The Food and Cuisine in the USA – What to Expect When You Move There

by | Wednesday 28th February 2024

From the hearty comfort foods of the Deep South to the fresh seafood of the West Coast, American food offers an array of flavours and textures that captivate the taste buds, especially if you are travelling there from the UK. One of the most exciting parts about moving to the USA is the food and cuisine that awaits you.

An Introduction to American Cuisine

At the heart of American cuisine lies its immigrant heritage, with culinary traditions brought over from all corners of the world, which shape the nation’s culinary landscape. The influence of immigrant cultures can be seen in dishes ranging from Italian pizza to Mexican tacos, and even Indian curries, each contributing to the vibrant range of American food. Within minutes of moving abroad, you will see what American cuisine has something different to offer.

Beyond its diverse flavours, American cuisine is also characterised by its distinctive dining habits and portion sizes. Compared to the UK, dining in the USA often involves larger portion sizes and a greater emphasis on convenience, with fast food and takeaway options readily available.

Additionally, the convenience culture prevalent in the USA has led to a proliferation of ‘grab and go’ meals and ‘ready to eat’ snacks, more so than in the UK, catering to the busy lifestyles of Americans. Despite these differences, both American and British cuisines share a love for food that brings people together, fostering a sense of community and celebration around the dining table.

Regional Culinary Traditions

American cuisine is made up of regional culinary traditions, each boasting its own distinct flavours and ingredients that reflect the cultural heritage of the area. In the Southern states, barbecue reigns supreme, with slow cooked meats and tangy sauces embodying the spirit of hospitality and outdoor gatherings. Meanwhile, along the New England coast, seafood takes centre stage, with fresh catches of lobster, clam chowder, and fried fish showcasing the bounty of the Atlantic Ocean.

In the Southwest, Tex-Mex cuisine thrives, blending the flavours of traditional Mexican cuisine with American ingredients to create dishes like tacos, enchiladas and chilli con carne. On the West Coast, California’s farm-to-table movement emphasises fresh, locally sourced ingredients in dishes that celebrate the state’s diverse agricultural landscape. However, American cuisine is more than just a collection of regional specialties; it’s a melting pot of flavours and influences from around the world.

  • Latin American immigrants have contributed staples like tamales, empanadas, and ceviche, adding depth and complexity to American culinary offerings.
  • Asian immigrants have introduced dishes such as sushi, stir-fries, and noodles, enriching the palate with vibrant spices and exotic ingredients.
  • European immigrants, from Italians to Germans to Greeks, have left their mark on American cuisine with dishes like pizza, sausages, and gyros, creating a diverse tapestry of flavours that reflects the country’s immigrant roots.

Whatever the region or time of year you move to the States, you are sure to find some appealing food choices.

Fast Food and Casual Dining

American Diner culture

Fast food culture holds a prominent place in American society, characterised by its convenience and affordability. It’s one of the first things that you will notice after moving to the USA. In the USA, fast food chains like McDonald’s, Burger King and KFC are household names, offering a wide range of quick and easy meal options that cater to busy lifestyles.

Unlike their UK counterparts, American fast food chains often feature larger portion sizes and a greater emphasis on customisation, with options to supersize meals and choose from a variety of toppings and condiments. Plus, drive-thrus are a common sight at American fast food restaurants, allowing customers to order and receive their meals without ever leaving the comfort of their cars.

In addition to fast food, American casual dining experiences encompass a diverse range of establishments, including diners, drive-thrus and food trucks. Fast food and casual dining experiences in the USA offer a wide range of options to suit every taste and occasion, showing the convenience and diversity of American food culture.

American Breakfast Culture

The ultimate American breakfast

In the United States, breakfast often features a wide array of sweet and savoury options, ranging from pancakes and waffles to bagels and American-style bacon and eggs. In contrast, traditional English breakfasts are characterised by their hearty and savoury components, reflecting a preference for substantial morning meals.

When it comes to variety and availability, both American and English breakfast options cater to a range of preferences and occasions. In the USA, breakfast offerings vary widely, from quick bites like pastries and breakfast sandwiches at coffee shops to elaborate brunches featuring eggs, omelettes and avocado toast at trendy cafes and restaurants. Similarly, in the UK, breakfast options span from ‘grab and go’ items such as cereal or a bacon sandwich at a cafe, to full English breakfasts.

Though American and English breakfasts share some common elements, they also exhibit distinct characteristics that reflect each country’s culinary heritage and preferences. Whether it’s the sweet indulgence of pancakes and waffles or the hearty satisfaction of something savoury, expat breakfast enthusiasts won’t struggle to find various delicious options to start their day.

Barbeque and Grilling

Family BBQ in USA

Barbecue holds a key place in American cuisine, serving as a cornerstone of culinary traditions across the nation. Its significance lies not only in the delicious flavours but also in the rich cultural heritage and regional variations that define American barbecue. From the smoky brisket of Texas to the tangy pulled pork of Carolina and the saucy ribs of Kansas City, each region boasts its own distinctive style of barbecue, characterised by unique cooking techniques, flavour profiles and sauces.

In contrast to the UK’s approach to outdoor cooking, which often revolves around grilling, American barbecue culture is based around slow and low cooking methods, which result in tender, flavourful meats infused with smoky goodness. While grilling typically involves cooking food quickly over high heat, barbecue requires patience and dedication, with meats often spending hours in a smoker or pit to achieve the desired level of tenderness and flavour.

American barbecue culture places a strong emphasis on communal gatherings and socialising, with barbecue often serving as the centrepiece of backyard cookouts, tailgates and family gatherings. In the UK, outdoor cooking tends to be more focused on grilling meats like burgers, sausages, and steaks over a hot flame, with less emphasis on slow-smoked barbecue techniques and regional variations. While both the US and the UK share a love for outdoor cooking, the approach to barbecue in America is steeped in tradition, regional pride and patience.

Bakery and Desserts

American baked goods and desserts offer a tantalising array of sweet treats, ranging from classic pies and decadent cheesecakes to indulgent brownies and beyond. What sets American desserts apart is their often generous portion sizes and rich sweetness, catering to the nation’s love of indulgence and celebration. Compared to British desserts, American treats tend to be sweeter and larger in portion size, reflecting a culture that embraces abundance and indulgence when it comes to satisfying the sweet tooth.

Dairy and Cheese

USA dairy and cheese

When comparing American dairy products, particularly cheese, with those found in the UK, there are similarities and differences that reflect each country’s culinary traditions and preferences. While British cheese is renowned for its rich history and diversity – with classics like cheddar, Stilton and Wensleydale holding a special place – American cheese has also experienced a renaissance in recent years. In the United States, the variety and usage of cheeses in cooking have expanded significantly, with a wide range of artisanal and specialty cheeses now available to consumers.

The growth of artisanal and farmstead cheese movements in the USA has further fueled interest in locally produced cheeses, with producers crafting unique and distinctive cheeses that reflect their respective regions. As a result, American cooking has become increasingly influenced by the abundance and diversity of cheeses available, with chefs and home cooks incorporating them into a variety of dishes, from macaroni and cheese to grilled cheese sandwiches, salads, and beyond.

Vegetarian and Vegan Options

In major American cities, the availability of vegetarian and vegan dining options have flourished in recent years, offering a range of choices that cater to dietary preferences and lifestyles. Contrasting with the options available in the UK – where vegetarian and vegan offerings have also seen growth but may still be more limited in some areas – American cities boast an expansive array of plant-based restaurants, cafes and eateries that celebrate the choice of fruits, vegetables, grains and legumes.

From trendy vegan bistros serving up innovative plant-based dishes to traditional diners offering hearty veggie burgers and salads, the American dining scene reflects a growing awareness and appreciation for vegetarian and vegan cuisine. This culinary evolution is further propelled by the influence of health and sustainability trends, which have prompted consumers to seek out more plant-based options for ethical, environmental, and health reasons.

Coffee Culture

The evolution of American coffee culture has undergone a remarkable transformation, transitioning from the diner coffee of the past to the thriving specialty coffee movement that dominates the contemporary scene. This shift is starkly contrasted with the longstanding tea culture in the UK, where tea has been a traditional beverage of choice for generations.

In the United States, coffee chains like Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts have played a significant role in popularising coffee consumption, offering convenient and consistent options for consumers on the go. However, in recent years, there has been a resurgence of interest in artisanal coffee, with independent coffee shops and roasters gaining traction across the country.

Alcoholic Beverages

The craft beer movement has revolutionised American beer culture, starting a new era of creativity, diversity and innovation in brewing. Compared to traditional British ales and pubs, which have a rich history dating back centuries, the craft beer movement in the USA has embraced experimentation and artisanal craftsmanship, challenging conventions and pushing boundaries in flavour and style.

American craft breweries produce a wide range of beers, from hoppy IPAs and rich stouts to sour ales and barrel aged beers, catering to a growing audience of beer enthusiasts seeking unique options.

The wine culture in regions like California’s Napa Valley, Oregon, and Washington State represents a different facet of American beverage culture, with a focus on viticulture and winemaking that rivals European wine traditions. While European wines, known in the UK for their characteristics and old traditions, continue to hold sway, American wines have carved out their own niche, with California wines in particular gaining international acclaim for their quality and diversity.

Eating Out and Tipping Etiquette

Eating out in USA

The eating out experience in the USA offers a diverse range of options, from casual fast food joints to upscale fine dining establishments, each with its own unique atmosphere and culinary offerings. One notable aspect of dining out in the USA is the expectation of tipping, which can differ significantly from the UK. In the United States, tipping is customary and typically ranges from 15% to 20% of the total bill, with servers relying on tips as a significant portion of their income. As such, visitors to American restaurants should be prepared to factor in tipping when budgeting for meals.

Supermarkets and Grocery Shopping

Walmart Supermarket USA

Food shopping experiences in the USA differ compared to the UK. American supermarkets, such as the ubiquitous Walmart, are often larger in scale, with expansive aisles stocked with a wide variety of products catering to diverse tastes and preferences. While both countries offer international foods, American supermarkets tend to have a greater selection of ethnic cuisines, reflecting the country’s diverse population. Additionally, convenience foods are more prevalent in American supermarkets, with ‘ready to eat’ meals, pre-packaged snacks and frozen dinners occupying prominent shelf space.

Where to Find Your Favourite British Foods in the USA

Finding your favourite British foods in the USA can be an exciting adventure, with several options available to satisfy your cravings for familiar tastes from across the pond. Firstly, specialty British food stores and import shops can be found in larger cities and metropolitan areas, offering a wide range of traditional British brands and products. These stores often carry essentials like tea, biscuits, condiments, and savoury treats, allowing expats to stock up on beloved favourites.

Additionally, online retailers provide convenient access to British groceries, with websites offering a comprehensive selection of items that can be ordered for delivery to your doorstep anywhere in the USA. Some American supermarkets may also carry a limited selection of British foods in their international aisles, although availability may vary depending on location.

Food Festivals and Culinary Events

Across the USA, there are numerous food festivals and culinary events that celebrate the country’s diverse food culture, providing opportunities for locals and expats alike to indulge in a wide array of flavours and culinary traditions.

From the renowned New York City Wine & Food Festival to the iconic Taste of Chicago event, these gatherings showcase everything from regional specialties to international cuisines, offering a feast for the senses. Other notable festivals include the South Beach Wine & Food Festival in Miami, the Austin Food and Wine Festival in Texas, and the San Francisco Street Food Festival in California, each highlighting the unique culinary identities of their respective regions.

Food and Cuisine in the USA is an Adventure for UK Expats

Food and Cuisine in the USA

Expats relocating to the USA can look forward to exploring the vibrant and diverse culinary landscape that American cuisine has to offer. From the iconic comfort foods of the South, such as barbecue and fried chicken, to the innovative fusion dishes of major cities like New York and Los Angeles, there is something to tantalise every palate.

Expats can experience the thrill of discovering regional delights like lobster rolls in New England, tacos in the Southwest, and deep dish pizza in Chicago, while also indulging in the wide variety of international cuisines available throughout the country. Whether you are dining at Michelin-starred restaurants or sampling street food from food trucks, there is no shortage of exciting culinary adventures awaiting you.

Of course, before you can enjoy the delights of American cuisine, you need to organise your move. This is where United International Removals comes in, the ‘go to’ team for getting your belongings across the pond. Find out more:


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