Mealy Monikers and Foody Origins

Where does your favorite dish hail from?

Many restaurants will surely be changing their menus as the news catches up with worldwide events. Sushi anyone? I didn’t think so. Although you may not know where your fish comes from in your California Roll, many people will be unwilling to take the chance that it came from somewhere a little west of the golden coast.

This line of thought led me to question: where do our more geographically identifiable victuals get their monikers from? Is it really a story of their origins, or is it simply an advertising ploy? Let’s explore a few of our favorites for some answers.

Cheesecake is something we can all agree to disagree on. Philadelphia, New York, your Grandmother’s secret recipe ... They’re all the best depending upon whom you ask. So what differentiates one from the other? With cheesecake, it is all about the ingredients. New York style cheesecake is made with heavy cream, eggs, cream cheese and sugar. It is cheesecake in its purest, most unadulterated form. Philadelphia cheesecake is lighter and richer by most accounts, and is associated with toppings of  fruits or chocolate. In both cases, the name is true to the origin story, whether apocryphal or not.

Pizza is something that has been credited to the Chinese, but remains a very Italian association in the U.S. The fact of the matter is that this dish, in a variety of forms, is as old as time itself for us humans. Topping bread with more flavorful additions has been a part of traditional foods from the River Seine to the Tigris and beyond. If Americans could avoid doing the dishes at the end of every meal by merely eating their plates, they would most gladly do so.

Another American story is the Boston Crème pie, which of course gave way to the Boston cream donut. It was in fact created in Boston, true to its name, but was inspired by the very French pastry, the éclair, which crosses national lines into Bavaria with regard to the history of the custard filling.

These are but a few examples of culturally significant, or named foods. Others range from Boston baked beans, on the geographically named side, to the entire Argentinean beef industry on the aisle of cultural significance. With the history of human mobility the global cuisine trade took hold, and our dinner tables have never been the same. Tomato based sauces in Indian cuisine attest to this as readily as does the “All American” apple pie, both fruits traded in the Columbian exchange.

Although foods may be named for places, and known as culturally representative of certain locales, it does not always mean that they originate in these areas. Before you swear off seafood, look into its origin, it may surprise you. As you begin to do this with the rest of your grocery list, the birthplaces of your foods may surprise you all the more.


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