Foods that aren’t really “ethnic”

by Carmen Van Kerckhove

fortune cookieGrowing up in Hong Kong, I watched a lot of American sitcoms. I was always fascinated by things American families had on these shows that we didn’t have. Of course, Hong Kong’s technology was always at least 5 years ahead of the U.S., but there were certain gadgets we just didn’t have because there was no demand for them. Things like refrigerators with ice makers (so cool!) and wall-mounted phones in the kitchen with extra-long cords (how I longed to hide in the closet to chat on the phone!).

But I remember being particularly fascinated by episodes in which people would order Chinese food. What on earth were those cardboard contraptions with the wire handles? Or those things they called fortune cookies?

Most of you probably know (I hope!) that fortune cookies are about as Chinese as as a Burger King Whopper. But there are a lot of other foods marketed as “ethnic” that actually aren’t at all. Check out this interesting article from Chow.com. Here are some of the foods they “out:”

Navajo Frybread
What it is: Thick, round lard-fried dough, served with honey or powdered sugar, or wrapped around ground beef, taco seasoning, and shredded cheese (called an Indian Taco)
Faux origin: Navajo, traditional
Real origin: White U.S. influence, mid-19th century

Fried Chow Mein
What it is: Fried preboiled egg noodles, often served with vegetables and meat
Faux origin: Chinese
Real origin: Chinese-American, mid-19th century

Chicken Tikka Masala
What it is: Chicken pieces cooked in a tomato gravy, often containing cream
Faux origin: Indian
Real origin: British, 1950s–70s

Hibachi
What it is: Americans use hibachi to refer to two distinct things: a small aluminum charcoal grill, and the large multiperson hot-plate cooking technique used in certain Japanese-American restaurants.
Faux origin: Japanese
Real origin: Part Japanese, part 1960s American, with Japanese mistranslated origins

Pasta Primavera
What it is: Spaghetti with assorted vegetables, often in a heavy cream sauce
Faux origin: Italian
Real origin: Created by Le Cirque owner and maitre d’ Sirio Maccioni in 1976

Fortune Cookie
What it is: Thin, lightly sugared dough folded around a slip of paper
Faux origin: Chinese
Real origin: U.S. West Coast, early- to mid-20th century