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The Daily Dish Food and Drinks

Can You Guess Where These 7 Popular Dishes Are Actually From? (Hint: You're Probably Wrong)

Guess what? Egg rolls aren't actually Chinese.

By Maggie Shi

Your standard Chinese take-out order? Egg rolls, pork fried rice, and General Tso's chicken. At your favorite Italian joint, you always get the shrimp scampi and the tiramisu.And the best items on your go-to sushi spot's menu? The spicy tuna and California rolls. But are all these foods actually Chinese, Italian, and Japanese? You might be surprised. Here are the (possibly) true origins of seven popular dishes that just might surprise you.

1. Hawaiian Pizza

It's been the most polarizing food of 2017, with chefs, celebs, and even politicians weighing in on the debate. Pizza topped with ham and pineapple — delicious or disgusting? No matter what side you're on, there's one thing we can all agree on: Hawaiian pizza was invented in 1962 in a restaurant in Ontario, Canada, not in Hawaii. Sadly, creator Sam Panopoulos passed away earlier this year, but his pineapple pizza legacy will never die (for better or for worse).

2. Shrimp Scampi

Garlicky, buttery shrimp tossed with lots of parsley and red pepper flakes, served over linguine. An Italian classic, right? Wrong. According to The New York Times, the dish is an American interpretation of an Italian dish using a crustacean called scampi, also known as langoustines. In Italy, scampi is often sautéed with garlic, onion, olive oil, and white wine. Italian immigrants substituted shrimp for the langoustines but kept both names, leading to the creation of what we know today as shrimp scampi.

3. Egg Rolls

They're an integral part of your Chinese take-out order, but are these crispy, deep-fried treats actually Chinese? Nope, not a chance. While smaller, lighter spring rolls are a legit Cantonese dim sum dish, the egg rolls you'll find in Chinese-American restaurants — large, stuffed rolls with a thick fried wrapper — were invented in New York in the 1930s. Surprised? Don't even get us started on fortune cookies.

4. Chimichangas

Burritos, nachos, chimichangas, quesadillas… one of these is not like the others. If you guessed chimichangas, you're right. Unlike the other dishes, chimichangas are not traditional to Mexico. The deep-fried burritos were invented in Arizona, though two restaurants — El Charro Cafe in Tucson and Macayo’s Mexican Restaurant in Phoenix — both take credit. El Charro claims it invented the chimichanga when a burrito accidentally fell into the fryer, while Macayo's says its owner deep-fried leftover burritos to sell the next day, hence the chimichanga. Either way, we're glad this gluttonous bomb of American deliciousness became a popular Tex-Mex item.

5. Chicken Parmigiana

Surprise — this Italian favorite isn't actually from Italy, either. It was invented (where else?) in America in the 1930s. It's likely a combination of two Italian dishes: costelette Parmigiana, a breaded, deep-fried veal cutlet, and melanzane alla Parmigiana, a layered tomato-and-eggplant casserole topped with melted mozzarella. Italian immigrants took advantage of the meat that was readily available in the U.S. to create their own interpretation, and chicken Parmigiana — a.k.a. chicken Parmesan — was born.

6. Creme Brûlée

It's on the menu at nearly every French restaurant, but does this creamy, custardy dessert with a caramelized sugar crust actually hail from France? Maybe not. The first official recipe for "creme brûlée" appears in a French cookbook, Le Cuisinier Royal et Bourgeois, published in 1691. But "burnt cream" — sweetened pudding with a sugar topping that was burnt by a hot iron — was apparently enjoyed in England in the 15th century. And if that's not enough, Spain has a claim to the dessert, too: its crema catalana, sweetened custard topped with caramelized sugar, dates back to medieval times.

7. California Rolls

OK, the name is kind of a giveaway — you probably knew California rolls didn't actually originate in Japan. But it turns out they might not even be indigenous to the Golden State, either. According to one account, a sushi chef at a Japanese restaurant in Los Angeles came up with the California roll in the 1970s when he substituted creamy avocado instead of fatty tuna, which wasn't available at the time. He also added crab to impart a fishy flavor. But another story alleges that the California roll actually originated in Vancouver, Canada, when a Japanese chef there couldn't find fresh fish. He also tried to hide the seaweed, which Westerners didn't like, by placing it inside the roll, leaving the rice on the outside. Lots of diners from Los Angeles visited his restaurant and became fans of the newfangled roll, which soon became known as the California roll.

8. General Tso's Chicken

Although it's named after a real 19th century Chinese general, the dish as we know it today was invented in America. A Hunanese chef developed the original recipe in the 1950s before immigrating to the U.S. in the 1970s, where he opened a restaurant in New York City. There, he altered the recipe, adding sugar to suit Western palates. Other enterprising Chinese chefs in NYC changed the dish even further, including ingredients like black mushrooms, water chestnuts, and a crispy batter for the chicken. So yes, the General Tso's Chicken you know and love is completely unrecognizable from the original version. But when you're noshing on takeout and binge-watching Stranger Things, does it really matter?

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