By: Adam Lapetina
Credit: Lee Breslouer
America has a storied history of taking the cuisines of other cultures and incorporating elements of them into its own… usually after deep-frying them. Sometimes, though, we go a bit overboard with the incorporating and end up with something that, despite its name and supposed pedigree, would confuse the hell out of non-Americans.
Here are those foods. These are their stories.
Credit: Adam Lapetina
General Tso’s Chicken
The tale of General Tso’s chicken is a long and circuitous one, but the (most likely) fact of the matter is that it was invented by a Chinese dude who fled to Taiwan, developed his original recipe there, and then moved to America, where the version of the dish we know and love today finally coalesced in New York City to suit the sweet-tooth tastes of — among other customers — Henry Kissinger. Dude knows international diplomacy.
Rome had Caesars, right? So it’s only logical to assume that one of them (probably Augustus, that guy was awesome) invented this salad. And just like in the last few seasons of Lost, you can throw logic out the window, because this salad — served, in some form, at almost every Italian restaurant in America — was invented by an Italian expat NAMED Caesar who was working around San Diego and Tijuana in the mid-1920s, using the dregs of his restaurant’s menu. Sorry, Augustus. You still have so much more going for you.
Credit: Flickr/Timothy Tsui
Chicken Tikka Masala
Chicken tikka, which essentially means “pieces of chicken”, is a dish that’s been around in Indian cuisine since the discovery of 1) chickens, and 2) cutting foods into pieces. But it wasn’t until a fateful day in Glasgow in the 1970s that the masala factor came into play, when a cheeky patron in a Bangladeshi restaurant complained that his order of chicken tikka was too dry, prompting the chef to throw on a sauce made of condensed tomato soup, spices, and yogurt that today comprises one of the national dishes of England.
Sure, the source material of the chimichanga — the burrito, duh — is most likely of Mexican extraction (the ones Stateside in, say, Chipotle, aren’t too recognizable South of the Border). But the chimichanga, that deep-fried buster of many an Arizonian belly? It’s a classic American story, through and through: legend has it that a burrito was dropped unceremoniously (read: accidentally) into a deep fryer by a chef in Tucson, AZ and — whatever the Spanish word for voila is! — the chimichanga was born.
We supposedly have the French to thank for quite a few of our favorite things (French toast, French fries, French kissing, French Stewart), but the ugly truth is that a prototypical incarnation of French toast first appeared in Latin cookbooks from the 4th or 5th centuries, French fries are probably Belgian, French kissing probably existed waaaay before France was even a thing, and French Stewart’s real name is Milton.
Garlic bread, as we know it, isn’t really found in Italy, but our version is most likely a cousin to theirs. Bruschetta, as it’s known over there, is grilled bread that’s rubbed with garlic and topped with tomatoes and olive oil. So yeah, not exactly the same thing, although you’ll find frozen versions of both in your grocer’s freezer.
This staple of many American-Chinese restaurants is an appetizing mix of egg rolls, chicken wings, crab rangoon, beef teriyaki, spare ribs, and any number of other odds and ends, but there is one thing it doesn’t include (burn notice): a wholly Chinese pedigree (burn achieved). That’s because “pupu” is a traditional Hawaiian word for “relish” or “appetizer”, and the concept of the dish itself most likely originated in Polynesian cooking, and was brought to the mainland by groundbreaking Tiki bars and restaurants run by people like Don the Beachcomber.
Spaghetti & Meatballs
Spaghetti exists in Italy — there’s no denying that. Meatballs also exist in Italy, albeit in a different form: there, they’re called polpettes, and range in size between golfball-sized and marble-sized (aka polpettines). But combining these two often disparate entities? That’s something that was reserved for Italian-American immigrants, who, after moving to America, found an abundance of cheap meat, pasta, and tomatoes, and decided to make a meal quite a bit different from the stuff they had overseas in the old country, thus paving the way for some innovative Alka-Seltzer commercials.
Credit: Flickr/Kimberly Vardeman
German Chocolate Cake
So, “German chocolate cake” used to be called “German’s chocolate cake”. And there was also this dude named Sam German. Do you see where we’re going with this? Yeah, you might want to rethink making that cake for your German envoy as a gesture of cultural cooperation. Or, on second thought, don’t — it’s still delicious.
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