The American Foods Mark Twain Craved While Traveling Abroad

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

For most of us, food cravings are generally pretty manageable. In the mood for a burger? Head to the nearest drive-through. On the hunt for a late-night pint of ice cream? There's probably a 24/7 bodega right around the corner. But when you're traveling abroad, beefy burgers are seen as a luxury, and the Ben & Jerry's and ketchup packets that are ubiquitous at home suddenly become precious currency.

According to Mark Twain, this isn’t a modern phenomenon. The objects of his desire may not have been the processed snacks we’re familiar with today, but as Open Culture recently shared, the intensity of his hunger-fueled homesickness is relatable to anyone who has spent extended time overseas.

In A Tramp Abroad, the unofficial follow-up to his 1869 satire The Innocents Abroad, Twain provided a fictionalized account of his travels across Europe. In between marveling at his surroundings, Twain expressed dissatisfaction with the underwhelming food options he encountered. He wrote:

“The number of dishes is sufficient; but then it is such a monotonous variety of unstriking dishes[…]Perhaps if the roast of mutton or of beef—a big, generous one—were brought on the table and carved in full view of the client, that might give the right sense of earnestness and reality to the thing; but they don’t do that, they pass the sliced meat around on a dish, and so you are perfectly calm, it does not stir you in the least.”

Twain is just one example on a long list of writers who were very particular about their eating habits. Emily Dickinson was known to bake a loaf of bread every day and sometimes lowered a basket of baked goods through her window to share with local children. Walt Whitman wolfed down oysters and red meat for breakfast, and Agatha Christie had a fondness for straight heavy cream.

Twain apparently shared these all-American tastes for carbs, meat, and dairy. In A Tramp Abroad he included a list of the "few dishes" he missed most during his travels and wanted waiting for him upon his return to the States. Try not to work up an appetite while reading through the menu of his "modest, private affair":

"Radishes. Baked apples, with cream Fried oysters; stewed oysters. Frogs. American coffee, with real cream. American butter. Fried chicken, Southern style. Porter-house steak. Saratoga potatoes. Broiled chicken, American style. Hot biscuits, Southern style. Hot wheat-bread, Southern style. Hot buckwheat cakes. American toast. Clear maple syrup. Virginia bacon, broiled. Blue points, on the half shell. Cherry-stone clams. San Francisco mussels, steamed. Oyster soup. Clam Soup. Philadelphia Terapin soup. Oysters roasted in shell-Northern style. Soft-shell crabs. Connecticut shad. Baltimore perch. Brook trout, from Sierra Nevadas. Lake trout, from Tahoe. Sheep-head and croakers, from New Orleans. Black bass from the Mississippi. American roast beef. Roast turkey, Thanksgiving style. Cranberry sauce. Celery. Roast wild turkey. Woodcock. Canvas-back-duck, from Baltimore. Prairie liens, from Illinois. Missouri partridges, broiled. ‘Possum. Coon. Boston bacon and beans. Bacon and greens, Southern style. Hominy. Boiled onions. Turnips. Pumpkin. Squash. Asparagus. Butter beans. Sweet potatoes. Lettuce. Succotash. String beans. Mashed potatoes. Catsup. Boiled potatoes, in their skins. New potatoes, minus the skins. Early rose potatoes, roasted in the ashes, Southern style, served hot. Sliced tomatoes, with sugar or vinegar. Stewed tomatoes. Green corn, cut from the ear and served with butter and pepper. Green corn, on the ear. Hot corn-pone, with chitlings, Southern style. Hot hoe-cake, Southern style. Hot egg-bread, Southern style. Hot light-bread, Southern style. Buttermilk. Iced sweet milk. Apple dumplings, with real cream. Apple pie. Apple fritters. Apple puffs, Southern style. Peach cobbler, Southern style Peach pie. American mince pie. Pumpkin pie. Squash pie. All sorts of American pastry."

[h/t Open Culture]

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