America’s food scene is crowded with so many foreign dishes that it’s sometimes hard to tell the difference between a true international dish and a fabricated one. That’s why, today, we’re exploring the real origins of some falsely named foods that aren’t really from France.
The first French dip was served half a world away from France. Both Cole’s & Philippe’s in Los Angeles, California claim to be the originator of the French dip sandwich, which is basically a meaty sandwich dipped in au jus, or meat juice. Cole’s Pacific Electric Buffet opened in 1908 and claims that they invented the sandwich shorty afterwards. However, Philippe’s The Original claims to have invented it in 1918, but there are several versions of the story of invention. One such story says that a cook accidentally dropped a beef sandwich in meat drippings; another says that a chef at Philippe’s intentionally dipped the sandwich in drippings for a customer complaining of sore gums; yet another states that a customer complaining of stale bread received a soggy meat sandwich. Although we may never know who invented the French dip sandwich, there’s one thing we can agree on: it’s delicious.
French Onion Soup
The ancient Romans were the first to eat French onion soup. Because onions were easy to grow, French onion soup was often served to the poor. Later, in the 18th century, the French modified the soup to fit their culture, but it wasn’t until 1960’s America that French onion soup took on its present form. In the ’60’s, the popularity of the soup surged, mostly due to revived interest in French cuisine. Modern American French onion soup typically consists of meat stock and caramelized onions, and is usually topped with croutons and/or cheese, but recipes for the soup vary greatly.
The exact origin of French fries is unknown, but both Belgium and France lay claim to their invention. However, the modern French fry was first served in America, and its name was derived from the cooking process used to make them: French-fried. Most US fast food chains serve fries, typically salted and with ketchup. In the UK, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, and Ireland, French fries are typically called shoestrings to avoid confusion with thicker cut potato strips called chips. Belgium, the possible originator of the burger sidekick, is world famous for their thick, double-fried fries called frites. Today, French fries come in many different varieties and flavors, like crinkle-cut and sweet potato.
Like many other “French” dishes, no one is sure where French toast came from, but it was most likely first eaten in a Latin-speaking European country in the 4th or 5th centuries. The English, Germans, Italians, and Scandinavians all have some Medieval version of a French toast recipe, but most suggest that stale bread be used. In fact, in France, the term for French toast is pain perdu, which means “lost bread.” French toast usually consists of sliced bread dipped in a mixture of eggs, milk, and/or cream. The bread is then fried, browned, and served with fresh fruit, jam, maple syrup, or honey. Hong Kong-style French toast, ranked the world’s 38th most delicious food by CNN, is made with deep-fried stacked & sliced bread, dipped in beaten egg or soy, and served with butter, syrup, and honey.
A custard base of vanilla pods, cream, and egg yolks is used by the French to make vanilla ice cream, and this could be where the name French vanilla comes from. The vanilla pods used by the French to make their vanilla ice cream may come from some of France’s overseas dependents which export the famous vanilla, called Madagascar or bourbon vanilla, so this also qualifies as a reason behind the name. In the US, French vanilla may also include hazelnut, butterscotch, or caramel flavorings to enhance taste.
French dressing was first manufactured in the United States in the 1950’s. The dressing contains an oil and vinegar base, but paprika and tomatoes are also used. The term “French dressing” was originally used to identify vinaigrette, a sauce made with oil, vinegar, and seasonings. However, after the manufactured version took off in America, it became known as French dressing, forcing the French to rename their culinary sauce.