Sure, it’s regarded as the country where dreams take flight, where the King of Rock & Roll was born, and where people can buy in bulk. But in the world of food, the United States doesn’t enjoy the best of reputations. What comes to mind when you think of classic American cuisine? Hot dogs? Hamburgers? Deep-dish pizzas? Yeah, not very inspiring or healthy, are they! Some of it we’ve lovingly embraced; our country’s been in a burger frenzy for decades. Others of it, we just plain hate; root beer, anyone?
Here are several items you’d find in a typical American pantry but most probably not in its Lebanese counterpart.
To a large extent, most Lebanese will agree that peanut butter is revolting. I’m not talking about gym junkies and dietitians who swear by its protein content and suitability as a meat substitute. I’m talking about the average Joe who for decades has been singing the praises of the other sandwich spread (hint: it’s chocolaty with hazelnuts). There’s simply no room for peanut butter in the land of – did you guess it? – Nutella. Perhaps it’s because peanuts are categorized as salty, so peanut butter, often slightly sweet, confuses folks. But that still doesn’t explain our fascination with peanuts in a chocolate candy bar like Snickers, does it?
Speaking of chocolate, the mainstream American stuff pales next to its European counterparts. Hershey’s can’t hold a candle to the heavenly goodness crafted by Milka, Cadbury, Lindt, and certainly not our own local brands like Patchi or Noura. There’s something distinctively waxy about Hershey’s “chocolate,” and maybe that’s why they’re commonly binned as “candy bars.” They’ve got less chocolate content than they do sugars and butters. And they don’t even scratch the surface of a real dark chocolate.
I once offered my unsuspecting colleagues frosted Pop Tarts coated with rainbow sprinkles. Two bites and they tossed them in the trash, citing their cloyingly and artificially sweet composition. “This is breakfast for Americans?” they asked in befuddlement. How would they have reacted to the Gone Nutty! Chocolate Peanut Butter variety, I had to wonder? A double whammy, no doubt.
Nothing says American bread like white Wonder, the iconic sliced American loaf that’s so soft and airy, you’d think it were cotton. Every American kid totes a lunchbox outfitted with a pair of white Wonder bread slices glued together with copious amounts of peanut butter and grape jelly. And it never gets old. We Lebanese would never bat an eyelash at such frivolous nonsense. We want our whole-wheat markouk, our elastic pita, or even our crusty, hollow “franjeh” French bread. But white Wonder? Blasphemy!
Don’t waste any effort fashioning root beer floats for your kids’ birthday parties or poolside fiestas. The vanilla ice cream will go over well, but the root beer addition will send uninitiated Lebanese into epileptic fits. While Americans associate that intoxicating minty flavor with refreshment, Lebanese sardonically compare it to toothpaste. It’s quite clear we have trouble accepting any soft drink beside our beloved trifecta of Pepsi (or Coca-Cola), 7Up (or Sprite), and Mirinda (or Fanta).
Danielle was born into a Lebanese household in Southern California. Growing up, she constantly found herself living between two realities: outwardly, she was an American girl who loved swinging on the monkey bars and reading The Baby-Sitters Club. Inwardly, she was Lebanese, speaking Arabic at home and forbidden from attending sleepover parties.
With age comes awareness and self-confidence, and Danielle learned to embrace these differences. She accepted that she'd forever be suspended between two worlds, and that she'd be like a tapestry, one culture woven into the other. As she grew older and worldlier, Danielle promised herself she would one day settle in Lebanon.
And here she is. Three college degrees and a few consulting gigs later, she is now in her parents’ homeland, working in strategy management, fleshing out her blog Beirutista, and contributing to Bitfood. Danielle gets her hair coiffed several times a week, like any proper Lebanese girl, and she loves the traditional mezze. But she still prefers peanut butter to Nutella. And her American accent is unmistakable.