A rose by any other name

Toad in the hole

When looking for German chocolate cake recipes on Eat Your Books, I found a recipe that, along with the usual directions and ingredients, explained the origins of the cake. I was surprised to learn that German chocolate cake is not German at all. The cake is an all-American creation originally called German’s Chocolate Cake after the sweet baking chocolate used in the recipe. German’s Sweet Chocolate in turn was named for its creator Samuel German, an employee of Baker Chocolate Co., who invented the sweet confection in 1852. Over the years the possessive ending was dropped and the cake became known as German Chocolate Cake, leading people to believe that the cake was of German origin.

This discovery prompted me to look into other recipes or foods with deceptive names. I found plenty. Let’s start with more foods named for countries where they weren’t invented or discovered. There’s the Jerusalem artichoke, which didn’t even originate on the same continent as Jerusalem and isn’t related to artichokes. It is actually a member of the sunflower family. London broil is unknown in London or elsewhere in the United Kingdom, and no one seems to know why it was named after the city. Similarly, Caesar salad was not named for, nor invented by, Julius Caesar. It’s not Roman or even Italian. The salad was purportedly invented by Caesar Cardini in Tijuana in 1924. Enchiladas suizas (Swiss enchiladas) were definitely not created in Switzerland. And while many people think a Swiss chef invented the dish, a Mexico City restaurant owned by Americans actually lays claim to the title.

Sometimes the place names are correct, but the food itself is not. Bombay Duck isn’t duck, it’s fish. Welsh rabbit (or Welsh rarebit) is another example. It might be Welsh, but there is no rabbit, only cheese. And what does “rarebit” even mean? Then there’s Colonial Goose, a New Zealand dish made of lamb, not goose. Rocky Mountain oysters are iconic in the American West, but they aren’t oysters at all. (I prefer the alternate name of swinging beef.)

Occasionally the food resembles an object or evokes an image. The Norwegian omelet (aka Baked Alaska) is not Norwegian, Alaskan, or an omelet. However, this French invention of cake covered with ice cream and meringue does bring to mind a cold and snowy landscape. Ropa vieja somewhat resembles old clothes, and elephant ears, the deep fried thin pastry, do look rather like big ears. Sometimes the resemblance is a bit of a stretch – toad in the hole doesn’t really look like toads coming out of a hole. (And in typical fashion, toad in the hole means something different in the U.S. than it does elsewhere). Pico de gallo (rooster’s beak) also misses the mark. However, “the stinking rose” is an apt alternate name for garlic, even if it’s not very rose-like.

Then there are the real head scratchers, foods with names that don’t quite make sense. Sweetbreads are a prime example, being neither sweet nor bread, but instead made from an animal’s pancreas and thymus glands. Putting that on a menu is probably a bad idea, but I still don’t understand how “sweetbread” came to be the moniker. Husband and Wife Lung Slices (fuqi feipian) is not a bad Chinese menu translation; it’s an actual Szechuan dish. It’s made of thinly sliced beef and beef offal with plenty of spice. There doesn’t seem to be a reason to name it after a married couple. Or is there? And after researching that bit of lore, I thought it prudent not to inquire about Spotted Dick.

What weird names did I miss?

Photo of toad in the hole from The Telegraph

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  • Christine  on  February 6, 2014

    The term stinking rose reminds me of the garlic-centric restaurant of the same name I ate while visiting San Francisco a few years ago — I always thought it was rather a clever term and mostly (if not completely) accurate. Other puzzling dishes that comes to mind though are Boston cream pie which is actually a cake and Mexican wedding cakes which are actually cookies (and not Mexican!) There are a few others on EYB's Recipe Type chart as well (http://support.eatyourbooks.com/customer/portal/articles/1034880-recipe-types-list—categories). These oddities come up quite a bit while indexing!

  • darcie_b  on  February 6, 2014

    Yes! Boston creme pie! And Yorkshire pudding isn't really pudding.

  • hiraeth27  on  February 6, 2014

    Canadian bacon, Manhattan clam chowder, and French fries are not from Canada, Manhattan, or France, respectively.

  • boardingace  on  February 6, 2014

    I didn't know that German chocolate cake isn't German, and the actual origin is really cool to know. Same for Canadian bacon, Manhattan clam chowder, and French fries; I learned a lot today. Interesting article!

  • FuzzyChef  on  February 7, 2014

    The New York Egg Cream (containing neither eggs nor cream) is a classic weird/wrong name, although it does, at least, hail from New York. Mock Turtle Soup has always been one of my favorites; while the name is accurate (it contains veal, not turtle), it begs the question of why anyone would want fake turtle soup (the answer to which is complicated and historical). Mandarin oranges, also known as Tangerines, are neither from China nor Tangiers. And the less said about Rocky Mountain Oysters the better.

  • FuzzyChef  on  February 7, 2014

    BTW, the pedigree behind the Caesar Salad is pretty solid. On the other hand, the origin of the Sundae and Fettucine Alfredo each remain a source of both debate and lawsuits. Eggs Benedict has inspired similar debate, but not lawsuits.

  • sir_ken_g  on  February 9, 2014

    Try reading a French menu in France.
    They love using flowery descriptions.
    You are better off with the English menus which are usually descriptive.

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