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History of ethnic foods in the USA

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A review paper coming out in the January 2014 issue of the journal Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety, "History of Various Ethnic Foods in the United States" (Oliver 2012), published by the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) reveals some interesting statistics about the history of several popular ethnic foods in the United States, according to the December 16, 2013 news release, "History of ethnic foods in the United States."

At this time, for example, there are more Chinese-style restaurants in the USA than any other ethnic group. Just behind Chinese are the Italian-style restaurants followed by Japanese-style restaurants, followed by the number of Mexican-style restaurants. And various ethnic-style restaurants open frequently all over the USA.

According to a report published by the analytics company Placed, a person’s ethnicity is the greatest predictor of which fast food chains they prefer. You also may wish to check out the site, "Ethnicity May Predict Fast Food Chain Preferences (Video) - AOL Jobs." Or see, "How Fast-Food Eaters Split Along Ethnic Lines."

Here, in Sacramento, there has been a recent boom in Middle Eastern and Mediterranean-style restaurants along Fulton Avenue, such as the Lebanese and Greek cuisine, Indian and Persian cuisine, along Fulton Avenue along with the long-established Mediterranean Market and other European and Middle-Eastern style groceries in the area. You have a preference for guacamole in Sacramento and a preference for hummus.

So many chefs have combined the two and mixed dips that are half guacamole and half hummus. That means mixing mashed avocados with hummus made from sesame seed paste (tahini) and mashed chick peas/garbanzos. It makes a great dip, flavored with lime juice, but eat it in one day, before the avocado turns brown. Or just make enough for one day's meals. In various supermarkets, you also can see hummus in little cartons mixed with Greek-style yogurt, which cuts down on the oil content as some manufacturers of commercial hummus mix the yogurt with the hummus instead of adding oils.

You can make a bean dip out of any type of cooked bean, lentils, or other legumes by mixing it with either sesame seed paste, avocado, or yogurt or simply by mixing the pureed legumes or beans with lemon juice, broth, and anything creamy, such as tahini (sesame seed paste). You'd use more chickpeas, for example and a little tahini to cut down on the oiliness of texture and taste.

For example, with the influx of so many immigrants from various Middle Eastern countries, that new communities have sprung up near the ethnic food markets and restaurants in various areas of Sacramento. For example, Midtown is home to two relatively new Turkish restaurants along with more Greek and Indian restaurants. How many Middle Eastern Restaurants are there in Sacramento?

Check out the list at the site, "Sacramento Middle Eastern Restaurants | Urbanspoon." For example there's a wide variety in Middle Eastern cuisine at Sacramento restaurants from the Marrakech Moroccan and Casablanca, just to name two examples of Moroccan cuisine to the Eastern Mediterranean variety of restaurants such as Famous Kabob on Fulton Avenue and Greek and Middle Eastern-style

Opa! Opa! on J St. Then there'sSahara Grill & Cafe and Crest Cafe serving Afghan and Middle Eastern cuisine. Check out the entire list.

New restaurants keep opening all the time. For example, the Turkish restaurants, such as Anatolian Table Turkish Restaurant - Rocklin, CA and Sacramento, and Istanbul Bistro. There's also the Middle-Eastern-Greek-European type of cuisine such as Pita Q - The Healthy Mediterranean Grill. With the influx of Middle Eastern foods in most Sacramento supermarkets, such as commercial hummus in little plastic containers, the food is becoming more mainstream rather than limited to Eastern Mediterranean and Middle Eastern communities.

What you want from a Middle Eastern or Greek-style restaurant are foods that share cultures of Greek, Turkish, and Levantine, including (Lebanese, Syrian, Israeli, Jordanian, Iraqi). Those foods that are eaten across the cultures of the Eastern Mediterranean include moussaka (baked beef and eggplant casserole), souvlaki (chicken shish kebab), acili ezme (cucumber and crushed walnut salad) and falafel.

Middle Eastern restaurants usually bring you a basket of freshly-baked, sesame-speckled flatbread. Sometimes you get the black sesame seeds or the brown sesame seeds. Sesame seeds come in various colors including white. Then you want a creamy tangy, smooth hummus. It's made smooth by peeling the skin off the humus before mashing it up or pureeing it in a food processor and adding the lemon juice and sesame seed paste (tahini). You want a tahini either with or without the olives and olive oil on top or sesame seed oil. \

You don't want hummus topped with canola or safflower oil or any other oil that tastes unlike extra virgin olive oil. And you want the hummus topped with a few pitted black olives or slices of black olives. If you're going Greek in the soup style, it's white bean soup in a tomato base with other vegetables such as carrots, celery, and onions. If you're going Turkish style in the soup or Lebanese, it's lentil soup or bean soup with dark green leafy Lacinato kale and other vegetables.

If you're looking for Turkish food, try karni yarik, which is baked eggplant stuffed with ground beef and topped with a robust, full-flavored housemade tomato sauce. And if you're vegan, try zucchini entrees without cheese or yogurt. Mediterranean-style diets can include lots of green, leafy vegetables and other colorful vegetables from raw salads to casseroles. There's something for almost every taste. You can learn a lot about which foods are healthiest for specific issues and preferences. Also see, "Best Arabic Restaurants in United States -"

The December 16, 2013 news release, "History of ethnic foods in the United States" notes the following information about some of the ethnic restaurants in the USA:


  • In 1930s, Mexican immigrants were a small minority and Mexican cuisine was a minority’s food
  • Today, it is the largest segment of the ethnic foods market in the U.S.
  • Ground beef tacos, enchiladas, burritos, tostadas and beans are popular Mexican foods among non-Hispanic Americans
  • Chili powder was first imported from Mexico to San Antonio, Texas in 1943
  • There are about 7,102 Mexican restaurants across the country


  • The number of Italian restaurants in the 10 most popular cities is around 16,783; this number is higher than Mexican and Chinese
  • Around 10,000 Italian restaurants were established in New York City by the 1930’s, and most of these restaurants were simple and undecorated
  • Italian dishes became popular in the U.S. after the 1970s


  • There are more than 43 thousand Chinese restaurants in the U.S.—more than any other domestic fast food restaurant
  • U.S. Chinese cuisine differs from the original because “Americanized” Chinese food is usually less spicy than the authentic recipes, has higher levels of monosodium glutamate (MSG) to enhance flavor and involves more deep frying
  • The first Chinese restaurant opened in San Francisco in 1849


  • There are approximately 9,000 Japanese restaurants in the United States
  • Sushi bars began to appear in 1957
  • Entrepreneurial chefs contributed to the popularization of sushi in Los Angeles
  • Japanese food became much more popular in the early 1980s

About IFT
For more than 70 years, IFT has existed to advance the science of food. Our nonprofit scientific society—more than 18,000 members from more than 100 countries—brings together food scientists, technologists and related professions from academia, government, and industry. For more information, please visit the IFT website.

For more information on trends, you may wish to check out the site, "US Restaurant Market 2013 - View Trends, Analysis & Statistics‎." Also take a look at the sites, "The Food Timeline--USA food history sources" and "We Are What We Eat: Ethnic Food and the Making of Americans." Or see, "Ethnic Food Info -"



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