American cuisine, the great melting pot, is known for adopting foods from all over the world as its own. But there are plenty of foods invented in the United States that you might wrongfully assume come from other cultures. No matter where a dish is born, it doesn’t make it any less delicious. So let’s give credit where credit is due. Here are 10 “foreign” foods that are actually American inventions.
1. German Chocolate Cake
The name might bring to mind decadent Bavarian pastries, but this coconut-pecan frosted chocolate cake owes its name not to the country of Germany, but to an English-born candy maker named Samuel German. German developed a type of making chocolate for the Massachusetts-based Baker’s Chocolate Company — his employer at the time. The product was marketed as “Baker’s German’s Sweet Chocolate.” In 1957, a Dallas housewife, Mrs. George Clay, used the chocolate in a recipe she named “German’s Chocolate Cake.” The recipe was published in the Dallas Morning News and eventually picked up by General Foods (then owner of the Baker’s brand). Somewhere along the way, the “s” was dropped from the name and the recipe became known as “German Chocolate Cake.”
2. Russian dressing
This American-born condiment is disguised as a a food from Russia. The blend of mayonnaise and ketchup and possible other ingredients like hot sauce, horseradish, or pickle relish, is uniquely American. One theory states that an earlier version got its name because it included caviar. But today, credit is given to James E. Coburn, an entrepreneur from New Hampshire who started selling the product out of his store as early as 1910.
3. English muffin
It has the word “English” in its name. It even seems like something you might drink with tea. But the fact is that English muffins were invented in New York City by Samuel Bath Thomas (yes, the namesake of the Thomas’s English muffin company). Thomas, an English immigrant, modeled what he then called the “toaster crumpet” after the crumpets he was familiar with in the U.K. Both were griddle cakes, but unlike crumpets, which are eaten whole, toaster crumpets were cut into two halves to allow for easy toasting in the broiler.
4. Fortune cookies
You didn’t actually think those cliché fortune cookies were ancient Chinese wisdom, did you? Los Angeles baker David Jung and San Francisco native Makoto Hagiwara have competing claims over who invented the prophetic cookie, but one thing is for sure — it wasn’t invented in China.
Despite its Mexican heritage, the chimichanga was a product of the American Southwest — Tucson, Arizona specifically. The owners of El Charro Café, the city’s oldest Mexican restaurant, claims the stuffed, fried burrito was invented there in 1922 when restaurant founder Monica Flin accidentally dropped a burrito into a deep-fat fryer. Legend has it, she began to utter Spanish profanity beginning with “chi…” but quickly stopped herself and instead finished her exclamation with “chimichanga” — the Spanish equivalent of “thingamajig.”
6. Häagen Dazs ice cream
In the 1920s, a 10-year-old Polish Jewish immigrant named Reuben Mattus started to help his Brooklyn-based uncle sell Italian ice. Years later, be became a purveyor of ice cream sandwiches in the Bronx. In the 1960s, after some success, Mattus decided to produce a line of ice cream, richer and creamier than the commercial brands already on the market. He wanted to give his ice cream a Danish sounding name, possibly because the Danes are known for their quality dairy products, but also possibly as a tribute to Danish Resistance heroes who saved many of the country’s Jews during WWII. Regardless of the reason, the words mean nothing in Danish as the language doesn’t use umlauts or “zs” letter combinations.
7. Spaghetti and meatballs
While the saucy dish is most associated with Italy, the combination was almost certainly developed in the early 20th century in New York City by Italian immigrants. You may find it in major cities in Italy today, but it’s mostly to satisfy the cravings of American tourists. The National Pasta Association, founded in 1904, published the earliest known recipe for spaghetti and meatballs in the 1920s. Meatballs have multiple creation stories — from Swedish köttbullars to Turkish köftes, but those large meatballs doused in tomato-based spaghetti sauce are purely an American invention.
8. Tortilla chips
Chips and salsa might be the most beloved imported Mexican food of them all — except those chips aren’t Mexican. Rebecca Webb Carranza invented the tortilla chip on accident in the 1950s when she needed to devise a use for misshapen tortillas. Instead of throwing the rejected tortillas away, she cut them up in to triangles, fried them, and sold them for a dime a bag. It wasn’t long before chips met salsa and one of the world’s greatest duos was born.
9. French roast coffee
Specialty coffee shops can be found on just about every American corner nowadays — and everyone seems to have a favorite blend. But there was a time when Americans, in general, preferred lighter roasts than European drinkers. In 1966, with European coffees in mind, Dutch-American businessman Alfred Peet (founder of Peet’s Coffee & Tea in Berkeley, California) set out to bring to market what he called “French roast,” apparently solidifying this now ubiquitous term in our everyday java jargon. In the decade since, the reduced acidity, slightly burnt character of the French roast has gained many coffee drinking fans.
10. General Tso’s Chicken
News that probably won’t surprise you — most Chinese foods popular in the U.S. aren’t actually common cuisine in China. General Tso’s is no exception. The sweet and spicy glazed chicken dish became popular in the 70s in the U.S., but remains almost entirely unknown to the Chinese themselves. General Tso’s chicken is widely credited to chef T.T. Wang, who is said to have created the dish we know today, in 1972, while working at New York City’s Shun Lee Palace. Today, the famous dish is served in nearly every Chinese-American establishment in the country.
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