Murkin Food

After the post about my love for British foods a couple days ago, I received a few snarky emails which can be summarized by:  “Okay, Immigrant Guy:  tell us what American  foods you like, then.”

There are many, many  foods that have captured my fancy since The Great Wetback Episode Of 1986.  In fact, so much have they grown on me that when I’m Over There for a while, I actually say, “Good grief — all this Brit / Euro food is fine, but I could really do with a plate / bowl / truckload of ___ right now!”

In no specific order these are my favorites (and with thanks to the locals who introduced them to me):

Honey Nut Cheerios.  I needed something  to take over from the (American-style) over-sweetened Frosted Flakes as my favorite cold breakfast cereal, and Honey Nuts did the trick.  When the Son&Heir was still a weeny and I used to give him a baggie of the stuff to eat in his car seat on the back seat, I’d pour myself a baggie as well.  (Thanks, Maryann.)

BBQ.  I grew up eating barbecued (“braaivleis”) meat in South Africa, but it wasn’t BBQ — those chunks of smoked meat dipped in sweet or tangy sauce.  Pulled pork, brisket, pork bellies, Elgin sausage, spare ribs, whatever:  put a plateful in front of me, and keep your hands away from my face.  (Thanks, Cassie.)

Nachos.  Melt some grated mixed cheeses over a pile of hamburger/chili, beef- or chicken-covered nacho chips, toss a few jalapeño pepper slices on top (approximately one slice per mouthful), and you can forget about any conversation till the plate’s done.  And if there’s a side of freshly-made guacamole and a frozen margherita… well, dayum.  (Thanks, Brenda.)

Potato skins. When I first read about these things on a menu, I burst out laughing, thinking that they were literally potato skins — i.e. peelings.  So for a laugh, I ordered them.  Yikes.  Hollowed-out baked potatoes filled with melted cheese and covered with crispy bacon bits.  Two plates of those and a few (okay, six) beers, and I was a goner.  (Thanks, Linda.)

Fajitas. Chunks of marinated chicken / skirt steak, slathered with pico de gallo, all sizzling on a hot iron plate.  I discovered this stuff during a side trip to San Antonio back in 1985, and as I recall, it was about the second or third meal I ordered when I arrived in Austin the following year.  Wrapped in a soft flour tortilla:  Mexican shwarmas.  (Thanks, Karen).

Clam chowder.  First tried this on my U.S. “scouting” trip in 1985, in Newport RI, and by “tried” I mean had a mouthful of someone else’s because the thought of clams… ugh.  Then… well, never mind that “cup” bullshit;  I ordered a whole bowl, and was hooked forever.  Now I only have it in New England because I’ve become a “chowdah” snob (although Earl’s in Plano’s Legacy West district does a decent bowl, too).  And never mind those silly little cracker things… how about served in a boule  loaf?  (Thanks again, Maryann.)

Lobster rolls.  I’d eaten Cape Rock lobster in South Africa, of course, but never on a bread roll with seafood sauce, spiced mayo or melted butter.  Yummy.  My only criticism is that New Englanders eat the lovely stuff on a lousy hot dog bun — are you kidding me, when Portuguese rolls are available everywhere?  Toast one of those… and you can make mine a footlong (as long as I can call my bank manager first).  (Thanks, Hope.)

Streaky bacon.  Or as Murkins call it, “bacon”.  I grew up eating back  bacon (Brit style, kinda like Canadian bacon) and not “belly” bacon (as found in the U.S.), and I like both:  the pork-y, savory back bacon and the crisp, fatty streaky bacon.  But Murkin bacon with just a hint of syrup… stop me before I eat again.  (Thanks, Laura.)

and finally:

Hostess Twinkies. To call this gooey confection a “snack” is to slander snack foods;  eating one of these is childish gluttony par excellence — and then you have to have the second  one in the so-called “snack pack”.  Good grief:  no wonder our kids are clinically obese, if this is what we put in their lunch boxes.  Not that I’m envious, or anything.  (And for those silly people who might say that Twinkies aren’t a meal:  clearly, you’ve never eaten a ten-pack in one sitting, as I did in NYFC in September 1982.)  And no thanks to anyone:  I discovered these bad boys all by myself.

I had to write this post immediately after a big breakfast, otherwise I’d have been in trouble.

Feel free to add your favorite Murkin foods, in Comments.


  1. Here’s my votes (from a guy who is just now getting back on his feed after losing his gall bladder to the surgeon):

    Good old fashioned made from scratch macaroni and cheese – topped of course with bread crumbs, some chopped onions thrown into the pot and just a hint of paprika to give it some bite. I’m not talking that vile boxed Kraft stuff although that will barely work to hold off poverty induced starvation.

    A good burger made from freshly ground sirloin with some ground pork in the mix. Cooked medium rare to medium over a charcoal grill to keep the meat from drying out, seasoned with just salt and pepper, and served on a toasted bun. Leave the foliage like lettuce or tomatoes in the garden – just bread and meat and maybe a bit of A1 steak sauce if you have to do a topping. Throw in a bunch of good crispy onion rings as a side.

    As a regional dish I’ll go for an authentic Philadelphia cheese steak. Thin slices of meat, fried onions, marinara sauce and melted Velveeta cheese in a color that was never found in nature. Served on a toasted hoagie roll and wrapped in industrial grade aluminum foil. Cooked by a guy who says “Yo, you want extra sauce wit dat?” and looks like Stallone in the first Rocky movie. A while back the Sonic chain of drive ins tried to market a cheese steak that was served on a hot dog roll. May the guy who thought up that abomination burn in hell for all eternity.

    It’s five hours to lunch.

  2. A bowl of GOOD chili and a couple of grilled cheese sandwiches. Or some filet gumbo. With okra gumbo, too many places I’ve been just throw it in at the beginning with the rest of the ingredients and you wind up with a slimy, snotty mix of tasty mucus. OK, time to break out the cast iron dutch oven and get busy.

  3. BBQ is a favorite and I’ll take it one step further and say Santa Maria style BBQ. A tri-tip roasted over red oak on an open grill, pinquito beans, fresh tomato salsa, green salad, French bread toasted over the same fire and dipped in butter.

    Life cereal.

    Jellied cranberry sauce, on the side or in a turkey sandwich.

    A perfectly ripe Haas avocado, cut open lengthwise and eaten out of the skin with a spoon.

    Patty melt made with the hamburger described by Ltdavel above, rye bread, grilled onions, and American cheese.

  4. Chicago’s Italian Beef didn’t make the cut? I gotta admit that that’s the thing I miss most from moving away 20 years ago. Not that it’s enough to make me move back to Illinois… that’ll never happen.

  5. I’ll second the good hamburger/cheeseburger. The thing is, it’s hard to get a good cheeseburger out in a restaurant anymore. Everyone is so afraid of food-borne illnesses, that they overcook them to the consistency of a hockey puck. On my home grill, on the other hand…

    I’ll also second the mac-&-cheese, but with the added caveat of adding a bit of jalapeño relish to the mix.

    Of course, just about *anything* Cajun – or BBQ…

    PS: I always considered roast, bacon sandwiches, liver-&-onions, and a bacon, eggs, & toast breakfast, to be American food. I guess because that’s what I grew up with, but what do I know?

  6. Chili is a good one – it’s hard to beat a bowl of Texas Red on a cold winter’s day. Another is a good chicken-fried steak slathered in cream gravy – Mmmmm-mm!

  7. You DO realize I’m gaining weight just reading this, don’t you? 🙂

    Let’s see…

    +1 on BBQ. Pulled pork, in particular. The best I ever had was in a little hole-in-the-wall just north of Naval Air Station Key West.

    +1 on the hamburger. Want.

    Then there’s my family spaghetti recipe…yes, with homemade sauce. Small shell noodles instead of spaghetti noodles.

  8. Gumbo. Shrimp and Grits. Does a nice tender lamb chop count as American? A grilled ribeye (or strip steak) with a baked potato. Good pizza, which is a whole separate article in itself.

    This last one’s extinct since the owner went out of business in Dewitt, NY – a power bagel. Like a regular bagel, with nuts and raisins and calories and sinful goodness.

    1. A bucket of crabs, brown paper on the table, a mallet and a bib.
      Crab cakes made on the premises.
      Jambalaya, with oysters, shrimp chicken and Country Ham
      Cal-Mex food
      Chinese food made with American chicken breasts (Chinese chefs are amazed when they come here and see what good chicken meat is).

  9. Seems as though others have adequately addressed your failure to have adequately sample Cajun/Creole “‘Murkin” food (and yes, it “is” as ‘Murkin as apple pie). I’ve been all over the USA, and no other cuisine comes remotely close to matching it, in either flavor or variety. Go to a “cochon de lait” in Mansura, Louisiana if you want some CAJUN BBQ.

  10. Good Lord, TWINKIES??? You have to try the Sno Balls!

    Fresh Salmon (steaks or fillets) sprinkled with lots of frilly green Fennel fronds and absolutely nothing else. Barbecued on a plank of Western Red Cedar.

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