Weird History
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Essential 'National' Food Dishes Whose Origins We Were Totally Wrong About

Updated May 8, 2020 8.4k votes 1.4k voters 122.3k views11 items

List RulesVote up the dishes whose real origins surprise you the most.

Food is an essential part of culture. As communities, states, and nations form their identities, food becomes part of how they see themselves and shapes the perceptions of others. Dining at an Italian restaurant, for example, means pasta, pizza, and the like, while the names of some foods even attest to national origins.

But what if someone told you a food as prolific as french fries are Belgian? That tempura is Portuguese? Would the origins of these dishes, so commonly - and incorrectly - associated with one part of the world, change anything? 

The origins of some so-called "national" dishes may surprise you more than others. If nothing else, you may never view a restaurant menu the same way again. 

  • The Dish: Caesar salad

    Where People Think It Comes From: The United States

    With a name like Caesar salad, you might think the cold favorite came straight out of ancient Rome. Rather, the salad has long been considered an American creation, named for chef Caesar Cardini.

    Where It Actually Originated: In truth, Cardini - an Italian immigrant who worked in Tijuana, Mexico - invented the salad.

    The original Caesar salad - made with Romaine lettuce, croutons, Parmesan cheese, boiled egg, garlic, olive oil, and Worcestershire sauce - came to life when Chef Cardini simply tossed together ingredients he had available to him. Over Fourth of July weekend in 1924, according to legend, Cardini served the salad to friends and it was a hit. Two years later, Caesar's brother Alex added the anchovies.

    Cardini thrived south of the border thanks to Americans fleeing restrictions brought on by Prohibition. Author and culinary celebrity Julia Child remembered visiting Cardini's restaurant in her youth:

    One of my early remembrances of restaurant life was going to Tijuana in 1925 or 1926 with my parents, who were wildly excited that they should finally lunch at Caesar’s restaurant. Tijuana, just south of the Mexican border from San Diego, was flourishing then, in the prohibition era... Words spread about Tijuana and the good life, and about Caesar Cardini’s restaurant, and about Caesar’s salad. 

    Surprising origin story?
  • 6

    The Earliest Evidence Of Cooked Frog Legs Was Discovered In England

    The Dish: Frog legs

    Where People Think It Comes From: France

    A French delicacy to many, frog legs were also eaten by Dutch and British diners as early as the 17th century. Believed to have been introduced to England by the French, there was a skepticism about the dish among British and American colonists alike. Both groups found French foods to be over-sauced and over-seasoned, a ruse to hide poor-quality fare

    Where It Actually Originated: Brits may have a hard time swallowing a recent archaeological discovery that potentially places the origins of frog legs as a meal on their shores. In 2013, researchers in Amesbury, England, found evidence that ancient Britons were eating cooked toad or frog at some point between 6250 and 7600 BC.

    According to researcher David Jacques

    It would appear that thousands of years ago people were eating a Heston Blumenthal-style menu on this site, one and a quarter miles from Stonehenge, consisting of toads’ legs, aurochs, wild boar and red deer with hazelnuts for main, another course of salmon and trout, and finishing off with blackberries. 

    Surprising origin story?
  • 7

    The Origins Of Fortune Cookies Are Japanese, Not Chinese

    The Dish: Fortune cookies

    Where People Think It Comes From: China or the United States

    Cracking open a fortune cookie at the end of a meal in a Chinese restaurant is simply part of the experience. While theories about when and where fortune cookies came to fruition vary, there's one thing scholars agree upon: They aren't Chinese. 

    One school of thought holds that fortune cookies are part of the Chinese-American tradition, popularized during the early 20th century by Asian immigrants in California. Attributed to both Sumiharu Hagiwara-Nagata, a San Francisco-based landscape architect, and David Jung, a preacher from Los Angeles, fortune cookies were available nationwide by the mid-1930s. 

    Where It Actually Originated: The prevailing theory is that so-called Chinese fortune cookies are actually Japanese creations. According to researcher Yasuko Nakamachi, fortune cookies were present in Japan during the 19th century, their triangle shapes represented in literary and artistic documents alike.

    Japanese baker Takeshi Matsuhisu insists that treats filled with fortunes date back to the 17th century, when "tsujiura senbei," "omikuji senbei," and "suzu senbei" provided fortunes and numerological guidance. 

    Regardless, there is Japanese precedent for fortune cookies as they exist now. In defense of their association with both China and America, however, Derrick Wong, an executive at one of the leading fortune cookie manufacturers in the world, insists, "The Japanese may have invented the fortune cookie. But the Chinese people really explored the potential of the fortune cookie. It's Chinese-American culture. It only happens here, not in China."

    Surprising origin story?
  • The Dish: Cheesecake

    Where People Think It Comes From: New York

    While not entirely a national dish, cheesecake is a food that many parts of the United States claim as their own. In New York, a distinct type of cheesecake is attributed to Arnold Reuben - also the inventor of the famed Reuben sandwich. In contrast to the soft cheesecakes found in Europe, Reuben produced a cream cheese-based version in 1929. 

    Where It Actually Originated: Europeans have been making cheesecakes for centuries - something the Greeks and Romans before them did, as well. Cheesecakes in ancient Greece were made with cheese curds and honey, while Roman cheesecakes - called placenta - would have crusts or be crafted into loaves

    Surprising origin story?