From baked Alaska to French fries, kiwi fruit to Scotch eggs, not all treats originate as advertised. Here are some classics that aren’t what they seem.
The Danish and French accurately call these layered pastry treats wienerbrød (Vienna bread) and viennoiseries. They were introduced to Denmark by Austrian chefs in the 1850s and then morphed into various forms across Scandinavia, Britain and America. The croissant so synonymous with France was inspired by the kipfel, a crescent-shaped Austrian biscuit that, when reimagined using puffed pastry, became popular in 1840s Paris.
Photo: Wolfgang Kaehler/Getty
This meat-and-vegetable dish cooked on a griddle isn’t Mongolian and barely a barbecue. If anything, the style is more akin to 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-frying with teppanyaki grilling; Taiwan was previously under Japanese rule. The name was a marketing ploy to add allure.
You might think pineapple on pizza originated somewhere in the tropics, but no. It was – get this – a Greek immigrant in Canada who first put pineapple on pizza in 1962, inspired by Chinese-American food that combined sweet-and-sour flavours. Hawaii had recently attained statehood and supplied the ingredient. Incidentally pineapple, carrot and onion in stir-fries is a sure-fire sign of inauthentic Chinese cuisine.
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Deep-frying food in batter isn’t particularly Japanese and is found in many world cuisines. The first recipes came from medieval Arab cookbooks and arrived in Nagasaki with Portuguese missionaries in the sixteenth century. The word is derived from the Portuguese for Lent because that’s when deep-fried fish was eaten. Tempura batter is made with different ingredients and fried in different oils in various regions of Japan.
Photo: Chris Hopkins
This Aussie pub favourite has a convoluted history. Crispy-coated veal cutlets came from northern Italy to inspire the so-called Viennese schnitzel and were taken worldwide by Italian immigrants. The layers of cheese and tomato, though, are a feature of an eggplant dish from Parma (or parmigiana). Meat parmigiana is however a 1950s American invention, in the USA often accompanied by pasta rather than chips. It arrived in Australia shortly after.
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This puffed pastry, stuffed with minced meat or spiced potato, is eaten as a street food and common entrée in Indian restaurants. However, it originated in Central Asia, first appeared in Arab cookbooks and has a Persian-derived name. Variants appear with different shapes, sizes and fillings across Asia, East Africa and the Middle East. The original samsa, nearly always baked, is a great hot snack in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.
Called a jelly roll in the USA, a queen’s (or gypsy’s) arm in Latin America and a roulade in most of Europe, this rolled-up sponge layered with jam, cream and sometimes fruit likely emerged from central Europe. Though considered old-fashioned elsewhere, it’s popular thanks to British influence in Hong Kong, and a staple of bakeries in world Chinatowns where the cream is often flavoured with strawberry, mango or coffee.
Most of us know these flaky, crispy custard-filled tarts from yum-cha restaurants. The Cantonese version appeared in southern China only in the 1920s, likely under the influence of British tarts. The larger, more caramelised Macau-style version, though inspired by the Portuguese pastel de nata, was only created in the 1980s by a British businessman, though has since spread across east Asia and into the Chinese restaurants of Australia.
The obsessive American liking for ketchup gives the impression it’s as all-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 either 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 cake, is also thought of as typically American but has been around in Europe since ancient Greek times, at least in baked form. The uncooked version did however originate in the USA. Aficionados can do a world tour through purple-coloured Filipino cheesecake, airier Japanese cheesecake or dense, creamy New York cheesecake. South Africans often include a happy dose of Amarula liqueur.
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