Crumpets, leavened griddle cakes with a porous top, have been popular in the U.K. since the 19th century. In 1880, an English immigrant to the U.S. named Samuel Bath Thomas opened a bakery in New York City, where he invented a variation he called “toaster crumpets.” Unlike their predecessors, which were eaten whole, these were halved so they could be toasted. Thomas’s company, now owned by a subsidiary of Mexico’s Grupo Bimbo, remains the largest purveyor of English muffins in the country.
Like chili, fajitas are a Mexican-inspired dish born north of the border. Also like chili, they were originally trail food cooked up by Texas chuckwagon chefs on cattle drives. “Faja” is Spanish for strip or sash, and fajitas are small strips of meat (originally skirt steak) fried with bell peppers and onions and served with flour tortillas. Modern versions, which gained popularity only in the latter part of the 20th century, are made not only with beef but with chicken, pork, shrimp, even tofu, and are typically served sizzling on a hot metal platter.
Known as a staple of American Chinese restaurant meals, the fortune cookie, strangely enough, is actually Japanese in origin. Confections folded around slips of paper containing predictions of personal blessings were first made in Kyoto in the 19th century. They may have been introduced to America around the turn of the 19th century at San Francisco’s Japanese Tea Garden, though a Japanese restaurant owner in L.A. and the Chinese founder of the city’s Hong Kong Noodle Company also claim to have imported the idea. When Japanese-Americans lost their businesses during World War II, Chinese bakers took over making the confections, tweaking the recipe. In 1973, a Chinese-American graduate of the University of California invented a machine to fold them automatically, and the cookies’ fortunes were assured.
French dip sandwich
The only thing French about this sandwich of thin-sliced roast beef or other meat on a long French roll dipped in meat juices is the identity of the man who invented it, Philippe Mathieu. He owned a sandwich shop called Philippe the Original in downtown Los Angeles — still in business — and the story is that one day in 1918 he was making a sandwich for a policeman and accidentally dropped the sliced roll into the roasting pan, where it sopped up the juices. The policeman ate it anyway, liked it and brought friends in for more.
Real French dressing is vinaigrette — an emulsion of olive oil and wine vinegar, with Dijon mustard, salt, and sometimes shallots, garlic, and various herbs added. The sweet, creamy, bright orange condiment we call French dressing has a vinaigrette base but adds tomato paste and/or ketchup, paprika, and brown sugar or corn syrup to the recipe. The original version may have been Milani 1890 French Dressing, made by a company founded in 1938.