The melting pot that is America provides access to foods from countries around the world; Chinese, Italian, and Mexican foods are available in abundance, and in most places you can also find Japanese, Thai, and Indian food with relative ease. We all know Taco Bell doesn’t put a big focus on authenticity, but how much does what we think of as authentic actually resemble food of the country it came from? Below we take a look at some supposedly-authentic foods, as well as some you might try that are actually from the claimed countries of origin.
Chinese food first appeared in the United States in the 1850s as the gold rush brought large numbers of Chinese immigrants to California. Because these immigrants were initially regarded with suspicion, their cuisine was as well. Ironically, that same prejudice is what eventually pushed Chinese food into prominence; the Chinese exclusion act of 1882 increased prejudice against that population, making it difficult for many in it to find jobs. Some who could not find work eventually opened restaurants in which they cooked Chinese food that, over time, changed to fit American tastes by adding salty flavors or thick, sweet sauces. In 1972, President Richard Nixon visited China and was shown eating food there on national television, increasing interest in Chinese food back in the U.S. Today, there are more than 43,000 Chinese restaurants in America, more than all the McDonald’s, Burger Kings, KFCs, and Wendy’s in the country combined.
|Beef and broccoli is decidedly unauthentic, as the Chinese rarely eat beef and American-style broccoli doesn’t exist in China.||Peking duck is a dish that is originally from Beijing and has been around since the 1400s, consisting of a roasted duck with a glazed, crispy skin.|
|Crab Rangoon was invented in California in the 1950s, and uses a cream cheese filling that is entirely unauthentic, considering that more than 90 percent of the Asian population is lactose intolerant.||Xiao Long Bao, a type of soup dumplings, are steamed dumplings usually filled with pork and a rich broth. These originated in the Jiangnan region of China and are strongly associated with Shanghai.|
|The egg roll was invented in New York in the early 1930s, and originally called for bamboo shoots, shrimp, scallions, and water chestnuts. The modern egg roll is more likely to have a cabbage-based filling with pork and carrots.||Cong you bing, also called a scallion pancake, is a type of flatbread with green onions mixed into the dough. These are often served as street food in China, and some historians believe that the scallion pancake was the inspiration for pizza after Marco Polo’s famed trip to China.|
Italian food began making its way to America as Italian immigration picked up in the late 19th century. Immigrants held onto their way of cooking as a means of preserving their cultural identity, but a lack of the fresh ingredients that were readily available in Italy, such as olives, capers, or mozzarella made for some changes. Decades later, soldiers returning from World War II recalled the Italian food they’d eaten in Europe fondly, prompting some Italian immigrants to open restaurants to cater to the demand. Since then, Italian American food has become an integral part of the national diet, but only recently has globalization allowed easier access to fresh ingredients from around the world, allowing American restaurants and home cooks to experience recipes closer to what one might eat in Italy.
|Pepperoni, the most popular American pizza topping, is actually a mistranslation of ‘peperoni,’ the Italian word for bell pepper.||Salami is more commonly seen in Italy, though salame piccante and soppressata are similar to what we know as pepperoni.|
|Chicken parmesan was developed in America, as most Italians would never dream of putting chicken on pasta.||Eggplant parmesan is the traditional Italian dish that the chicken version was based on.|
|Spaghetti and meatballs is an American creation, a mashup of several modified Italian foods that would never be eaten together in Italy.||Spaghetti alla puttanesca is a dish topped in a tomato sauce with capers and olives that is most often found in southern Italy.|
Mexican food has been present in the Southwestern United States for hundreds of years, but in the early 1900s increased immigration prompted its spread throughout the United States. Mexican cooking is very specific to each region in the country, but as it spread north it became very homogenized. For decades, Mexican food was viewed as being for the lower class, but in 1962 Taco Bell opened, quickly spreading across the country and popularizing the idea of Mexican cuisine, if not an authentic version of it. In the last 10 to 20 years, some more specialized restaurants from specific regions in Mexico have started opening in the U.S.
|The origin of the margarita is often debated, but whether it was born in America or Mexico, the drink does not date back farther than the 1930s.||Tejate is a traditional chocolate and maize drink from the Oaxaca region of Mexico. Because it is so labor-intensive, it can be difficult to find outside of street markets in that region, but some Mexican restaurants with a focus on the Oaxaca region offer the drink.|
|Fajitas were invented in Texas in the 1930s as a way of cooking a meal directly over the campfire during cattle drives, then became commercially successful at restaurants in the 1970s.||A sope is a thick corn-based tortilla topped with beans, cheese, lettuce, onions, and sometimes meat.|
|The chimichanga originated in Arizona, though whether it was in Tucson in 1922 or Phoenix in 1946 is up for debate.||Tamales, corn-wrapped cylinders filled with various meats, vegetables, and spices have been eaten in Mexico since the time of the Aztecs and Mayans.|