Restaurants like Panda Express, Taco Bell, and Pizza Hut might suggest Americans love ethnic cuisine, but do they really? They offer foods people are familiar with, but if you were to compare Panda Express's offerings with that of an authentic Chinese restaurant, you'd see some pretty glaring discrepancies.
From burritos to gyros to spaghetti and meatballs, cuisine from around the world has been brought to America (and other "western" countries) and gone through some pretty serious changes to suit different palates. Food changed in the West isn't necessarily better or worse, though, than the original version. It can sometimes even change into its own distinct cuisine, like Chinese-American versus classic Chinese.
Some people prefer traditional food, while others openly embrace the new dishes our cultures have created. In the end, each meal has its own story to tell and a unique history.
Fortune cookies actually originated in Kyoto, with local bakeries still producing a similar style of cookie. So, how did they get co-opted by Chinese-American immigrants? The answer lies with WWII - Japanese immigrants had brought the cookies to America, but their bakeries closed when they were forced into internment camps.
Chinese-American restaurants decided to pick up where the Japanese were forced to leave off, and fortune cookies have been associated with Chinese food ever since the end of the war.
Two of the most common "Italian" foods in America today are spaghetti and meatballs, and pasta with Alfredo sauce. However, neither of these are from Italy. When it comes to spaghetti and meatballs, it's a classic story of immigrant innovation. Italians had a dish similar to meatballs, but it was always eaten separately from pasta dishes. However, in America, spaghetti and canned tomatoes were some of the most readily available ingredients; combine that with the western love of pairing starch with meat, and the meatballs and pasta came together.
As far as Alfredo sauce goes, you're not likely to find any in Italy that resembles the American version. An Italian man named Alfredo Di Lelio created a pasta dish for his wife with a butter and parmesan sauce back in 1914; since it was very popular, he continued to use it when he moved to America and opened up a restaurant. The Americans loved it, but soon modified the sauce with ingredients like cream and eggs, which are not typically used in Italian sauces.
There seems to be a little confusion surrounding the "traditional" Irish dish of corned beef and cabbage. While the ingredients themselves can be readily found throughout Ireland, the dish may have been mistaken for another popular meal:
The dish that is more accurately considered to be Ireland’s national dish is colcannon, which consists of boiled potatoes, white cabbage, leeks or onions with added butter, milk and wild garlic.
Irish chef Noel McMeel stated that "the first time [he] tasted corned beef and cabbage was actually in Connecticut when [he] was 20 years old." While it might not actually be a staple in Ireland, corned beef and cabbage has certainly become a strong tradition in America. With millions of people celebrating their Irish heritage on Saint Patrick's Day, at least they're using Irish ingredients for their American-Irish meal.
Despite their name, french fries are actually from Belgium. The tradition actually began with fried fish - there was a region in Belgium where poor villagers would catch little fish in the local river and fry them. In the winter, the river was frozen so they used sliced potatoes instead.
Americans came upon the fried potato treat during World War I, and since the Belgian Army spoke French, they became "french fries." They have become popular in America as a side dish with ketchup or smothered in cheese and other toppings, but in Belgium the classic way to serve them is "with cooked mussels or with a fried egg on top."