Eating American food: A learned skill

Vicky Gunawan has her strategies for adapting to American food. They often involve sriracha sauce.

by Vicky Gunawan – Horizon News and Features Editor

Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, peanut butter and celery, peanut butter and bananas, bacon and maple syrup, marshmallows on baked sweet potatoes, breakfast pizza, and the list of American foods goes on.

I like to try different foods from any culture, so, when I first came to the United States, I wanted to try everything. However, I quickly noticed a few odd differences about American cuisine. While many of these culinary quirks have been hard for me to stomach, I hope my observations help readers, both domestic and international students, recognize and appreciate what I’ve come to see as a uniquely American take on food.

Cheese, cheese, and more cheese

Cheese in soups, cheese in and on pasta, cheese in sandwiches, cheese in baked potatoes, cheese in burritos, cheese in casseroles, and another thing called cheesecake that uses cream cheese, which is just another type of cheese. For a person who came from a country where cheese is considered a luxury, this is just outrageous! I continue to wonder how Americans can eat cheese for almost every single meal (including breakfast).

The breader the better

When I got to the second or third week of school, I started to realize that we had sandwiches or hamburgers or the like for a lot of meals. Some days, we even had them for lunch and dinner. Overloaded on bread, I soon ended up avoiding it for about two weeks and only ate bread two or three times a week afterwards, sometimes I didn’t even eat bread for three weeks. (I cannot really complain about this, though. I worked in the kitchen of a summer camp this past summer, and I knew exactly how tiring kitchen work could be and how sometimes we just felt like serving something simpler like sandwiches or hamburgers.)

Assaulted by salt

In addition, I generally find American food to be really salty. Often times when I ate something at the cafeteria, I had to mix it with another food or add some spices so that I could gulp it down. I remember one main dish, an egg casserole (with cheese on top). It didn’t look salty, so I took quite a lot of it. I choked, it was so salty. Yet I saw some people who sat at another table sprinkling more salt on the dish like it was tasteless. My solution to the saltiness is to add hot sauce and every single spice available on the counter to get rid of the saltiness. I did not mind it as much after that, since I love spicy food.

Speaking of salt, please take my observations with a grain of it. Although there are numerous differences between the food from other cultures (including American) and the food where I came from, Indonesia, I still want to try them no matter what. Sometimes what makes a food typical of a culture is what makes the food very tasty, and special, too.

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