When I have Japanese food, I like to have tempura — such a classic! If I have Indian food, I go straight to the vindaloo. And when I go to a Moroccan restaurant, I’m guaranteed to get a tajine.
These are signature dishes, and they have something else in common, too: Their names — and to some extent the foods themselves — are originally from other languages and cultures. (In fact, a lot of international exploration happened because of food. You’ve heard of the spice trade, right?) Here are 10 signature foods with names that aren’t from the culture that made them famous.
Tempura is food that has been battered and deep-fried: shrimp, sweet potatoes, eggplant, mushrooms, and more. It’s a Japanese classic. There are restaurants all over Japan that specialize in tempura. But the idea — and the word — came from Portuguese missionaries. During the Ember Days, special days of fasting in the Roman Catholic calendar, they would deep-fry fish and vegetables (if you have to ask why, you must be immune to the pleasures of deep-fried foods). The Ember Days are, in Portuguese, têmporas, and it seems that that’s where tempura came from, though some people believe the real source is the Portuguese tempero, meaning “seasoning.”
Tempura isn’t your favorite? How about sushi and sashimi? Most of the fish have names that are entirely Japanese, but pause to have some salmon roe — ikura — and as those orange beads pop in your mouth like oversized caviar, reflect on how caviar is Russian. Well, the word caviar isn’t; it’s Turkish, probably ultimately from Persian. The Russian word for caviar is икра, which in our alphabet is ikra. Japanese doesn’t allow k and r next to each other like that, so a barely-said u is inserted as an all-purpose filler vowel to make it ikura.
Don’t like raw fish? How about a nice cooked cutlet of pork (tonkatsu), chicken (torikatsu), or beef (gyukatsu)? The words for “pork,” “chicken,” and “beef” are of Japanese origin, to be sure. But the katsu part of the word, meaning “cutlet”? It’s literally a Japanese version of cutlet. Take the English word cutlet, change the l to r (because there’s no “l” in Japanese) and add u to keep consonants from fighting. Then, because the u turns “t” into “ts” (sort of like how we don’t say the t in motion …read more