This, my friends, sums up the one thing that is wrong with American food.
(Well, there’s also the misspelling of ‘mayonnaise’, but that’s less egregious. Also, I dearly wish T hadn’t kept insisting on getting coleslaw so often, let alone in Disneyland, since it was always a disappointment – and of course, I usually felt compelled to taste it as well.)
But let’s not dwell on that for TOO long. See, we also had plenty of good eats in America – mostly Mexican, BBQ, and hole-in-the-wall diners, the kind of stuff we gravitated to since we don’t get it at home. Here’s a few of our favourites:
Best Burger – Hook Burger
Blows In-N-Out out of the water.
Best BBQ – Mrs Hyster’s
We had some pretty good BBQ in Memphis, but the downhome sloppy, saucy stuff in this New Orleans hole-in-the-wall edged it out.
Best Chain – Chipotle
Please, please, please, open up in New Zealand. In the meantime, I’m going to have to start making my own burrito bowls.
Best Diner –Welcome Diner
This is kind of a hipster diner, tucked away in Phoenix, where we were served by a dead ringer for Seth Rogen, who wrote the comics that you’ll find tucked into the shelf. For more old-school, downmarket dining, I tip my hat to Mike and Ronda’s The Place along Route 66 in Flagstaff.
Best Pizza – Joe’s
It wasn’t so long ago that we were enjoying pizza in Naples for real, but we HAD to try New York pizza too – and Joe’s is where it’s at.
Best Hot Dogs – Superdawg
Chicago institution. Enough said.
Really dug the relleno plate at Fat’s, but beware, it’s tricky to find (it’s moved a few times – don’t be fooled by the mural/building that catches your eye on the way in! Keep driving till you hit the actual street number.) And Garcia’s breakfast tacos can’t be missed.
Residents of New York City, I envy you.
I’m not going to drop the “Oh, you’re so lucky to live here!” line. I understand that for most of you, it’s not a matter of luck; it’s a matter of hustling and sacrifice and trade-offs.
In another life, New York City would be the place for me. One where a less risk-averse version of myself would make the leap, like one of my high school friends recently did (with success! Unfortunately we couldn’t meet up while we were in town). That might sound strange considering I made the choice to travel for six months, but moving abroad with no job prospects is a heck of a lot scarier in my book.
There are no words that adequately describe this city. I felt so overwhelmingly lucky to be there every minute, from deli-hopping in Brooklyn to sushi in the East Village, to strolling Astoria, Chinatown, and the mad buzz that is Times Square.
I will remember New York in snippets: BBQ. Shake Shack. Food carts. Dumpling festival. Karaoke. The Highline. Central Park, complete with strains of Kings of Leon (playing Global Citizen Festival) and a softball game that nearly devolved into a fight.
There are many things we love about the USA. Here’s a few off the top of my head:
- The low, low prices.
- Free drink refills.
- The vast variety of cuisines available.
- The fact that everyone speaks English (a relief after so long in Europe … though admittedly we’ve been totally stumped more than once in the South by the accents and been left staring blankly at the person addressing us).
- The customer service! It’s true: Kiwis are usually ridiculously passive and reluctant to speak up. Thank you Pear for salvaging T’s burrito situation in Toronto; remaining silent in dining out situations is just how we roll (see this blog and comment thread for proof) and we should probably work on that.
But there are some … oddities we’ve encountered, some of which are interesting quirks, and some we’re not so fond of.
Tyre pieces all over the highways
It all came together for us when we were driving directly behind a truck somewhere in southern Illinois. One of its back tyres popped and came flying in our direction. Luckily, we were able to change lanes and avoid the debris.
Petrol stations requiring you to enter your zip code
I have a freaking PIN number on my card. That should be enough authorisation. I can’t enter my NZ zip code as they’re only 4 digits, and entering 00000 doesn’t fly either.
Voting for a local traffic court judge
Yeah … this is a totally alien idea for us. It took me a little while to figure out what all the signs around New Orleans were for.
The prevalence of cheque cashing/payday loan outlets
The concept of being ‘unbanked’ is another incredibly alien one. I doubt you could exist in NZ without a bank account. All companies (to my knowledge) pay staff electronically, and usually that goes for freelancers too. The government also pays out benefits electronically.
ETA: Oddly enough, just as I was writing this post, we were watching New Girl – and it was the episode in which Nick, one of the great unbanked, goes to open up a bank account.
I get that there are all sorts of problems that make it difficult/impossible to just list the final, tax-included price for items. But seriously, as a consumer, it’s a massive pain.
A Couchsurfing guest we had once expressed shock that we pay rent weekly (by and large) in NZ (and always electronically). That would never fly in the US, he said. It’s so inefficient. Well, to the untrained Kiwi eye, this tax bizzo is your equivalent inefficiency.
Okay, it’s official: I hate tipping. I’ve always been of the mindset that waitstaff should just be paid a decent wage – but hey, I’m from New Zealand, and it’s a totally different culture. I know I praised the customer service up in my first paragraph, but the problem is when it goes too far. And too often, that’s exactly what happens. Tipping seems to have bred a uniquely overzealous type of server: either chirpily subservient, or the greasy schmooze. Both make me feel uncomfortable in different ways. Either way, it’s downright annoying being ‘checked on’ every five minutes.
Honestly, I’ve never had substandard service while eating out back home, even minus the tipping culture. What I WOULD support is tipping for better customer service over the phone – I would be down for that if it could be facilitated. (You know what I’m talking about – there’s nothing worse than having to call your internet/power/insurance company.)
Everything is crazy sweet
I used to have a heinous sweet tooth. A couple of days here quickly cured me of that. Now, I walk down the snack aisle and feel absolutely nothing as I cast my eye over the shelves. In fact, I feel … revulsion, almost. A month ago, I would have been all “OMG cookies with Reese’s pieces! Must buy three packs!” Now I would be perfectly happy to never consume another peanut butter cup, another sweet cereal, another Oreo. I couldn’t finish any single dessert item from our hotel buffet in Vegas last night, so you KNOW this shiz is serious. (Also, please. Stop sweetening your potato salad and coleslaw! I’m now scared to eat any creamy salads at all.)