECAN

    Amen, bro!

    Re. the chowder, more than once I’ve been burned ordering clam chowder, only to find that damn Manhattan stuff arrive.

    And re. pies in general, I do hafta agree about putting ice cream on warm pie. Otherwise, if you’re stuck with buying pies, finding good ones can be hard. I recently bought a pie that claimed to be pecan that was disgusting – a first. An excellent source, tho, for anyone passing the vicinity of Winchester VA, is the VA Farm Market on 522 N of town. A table of pies greet you on entering, and I always get a pecan, or maybe two. I drew the last one out for a month, and unrefrigerated it was just as good as when I started with it. That’s another advantage – they never seem to get moldy!

  21. Who but a sadist would take a basket of ripe seasonal fruit and bake it into mush?

    Yeah! And what kind of psycho would make spaghetti and meatballs when he can just put some fresh tomato slices on a hamburger? Same thing, basically.

  22. I’m going to be a heretic and assert that most parts of the world have excellent food, barring places and times when the food supply is poor.

    European food is wonderful. Just try some delicious Viennese tortes, or one of Germany’s many wursts. (Beware pastries in northern Germany, however: good lucks, miserable eating.) For a thrill, try Königsburger klopse.

    Or consider Ukrainian cuisine, with its galaxy of variations on borscht. So you thought borscht was all about beets, eh? Dumkopf!

    Even the tiny country of Georgia has some entrancing dishes, e.g. Khachapuri, a sort of large, cheese filled, baked ravioli. And Georgian food is very popular throughout the states that arose from the ruins of the Soviet Union.

    All it takes to be convinced of the truth of my assertion is a modest collection of cookbooks covering the food of various countries. The old Time-Life “Foods of the World” series is a very good place to start. (I must also add that it includes a good half-dozen volumes on American cuisine, which includes some real eye openers.)

    1. Yeah, Georgian food is very good. I ate a lot of it when I lived in Moscow.

      Generally speaking, you can find good food just about everywhere, although standards vary a lot.

  23. There is much good eating to be had from your list Jerry. I’m a Brit who loves cooking for friends & family – I get great pleasure from designing the perfect combination of courses for the occasion & for the time of year. A lengthy gathering around a table to break bread, drink a variety of alcohols & lie like hell is the height of civilised behaviour. To do it justice requires IMO a minimum of three hours & five courses

    My difficulty with American-style eating is the huge portions. They are far too large for it to be possible to tease the palate. A quickly full stomach from one plate leaves no space for surprise. The first empty plate is just there staring back at me & I can enjoy nothing more.

  24. “Note, before someone points out that this food is unhealthy, yes, I already know that—if it’s all you eat.”

    Also if all you do is sit on your ass. People use to actually work, physically work, 12 hours a day. I imagine that burned off some calories and helped keep the heart going.

    1. And for those of us who do sit on our asses all day, and eat of these treasures rarely… well, that makes them taste even better!

  25. The “experts” list the grand cuisines as Chinese, French, and… Turkish! The latter is listed because the foods from the east had to first go through Istanbul to make it Europe. As such, Turks had access to a greater variety of foods. Any European dessert, probably has its roots in Turkish kitchens. Think of all those cookies from Vienna which were the product of the siege of Vienna.
    As for pie, the form is somewhat American, but when one considers strudels and other pastry covered sweets, (baklava!) it’s obvious the idea is lost in history. Rhea Tannahill’s Food in History is a nice read, as is JL Flandrin et al, Food: A Culinary History.

    1. All hail to the doner kebab – nutritious and delicious.

      Which sort of leads me to ask Jerry – what about the submarine sandwich? Surely this is another truly wonderful American culinary invention?

      1. Absolutely. It slipped my mind. In fact, the sandwich per se is a great American contribution to world cuisine. What the British call a sandwich, or a “butty”, is merely two slices of bread with a five-micron interstitial layer of something foul, topped with SWEETCORN!

        Do not want! Give me a big hero sandwich any day!

        I have a theory, which is mine, that if someone opened a real American submarine sandwich place in London, they could make a killing.

        1. I suppose you don’t count Subway as “a real American submarine sandwich place”. We have them all over the UK.

          But I think your notion of a British sandwich is as sound as your idea that we don’t say “all you can eat”. You really ought to get out more when you’re over here.

          I’ve rarely come across a sandwich with sweetcorn in it, other than tuna and mayo. And the only sandwich filling that’s properly spread thinly is Marmite – even those of us who don’t think it foul can be overpowered by a thick layer.

          The best butties (“buttered sandwiches”) are filled to overflowing with: chips (by which I mean something like, but better than, French fries, rather than potato crisps), optionally with ketchup, salt and/or vinegar; bacon, optionally with ketchup or brown (HP or Daddies) sauce; sausages (“bangers”, not würst or salami), cut in half lengthwise, ditto; ham and piccalilli; cheese and pickle (meaning Branston pickle, a kind of chutney); coronation chicken; or, for the adventurous, egg and Marmite (hard-boiled eggs, mashed up with a teaspoonful of Marmite).


          1. I have to agree with Jerry that despite supposedly inventing sandwiches, we Brits don’t do them well.

            We’re way too stingy with the fillings. I think it’s fair to credit Americans with being the best sandwich makers.

            I’ve never come across a decently put together Reuben (surely the very king of sandwiches) in the UK. Its very existence seems antithetical to the principles of British sandwich making: generous, chock full of awesome stuff and yet you can still pick them up in your hands and eat them without spilling everywhere.

            Forget a great sub sandwich place (subway definitely doesn’t count), if someone opened a deli that did sandwiches like many I’ve had all over the place in America, it would be a revolution.

            Although there’s still a place for understated, nicely seasoned little sandwiches for occasions such as afternoon tea. A delicate cucumber sandwich with the right dressing can be a wonderful thing.

            I don’t agree that sandwiches in the UK automatically have sweetcorn on, however.

  26. The best pie I’ve ever had was a banana cream I made myself.

    Another one that belongs on the list is pumpkin pie, but it must be homemade from raw pumpkin. Canned is fine (no pre-added spices!), but fresh from the pumpkin is best.

    1. Canned is fine if that’s what your used to but I can’t abide it. The creme de la creme is actually made from fresh pumpkin pie pumpkins. They are actually a completely different kind of pumpkin–smaller and have more flavor. And this year I roasted mine and that was a lovely twist as well!

  27. Abandoning all hope, you finally drive your broken-fork-with-giant-crust-piece through the mire of sloppy dough and heft the entire, dripping mass into your mouth. “Mmm,” someone says. “Isn’t it so great to have pie?”

    Fuck yeah!

  28. My absolute favorite cuisine is Indian, and I can’t eat it; as I’ve grown older my asthma has gotten worse, and now it’s triggered by some Indian spices. Waaah! I have to be careful with the East Asian cuisines as well.

    But as for pie… I never much cared for rhubarb pie, but maybe it was the combination of rhubarb and strawberries. My mother used to make a rhubarb coffee cake that was sublime, from rhubarb freshly picked from her pampered rhubarb plant. Don’t know what happened to the recipe.

    Oh — and Manhattan clam chowder ROCKS.

  29. Odious rhubarb? Odious rhubarb? Next time you are in Paris (or London at a stretch) go to Paul and order a Tarte Rhubarbe. Prepare to repent.

  30. Whenever I hear BBQ and Southern sweet tea I get nostaligic about the year I lived in Charleston, SC. Good Southern sweet tea is just this side of syrup sometimes but the tea is brewed just right. South Carolina has a mustard based BBQ you can’t get anywhere else, I prefer going to Bessinger’s on US 17 just south of downtown Charleston. They have these huge onion rings that I describe as a hush puppie hula hoop with an onion running through the center and a sandwich called a Big Joe that is pulled pork with mustard BBQ on a soft bun. Top it off with some sweet tea and you’ve got lunch.

  31. Good grief!

    Where are the salads, fruit and fresh vegetables?

    Spanish food!!!

    Pan con Tomate using home-made tomatoes and home-made bread. Heaven!

      1. What about Tapas? A wonderful way to eat. Go somewhere the locals go and ask them to just bring stuff. You won’t be sorry.

        1. And now I come to think of it, the Spanish do very good – if perhaps understated for American tastes – pies. They tend to be a pastry case with some fruit and then a sponge or frangipani topping and maybe some more fruit on top. Eat a slice with a glass of Anisette over lunch.

  32. Pie is English isn’t it?

    Anyway, my picks are Greek, Indian and Chinese.

    Honourable mentions:

    Portuguese for all that can be done with peri-peri.

    Italian is good and easy to prepare, making Italian resturants reliable because there is a limit to how badly you can stuff it up – apart from killing it with salt of course.

    French is basically English that takes itself too seriously. Still good, but its not actually any better than American.

    American food gets bashed but there is a reason why its so popular the world over. MacDonalds really isn’t a representative sample though, given that it isn’t really food.

  33. Whatever the food, home made bread/biscuits/rolls and gravy, of an appropriate type, at every meal is a plus.

    Leaving Kansas city out of the BBQ list is like leaving Bordeaux out of a wine list.

  34. May I just put a word in for Southern African cuisine? Really good boerewors (sausage), really good droewors (dry sausage) and really good biltong (jerky – but several levels higher on the deliciousness scale)- that really is the stuff. And good old nyama and sadza – basically a rich meaty stew and what Americans know as ‘grits’ – corn meal porridge (‘pap’) but stiff enough to roll into balls and dip in the stew. I also really like pap and mogudu – which is tripe cooked into a stew. Gamey, but can’t be beat after a long day in the field. Mmmmmmmm

    1. Yep. South Africa is a good place to have meats one doesn’t find much outside Africa: various antelope (some are amazingly good), ostrich, crocodile, etc. And the seafood, particularly in coastal areas, is excellent.

      And the wines are world-class.

  35. I love pie. Just last week my technician made made pecan pie that was trascendent.
    And last summer I took a vacation to the lower peninsula of Michigan around Sleeping Bear Dunes and Traverse City. The fruit belt of Michigan. I ate pie three times a day. Raspberry,blueberry, peach, cherry, and mixed.

    It was heaven.

    The pie vacation.

    Jerry, you are so close! Do it!

  36. Most of this is correct (my wife makes pecan pie with the recipe from the Karo bottle, and it’s always a hit), though personally my top three world cuisines would be Indian, Mexican and Thai. I’ve had real Chinese food – i.e., not the kind you get from Chinese takeout places – several times, and I’m of the opinion that it’s made mostly from the bits of the animals that no one else eats. Italian food I find is usually good, but rarely excellent.

    My honorable mention would go to Ethiopian food, which I really enjoy but have never seen outside New York City. At a real Ethiopian restaurant there’s no silverware; all the food is served on a large communal plate, and you get this flat, spongy, pancake-like bread called injera from which you tear off chunks and use them to scoop up the food. A very interesting and unique dining experience, particularly when accompanied by a good bottle of Ethiopian tej (honey wine).

    I concur with the commenter (#14) who said that any list of quintessentially American foods must include cornbread.

    Also, Jerry, I have to correct you on one minor but important point: The best pizza is New York-style thin-crust pizza, preferably cooked in a coal-fired oven. And the best pizza in New York is Grimaldi’s, which makes pizza according to this plan and whose first restaurant is right under the Brooklyn Bridge. Even the Obamas agree, and they’re from Chicago, so there:

    1. My honorable mention would go to Ethiopian food, which I really enjoy but have never seen outside New York City.

      I loved that Marcus Samuelsson won Top Chef: Masters. What he made looked great to me – I think I’d love Ethiopian(-fusion) cuisine, and I recall them having something good at the Fancy Foods show….

  37. I agree about the odious rhubarb pie.
    Never understood it’s appeal (and as far as I knew, only old ladies ever ate it).
    It’s the Liver And Onions of pies.

    Anyway, for me the single desert that towers above all others is my mom’s pumpkin pie, with whipped (or ice) cream.

    It’s so good that for years she’s been baking about 9 pies every Thanks Giving because all her kids and extended family beg for one to take home as well.
    Now my own kids hold it as the supreme desert they crave as well.

    I spin and lower my drawers in the direction of Slate on this vital issue.


      1. Yeah, dice the onions *very* finely and cook them very gently in quite a lot of butter with a bit of olive oil until they are soft and brown. Take the cacky bits out of the liver, soak it overnight in milk then fry it in butter for about a minute, rest it for a minute, then slice it and put it on the diced onion. Maybe a balsamic reduction, if we’re going to be retro anyway.

        Could anyone object to that?

  38. After a couple of childhood years in Bangkok, I vote for Thai food as mother’s milk. However, to add to the list of American foodstuffs not to be dissed:

    – Key Lime Pie!
    – Chesapeake Bay spiced steamed crabs!
    – Maladsadas hot from a roadside truck in Hawaii! Malasadas were brought to Hawaii by the Portuguese – they are a yeast raised dough, deep fat fried, rolled in sugar. Far better than any donut you have eaten. Hawaiian food is syncretic in the best sense, and I recommend to anyone an eating tour of the islands.

  39. You forgot Swiss cuisine. The recipe for nearly every Swiss dish is as follows: Take dish from another cookbook; French, Italian, or German preferred. Melt thick layer of cheese on top.


      1. In Prague, our sons discovered their ideal main course: a deep-fried slab of cheese covered in breadcrumbs.

        I think I’d like it, but my heart would stop.


  40. The only issue I ahve with American food it demands a big mouth. I think for me the only way to really enjoy is allowing the food to drip down the mouth. Not a pretty picture but what the hell as long as I am enjoying it.

  41. Cuban, Japanese, and Korean BBQ are also pretty great cuisines.

    For American: how bout Buffalo Wings and the Philly Cheese Steak!

    1. Cheese Steaks- often imitated, rarely duplicated. My maternal grandmother lived just outside of Philly, and the ones I find available over on the West Coast just don’t compare.

    2. Thank you! Finally– a vote for Japanese food!

      And–third vote here for cornbread (my mom’s).

      And Mr. Slate has obviously never had pie made correctly. Runny apple pie. Hmpf. Not mine. (psst– you guys! Greta Christina had an *awesome* tip from her pie-making neighbor: use vodka instead of water when making the crust… it evaporates out, you don’t taste it, but it does make the crust flaky! So does using ice water and not touching the dough too much, though;-))

      1. I only discovered Japanese when I moved to the West Coast but have since really fallen in love with it. Not just sushi/sashimi but Udon, Ramen, Kobi steaks, tempura, miso, salads etc. So clean and healthy and yummy. It’s one of the few cuisines where I almost feel healthier no matter how much I gorge.

    3. We can’t do buffalo wings in the UK either. Perhaps it’s due to our recent woeful (and thankfully changing) history of battery farming chickens: battery chickens tend to be very young and haven’t had space to exercise their wings, so have no wings to speak of. As I said, this is changing and not soon enough.

      Buffalo wings with a really good blue cheese dip is a really appetising and satisfying dish.

  42. Here’s a West Coast treat- pan fried razor clams.

    Also, Chinook salmon. That’s the proper name of the fish, not freaking king salmon.

  43. Just to be pedantic, on this side of the pond a pie is covered and a tart is open. You have a picture of a mouthwatering queen of all tarts.

  44. Italian cuisine belongs in this pantheon

    There is but one top cuisine—Italian. All others are secondary at best. Even French cuisine, without the arrival of Catherine de Medici and her retinue in the wilderness of Paris, would be like a cross between English and German.

    You’re right that American cuisine deserves greater appreciation. Unfortunately, like Italian, all these dishes are highly localized, and if you want to try them you have to be in the right county or neighborhood at the right establishment.

    Also, fusion deserves a place on the list, as Americans have been open to innovating with the best from their immigrants.

  45. I suspect fried chicken must be part of almost every culture’s “national” cuisine. Certainly everywhere seems to have a variant on it.

  46. personally I am partial to veggie chili, real mac and cheese (baked, with a seasoned bread crumb topping), fresh cooked apple sauce, and Boston style pizza. Stuffed crusts make me ill to even contemplate – give my a nice crisp crust, no over load on sauce and a smattering of toppings (including cheese.) As for pie, of course everyone loves pie. The author’s problem seems more aesthetic than palate related. I suggested he try pies in tart pans – though for my taste these have too much crust.

    Best foods of all are not national, fresh, raw fruits and veggies.

  47. almost everything you list as great american food is heavy, greasy, gloppy, gut busting junk food laden either with gravy, sauces or sugar. even your pizza choice follows this bad trend – chicago deep dish pizza is awful. sorry.

    and then for pies you choose the one of the heaviest, most sickening sweet pies as the “best.” the best pies are made with fruit.

  48. I’m still pining for the museli served at the Lydmar hotel in Stockholm. I suspect they make it themselves, fresh daily. Best thing ever.

  49. My favourite are Indian and Greek, but i have a soft spot for the wonderfull cakes and pastries of Alsatia.
    I must admit i know nearly nothing about the true american food… I’m one of those who thought that mcDonald’s was representative of it 😀
    (mmm… except for pancakes… I could live off pancakes with maple syrup *yummm*)
    As for your doubts about italian food
    I’m told Italian cuisine belongs in this pantheon, but I’m less familiar with it since (cut) 2) I’m timid about ordering in an Italian restaurant (do you have to have every course? and in which order?).
    I never thought that italian restaurants could give that kind of problems 🙂
    Here are my tips:
    – you don’t have to have every course… a complete meals would be made of starters (more or less anything), first course (pasta or rice, normally), second course (meat, fish) with a side dish (vegetables of any kind), fruit, some kind of sweet, cheese, coffee, some kind of alcoholic drink.
    But you can have any combination of those 🙂
    The “correct” order is the one in the list, but you can have a starter as second course, or ask for a side dish as starter…

    Anyway… i think you can eat whatever you want in the order you prefer… but supposing you’re eating in a restaurant in italy or, anyway, with italian staff, here are a couple of things to know, if you don’t want the waiter to politely take your order and then run to the kitchen to laugh his ass off 😀

    – pasta and rice are definitely NOT side dishes… you don’t order pasta or rice with a steak…
    – at the end of the meal, you take a coffee, NOT cappuccino. Cappuccino is for breakfast, or for a mid-afternoon snack
    – do not EVER ask for ketchup. NEVER EVER. Ketchup does not exist. Ketchup is the devil. Just don’t 😀

  50. Way to represent the Green Chile Cheeseburger!

    You even spelled it right. It is hamburger at its finest. Especially when eaten at the Owl Cafe in San Antonio (that’s San Antonio, New Mexico. Not the one in Texas)

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