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We all have a favourite food, but where that food comes from isn’t usually given a second thought. Of course, we normally have a general idea when it comes to the origin of a food, but what might surprise you is that food origins aren’t as obvious as they seem.
With that, we’ve taken a deep dive into some popular foods that are loved the world over to discover if they really are as authentic as we think they are.
10 Fascinating Food Origins
Here are 10 of our favourite fascinating food origins that might just leave you questioning everything!
Where we think croissants are from: France
Where croissants are really from: Austria
Whether you eat your croissants savoury or sweet, this delicious, flaky, pastry-based breakfast treat that’s so deep-rooted in French culture was actually created in Vienna, Austria.
The kipferl is noted as being the spiritual ancestor of the croissant, and it’s easy to see why. Many historians believe the crescent-shaped treat goes back to age-old monastery bakeries, baked as part of pagan customs to celebrate Easter, with the pastry first mentioned in the 12th century.
Fish and chips
Where we think fish and chips are from: the UK
Where fish and chips are really from: Portugal
If there’s one thing the British coastline is famous for, it’s fish and chips. You’d be hard-pushed to find a seaside town that doesn’t have at least one chip shop. Fish and chips have become such a British staple, in fact, that during World War II, Winston Churchill exempt the dish from rationing. But it might be surprising to hear that fish and chips aren’t British at all – they’re Portuguese.
It’s said that the Sephardic Jews of Portugal bought a centuries-old Andalusian dish called peshkado frito to the UK in the 1400s while fleeing religious persecution. White fish would be fried in a thin coating of flour, ready for the Sabbath, and when potatoes became popular in the 1800s, they made the perfect accompaniment to the fried fish. Now you know where “fish-and-chips Friday” comes from!
Where we think ice cream is from: Italy
Where ice cream is really from: Mongolia
The Italians are known around the world for the quality of their ice cream and gelato, and you’d be forgiven for thinking they were indeed the inventors of this delicious sweet treat – but you’d be wrong. That accolade actually goes to Mongolia… or so the story goes (okay, so it’s not the ice cream we know and love today).
This happened completely by accident. It’s said that Mongolian horsemen would carry buffalo or yak milk across the Gobi Desert in containers as provisions, but as the temperature dropped and they galloped, the milk would freeze as it churned. As the Mongol Empire expanded in the 1200s, so too did the popularity of this new iced milk treat, and it’s said Marco Polo took the idea back to Italy at the end of the 13th century.
Where we think pasta is from: Italy
Where pasta is really from: China
Sorry, Italy, you can’t have this one either. It’s said that pasta noodles were gaining popularity in Italy around the 13th century and were probably introduced by European travellers. Those travellers likely discovered egg noodles thanks to the nomadic Arabs who were responsible for bringing early forms of pasta westwards from Asia.
What does set Italian pasta apart from other noodles though is the use of durum wheat. Egg noodles had long been a staple part of the Chinese diet, dating right back to the 1st century BC, but the refinement of the process and the addition of durum wheat made pasta noodles affordable, versatile and, when dried, gave them a long shelf life. Pasta also tastes great when paired with native Mediterranean foods, firmly rooting it as a cultural staple in Italian cuisine.
Where we think doughnuts are from: USA (New York)
Where doughnuts are really from: Greece
Dunkin’ Donuts and Krispy Kreme are just two of the big American brands that have made global names for themselves purely through the sale of this incredible sweet treat. But doughnuts aren’t the American all-stars you might have thought they were. Though they didn’t have the distinctive ring shape, the earliest version of the doughnut as we know it today is generally traced back to Dutch settlers who brought them over from Europe to New York (or New Amsterdam, as it was known then).
But Greece is where the heart of the doughnut lies. Loukoumades, as they’re known, are essentially small doughnut balls covered in honey and walnuts. They’re considered to be the oldest recorded dessert too, dating back to the first Olympic Games in 776 BC, where they were presented to the winners as “honey tokens”.
Where we think vindaloo is from: India
Where vindaloo is really from: Portugal
It’s starting to feel like Portugal doesn’t quite get the credit it deserves when it comes to “native” foods…
While many dishes have been taken from India and adapted over time, vindaloo isn’t one of them. Considered an Indian takeaway favourite, it’s said that its very name is actually a garbled pronunciation of the Portuguese dish carne de vinha d’alhos, a meat dish that’s marinated in wine, vinegar and garlic.
This meat dish was introduced to the Goa region of India by Portuguese settlers in the 15th century, having been widely eaten in Portugal for centuries before. As wine and vinegar weren’t popular in India, locally produced ingredients such as tamarind, black pepper and cardamom were used instead. Perhaps most importantly, the addition of chilli peppers served as a legacy for Portugal’s empire by way of South America.
Where we think the Scotch egg is from: UK (Scotland)
Where the Scotch egg is really from: India
It’s unclear how these meaty, eggy beauties came to fly the Scottish flag, but they seem to be doing so with a bit of a secret… they’re not really Scottish at all.
It’s thought that this picnic favourite was heavily inspired by the dish nargisi kofta, which was first mentioned in Indian culture around 500 BC. Nargisi kofta is made up of a hard-boiled egg that’s encased in spiced kofta meat, which is then fried (sound familiar?). It’s likely the British encountered nargisi kofta whilst travelling through India centuries later.
The London department store Fortnum & Mason claim to be the creators of the Scotch egg as we know it today, marketing it as a traveller’s snack in the early part of the 18th century. And while the shop might not have “invented” the Scotch egg, they certainly popularised it. How the Scotch egg came to get its name is often disputed though. One theory is that it was named after the Scots Guards stationed at a local army barracks, where they developed a taste for the snack.
Where we think tikka masala is from: Bangladesh
Where tikka masala is really from: UK (Glasgow, Scotland)
It looks like Western Asia and Scotland might have some sort of trade agreement when it comes to food-origin misconceptions.
Chicken tikka definitely originated in the Indian subcontinent during the Mughal Empire, becoming popular around the 1600s – this is well documented. But tikka masala is a different story. While tikka is usually a dry dish of spice-marinated meat that’s cooked over coals, tikka masala is saucy, rich and creamy. In the 1970s, an Indian chef was working in Glasgow, Scotland, and it was there that he developed the dish that Westerners have come to consider a solid Indian/Bangladeshi treat.
Where we think Swedish meatballs are from: Sweden
Where Swedish meatballs are really from: Turkey
Would a trip to IKEA be the same without getting some Swedish meatballs? Based on the name, you would probably consider them one of the Scandinavian country’s most emblematic exports these days, but they actually come from Turkey – or at least the recipe does. The idea of rolling meat into balls to make it more manageable to eat isn’t unique (China has been doing it for centuries), but it was the Turkish offering the Swedes loved the most.
The Turkish recipe is said to have been brought to Scandinavia in the 18th century by King Charles XII. Known as köfte, Turkish meatballs are made using beef and lamb along with common ingredients such as onion, egg, parsley, breadcrumbs and salt for taste, but Swedish meatballs these days are usually pork based.
Where we think churros are from: Spain
Where churros are really from: China
Is it possible to think of Spanish desserts without thinking of churros? A firm staple of Spanish street-food cuisine around the world, churros aren’t actually Spanish at all.
A variant of the Chinese breakfast favourite youtiao, which are actually slightly salty rather than sweet, the deep-fried strips of dough were brought to Spain via Portugal in the 17th century. There, a star-shaped nozzle was used to pipe the dough into the familiar churros profile and sugary treat we all know and love today.
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