Eating Your Way Through Surprising Food Origins

picture of two food tourists in a food market speaking with a food tour guide

The next time you head over to your favourite Chinese restaurant and order egg rolls or grab a Caesar salad as an appetizer, you may not look at them the same way. That’s because, while the origins of some foods are undeniable — think falafel from Egypt, Irish stew from Ireland, ackee and saltfish from Jamaica or Pho from Vietnam — the origins of others are sure to surprise you.

Chicken Tikka Masala (United Kingdom)

That is not a typo. You would think this spicy dish of chunks of chicken marinated in spices and yogurt, baked in a tandoor oven and served in a masala (spice mix) sauce would be a dish from India. However, according to Wikipedia, one theory is that it originated in an Indian restaurant in Glasgow, Scotland, but probably from the British Bangladeshi community, which ran most Indian restaurants in the United Kingdom.

French Fries (Belgium)

Gasp! French fries may not have come from France! The story, according to a Belgian journalist, is that a 1781 family manuscript recounts that potatoes were deep-fried prior to 1680 in the Meuse valley, in what was then the Spanish Netherlands (present-day Belgium). He has a yet to produce the manuscript to support his claim and the fight over who invented fries continues to between Belgium and France.

Croissant (Austria)

While most often associated with France, the croissant has its origins in Austria when the kipferl, the croissant’s ancestor, was created in the 13th century. In 1839, an Austrian artillery officer took the kipferl and made it a bit plainer and then the French imitations began and were named for their crescent (croissant) shape.

Egg Rolls (United States)

Some of the Chinese favourites of North Americans have nothing to do with China. For example, Chinese immigrants to America who were using what they had on hand to make something that would still seem like theirs, but was meant to appeal to Americans created egg rolls. Other "Chinese American" eats created in a similar manner include crab Rangoon, almond chicken, sesame chicken, beef and broccoli and fortune cookies.

Spaghetti and Meatballs (United States)

When Italian immigrants arrived in America during late 1800s and early 1900s, they started pairing meatballs with spaghetti and marinara sauce because it was affordable. In Italy, meanwhile, the dish isn’t served and when pasta and meatballs are involved they definitely aren’t served together.

Churros (Spain, Portugal or China)

While the origins are debatable, one thing is for sure: churros do not come from Mexico. According to the Huffington Post, "theories say that shepherds invented the treat when they realized they were easy to make in frying pans over fire, and named them 'churros' due to the breed of sheep called the 'churra' that originated in the Iberian Peninsula." The other theory is that Portuguese sailors discovered similar pastries in China and brought them back to their country. Spain then picked up on the churro trend and twisted it to make it its own.

Caesar Salad (Mexico)

The salad, while made by an Italian immigrant, was created in Mexico and it was not named after Julius Caesar. The creator's name was Caesar Cardini and he was a restaurateur who worked in the U.S. and Mexico. His daughter Rosa recounted that her father invented the dish when a Fourth of July 1924 rush depleted the kitchen's supplies.

If you want to take your love of food and travel to the next step, Centennial College's Food Tourism program allows you to combine the two into a fruitful career. The one-year offering focuses on teaching the skills to develop successful food tourism enterprises and gain employment in existing food and culinary tourism agencies and companies while advocating for social justice, equity and access in communities worldwide.

By Izabela Szydlo

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