Producer’s note: Someone on Quora asked: What’s a common, middle-class American meal that’s not common elsewhere in the world? Here are some of the best answers that’s been pulled from the thread.
1. Peanut butter and jelly sandwich. A lot of other western countries dislike the combination of salty/sweet flavors, but Americans *love* it.
2. I have to go with tuna casserole. Likely not served with anything extra, just the casserole.
3. I don’t really know if this is just an American thing. I’m guessing it is.
Soup beans with cornbread.
Mom would cook it about once a week and we’d eat the leftovers throughout the rest of the week.
I think it might be an Appalachian thing. We’re proud hillbillies.
4. I think a lot of distinctively American food is regional rather than found all over the US. But a breakfast that you can find pretty much anywhere in America and hardly anywhere else is a short stack of pancakes served with butter and maple syrup, sausage patties or streaky bacon,with black coffee and fresh orange juice. (A variant on this breakfast is called “pigs in a blanket” which is a sort of sandwich in which the breakfast sausage is served between buttered and syrupy pancakes.)
Another distinctively American breakfast is biscuits and gravy, with the most common gravy being made from breakfast sausage, but a Midwest variant is hamburger gravy. You’ll often find biscuits and gravy as a side to a larger breakfast including eggs and bacon, but it’s also served as a meal unto itself.
5. The Reuben Sandwich!
Ingredients: corned beef, sauerkraut, Swiss cheese, Russian dressing inside rye bread. A popular variation would substitute pastrami for the corned beef.
6. I find this to be a very interesting and deeply difficult question to properly answer. Middle class American households are, generally speaking, ethnically diverse. So what is typical to some can be strange to others and American cuisine is greatly based on imported cultures. E.g. casseroles are very popular and vary greatly but they are based on French cuisine. Chop Suey is an American invention but heavily based on Chinese cuisine. Even the all American hamburger was born out of an imported concept. (Hamburg steak)
Food like the people who create it and consume it evolve and become common or typical. So to attempt to try and answer your question I think that the cuisines origins should be considered as well as its popularity. Pizza in America is a staple and help to make America what it is today. The frozen pizza changed America forever, but as far as cuisine is concerned people still think that it’s Italian. Southern comfort food is an American cuisine that is the blending of African and French and as a meal is totally American but as far as individual dishes go they are based heavily on cultural dishes. Chili is a Texas invention and therefore as American as it gets… Or is it? I think it is part of the Tex-Mex cuisine like the burrito or the hard shell taco. Truly American but based on Spanish and Aztec (Mexican) cuisine.
So to truly be a common typical middle-class American meal I think you would have to find a meal that is so blended that the ethnic origin has been totally lost and is therefore truly an American meal and widespread enough that it is not a regional speciality.
Popcorn is truly an American food invented in America for Americans by native Americans and still eaten all over America. (thanks to the microwave oven) However, it’s not a meal so it doesn’t count.
I considered the submarine sandwich, grinder and po’boy but the origin is the sandwich and that alas is English in origin.
The only thing that I can think of as a truly American meal invented in America by an American for Americans that is popular enough to have made it from the restaurants to the home kitchens of middle class America from coast to coast is the Buffalo wing. Originally served with blue cheese dressing and celery sticks. but most commonly served with ranch dressing, carrot and celery sticks.
I’m sure that not everyone will agree with me and I don’t think that buffalo wings are a truly typical meal in any middle class American household. However, I believe that every household in America has had them in one form or another at some point and therefore that makes them the most common typical American meal not eaten in other cultures typically.
7. Roast turkey, dressing (stuffing), cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, gravy, rolls, pumpkin or pecan pie. A Thanksgiving (or holiday) meal pretty much only Americans serve up. It’s common in that millions will eat this kind of meal; uncommon in that most will only eat this meal once or twice a year.
8. Chicken-fried steak, mashed potatoes (real ones) with cream gravy, buttermilk biscuits, sliced tomatoes, and cucumber/onion salad. Fruited jello for dessert.
Chicken-fried steak is some cheap cut of beef, battered and fried like chicken. Red-eye gravy is also a possible alternative to the cream gravy. It’s made with the leftover grease from frying ham or bacon, thickened with flour and leftover coffee as the liquid.
If you need the jello rules, I can provide them, because every color of jello (the colors sort of have flavors) has its own appropriate additions.
9. Slow smoked bbq pulled pork sandwiches. Maybe some coleslaw on the side. Show me a European that eats this type of food/meal. No disrespect to Europe, of course, but bbq is purely American. Or I think it has to be pronounced ‘Murican at this point.
10. Meatloaf, mashed potatoes, and steamed green beans. This is what I’d consider an entirely standard, sitdown middle class American dinner, slightly more common as a home cooked meal than as restaurant fare.
11. I would be surprised if anybody else in the world regularly ate American Chop Suey and boiled green beans. Definitely a staple meal in rural New England.
Besides being pretty tasty if you do it right, Chop Suey is cheap – macaroni, canned tomatoes, an onion or green pepper, hamburg, and maybe some Parmesan cheese to top it, is all that’s really involved. And green beans grow like gangbusters, so even a small vegetable garden with a row or two of beans can produce enough to feed a family.
12. Spaghetti and meatballs — not common in Italy, but extremely popular all over the US! The closest in Europe is spaghetti with carbonara sauce, but used as a side dish, not an entire meal.
So the US is the only country where this is a meal, a popular middle class family meal.
13. One of the saddest examples has to be the “Frito pie,” or “walking taco.”
It’s basically a bag of corn chips with canned chili, lettuce, cheese and whatever else dumped on top.
Usually one doesn’t even bother emptying the chips from the bag first.
– Ann Litz
14. I grew up eating scrambled hamburger almost every week. My mom would just brown the ground beef and we would eat it with ketchup or bbq sauce. She would include a can of veggies and potatoes on the side.
16. Hamburger Helper or Kraft Dinner come to mind.
17. U.S. styles of eating vary according to region, ethnic background and family tastes. I agree that the following dishes are typical: meat loaf, roast bread-stuffed chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, green beans, corn on the cob, macaroni and cheese, pancakes, bacon, sausages, biscuits and cornbread. I would add apple (peach, blackberry or cherry) pie and ice cream.
And of course, if you have something to add to this very small list, please do so in the comments!