When you order Chinese food, you probably realize that you’re not getting “real” Chinese food.
Dishes like fried rice and General Tso’s chicken probably originated in the United States, and real Chinese cuisine is much more nuanced (and much less fried).
But while we realize that some common items aren’t quite honest about their origins, others fly under the radar. We’re talking about things like…
1. Tomato Sauce
You probably associate tomato sauce with Italy, since it’s used in many of the most famous Italian dishes, from pizza to pasta (it really isn’t used in many types of pasta, or at least not prominently, but that’s an argument for another article).
But tomatoes aren’t indigenous to Europe. In fact, when tomatoes came to the continent from the Americas in the 16th century, many Italians were afraid to eat them, since the tomato plant is related to the very poisonous nightshade plant.
Tomato sauces were a much more common food in the Americas. Eventually, some brave Europeans began to incorporate the fruit into their diet; food historians believe that the Spaniards were probably the first to use the tomato with regularity, and eventually, the Italians caught on. Italian food was never the same.
The name comes from the Japanese characters su, meaning “number,” and doku, meaning “single.” Sudoku puzzles became incredibly popular in the United States in the 2000s, and they’re commonly associated with Japan.
In reality, the first Sudoku number grids were documented in China about 2,000 years ago. The concept spread to the Western world in the 16th century, but Sudoku as we know it didn’t get off the ground until Swiss mathematician Leonhard Euler turned them into a puzzle in the 18th century.
Euler referred to his puzzles as “Graeco-Roman Squares,” and modern Sudoku players would probably recognize his version. However, it took an American, Howard Garns, to introduce the 9 regions of 3X3 squares that define modern Sudoku. Garns’ puzzle spread to Japan, where it became wildly popular before crossing back over to the United States again.
Depending on who you ask, Sudoku is either Chinese, Swiss, or American—though really, it’s a mix of all three—but not really Japanese in origin.
3. Caesar Salad
One legend suggests that the Caesar salad was a favorite of Julius Caesar, who gave the popular dish its name, presumably while conquering something or getting stabbed in the back. This, of course, is completely untrue.
Many chefs have laid claim to the Caesar, but the most notable claim is probably that of restaurant owner Caesar Cardini, an Italian who owned a chain of restaurants, one of which was located in Tijuana, Mexico, during Prohibition.
Cardini says that during a lunch rush on July 4, 1924, he ran low on ingredients in his kitchen. He invented the salad on the spot. To impress his customers, he also tossed the salad at each table, adding a flair of performance that helped the dish catch on.
Since Cardini’s restaurant was in Tijuana, the Caesar Salad is technically Mexican in origin—not Italian, and certainly not Roman.
4. Brazil Nuts
Brazil nuts come from the Brazil nut tree, which is native to Brazil. That seems pretty simple, right?
However, the vast majority of Brazil nuts come from Bolivia, and they’re not nuts; they’re technically seeds. In Brazil, they’re are called “chestnuts from Pará,” referencing the state where the seeds are produced in Brazil.
Whatever you call them, enjoy them while they last; the Brazil nut tree is classified as “vulnerable” due to over-harvesting.
5. Joseph Stalin
The most notorious leader of the Soviet Union, Joseph Stalin, is also one of the most widely reviled figures of the 20th century. By the time he died in 1953, he was responsible for over 20 million deaths, and he’s often considered one of the most objectionable Russian leaders—for good reason.
Except, of course, that he wasn’t technically Russian. Stalin was born in Gori, Georgia, a Caucasian country not typically considered part of Russia (although it was part of the Russian Empire when Stalin was born).
Stalin grew up speaking Georgian, not Russian, which uses its own script. Stalin never hid his Georgian ethnicity, but Westerners often consider him Russian anyways.
6. Corned Beef and Cabbage
On St. Patrick’s Day, you might treat yourself to this classic Irish dish. As you might have already guessed, corned beef is just as Irish as enchiladas. Then again, St. Patrick’s Day isn’t really a popular holiday in Ireland either; in fact, the first St. Patty’s parade took place in New York City in 1762.
Irish immigrants brought classic slow-cooked dishes to their new homes in the United States, but at the time, pork was way too expensive—which was a problem, since most Irish dishes of the day depended on thick cuts of smoked pork loin.
Instead, they began cooking with beef, an American staple food. Corned beef was a particularly effective substitute for pork. It was readily available, as it was sold at many of New York’s Jewish delis, and it was difficult to overcook (a big plus for working families that couldn’t afford to spend all day at the stove).
As for the cabbage, it was a substitute for potatoes for the same reason: cost.
7. Fortune Cookies
This one’s a bit difficult, because historians aren’t exactly sure who invented the fortune cookie. Several people have laid claim to the dessert, but the truth is probably lost to history.
One theory is that the basic idea for the modern fortune cookie came from grilled rice wafers called senbei. These cookies were of Japanese origin—not Chinese—and they were likely introduced by Makoto Hagiwara, owner of The Japanese Tea Gardens, a San Francisco restaurant.
Hagiwara claimed that he invented the cookies some time between 1907 and 1914. He said that he came up with the idea of inserting thank-you notes into the cookies, which eventually became fortunes.
However, David Jung, owner of the Hong Kong Noodle Company in Los Angeles, claimed that he invented the cookies. He said that he put inspiring notes in them, then handed them out for free to unemployed men sometime around 1918.
It’s possible that both men thought of the idea around the same time. Of course, they’re not the only ones who claimed to have invented the cookie, and since nobody has really definitive proof, we’ll have to settle for knowing that the treat came from somewhere in California in the early 20th century.
8. French Horn
This big brass instrument was created in 1818 by Heinrich Stölzel and Friedrich Blümel. If their names didn’t give them away, they were German, not French.
However, it was a French invention that allowed these Germans to invent the French horn. By the early 1800s, horn players had been putting their hands into the bells of their instruments to adjust the tuning. Stölzel and Blümel used a valve to accomplish the same task—a valve that, incidentally, was widely known as a French valve.
In English, the word “horn” applies to a number of instruments, including the trumpet and other types of brass. As such, the term “French horn” gradually came into common usage, although the instrument’s name in other languages simply translates to “horn.”
For what it’s worth, the International Horn Society insists that you can simply call it a “horn,” although given their name, they’re likely a bit biased.