I'm a Scottish chef and food writer. Here are 10 American dishes that don't make sense to me.
I'm a Scottish chef who's been in America for over 20 years — some dishes here still confuse me.
Dill pickles, chipped beef, and green-bean casserole aren't appealing to me at all.
Canned cheese and Spam musubi confuse me but are so delicious.
Over two decades as a chef and writer, I've tried food in most US states, but there are some dishes I still don't understand.
I realize this is rich coming from someone born in Scotland, land of haggis, blood pudding, and deep-fried pizza (yum!) — but some dishes in the US still perplex me after more than 20 years of living on this side of the Atlantic.
Sometimes texture or ingredient combinations baffle me. And, honestly, some of these confusing dishes are still ones I'd reach for a second helping of.
Here are 10 foods I've seen in the US that still puzzle me.
Chipped beef is too soggy for me.
I tried chipped beef in Buffalo, New York, and can now say that whether for brunch, lunch, dinner, or a late-night snack, this sandwich is my idea of a nightmare.
Chipped beef is made from salty, dehydrated "frizzled" beef shavings swimming in creamy white sauce. It has roots in the Northeast and is said to have been popular in military cookbooks centuries ago.
I blame Scottish school lunches for my being terrified of anything served in creamy, gelatinous goo — who knows what might be hiding under that gloop?
Country-fried steak, Kentucky Hot Brown, and biscuits and gravy also fall into this mysteriously sloppy category for me.
I feel like Spam musubi shouldn't taste as good as it does.
Spam and sushi don't seem like they go together, but I saw Spam sushi — or Spam musubi — on a multitude of menus in Hawaii.
Spam was created in the 1930s toward the end of the Great Depression, when it was marketed as a cheaper alternative to fresh meat. The salty, canned pork product remains particularly popular and beloved in Hawaii and it's the star of this dish.
The word "sushi" refers to the way rice is prepared, but I associate it with fresh fish and the occasional fruit such as avocado or cucumber. I love biting into a perfect, fresh piece of sushi, savoring the taste of the fish.
Putting a hunk of grilled Spam on the vinegary rice and wrapping it with nori seems wrong … but it tastes so good!
Green-bean casserole is a sea of creamy, mushy confusion.
Green beans, broccoli, chicken, noodles — is nothing safe from cans of gloopy cream-of-mushroom soup?
This casserole was said to have been created in New Jersey in the 1950s and it's often served as a side dish at Thanksgiving. It's typically made by mixing soup with milk, black pepper, and green beans. Then, it's topped with crispy onions and baked.
I know this is a fast, easy dish to prepare, particularly when feeding a crowd, but I like to keep my soup separate and give vegetables their own plate.
I also love green beans, but I like to be able to focus on their flavor and texture.
Sweet-potato casserole never ceases to astonish me with its combination of candy and vegetables.
The first time I tried sweet-potato casserole was at a Thanksgiving dinner in Oregon. I was skeptical — sweet potatoes with milk, egg, brown sugar, and marshmallows sounded overly sweet and rich.
I found this popular Southern dish to be mindbogglingly sweet but I like the idea that sweet-potato (or pumpkin) casserole could be used as a perfect bridge between the main dishes and dessert.
When I make this, I use only a sprinkle of brown sugar and a splash of orange juice for sweetness. I also refuse to have it on my table next to the turkey.
I prefer my vegetables savory and my marshmallows toasted and squished between slabs of chocolate and graham cracker.
I'm definitely not the only one who balks at Rocky Mountain oysters.
Often found in the American West and Canada, Rocky Mountain oysters go by many aliases, including cowboy oysters, mountain meatballs, prairie oysters, cowboy caviar, and — my favorite — Montana tendergroin.
Made from bull testicles, these mountain morsels can be deep-fried whole, marinated, grilled, or sliced and fried. They're a bit of a delicacy and I first saw them on a menu at a festival in Whitefish, Montana.
I'd say Rocky Mountain oysters have a distinct livery flavor and a firm texture, similar to a hot dog. If you don't love liver, you can mask the taste (a bit) with chili.
PB&J is a North American staple that has never won me over.
Growing up in Scotland, we watched American kids eat PB&J sandwiches on TV, but peanut butter never caught on in our house.
I've since encountered peanut butter paired with a confusing array of foods, from banana to turkey and even pickles. It could be worse — my partner's dad used to make her peanut butter and radish sandwiches for lunch.
Now I see how incredibly versatile peanut butter is. I use it to make easy satays, gingery salad dressings, and an absolutely delicious PB&J French toast.
Cheese in a can is delicious but so odd.
Easy Cheese was invented in 1965 and was originally known as Snack Mate. Since then it has shown up on burgers, hot dogs, crackers, broccoli bakes, and many more dishes in the US.
Spray cheese is squishy, squeezy, orange, and unnatural. But I appreciate it and I like drizzling it on top of stuffed mushrooms for an extra bit of tangy piquancy.
Ambrosia salad is loaded with sweetness.
This Southern staple is usually made of pineapple, mandarin orange segments, coconut, marshmallows, and some sort of dairy or dairy substitute.
With ambrosia salad, fruit can be fresh or canned. The dairy binder can be sour cream, vanilla yogurt, vanilla pudding, cottage cheese, or even Cool Whip.
I find the marshmallows and sweetened cream overwhelm the taste of delicious pineapple and mandarin oranges.
I've been told American grandmothers in the South often served this salad. My Irish granny would have had a conniption if we'd dared to dot marshmallows on top of her carefully concocted fruit salad.
My partner loves pickles, but I don't get their appeal.
This is a controversial one in my house.
Pickles have roots around the globe and it's believed European Jews introduced kosher dill pickles to America — but they are impossible to avoid in the US.
They're served with so many things at restaurants, like sandwiches and burgers. I've even seen them on pizzas and in drinks. There is no escape!
To me, pickles resemble malevolent sea slugs, bobbing in their jar or oozing across my plate, all knobbly and pungent.
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