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What is American Ethnic Food?

Updated on June 28, 2010

I used to believe there was no such thing as American ethnic food.

The States, after all, are nothing more than a big melting pot, right? I had thought we lacked our own social cuisine because all of our food is derived different cultures.  This conception was succinctly extinguished two weeks ago, when I encountered an American ethnic food shelf in a grocery store In Berlin, Germany.

The USA Shelf

The Contents

As you can see in the video, most of the foods are processed; relatively unhealthy. Here is a full inventory:

  • Swissmiss
  • V-8 juice
  • Pancake syrup (not to be mistaken for maple syrup)
  • Hershey's syrup and chocolate toppings
  • Betty Crocker baking mixes (including basic cake mixes and the groundbreaking & versatile Bisquick)
  • Cans of Betty Crocker cake icing
  • Hot sauce
  • Jim Bean, Hunt's, and other steak sauces
  • Jack Daniel's Barbecue Sauce
  • Arm & Hammer Baking Soda
  • Chef Paul Prudhomme's Magic Seasoning Blends
  • Newman's Own salad dressings
  • Hellmann's Mayonnaise and Dijonnaise
  • Blue cheese salad dressing
  • Marshmallow fluff (strawberry and plain)
  • Macaroni and cheese
  • "Cheese Zip"
  • Processed cheese from squeeze bottles (in nacho, cheddar, and jalapeno flavors)
  • Squeeze bottles of mustard
  • Heinz Sweet Relish
  • Crisco
  • Marshmallows
  • Campbell's Soup cans

The Reaction

When I first upload this video online, it became relatively popular and generated a steady flow of comments. Many of the comments were out of pride that certain foods were featured on this shelf; some viewers were outraged that certain foods have been left out. 

The Missing Pieces

The most apparently grievous (and mentioned) omissions from the German store's shelf are as follows:

  • Twinkies
  • Apple pie
  • Pop Tarts
  • Slim Jims
  • Hot dogs
  • Hamburgers
  • Peanut butter

The Takeaways

rom the shelf, and from the YouTube comments it generated, I learned that American ethnic food does indeed exist. 
When combined, these two lists above might be considered an informal, but nonetheless carefully curated and crowdsourced, outline of American ethnic food.  Should you consider someday throwing a traditional 'American' dinner party, feel free to consult this list and break out the Bisquick and Cheese Zip!!
It is interesting to consider what out country has contributed to the culinary world- mostly a wave of fast and convenient foods and processed foods (most of which are bolstered with corn byproducts, which is a huge feature of our food economy).

Many people (a bench of whom commented on this video) find the American food legacy to be a real travesty while others are quite defensive of it. I cannot say my heart sways in one direction or another- just that I find American food to be fascinating!


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    • iZeko profile image


      7 years ago

      That’s very interesting. I’ve always wondered what the typical American food is. I also wonder what other countries’ ethnic food sections in the US supermarkets look like. Probably similar processed and canned stuff.

    • Simone Smith profile imageAUTHOR

      Simone Haruko Smith 

      7 years ago from San Francisco

      Hahaa, 50- lol@ "potted meat on viagra"

      Yeah, I'm not a huge fan of most of those processed foods, but to be fair, the shelf featured mostly processed stuff because that's what lasts the longest :D

    • 50 Caliber profile image

      50 Caliber 

      7 years ago from Arizona

      Great premise, I never even thought about until popping up on this hub. I can think of a host of American foods, all are Capitalistic in nature and creation. Spam, potted meat, Vienna sausages [potted meat on viagra]are three made from left overs of a main product and I consider that capitalist to profit off selling what I would toss to the dogs or buzzards America grinds and processes into products for the masses who don't read labels, ate any eye balls lately? mmmmm potted meat, not! Thanks for an enjoyable read, 50

    • Simone Smith profile imageAUTHOR

      Simone Haruko Smith 

      8 years ago from San Francisco

      Thanks Money Glitch!

      I'm a big fan of the original video. They're so easy to make these days!

      And yeah- American food is... well, it is simply what it is!

    • Money Glitch profile image

      Money Glitch 

      8 years ago from Texas

      Cool idea, doing your own vids; hope to get comfortable doing that one day. I never thought about it however, guess America does have ethnic food as well. Was surprised on one of the videos I did for Okinawa that there was the canned Spam. Now, that is definitely American; even if you despise it, you gotta admit it is truly American. :) Rating up !

    • Simone Smith profile imageAUTHOR

      Simone Haruko Smith 

      8 years ago from San Francisco

      Those cookouts sound like a lot of fun!!

    • RedElf profile image


      8 years ago from Canada

      I had a bite of a Twinkie once. I was really looking forward to trying one, but that single bite tasted like nothing I had ever tried before - sweet fluff wrapped in bland sort-of cake - mostly it tasted of chemicals and preservatives to me, but then, I have a funny palate - lots of people don't even taste or notice the additives. Didn't eat the rest.

      My kids are "meatatarians", though (thanks you "Wendy's" for that cute commercial), but we also have butcher who makes his own wieners, so they are not as full of all the things we should avoid. We often have cookouts over the fire pit in our back yard on the weekend.

      Thanks for a fun look at life from outside the box.

    • Simone Smith profile imageAUTHOR

      Simone Haruko Smith 

      8 years ago from San Francisco

      How interesting! Man... food can be so revealing- and ambiguous. I love it so much!

      I've never eaten a Twinkie either. I wonder what they're like. I did enjoy hot dogs back in my meat-eating days though, and I must admit, they taste like America.

    • Maddie Ruud profile image

      Maddie Ruud 

      8 years ago from Oakland, CA

      I lived in England for a while, and I always found it hilarious what foods were labeled "American-style." For example, "American-style cornbread," which was basically just a normal loaf of bread made with part corn meal, part flour--nothing like what I'd expect cornbread to be if I ordered it here in the States.

      The omissions you mention in Germany are certainly glaring from many American's point of view. But I personally never actually eaten a Twinkie, and I've had a total of one bite of hot dog in my life... last year. Blame the fact that I'm half Canadian, I guess.


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