Why do "Americanized" ethnic foods even exist in the first place?

This is a pretty good explanation, but I don't agree with the moral aspect you've put into it. While gourmets, foodies, and hipsters may prize "authenticity" in their ethnic food, I'd like to see any evidence that ethnic groups tried to "draw [whites] back to authentic ethnic food". I'd also like to see any evidence that that ethnic groups tried to change their food to be more like the food whites are used to in order to please them. Remember that ethnic restaurants owe their origins catering the same ethnic group.

OP, because this is food culture we're talking about, it'll be really hard to get any 'factual' answers. A good historian may be able to shed some light by example, but by and large it's only going to be people's opinions and politics.

For what it's worth, here's my 2 cents.

Americanized food is just an example of culinary fusion between communities. In this case, a recently arrived ethnic community and the larger american community it's coming to live with. This can happen between any two cultures under the right conditions, which is why you can find fusion cuisine almost anywhere you travel. It's not an exclusively American phenomenon, but American does lend itself to the effect, being a nation that was culturally constructed by successive waves of immigrants.

The food changes for a number of reasons.

First: Recipes that were used in their homeland may call for ingredients that aren't readily available. This is most obvious if you travel to another country and walk through the grocery store. I'm an American, and I lived abroad for a brief while. While I was there, I couldn't find peanut butter, whipped cream, and a number of other relatively common ingredients in the stores near me. The cheaper way to see this than traveling abroad is to go to an ethnic grocery store near where you live. The existence of these stores is good evidence of the differences in ingredients, since they are driven by the demand created by this difference. That said, a community needs to be pretty large to support having an import grocery store, so many immigrants and ex-pats may not have it available to them as a resource. Also keep in mind that ethnic grocery stores, like Americanized ethnic food, aren't perfect facsimiles of groceries in the homeland.

Because of missing ingredients, immigrants have to adapt their food by making the necessary substitutions to how they make their food, and these substitutions make it more Americanized, because the substitutions are being made with traditionally American supplies. It's also worth noting that methods of cooking may also differ; it's not just ingredients.

Second: Immigrant population's cuisine changes with each generation, so as time goes by it becomes more Americanized. A second generation immigrant (the child of someone who transplanted themselves) will have grown up eating their parent's 'authentic' food (up to the limits of the first point), as well as the American food in their environment. When they cook, they'll typically produce meals mixed between the two. The third generation immigrants are more so, and the fourth over more so. With each generation the recipes and tastes slowly mutate. We might call it ethnic if it's at a point in its mutation where it's still recognizably not mainstream American. Many families have family cookbooks that record this transition.

Three: Food cultures merge with time. Early on in the process they're obviously 'ethnic', and later on they aren't so. You can easily see this if you look at the ethnic cuisines of immigrant cultures as a function of how long the immigrant culture has had to merge. Mexican restaurants abound, Italian restaurants are infrequent, German restaurants are quite scarce, and French restaurants are positively rare. The prevalence of these ethnic foods across the States is also a function of how heavily ethnic the States ever were. German restaurants are more common in Wisconsin, and French in Louisiana. Note that this steady decline in the presence of ethnic restaurants, and obviously 'ethnic' food isn't because the ethnic food is dying off. Rather it gets incorporated into the parent food culture. Pasta and pizza, for example, are now extremely prevalent in mainstream American food, to the point that we don't typically think of them as being 'ethnic', though they once started off that way.

What may be interesting to note about points two and three is that the merging process is slowed while there's still active immigration (this is most obvious with Mexican-American cuisine). This is because immigrants are, like any group of people, conduits for the culture they carry.

Four: There is a factor of novelty. This is the closest to what EdgeOfDreams was talking about. Many people enjoy being culinarily adventurous, but there are limits to what they're comfortable with. For example, most Americans (of almost any descent) will not want to eat pickled chickens feet, so you aren't going to find them in ethnic restaurants. This kind of conscientious adaptation is what you'll find in ethnic restaurants which are trying to sell the ethnic experience. IKEA, which is a big export for Swedish food culture, has readily edible meat balls and smoked salmon, instead of rotten herring and lye-soaked cod. You may want to draw a distinction between ethnic restaurants that cater to the ethnic group itself, versus the ones that cater to the parent culture. The first comes first, and the second comes second. You may have heard people say that a good gauge of the 'authenticity' of a restaurant is whether people of the appropriate ethnicity eat there. While there's some truth to it, it leans heavily on what you mean by 'authenticity' and 'appropriate ethnicity', and may not be a very useful guide to what will taste good.

Above all other things, I want to stress that cuisine fusion is productive. By which I mean that Americanized food isn't just a combination of 'American' food and 'Authentic Ethnic' food, but that it's more than the combination. There's no end to the examples of 'ethnic' foods that can only be found in the fusion. Chicago is a great example; it's one-time immigrants invented Italian Beef, Polish Sausage, and Deep Dish Pizza. These are all dishes you can't find in the Italy, Poland, or Italy respectively. Fortune cookies, though we associate them with Chinese cuisine, were invented right here too.

Food is a lot of fun.

/r/NoStupidQuestions Thread Parent