WHAT is more American than apple pie, cupcakes, hot dog and popcorn? Many would venture Coca Cola, McDonald’s, KFC, Dunkin’ Donuts, Heinz, TGI Fridays and Starbucks – household names of American food brands.
The list of iconic American food that has invaded our space is really quite long if you care to make an inventory. In fact, they are so pervasive that the names will explode like popping corns once you set your mind to it.
We may begin the day with a bowl of Kellogg’s cornflakes sprinkled with California raisins, or a peanut butter and grape jelly sandwich – it’s now also quite trendy to do The Elvis, the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll’s favourite peanut butter, banana and bacon sandwich.
If you are in a hotel, you can have the whole works with an American breakfast set of eggs, bacon, sausages, toast, butter and jam, fruit juice and coffee or tea.
But America’s most influential export is indisputably fast food, which some would say is the country’s worst contribution to mankind.
The first fast food outlet opened in Malaysia way back in 1963 on Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman.
A&W also introduced us to our first drive-in restaurant in 1965 in Petaling Jaya. Our taste buds were conquered by root beer, floats, hot dog, hamburger, onion rings and fries as they became the food fads of the day and students and families make A&W their favourite gathering place. For years after, our Tuesdays were Coney Dog days.
More far-reaching than A&W’s 40 chain restaurants is McDonald’s 245 restaurants. In Malaysia since 1982, the jolly Ronald McDonald aims to double that number to 500 by 2020 to bring Happy Meals to everyone.
Adding to our choice of burger chains are Wendy’s, Burger King and Carl’s Jr.
But our biggest American food love is reserved for a greasy, crispy fried chicken from Kentucky that has over 500 outlets in the country.
Every school kid knows who Colonel Sanders is – even if sadly, he doesn’t know who Tunku Abdul Rahman is – and that Kentucky Fried Chicken is “finger-licking good”.
The first KFC opened on Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman 41 years ago in 1973 and we have practically made it our own with a spicy Malaysian taste. And in a reverse flux, we invented the not-very-original Kentucky Nugget – since we have been munching Chicken McNuggets – which found its way to KFC worldwide.
The US of A also gave us one of our first tastes of Italian food via Pizza Hut and Domino’s, and spaghetti, mozzarella, pepperoni, bolognaise and carbonara entered our vocabulary. And we embraced TV dinners and food delivery.
Our favourite sushi, the California roll, was created in the late 1960s in Los Angeles for “wimps who can’t go it raw”. The inside-out sushi substitutes raw maguro (tuna) for avocado and adds a squiggle of mayonnaise.
Fast food brings to us not just the hamburger and fizzy drinks, but also the concept of self-service, corporate agriculture, industrial food, multinational companies, the franchise business, and market capitalisation, which sprouted our own chain outlets such as Ayamas and Secret Recipe, and Yankee-style millionaires.
And let’s not forget the supermarket, an ingenious American invention that has made our grocery shopping easier, and the Texas-founded, 24-hour 7-Elevens that make it possible to pop Pepsi Cola and jelly beans, and smoke a Marlboro round-the-clock. The first 7-Eleven opened in Bukit Bintang almost 30 years ago and there are now some 1,500 outlets nationwide.
On the small screen we were glad when Anthony Bourdain gave us a cool food show to watch after arduous years of watching Martin Yan’s kung fu cooking.
Our cupcake and cake decorating craze is in part fuelled by the beautiful pages of Martha Stewart’s cookbooks and Living magazine and in turn attracted the Wilton Cake Decorating School to set up a branch in Petaling Jaya in 2006. What of the apple pie?
While the association of America to the apple pie is inducted in the phrase “as American as apple pie”, the pie comes to us as a British colonial legacy but popularised by McD’s hot apple pie.
The march of the muffin, chocolate chip cookie and its cousin the chocolate fudge brownie, is inevitable. It’s called globalisation and standardisation.
It’s a reminder that the world is smaller than we think, and we can have a piece of our neighbour’s apple pie and cheesecake, anytime now.