Top ten "ethnic" foods that aren't really ethnic at all
What's for dinner? Whatever the answer, it's probably got an ethnic origin--or a supposedly ethnic origin. Because many of the foreign foods that we all enjoy aren't really very foreign at all. In other words, you can cross these ten dishes off your list, because, frankly, they're all just as American as apple pie (which is actually British).
10. General Tsao's Chicken
Born in the USA, baby. General Tsao's (or Tao's, or Cho's, or Chu's... the name is about as variable as the accreditation) is as Chinese as gefilte fish. There was a General Tso (or Zuo Zontang) in the early 1800s, but how, exactly, his name became connected with this dish, with which he almost certainly had no experience, is fuzzy at best. Most likely, it was a dish created for the sweets-loving American palate by some New York City restaurant run by Chinese immigrants. The same is probably true for chow mein noodles. But like most of the dishes on this list, the alleged history has overshadowed whatever really happened.
Pizza was invented a long time ago, but not in Italy. Instead, it was probably a Greek invention that would have featured dates as a very likely choice for a topping. There were no tomatoes, and definitely a lot less cheese -- if, indeed, there was cheese at all. Italy borrowed the form, changed it up a little and eventually added tomatoes and cheese, which is the pizza that American soldiers in WWII enjoyed and brought stateside. We went nuts over it, piled on a lot more cheese and many more toppings, which just proves that the overindulgence of the American diet is nothing new.
Nachos are pretty popular in America and throughout the world -- everywhere, that is, except Mexico. But nachos themselves were invented there, at least technically, in the border town of Piedras Negras, near the Texas border. But the dish was invented for Americans -- specifically, soldiers from a nearby base. The dish itself, even if it was officially made on Mexican soil, is the soul of Tex-Mex cooking, especially if you include plastic nacho cheese, which is an American
travesty invention. Essentially, nachos have an American soul--and this goes double if the term "nachos" is followed by "Bell Grande."
You might know that French fries aren't really French (they're Belgian -- or, if you watch Fox News, "Freedom"), but you probably think that the staple of French cuisine, the baguette, is, well, French. Nope. These originated in Austria, actually, and came to France as late as the 1800s. American baguettes, of course, are primarily used in movie scenes to jut up and out of a paper sack, an aha! sign that someone has just come back from the market.
6. Garlic Bread/Spaghetti & Meatballs
It might be a staple on checkered tablecloths next to straw Chianti bottles, but that basket of garlic bread isn't exactly Italian. The closest thing that traditional Italian cuisine offers to garlic bread is bruschetta. Garlic bread was, at the very least, invented by Italian restaurateurs to serve the new demand for Italian food after the Second World War. The same goes for spaghetti and meatballs, though to a less dramatic degree. While spaghetti, meatballs and red sauce are all common in Italy, the specific combination of the three--especially the size of the meatball -- is much more American than Italian. Also: "Boyardee" is not an Italian name. Duh.
5. Hot Dogs/Hamburgers
Okay, so both of these foods seem blatantly American -- but most people still think that their origins are German. Even their names suggest it: hamburgers from Hamburg, and Hot Dogs (Frankfurters) from Frankfurt. But this is more American commercialism at work, because both of these barbecued foods started in Germany, but bear little resemblance to what they've become today (or what you can find in Germany, for that matter, unless you hit the local McDonalds or Weinerschnitzel -- the latter of which, of course, is an American company). One of the many claims to the origin of the hot dog comes from St. Louis in the early 1900s, when a street vendor named Feuchtwanger got tired of his patrons walking off with the white gloves he provided for eating the greasy, hot sausages he sold. Like any good entrepreneur, he came up with the bun idea to serve the same purpose as the gloves. But why Feuchtwanger thought that people would ever want to share greasy, sausage-stained gloves to hold their food, is part of the story that goes woefully unaddressed.
Another dish with many proposed origins, one of the favorites goes like this: A cook at a Tucson restaurant accidentally dropped a burrito in a deep-fry vat. She started to curse, getting out only part of the swear word chingada (loosely translated, it means "fuck!"), but changed mid-utterance to say "chimichanga," which according to Wikipedia idiomatically meant something like "thingamajig." Fortunately, it tasted really fucking good, too.
3. Chicken Tikka Masala
The United Kingdom loves its Indian food, and just like here, Great Britain has adopted and souped-up some of its favorite Indian dishes. To wit: chicken tikka masala, a supposed staple of Indian cuisine, which reportedly was invented in Glasgow, Scotland (where there was a proposal to name it an official Scottish Food in 2009). Others claim that it was created in London's Soho district. But either way, former (and dead) foreign secretary Robin Cook called it "Britain's true national dish." The proof? Britain now exports chicken tikka masala to India.
2. Indian Fry Bread
Depending on what's on top, this same dish is sometimes called Navajo tacos (with ground beef, lettuce, tomato, and cheese), or the Americanized Elephant Ears (when covered in powdered sugar, chocolate, honey, or all three). Truth is, that while Native Americans made fry breads, they have very little to do with what's called "fry bread" now. It's the American adaptation of Native American cultural norms that created fry bread -- that, and American's unending need to pour sugar on things. No offense to Def Leppard.
1. Fortune Cookies
Fortune cookies really just say one thing: Americans are suckers for crap they think comes from far away... like the pidgin English so commonly used in the messages of old fortune cookies. That wasn't authenticity -- it was American companies playing to the stereotype. Fortune cookies were actually created somewhere in the US, apparently on the West Coast -- no one can agree on just where -- but their non-existence in China all but proves that they didn't originate there. Today, the biggest fortune cookie factory is in Queens. Ain't that America.
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