The 10 Famous Foods That Didn’t Come From Where You Imagined

From baked Alaska to French fries, kiwis to Scotch eggs, not all treats come as advertised. Here are some classics that aren’t what they seem.

danish pastry

The Danes and French rightly call these layered pastries wienerbrød (Viennese bread) and viennoiseries. They were introduced to Denmark by Austrian chefs in the 1850s and then morphed into various forms in Scandinavia, Britain and America. The croissant so synonymous with France was inspired by the kipfel, a crescent-shaped Austrian cookie that, when reinvented with puff pastry, became popular in 1840s Paris.

Mongolian BBQ

MONGOLI - 2012/06/25: Chef cooking at Mongolian Grill, Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia.  (Photo by Wolfgang Kaehler/LightRocket via Getty Images) Single use, traveler only Brian Johnston traveler 10

Photo: Wolfgang Kaehler/Getty

This meat-and-vegetable dish cooked on a griddle is not Mongolian and hardly barbecue. If anything, the style is more like Korean cooking techniques. It was invented by a Taiwanese restauranteur in the 1950s, who then lost interest and became a well-known comedian. It combines Chinese stir-fry with teppanyaki grilling; Taiwan was previously under Japanese rule. The name was a marketing ploy to add allure.

Hawaiian pizza

Photo: iStock

You would think that pineapple on pizza comes from somewhere in the tropics, but no. It was – you see – a Greek immigrant to Canada who first put pineapple on pizza in 1962, inspired by Chinese-American food that combined sweet and sour flavors. Hawaii had recently achieved state status and supplied the ingredient. Pineapple, carrot and onion in stir-fries is an unmistakable sign of inauthentic Chinese cuisine.


Tempura Battered Vegetables - Broccoli, Asparagus, Mushrooms, Sweet Potato and Zucchini - Photographed with a Hasselblad H3D11-39 megapixel camera system credit: istock single use only for Traveler Brian Johnston Traveler 10

Photo: iStock

Battered fried foods are not exactly Japanese and are found in many world cuisines. The first recipes came from medieval Arabic cookbooks and arrived in Nagasaki in the sixteenth century with Portuguese missionaries. The word is derived from the Portuguese for fasting because then fried fish was eaten. Tempura batter is made with different ingredients and fried in different oils in different regions of Japan.

Chicken parmigiana​

Pubs in Melbourne are reopening today.  Fancy a chicken parma for lunch?

Photo: Chris Hopkins

This Australian pub favorite has a complicated history. Crispy veal chops came from northern Italy to inspire the so-called Viennese schnitzel and were taken around the world by Italian immigrants. However, the layers of cheese and tomato are typical of an aubergine dish from Parma (or parmigiana). Meat parmigiana, however, is an American invention from the 1950s, often accompanied by pasta instead of fries in the US. Shortly after, it arrived in Australia.

Also see: Do you like a good schnitty? Here are 10 ways to eat breaded meat


A plate of samosas - an appetizer often found in Indian restaurants - with onion-tomato chutney, mint-cilantro chutney and tamarind sauce for dipping.  credit: istock one time use only for Traveler Brian Johnston Traveler 10

Photo: iStock

This puff pastry, filled with minced meat or spiced potato, is eaten as a street food and as a main course in Indian restaurants. However, it originated in Central Asia, first appeared in Arabic cookbooks and has a Persian name. Variants with different shapes, sizes and fillings are appearing in Asia, East Africa and the Middle East. The original samsa, almost always fried, is a great hot snack in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.

Swiss roll

Chocolate Swiss roll credit: istock single use for only Traveler Brian Johnston Traveler 10

Photo: iStock

This rolled sponge, layered with jam, cream, and sometimes fruit, is called a jelly roll in the US, a queen’s (or gypsy’s) arm in Latin America, and a roulade in most of Europe. Though considered old-fashioned elsewhere, it’s popular thanks to its British influence in Hong Kong, and a staple of bakeries in the Chinatowns of the world, where the cream is often flavored with strawberry, mango, or coffee.

Chinese custard tarts

Egg custard tarts were introduced to Hong Kong from nearby Macau.  They are traditionally a Portuguese dessert, but became popular in Hong Kong during its days as a British colony.  credit: istock one time use only for Traveler Brian Johnston Traveler 10

Photo: iStock

Most of us are familiar with these flaky, crunchy custard-filled pies from yum-cha restaurants. The Cantonese version did not appear in southern China until the 1920s, probably influenced by British pies. The larger, more caramelized, Macau-style version, although inspired by the Portuguese pastel de nata, was not created by a British businessman until the 1980s, but has since spread across East Asia and into Australia’s Chinese restaurants.


Ketchup with fries dipped credit: istock single use for only Traveler Brian Johnston Traveler 10

Photo: iStock

The obsessive American taste for ketchup gives the impression that it is as American as apple pie – which, incidentally, originated in Europe. But ketchup is derived from Asian fish sauces and once contained ingredients such as walnuts, oysters or anchovies. The word probably comes from Malay or a southern Chinese dialect. Mushroom ketchup appeared in Britain in the eighteenth century and tomato ketchup in the nineteenth.


Chocolate Swirl Cheesecake with Cherry Topping credit: istock single use for Traveler only Brian Johnston Traveler 10

Photo: iStock

Cheesecake, which isn’t actually a cake, is also considered quintessentially American, but has been around in Europe since ancient Greece, at least in baked form. However, the uncooked version comes from the US. Enthusiasts can take a world tour of purple Philippine cheesecake, fluffier Japanese cheesecake or dense, creamy New York cheesecake. South Africans often bring a cheerful dose of Amarula liqueur with them.

Also see: Ten endangered species you shouldn’t eat

Also see: The ten most divisive foods in the world

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