13 Popular World Food Dishes That Were Actually Invented in the US
For centuries, migrants from different countries have flocked to the US in search of their American dream. They didn’t come alone, but brought with them the gastronomic traditions of their homeland, which they then adapted to local preferences. Thus, a good portion of dishes that we think of as belonging to cuisines of various countries are actually American in origin.
1. Fortune cookie
These confectionery products, similar to a biscuit with a fortune inside, were first made in Kyoto, Japan, in the 19th century. They were rolled around pieces of paper that contained brief blessings, predictions and sometimes curses. It likely arrived to the US with Japanese immigrants, who began serving the sesame and miso-based dessert at the end of every meal.
The catch was that Japanese immigrants, who came to the United States in the early 20th century, couldn’t open their restaurants featuring their own food, as Americans weren’t keen on raw fish. Instead, Chinese establishments sprang up. The biscuit recipe fell into the hands of local Chinese entrepreneurs and eventually became associated with Chinese cuisine. That’s how the dessert acquired the taste we know today — sesame and miso were replaced by vanilla and butter in the recipe. And in 1973, a graduate of the University of California, Shuck Yee, invented a machine that folds the biscuits automatically, and so their fate was sealed.
2. Chili con carne
In most Mexican dishes, chili is made with meat, which literally translates into Spanish as “chili con carne”. However, the chili we’re used to is actually from southern Texas. The large city of San Antonio later became known as the chili capital because of the so-called “chili queens” — Mexican women who sold this and other dishes in the town squares. Chili attracted national attention as early as 1893, when the San Antonio Chili Stand was set up at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Since then, the dish has become popular far beyond Texas state lines.
Fajitas, like chili con carne, come from Texas. “Faja” in Spanish means “strip,” which refers to the method of slicing the meat for the dish. In the classic version, small strips of beef (originally skirt steak was used for this purpose) are fried with bell peppers and onions and served with flour tortillas.
Originally, fajitas were a light meal that Texan chefs prepared while cattle driving. By the second half of the 20th century, the dish became so popular that numerous variations appeared. Nowadays, fajitas are not only made with beef, but also with pork, chicken, shrimp, and other ingredients. The dish is usually served straight off the fire in a hot metal pan.
A chimichanga is a deep-fried burrito. It was prepared for the first time in Tucson, Arizona. The owners of El Charro Café, the city’s oldest Mexican restaurant, claim it was invented there in 1922. According to their story, the founder, Monica Flin, accidentally dropped a burrito into a vat of boiling fat and that’s how the chimichanga was born. But another Arizona restauranteur, Woody Johnson, claims they invented the dish in Phoenix in 1946. History is not clear on which of them is right, but the chimichanga became wildly popular in the Southwest and, following the release of the Deadpool films, nationwide.
5. Cuban sandwich
The Cuban sandwich was not invented in Cuba, as it may seem, but in the state of Florida. It was thought up by Cuban immigrants living in the US. The dish was based on meat sandwiches, which were popular in their homeland among workers in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
Originally invented in Key West, the Cuban sandwich consists of roast pork, ham, pickles, mustard, Swiss cheese, and bread similar to a baguette with a thin crust. This is now considered a classic version of the dish, but these days you can find a variation with salami instead of ham or pork. This reflects how the sandwich changed due to the large Italian community in the city of Tampa, where the recipe was later adapted.
6. French dressing
In France, salads are often dressed with vinaigrette — a mixture of olive oil and wine vinegar with salt, garlic, Dijon mustard, and sometimes shallots or various herbs. In America, the same oil and vinegar base is mixed with tomato paste or ketchup, as well as paprika and brown sugar. The original version of what is known in the country as “French dressing” was probably Milani 1890 French Dressing, which can still be found in supermarkets today.
7. General Tso’s chicken
The sweet and spicy battered chicken dish became popular in the US back in the 1970s. However, to Chinese people it’s virtually unknown. The invention of General Tso’s chicken is attributed to American chef T.T. Wang, who made this dish for the first time in 1972 while working in the restaurant Shun Lee Palace. Nowadays, this sweet and spicy chicken dish is served in almost every Chinese restaurant in the United States.
8. Spaghetti and meatballs
In Italy, meatballs are served as an appetiser, and sometimes as a main course. Mixing them with spaghetti makes no sense for an Italian chef. Firstly, main courses and pasta are never served together in Italy. Secondly, spaghetti is only suitable for sauces with a light to medium texture that will coat the pasta rather than stick to it in large chunks of meat. The familiar combination was invented by Italian immigrants in early 20th century New York, and the earliest recipe for spaghetti with meatballs was published in the US in the 1920s.
9. Spicy tuna roll
Spicy dishes are rarely found in traditional Japanese cuisine, but they’re very popular with Americans. Not surprisingly, sushi bars in the US started offering a spicier version of the popular dish. The spicy tuna roll, for example, is a seaweed-wrapped mixture of tuna, rice, spicy mayonnaise, spring onions and sesame seeds. It is thought to have first been prepared in a sushi bar in the Little Tokyo district of Los Angeles. But Jean Nakayama of Maneki restaurant in Seattle claims that her husband Kozo invented the spicy roll for their guests back in 1984.
10. German chocolate cake
German chocolate cake was invented in Dallas in 1957. Texan housewife Mrs Clay baked the dessert using Baker’s Chocolate Company’s “German’s Sweet Chocolate,” which, in turn, was invented by Englishman Samuel German.
The cake recipe was published in the Dallas Morning News, which brought it to the attention of General Foods (then the owner of Baker’s brand) which lead it to gain national recognition under the name “German’s chocolate cake.” Subsequently, the possessive “s” was dropped from the name, leading people to believe the dessert was of German origin.
11. Häagen Dazs ice cream
In the 1920s, a 10-year-old Jewish immigrant from Poland named Reuben Mattus started helping his uncle sell Italian ice cream in Brooklyn. Years later he became a supplier of ice cream sandwiches and bars in the Bronx, and in the 1960s he decided to launch a new line of ice cream that would taste richer and creamier than the commercial brands on the market.
Reuben wanted to give his ice cream a Danish-sounding name, perhaps because the Danes were known for their quality dairy products and love of ice cream. Whatever the reason, the name of the dessert, which Americans came to love, doesn’t mean anything in Danish. After all, the language doesn’t use umlauts or the combination of the letters “zs.”
12. English muffin
Despite its name, the English muffin was invented in New York. Its inventor, Samuel Bath Thomas, was an Englishman but he was in the US when he came up with the idea. In inventing the English muffin, he was inspired by crumpets, which are popular in Britain. Crumpets are pan-fried pastries that are usually eaten whole. English muffins, on the other hand, are cut in half to make toasting them easier.
13. Tortilla chips
Tortilla chips were invented in the USA, though they do have distinctly Mexican origins. They were invented by American Rebecca Webb Carranza, who, with her husband, owned a tortilla factory in southwest Los Angeles. At some point she came up with the idea of not throwing away the deformed tortillas rejected by the automated machine, but to cut them into triangles, fry them and sell them at 10 cents a bag. It was soon discovered that tortilla chips were a perfect match for Mexican salsa, giving the world one of its most popular snacks.
What other world foods do you know were actually invented in the USA?