a literary review
A man who claims to be someone “who lives to eat,” David Page guides readers on a tour of America’s favorite restaurant dishes. In this mix of food history and pop culture, Page serves up a broad-stroke survey of the United States’ national cuisine. His chapters focus on pizza, Mexican food, BBQ, fried chicken, sushi, bagels, hot wings, burgers, Chinese food, seafood (lobster rolls, oysters, caviar), and ice cream, with each chapter looking at the food’s popularity, its history, and its impact on American pop culture and current dining habits. Each wraps up with a recipe from one of the restaurants or chefs interviewed in that chapter.
A reflection of the nation’s character, most of the highlighted foods immigrated to the U.S. from other countries. Page, a former network news producer and the creator of TV’s “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives,” flexes his journalism chops to capture local vernacular as well as the flavors, scents, and imagery of the foods’ cultures as they have evolved. Readers who enjoy microhistories will savor the tidbits of interesting facts and trivia peppered throughout the book. Some of my favorite takeaways:
You can get legitimate sushi from a gas station convenience store in Oklahoma City.
Ben Cohen of Ben & Jerry’s has no sense of smell.
Japanese people originated sushi bars because the military government in the 1930s banned street vendors.
After reading Food Americana, it’s hard not to wonder which foods and esoterica remained on the cutting room floor. Steak houses, pie shops, and donut stands come to mind. But one book can only scratch the surface. As David Page says in the interview, he’s working on a sequel that will include foods of interest that he didn’t deem sufficiently national to be part of widespread cuisine. Until then, Food Americana is a fun dish of food microhistories, restaurant recommendations, and interviews with people (both chefs and customers) shaping American cuisine.