The Surprising Origins of 6 Popular Ethnic Dishes

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iStock

As you chow down at your local Chinese restaurant, Indian eatery, or Mexican joint, are you eating dishes that are truly authentic to their countries of origin? From corned beef to chicken tikka masala to chimichangas, here are six national dishes that didn't originate in the region you'd expect.

1. CRAB RANGOON

Deep-fried anything tastes good, so when you deep-fry a dumpling stuffed with cream cheese and crab meat, prepare your taste buds for a heavenly experience. Crab Rangoon is often on the menu at Chinese and Thai restaurants in the U.S., but you probably won’t find it in Asia. Although wontons are popular in China, the idea to put cream cheese inside them probably emerged in the 1950s, thanks to a chef at Trader Vic's, a Polynesian restaurant chain in San Francisco. They claimed that the recipe was a traditional one from Burma (now Myanmar) and named it after the former capital Rangoon (now Yangon).

2. CHICKEN TIKKA MASALA


Along with tandoori chicken and saag paneer, chicken tikka masala has become synonymous with Indian food. But the dish of chicken in a spicy, savory tomato sauce was probably invented in the UK, not in India. Food historians debate the dish’s exact origin, but a Pakistani or Bangladeshi restaurateur chef in either London or Glasgow, Scotland probably invented it in the 1960s or '70s, possibly heavily inspired by butter chicken, which was a dish that was becoming popular in India a few years before. There's more at stake than mere bragging rights, though. The dish's invention became contentious in 2009 when a Scottish member of Parliament failed to convince the European Union to grant the dish a Protected Designation of Origin, which would have given Scotland the patent for chicken tikka masala's name.

3. GENERAL TSO'S CHICKEN


You can find General Tso’s chicken—pieces of fried chicken coated in a sweet, tangy sauce—in just about any Chinese restaurant in the U.S. Although the dish takes its name from a real Qing dynasty military commander, Zuo Zongtang (also spelled Tso Tsung-t'ang), General Tso's chicken as we know it was first created in America. Stories vary, but the dish is believe to have emerged in Taiwan during the 1950s, after chef Peng Chang-kuei fled China in the aftermath of the Chinese Civil War. But his original version wasn't fried and wasn't sweetened. Those changes would be made when the dish migrated to New York in the 1970s in order to suit the American palate. And it succeeded.

4. CHIMICHANGA


What’s better than a regular burrito? A deep-fried one, of course! Historians aren't sure who invented chimichangas, but they might have been created in the 1940s or '50s when a cook in Tucson, Arizona accidentally dropped a burrito into a nearby fryer. The nonsensical curse word she shouted when she realized her mistake? Chimichanga! Another theory is that a restaurant owner in Phoenix, Arizona deep-fried burritos to make them last longer. While burritos are an authentically Mexican food (albeit not the hyper-stuffed burritos popular in the States), it seems that chimichangas are solidly American.

5. CORNED BEEF AND CABBAGE


Touristy pubs and restaurants in Ireland probably have corned beef and cabbage on their menus, but the dish doesn’t exactly hail from Ireland. Historically, the Irish used cows for dairy rather than meat and celebrated St. Patrick’s Day by eating pork or lamb. To escape the Great Famine in the mid-19th century, many emigrants who left Ireland for the U.S. settled in New York City. When these Irish-Americans combined traditional vegetables from their homeland, such as cabbage and potatoes, with kosher brisket, a meat dish that was popular amongst Jewish immigrants in New York, they created a novel twist on salt-cured meat. Corned beef and cabbage caught on, and President Lincoln chose corned beef, cabbage, and potatoes for his first inauguration's luncheon menu in 1861.

6. CHOP SUEY


Unlike the other entrants on this list, food historians are increasingly coming around to the idea that chop suey is actually Chinese—which makes it doubly ironic because chop suey has long been sold as the definitive Chinese-American dish. According to the most popular legend, chop suey was invented when a group of American miners were in the the Golden City hoping to hit pay dirt during the Gold Rush. One evening, the miners were drunk and hungry, so they made a late-night stop at a local Chinese restaurant. The owner quickly plated a mixture of scraps that had already been cooked, and the miners loved the meal mash-up. Chop suey caught on, and it became incredibly popular across the rest of the U.S. But a few food scholars have traced it to a dish called tsap seui from the Toisan district of China. And as Joseph Conlin points out in Bacon, Beans, and Galantines, "It does seem hard to believe that a people wracked by poverty had not thought to put together 'miscellaneous stuff' before they arrived at the 'Golden Mountain.'"

15 Convenient Products That Are Perfect for Summer

First Colonial/Lunatec/Safe Touch
First Colonial/Lunatec/Safe Touch

The Fourth of July is the epitome of summer—and after several months spent indoors, you need some outdoor fun more than anything. Check out these 15 summer must-haves while they’re on sale and save an extra 15 percent when you spend $50 or more with the code JULYFOURTH15.

1. CARSULE Pop-Up Cabin for Your Car; $300 (20 percent off)

Carsule tent from Mogics.
Mogics

This tent connects to your hatchback car like a tailgate mobile living room. The installation takes just a few minutes and the entire thing stands 6.5 feet tall so you can enjoy the outdoors from the comfort of your car.

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2. Mosquito Killer Lamp; $30 (25 percent off)

Mosquito-killing lamp.
Kinkoo

If you just so happen to be one of those unlucky souls who attracts a suspicious amount of mosquitos the second you step outside, you need this repellent lamp to help keep your arms and legs bite-free. It uses a non-toxic combination of LED lights, air turbulence, and other methods to keep the pests at bay.

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3. Super Shield Mosquito Repellent Electronic Watch Band; $17 (57 percent off)

Mosquito repeller watch.
Safe Touch

While a lamp is a great non-toxic solution for keeping bugs at bay, active individuals need a bug repellent that can keep up with their lifestyle. This wrist wearable keeps you safe from mosquitoes anywhere by using ultrasonic sounds to drive them away.

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4. ZeroDark 3-Piece Tactical Set: Flashlight, Lantern, and Headlamp; $20 (66 percent off)

Aduro flashlight set.
Audro

If you want your summer to be lit, this set will do the trick. All puns aside, this trio of LED brightness is perfect for camping fun and backyard parties, or it can be stored in the car for emergencies.

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5. Outdoor Collapsible Cooler and Camp Table Set; $64 (27 percent off)

First Colonial cooler.
First Colonial

Cookouts are easy with this cooler and table set that chills your drink until you're ready to pop it into one of the four convenient cupholders. Bring this set camping or out by the pool for convenience anywhere.

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6. Trident: Underwater Scooter; $550 (21 percent off)

Trident underwater scooter.
Geneinno

If you’ve ever dreamed of better mobility while exploring the water, you’re not alone. The Trident underwater scooter, which raised over $82,000 on Indiegogo, can propel you through the water at up to nearly 6 feet per second, which isn't that far off from how fast Michael Phelps swam in his prime. The battery on it will last 45 minutes, allowing you to traverse with ease.

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7. Go Portable Solar Oven; $119 (14 percent off)

GoSun solar grill.
GoSun

Bake, roast, steam, or broil anywhere you bring this portable oven. Measuring in at just over a foot long and weighing only two pounds, the oven will work in most daytime weather conditions and can hold around 13 ounces of food.

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8. 3-in-1 Waterproof Bug Zapper Lantern; $25 (50 percent off)

3P Experts bug zapper.
3P Experts

Mosquitoes tend to be a big problem at night, partly because it's hard to swat in the dark. This lantern will light the area and zap mosquitos from nipping at you in the process.

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9. Urban E-Skateboard: Basic Version (Orange); $120 (73 percent off)

Urban Rover E-Skateboard
Urban Rover

This e-skateboard is perfect for getting around during the summer. You'll catch a breeze while you’re cruising on the battery-powered platform and won’t break a sweat when you pop the compact board in your bag.

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10. H2 Headlamp: Waterproof, Rechargeable LED Wide 180° Angle Headlight; $37 (26 percent off)

Headlamp from One80Light
One80Light

Camping, car troubles, and sports all pose a problem at night. This LED headlight will light up your surroundings across a 180-degree radius for prime visibility, meaning your outdoor activities won't have to stop when the sun sets.

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11. Whirlwind Cool Bladeless Mini Fan; $22 (63 percent off)

Bladeless fan
Whirlwind

This portable fan comes in a powerful handheld size so you can keep cool while on the move. Unlike other portable fans, this one has a sleek, bladeless design and features three different speeds.

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12. Bladeless Personal Fan; $22 (63 percent off)

Bladeless fan
3P Tech

This bladeless fan won't just keep you cool while you work on your laptop—it also has a built-in rechargable battery that you can use to charge your phone.

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13. MOGICS Coconut: Portable Waterproof Light; $37 (24 percent off)

Mogics portable lamp.
Mogics

This portable light is designed to adapt to your lighting preference. It self-inflates in a few seconds and can bounce, get wet, and set the mood.

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14. Lunatec 1L Hydration Spray Water Bottle; $25 (21 percent off)

Lunatec spray water bottle.
Lunatec

A water bottle can do more than hydrate you. This one has a spray nozzle that can create shower, stream, and mist patterns for doing dishes while camping, sharing a sip without sharing germs, and washing off those muddy shoes after a long hike.

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15. Sport Force Hydration Backpack; $25 (68 percent off)

Hydration backpack.
It's All Goods

Hiking enthusiasts know how important it is to stay hydrated, but carrying around awkward jugs of water is a hassle. This unique hydration backpack can be filled with two liters of water and features a convenient drinking nozzle that extends to the user's mouth. Now, you can replenish those fluids without breaking stride.

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This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links. If you haven't received your voucher or have a question about your order, contact the Mental Floss shop here.

Wax Paper vs. Parchment Paper: What’s the Difference for Cooking?

Wax paper is great for keeping your counter space clean (as seen above).
Wax paper is great for keeping your counter space clean (as seen above).

When it comes to kitchen accessories, there are utensils like ladles and spatulas, bakeware like cupcake pans, and then covers and wraps like aluminum foil and plastic bags. But one kitchen item can result in some confusion—paper. Specifically, wax paper versus parchment paper. Despite similar appearances, they're not the same. What’s the difference between the two?

It’s pretty simple. Parchment paper tolerates heat and wax paper does not. Parchment paper is a sturdy, kitchen-specific item made with silicone that resists both grease and moisture. It’s perfect for cake molds or for wrapping fish. (So long as you don’t reuse it for those tasks.) You can safely use parchment paper in an oven.

Wax paper also has a non-stick surface, but it’s not intended for use around any kind of heat source. The wax on the paper could melt. It’s better to use it to cover countertops to make clean-up easier. You can also use it to roll out dough or pound chicken breasts into submission.

Though parchment paper is typically more expensive, it’s far more versatile. You should opt for wax paper only if you plan on making a mess and want to discard it easily. But don’t get the two mixed up, as wax paper near heat could require another kitchen accessory: a fire extinguisher.

[h/t MarthaStewart.com]