Special Report

20 'Foreign' Foods That Are Really American

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Many’s the American visitor to Italy who means to order pizza topped with this salami variation and instead gets pizza topped with bell peppers. Why? Because “peperone” is Italian for peppers and “pepperoni” isn’t an Italian word. Purely an Italian-American invention, this spicy dried sausage was first referenced in print in 1919.

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Russian dressing

This popular salad (and sandwich) dressing — a blend of mayonnaise and ketchup along with some combination of other ingredients that may include horseradish, Worcestershire sauce, lemon juice, minced pimentos, chives, pickles or pickle relish, and hot sauce — has nothing to do with Russian cuisine. It may have earned its name because an early version included caviar. The Russian dressing we know today was most likely invented by New Hampshire entrepreneur James E. Coburn, who started selling it out of his store in Nashua around 1910.

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Spaghetti and meatballs

In Italy, pasta is pasta and meatballs are meatballs, and the idea of spaghetti accompanied by large spheres of ground veal or other meat wouldn’t have made sense. The combination was probably developed by Italian immigrants to New York City in the early 20th century, perhaps because they suddenly had access to more meat than would have been available in their homeland and wanted to include it wherever possible. The first recipe for the dish appeared in the 1920s, published by the National Pasta Association, founded in America in 1904.

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Swiss steak

This inexpensive form of meat — usually beef — tenderized by pounding or rolling, then braised in a sauce, is unknown in Switzerland. Its name might be a reference to swissing, the process of smoothing and compressing cloth or paper through rollers.

Food historian Charles Perry, writing in the Los Angeles Times, traces the name back to the 1920s, and suggests that it might come not from swissing but “for no better reason than the Swiss reputation for thrift and frugality.”

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This cold leek and potato soup certainly sounds French, and it was in fact first devised by a French chef, but it doesn’t (or at least didn’t until recent times) exist in France. The French are often confused by the term because in their culinary parlance, a reference to the city of Vichy suggests carrots cooked in the mineral water for which the town is known. Carrot-free vichyssoise, on the other hand, was invented by Louis Diat, who cooked at the Hotel Ritz in Manhattan.

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