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Today I read a recipe for “Peruvian chicken,” in a British newspaper, which wanted me to use “American mustard.” I had to think about what that is. I remembered how much my mom loved mustard when I was growing up. She loved German mustard most, I think; the grainy kind that tends to come in round glass pots, on a hot dog with sauerkraut.
And there was English mustard, very sharp, French mustard, brown like German but smoother, Dijon mustard, mostly the same as French, to us, and then later there was a sweet-hot one that started to appear at delis. And “beer mustard,” of course, which I think people liked with pretzels. This was back in the 70s, before all the boutique flavors.
I concluded they must mean yellow mustard is American mustard.
If here (and apparently Canada) is the only place that’s sold, it makes sense. I thought I didn’t like mustard much at all til I had the sweet-hot kind, because I’d tasted only yellow and German and Dijon. The yellow was sort of briney (like if Chinese mustard was very mild,) and I didn’t like the texture of the German. Dijon was okay in a chicken dish. But these days there is yellow mustard here at the house; it’s okay with a hot dog or ham sandwich, and one of my sons likes it. He likes all mustards, though, like my mom, and now as an adult, I do, too, mostly. I also have champagne mustard in there, a beer one, and Dijon, currently. There might be a grainy brown one in there, too, but I never hear it called German anymore; just brown or "deli." I made some a couple years ago, and I think the recipe just said, "homemade mustard." I think I might try this recipe for spicy beer mustard next, cut down to size.
So if you’re reading this from another country, in case you’re interested, we have many mustards, just like you probably do, since you also live in a culture that was created almost entirely through immigrant migration from every part of the world. And in one of the Carolinas, I never remember which because I guess I don't care enough being from Kansas City, they add it to their barbecue sauce. Barbecue sauce is different everywhere you go, but I’ve been to two decent restaurants that serve a good variety. One of the restaurants was near Times Square in New York, the other next to a motel in an industrial area of St. Louis, Missouri, 950 miles away (roughly 590k; two days into your six day driving trip across the country if you don't stop for anything but food and sleep, which would be silly.) I think it was this place. But barbecue, like mustard, comes in infinite varieties, for infinite personal tastes. Condiments are life.
I think something everyone should realize is that what you see of our culture in ordinary grocery stores is usually just the cheapest and easiest to transport, and it's the same for what we see of yours. But if this is the only country (besides Canada!) that serves mild yellow mustard regularly, certainly that does make it American. At the same time, we have hundreds of different ones we can buy, in various regions. Jungle Jim's here in Cincinnati has a huge selection. And look: there is a National Mustard Museum!
On another note, I read that Dutch and Belgian people have an "American" sandwich spread which resembles steak tartare. The person mentioning it didn't understand why, because "Americans hate that." No, ma'am, they do not, at least, not all 300 million plus of them. They just don't see it as often as they did long ago, because trends come and go here, as they do elsewhere. My grandma used to make it for herself, having the meat ground at a butcher the same day, but I just get it at one of my favorite restaurants here in Cincinnati, as an appetizer. If someone still wants to make it at home, it just takes a bit of nice sirloin (from a good local butcher if possible, but not necessary,) partially frozen and diced by hand. And of course you need a delicious farm-fresh egg for the top.