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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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