Throughout American history, our cuisine was shaped in part by cultural and world events, along with new technologies. From turn of the century Victorian and opulent cuisine, then into the prohibition and speakeasy cuisine of the 1920s, there have been dramatic shifts in what as a people we ate. Around the time of 1960, dining was a colorful and involved affair that still pops up today at retro parties.
Insofar as national events, there was a cultural rift among the people, while in the international arena, the food rationing of WWII was a thing of the past. In the world of dining, the popular casseroles of the 1950s were passe, and big names like Julia Child and Jacqueline Kennedy introduced elaborate, French-inspired dishes. We also saw the rise of vegetarian and ethnic food movements. On the other side of things, junk food and fast food made their presence known in the world of 1960 dining.
Fine Dining and French Cuisine
In the time of 1960 dining, homemakers began playing with more elaborate, rich dishes such as Swedish meatballs and beef Wellington. At the same time French cuisine became highly popularized largely as a result of Julia Child. The television show of America’s best known chef first aired in 1963, when viewers were mesmerized by her displays of such new dishes as omelets and French onion soup.
Up until the time around 1960, dining did not include a vegetarian option. The new healthy movement that developed was greatly helped by the efforts of the American entrepreneur, Frieda Caplan, who first introduced much exotic produce to the American market. These include shitake mushrooms, mangoes and most famously, the kiwi, common items today, but virtually unknown at the time.
Around this time, ethnic cuisine also began to pique American interest. Japanese steakhouses were first introduced around this time, with their theatrics and hibachi style grills. Benihana, a popular Japanese steakhouse that’s still around today, was first opened in 1964. Soul food also was popular at this time, and went along with the widespread soul music of the era. This cuisine originated in the deep South and characterized much of African American cooking. Largely similar to comfort food, soul food dishes included the likes of hush puppies, fried chicken, country fried steak, collard greens and rice pudding.
This is also the time when junk food, like it or not, came into the picture. It was originally aimed at the baby boomers and offered up nutritionally void treats like buffalo wings and fudge cakes. For example, Tang, that sugary powdered orange drink intended for use by the astronauts, was invented during this time.
Another term, “suburban devotion” came to characterize 1960 dining as well. This renewed interest in the home and outdoor entertaining took the form of mixers and barbecues. Theme parties, like Hawaiian luaus, were popular.
Fondue and Flaming Food
Another way Americans spiced up their 1960 dining experience was the introduction of cheese and chocolate fondue, along with flaming foods. Fondue was originally a Swiss innovation, but it quickly became an entrenched part of American culture, as did flaming foods. One dish, steak Diane, was usually cooked tableside, while baked Alaska was a flaming meringue dessert popular at dinner parties. Both dishes lent an air of theatrics to dinnertime.
Now seen everywhere, chain restaurants started popping up en masse in the 1960s, when families started spending their evenings at places like Howard Johnson. Salad bars were also born, while the first Wendy’s was created in 1969.
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