Food, glorious food!

A reference by Catherine Jan on Facebook to ‘Canadian bacon‘ being unknown as such in Canada got me thinking about misnamed food – food that is named after a place but actually has little or nothing to do with that same place. For example I grew up hearing the term ‘Swiss muesli’, but when I visited that country as a 15-year-old I was surprised to learn that local muesli was pretty different to what I’d grown up with!

Here’s a list of ‘misnamed’ food I’ve come up with – feel free to add more you may know of in the comments below.

  • Afghan biscuit – a New Zealand biscuit made from flour, butter, cornflakes, sugar and cocoa powder, topped with chocolate icing and a half walnut; the derivation of the name is unknown.
  • French toast – this combination of bread, eggs, and milk is known as “pain perdu” in France and many other French-speaking countries.
  • German chocolate cake – originally known as “German’s Chocolate Cake” because the recipe used (American) Sam German’s baking chocolate, at some point the apostrophe and “s” were dropped leaving just “German Chocolate Cake”.
German chocolate cake from a bakery

German chocolate cake

  • Jerusalem artichoke – an edible plant native to North America and wrongly associated with Jerusalem, perhaps because in Italian the plant, which resembles a sunflower was called Girasole Articiocco (“sunflower artichoke”).
  • London broil – a North American creation, this beef dish is grilled or broiled marinated steak , which is then sliced across the grain into thin strips. The origins of the name are unclear, but as a native Londoner I can confirm I’d never heard of this dish until very recently!
  • Moon Pie – in 1917 a bakery salesman from the Chattanooga Bakery visited a shop that catered to Tennessee coal miners where the miners said they needed a solid, filling snack to munch on when they couldn’t stop for lunch. When the salesman asked how big it should be, a miner framed the moon with his hands. Thus the result earned its name.

A Moon Pie

  • Mongolian beef – a dish served in Chinese-American restaurants; aside from the beef, none of the ingredients or the preparation methods are drawn from traditional Mongolian cuisine.
  • Spanish rice – a side dish made from white rice and other ingredients, and a part of Southwestern U.S. cuisine. The name is not used in either Spain or Mexico.
  • Swiss roll – this rolled cake originates from Central Europe, but not Switzerland as the name would suggest.


  • The Baked Alaska was so named to celebrate the purchase of the Alaska territory when this dessert was created at a New York City restaurant in 1876.
  • A Belgian waffle is a particular kind of waffle in North America, however no single type of waffle is identified as a ‘Belgian Waffle’ within Belgium itself, where there are a number of different varieties, including the Brussels waffle, the Liège waffle and the stroopwafel. What is known in North America as the ‘Belgian waffle’ does not exist in Belgium.
Brussels Waffle (known in the USA as Belgian W...

Brussels Waffle with Strawberries (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

  • Bombay duck, despite its name is actually a kind of fish dish, although it does originate from the Mumbai region, where it is known as “Bombil fry“.
  • Brazil nuts – while the tree, Bertholletia excelsa, that produces these nuts can be found in Brazil, it’s native to all South American countries, and it’s Bolivia that produces the most of them.
  • The Danish pastry is actually of Viennese origin. In Denmark, Iceland and other Scandanvian countries it is called “wienerbrød” (literally “Viennese bread”), and in Vienna it is referred to as “Plundergebäck” or “Golatschen“!
Danish Pastry

Danish Pastry

  • Greek yoghurt is strained yoghurt, but in Greece yoghurt is typically not strained.
  • Jaffa cakes (actually a kind of biscuit!) take their name from the Jaffa oranges used to make them, not directly from the Israeli city.
  • The root vegetable swede is actually known as kålrot (literally “cabbage/kale root”) in Sweden.

On a final note, living in a French-speaking country I’ve sometimes been asked in French if I want some “cake” or “pudding” [sic]. Over the years I’ve come to know that these refer to specific cakes and a dessert in French cuisine, but at first I was rather taken aback by the use of the generic wide-ranging English term for something that actually turned out to be quite specific.

P.S. From 22-24 May 2014 the Department of Interpreting and Translation (DIT) of the University of Bologna will hold the First International Conference on Food and Culture in Translation. It will take place in Bertinoro, a tiny hamlet above the town of Forlimpopoli, home to the 19th century Italian food critic, food guru and gourmet, Pellegrino Artusi, author of the book: The Science of Cooking and the Art of Eating Well. You can read more about the conference here.

16 responses

  1. Hi Catharine, that’s really interesting (and mouth-watering…)! It also reminds me of what we call “la macédoine de légumes” in French, supposedly named after Macedonia, but which is called in Macedonia… “salade russe”!

  2. Fun topic you’ve picked here. Some thoughts in response: as a speaker of US English, I also think of pudding as a specific dish (what I believe in British English would be called custard) rather than a general term for dessert. Also, some misleading names I’ve come across at the intersection of English and German:
    – Black Forest Cake, popular in the US, is a fairly accurate translation (both in culinary terms and liguistic ones) of Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte, a German classic. However, the name is misleading in both languages, as the cake is not a traditional Black Forest recipe, but was probably invented in 1920’s Berlin.
    – Wienerschintzel is fast food chains in the US that sells hot dogs, also called wieners there (and in Germany, Wiener sausages are pretty similar to hot dogs). The chain does not, however, sell Wiener Schnitzel (breaded veal cutlets).
    – “Keks,” a German word pronounced “cakes,” is thought to originate from the English word “cakes.” However, it denotes not cakes, but cookies (US) / biscuits (UK).

  3. As a food-lover, I must say I found this article quite enjoyable! I’m surprised nobody mentioned “French fries”. They’re not actually from France, but from Belgium! And I can tell you that Belgians are quite irritated about this unfortunate mistranslation :)…
    Also, you made me realize that we’re pretty much the country of waffles! We also have “gaufres de Furnes” and “gaufres de Namur”… Yummy!

  4. That is very interesting and I am sure that there are many more examples. I would like to add a comment to the ‘pudding / custard’ conversation. The word ‘pudding’ has been adopted into Japanese as ‘purin’ and refers to a dessert similar to creme brulee.

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  6. Interesting article, Catharine. I didn’t realise that French fries were actually invented in Belgium (until a Facebook friend from Belgium alerted me) and it’s called Belgium fries, in Belgium. For the rest of the world, it’s French :).

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  8. Hello, Catharine!
    In Russia we have a dish called “French-style meat”, although French people don’t even have it in their cuisine – it’s a piece of beef or pork cooked in the oven with slices of tomatoes, mushrooms and grated cheese in the top.
    And one more dish is a salad called Olivier (it’s supposed to be after the name of French cook), but in other countries it’s more known as Russian salad. It is made with diced potatoes, vegetables, eggs, and sometimes ham and is dressed with mayonnaise.

    • I don’t speak Russian and on one occasion when my husband and I were travelling on the Trans-siberian train we went to the restaurant carriage to eat. The menu was only in Russian and the waitress tried to translate for us – there was one dish she said was chicken and then touched her chest; not knowing much about Russian eating habits I hoped she meant ‘chicken breast’ and not ‘chicken heart’ (I don’t eat offal). I ordered it and thankfully when the dish came it was chicken breast!

  9. Very interesting – food is one of my favorite topics. Some examples I’ve come across in Japan are ‘Russian tea,’ which is hot black tea sweetened with jam (I’m told that in Russia, jam is sometimes eaten alongside tea but they’re not mixed together), and ‘German cake,’ a Japanese version of what Americans refer to as ‘German chocolate cake,’ which is named for its creator, Samuel German, and not for the country.

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