The world is more at our fingertips today than ever before. You can head out in any big city and enjoy the cuisine from dozens of countries or, if you’re more adventurous, head to the internet and track down recipes and videos showing you how to make food from literally every corner of the globe. And while that’s great for expanding culinary horizons it also brings with it the curious revelation that not every food we know and love is truly from where we always thought it was. Some of your international favorites may not be international at all.
10. Spaghetti and Meatballs is Not Technically Italian
Is any dish more Italian than spaghetti and meatballs? Yes, actually, many of them are since it’s not technically an Italian dish at all. That isn’t to say that spaghetti isn’t Italian and, of course, meatballs can be Italian too but most countries also have meatballs. But the dish we all currently understand as spaghetti and meatballs is 100% American, by way of Italy.
Traditional Italian meatballs could be made from any kind of meat from fish to turkey and though beef was an option, it was not as plentiful in Italy as it is in America so it was a less likely choice. Also, Italian meatballs were more often served as their own entrée or in soups rather than on top of pasta. In fact, in Italy it’s very unlikely you’ll find spaghetti and meatballs on a menu unless it’s a tourist trap catering to international patrons.
When Italians began immigrating to America, they of course brought their cuisine with them and that included meatball recipes. Meat was more plentiful and cheaper in America than they were used to so the new meatball recipes adapted to be made from ground beef and they grew bigger.
The fact that dried pasta and canned tomato was also available and also cheap meant that a dish, in the ballpark of what they may have had back home, could be put together cheaply and effectively and so spaghetti and meatballs were born. The dish dates back to sometime between 1880 and 1920.
9. Chicken Parmesan is Italian-Inspired American Cuisine
Sticking with non-Italian Italian, another extremely tasty and popular dish, chicken parmesan, is just as Italian as spaghetti and meatballs. That means it was inspired by Italy but made in the USA.
If you’re not familiar, the dish typically consists of chicken breasts, usually pounded flat, breaded and fried crispy, served on top of a tomato sauce and covered in melted cheese.
In Italy you wouldn’t find this dish but you would find eggplant parmesan which is almost the same thing but made with eggplant instead of chicken. The dish hails from Sicily and the evolution of eggplant to chicken is very similar to the evolution of the meatball. Italian immigrants in the USA found themselves presented with different ingredients and cheaper meats. Tweaks to the recipe allowed for chicken to swap in as the meat in America was proving to be a very popular option and thus the chicken version was born.
A chicken parm recipe was published in the New York Times in 1962 and the dish has been a staple in Italian American restaurants ever since.
8. Italian Dressing Hails from America
One last look at Italy and this time in the world of the salad. While ranch takes the top spot for favorite salad dressing in America, Italian ranks in at number two, at least according to one survey. Surprisingly enough, that’s a very exclusively American result since Italian dressing is not really even an option in Italy.
Ask someone who has lived in both Italy and America and they’ll point out that the Italian dressing you can buy in grocery stores in no way resembles anything they serve on salad in Italy, which is typically just olive oil and vinegar.
American Italian dressing seems to have been invented, or at least popularized, by Florence Hanna whose parents were Italian immigrants. She made the dressing for the salads in the Massachusetts restaurant she ran with her husband Ken, which gave rise to Ken’s Foods which still bottles the stuff today.
7. German Chocolate Cake is Not German
Humans go through about 7.5 million tons of chocolate per year, or about two pounds for every living human in the world. Safe to say, people really like it. And German chocolate cake has long been a favorite way to enjoy it if you also like your chocolate in cake form.
The cake dates back to 1957 and features chocolate alongside coconut and pecan. If you like nuts and chocolate, it really is delicious. But it’s also not even a little bit German. And, technically, it never pretended to be.
German chocolate cake fell victim to the curse of brevity and convenience. The original recipe was created by a woman in Texas who submitted it to the Dallas Morning News for publication. The recipe called for the use of a sweet baking chocolate and the brand that Mrs. George Clay enjoyed was German’s chocolate, created by Sam German in 1852.
Her cake was technically a German’s Brand Chocolate Cake, but it’s just easier to call it German chocolate cake and, without context, it’s easy to lose the fact she was referring to a specific brand. Baker German’s Sweet Chocolate still exists today if you want to make an authentic German chocolate cake, but if you follow the recipe exactly and use a different brand, you’re just making a chocolate coconut pecan cake, probably.
6. Sauerkraut Isn’t Actually German
One of the most quintessential German foods you’ll ever find is sauerkraut, that fermented cabbage condiment that lends itself so well to sausages and other food that it seems inextricably linked to the country’s cuisine. Even the name is German, meaning “sour cabbage,” so it’s somewhat surprising to learn that the food is not originally German at all.
Sauerkraut’s origins go back thousands of years and much further east than Germany. It’s believed it started in China when laborers building the Great Wall would ferment cabbage in rice wine to ensure they’d have food available all year round. During the winter, when food was scarce, they needed something that could last the season and the fermented cabbage fit the bill.
Later, travelers brought the concept to Europe and new recipes were devised that didn’t include rice wine but instead used salt to pickle the cabbage.
5. Corned Beef and Cabbage Isn’t an Irish Staple
Ireland’s cuisine isn’t quite as famous as something like Mexican or Italian, but there are a few dishes very much associated with the country. Obviously they are strongly associated with potatoes, but head to any bar on St. Patrick’s Day that’s doing an Irish dinner special and you’ll probably find corned beef and cabbage. This is ironic, of course, since it’s not an Irish dish at all.
Ireland is not a land of great beef farms. Cattle there were mostly used for dairy. Cows were even sacred in Gaelic tradition, so killing them was not standard practice.
It was England, in forcing its will upon Ireland, that introduced the concept of corned beef and, owing to various laws around importing and exporting salt, took advantage of Ireland and essentially forced corned beef production to take place there. Ireland supplied most of the corned beef eating world with corned beef and almost none of it stayed in the country.
By the end of the 18th century as America and other countries began to make their own corned beef the famine broke out in Ireland and people either starved or left.Those who settled in America ironically found themselves finally able to eat corned beef which they never actually had in Ireland only this time it was kosher corned beef made by Jewish immigrants and didn’t really resemble the stuff Ireland had been known for at all.
4. Burritos as We Understand Them are Not From Mexico
Mexican cuisine is hugely popular these days and with good reason as much of it is very delicious and filling. But the Americanization of Mexican cuisine has caused some confusion of how some dishes are meant to be made and whether some dishes are even Mexican at all. One such dish is the burrito, which isn’t really from Mexico, at least the way most people understand it.
Some people will suggest that the burrito, while almost totally unheard of in Southern Mexico, can at least call Northern Mexico home. But the burrito that you might think of if you like in the United States. Head to Chipotle or any other restaurant known for Mexican cuisine and a burrito is typically a thick, flour tortilla wrapped dish filled with rice, beans, meats, sauce and vegetables. They’re big and heavy and filling and date back to the 1960s or so.
A traditional Mexican burrito consists of a toasted flour tortilla topped with a small amount of beans, some braised meat and a dash of sauce rolled up tight almost like a tamale. That’s all. They’re small and relatively light and do not involve a ton of rice and veggies by any means. That’s a product of the Mission Burrito, born in San Francisco.
3. Biryani Came to India from Persia
Biryani rice is definitely one of the most popular dishes you’ll find on any Indian menu and typically many versions are available that are made with different meats and veggies. It’s a staple of Indian cuisine but its origins stray a bit from the country that made it famous. India adapted the dish from a Persian recipe. The word itself comes from a Persian name “birinj biriyan” which means “fried rice.”
Travelers would have brought the dish to different regions of India over the years and the recipes adapted to local tastes and ingredients which gave rise to literally dozens of different flavors and combinations.
2 Chicken Tikka Masala Was Made in the 70s in Europe
India is home to some of the most popular cuisine in the world and, according to some surveys, ranks as the fourth most popular after Italian, Japanese and Chinese around the world. Dishes like butter chicken are standout favorites around the world but chicken tikka masala is another huge favorite which can’t even lay claim to India as its country of origin.
Chicken tikka masala is a relatively new dish which only dates back to the 1970s.The origin has actually been debated, but Scotland has laid claim to being the dish’ birthplace thanks to a chef from Bangladesh working in Glasgow. Ironically, the big debate over where the dish comes from doesn’t necessarily center on a dispute between India and Scotland but Scotland and England, which is also considered the dish’s home and it’s even been referred to as England’s national dish.
There are chefs from India who claim the dish has been made there for generations but most accounts seem to acknowledge the European chefs of Indian origin as the creators.
1. Apple Pie Predates America
When it comes to linking certain foods with certain places, nothing seems more American than apple pie. Why? Because that’s literally a saying – American as apple pie. And that saying is loaded with more irony than your average pie is loaded with apples thanks to the fact apple pie isn’t American. It’s actually older than America by quite a long time. Heck, apple pie predates Columbus.
The first recorded recipe for apple pie dates back to England in 1381.This recipe wasn’t the apple pie you’d think of and included a number of other ingredients and also an inedible coffin crust meant to hold it together and not to be eaten. But even if you wanted to discount that, you can still find Dutch apple pie recipes as far back as 1514.
European settlers brought apple pie recipes with them to America. America didn’t have apples before they arrived, the fruit isn’t native to the continent. Of course it quickly became a popular dessert staple that remains to this day and, while it may be iconic, it’s not strictly speaking an American dish at all.