If you love to eat, you’ve certainly come to the right place! Everywhere you turn in the US, you’ll find a restaurant, fast food joint or street vendor, eager to entice you in with food from all four corners of the globe. Sure, it might not always have the sophistication of a Parisian eatery, but if you want to eat on a budget – and get to eat a lot – the USA will definitely not disappoint! After all, food and drink in the USA is legendary throughout the world — for both good and bad reasons!
What Sort of Food is There?
You’ll find everything in this country, and we mean everything! Generally, however, the type of food in a city will be influenced by the people living there. Therefore, in California you’ll find loads of Hispanic influences, while New York offers fine Italian food, perfected by the large amount of Italian immigrants who moved to the city in the early 20th century.
Fast food will be your staple diet on your USA gap year though, but it is nothing like you’ll ever have experienced before. You think portions at home are big? They pale in comparison to the handfuls of fries and wedges of meat served in a typical US meal. You think fast food in your home country has loads of choice? An American fast food menu will make yours look like it could be written on the back of a postage stamp. Even better for the traveller on a shoestring budget is this: fast food in the USA is really cheap, with a large Chicken McNugget meal costing just $4, for example. Most fast food chains are also open 24/7.
If you want to stay away from the fast food option and experience some local specialities, there are many to be found around this massive country. In the Deep South, the meals are legendary and must be tried – grits, catfish and gumbo should all be on the menu for any traveller. Those on the coast will get to experience some of the finest seafood in the world, while those travelling through the Lone Star State of Texas won’t be able to miss the hundreds of barbeques found there, with juicy (and not to mention huge) steaks and pulled pork being the orders of the day. Thanks to the Mexican influence, you can also find delicious burritos, enchiladas and fajitas throughout California and beyond…
Finally, let’s move on to the American legend that is… the all you can eat buffet! These can be found in every city in the country, and they are absolutely perfect for the hungry traveller looking to fill their stomach for a low price. There’s Chinese, American, Italian, Mexican – if you can think it, there will be one near you! These places make their money through add-ons, such as drinks and dessert, so if you can resist these, a pile of food can be yours for just a few bucks! Find them by listening out for popping trousers buttons and the unmistakeable groans of people who have eaten far too much…
What About Drinking?
There are bars in absolutely every place you will visit. Americans love a drink and generally they are a friendly bunch however, much like most other countries, some people go over the top and cause problems. There is a strict policy in the US though regarding drunkenness, and those causing problems will likely be picked up by the police and placed in a cell overnight to calm down. Those found drink driving will also be arrested and charged, as this is seen as incredibly serious.
Beer is perhaps the most popular alcoholic drink in the States, and many are fiercely patriotic about the beers that they drink. Famous brands such as Bud, Coors and Rolling Rock can be found liberally in all parts of the country, alongside beers from Europe and beyond. American beers are generally weaker than their European counterparts, however there are more springing up with higher alcoholic contents. You’ll also find local beers in many parts of the country, and these should definitely be sampled if you want a real taste of local life.
Spirits are also incredibly popular in the USA, and long gone are the days of bourbon being drunk on the rocks everywhere you go. Nowadays, you are more likely to walk into a bar and find people drinking Cosmopolitans and gin & tonics than you are to find an old man drowning his sorrows in a bottle of Jack. There are more undesirable places where this still does happen though! Cocktails and spirits can be expensive though, so make sure you keep an eye on your bar tab!
Of course, with this being the USA, you can pretty much find any other type of alcohol too, from the finest champagne to the cheapest bottle of wine. Also, don’t be surprised if you are asked for ID, as the minimum drinking age is 21 and this is vigorously enforced. Your passport will serve as acceptable ID, but make sure you keep it safe at all times.
Nearly everyone knows that tipping in the USA is expected, and there is good reason: most restaurant and bar workers are paid extremely low wages, as employers expect these to be topped up with tips. A standard tip is around 15%, and failing to leave one will cause serious offence to the server. Tips can be left in cash or added on to the bill if paying by card. Make sure you look at the bill before tipping, as sometimes the establishment will add a service charge without you knowing – if this is the case, do not tip twice!