The United States of America – the land of the free, home of the brave and where dreams are made. I adore this country. I am lucky enough to have visited several times growing up, discovering the nation on family vacations. I associate it with theme parks, extravagance, friendliness, over-the-top-ness and good food. Yes, good food.
I strongly believe those who have not visited the U.S of A often have predetermined misconceptions of the place – which are frequently incorrect. One that particularly grinds my gears (and which hand-on-heart I have had a lot of personal encounters with) is the expectations – and what some believe is their educated understanding – into the food that is offered there. Basically only food that it is greasy, fattening and unhealthy.
Due to the fact that I have been to Florida, Los Angeles, New York, North Carolina, San Francisco and places in between, I like to think I have experienced enough of America to comment – with some credibility – on this. I cannot pretend that there aren’t masses of fast-food, supersized, fattening restaurants and diners lining the streets of the cities that I have visited, but no one said you had to eat there. There are multitudes of alternatives – you just have to look for them!
And in saying that, even if you do find yourself in a Denny’s, a Taco Bell or a Bob Evans, I can guarantee you that you will either be able to find a healthy, good meal or create your own from whatever is on the menu due to the versatility of the American hospitality service.
To support my claims, I recently visited my little sister in Raleigh, North Carolina – a holiday which consisted of touring her university, eating, watching college football, eating, shopping and eating. Below are a few snapshots of some the most delicious food I have had in a long time, seasoned with friendly service and topped with affordability.
First up was a newbie for me – McAlister’s Deli. This gem has a simple but mouth-watering menu consisting of giant spuds, sandwiches, soups and salads. Yes, everything can come with a side of fries, but that is your choice. I chose the New Yorker – corned beef and pastrami piled high, swiss cheese and spicy brown mustard on toasted rye. I then stuffed it with my side of a pickle (or a giant gherkin as I would describe it).
My parents had also set up a visit to Panera Bread, a surprisingly good, simple and homely bakery/café chain which too offers sandwiches, soups and pastries at reasonable prices – something I often lacking in London. Simple yet deeply satisfying.
Speaking of sandwiches, check out this beauty! A late night hunger took us by surprise so we ventured to the nearest Wallmart for ‘snacks.’ From memory it was aptly named a ‘Five Meat Sub’ and consisted of five different types of salami – plus salad. Yes extravagant, yes a little OTT but boy was it tasty, and, while not a 1-calorie salad, it definitely isn’t the head-sized steak and fries some people believe is the only thing on offer.
After a huge day of shopping, we decided to have our evening meal at a sports bar/restaurant place called Champs. Here, while the menu consisted on what most ‘never-visited-America’ people might think – buffalo wings, pizzas, burgers etc – there were also loads of healthier options. I chose a Sesame Seared Tuna Salad – seared rare ahi, baby greens, red peppers, water chestnut, mandarin oranges, wasabi, Sriracha, orange ginger dressing and english mustard sauce (umm case in point, no?)
But, and this is a big but – when you DO want the grease, the fat, the melted plastic cheese that should taste horrendous but is just oh, so, good – I have to agree, the options are endless. Check out my brother’s “snack before lunch” Philly Cheese Steak sandwich. Oh, and with a side of chilli cheese fries.
And check out this delectable, desirable, yet, disgusting, dessert. My sister and her best friend shared, and not surprisingly, struggled to finish it. From memory it was listed in the menu as a chocolate brownie with a side of whipped cream…you can imagine our surprise when this arrived.
I’m more of a frozen yoghurt, fruity kind of gal, and lo and behold, they have that too! My sister introduced me to all that is good when she took me to Sweet Frog. Here, you pay by weight, and can fill your punnet with sweet flavours e.g. strawberry, banana, tropical – and salty e.g. salted caramel pretzel, peanut butter, barista blend coffee.
I may have gone off track a wee bit, distracted by the taste sensations I encountered on my brief, but mind-blowing culinary journey.
My point is, as a non-American, I too believe (and have seen) the extremely obese people in America, the ridiculously sized portions, the ‘cheese in a can.’ But there are – and this should be obvious – alternatives. I have named but a tiny percentage of what is available besides the unhealthy options. Yes they exist, and are forever in your face, but it is always down to you what you eat.
And for the record, I have tried ‘cheese in a can’ and it ‘aint half bad 🙂