Like superheroes, many beloved dishes, desserts, and drinks have interesting, stupefying, and sometimes even controversial origin stories.
Caesar salad: Tijuana, Mexico
Given its name, it’s perfectly understandable one might assume the king of the salad section hails from ancient Rome. And while an Italian did create what the International Society of Epicure once named the greatest recipe to originate in the Americas in the last half-century, romaine lettuce stalks, olive oil, raw egg, croutons, parmesan cheese, and Worcestershire sauce were first tossed together in Baja California’s Caesar’s Restaurant. According to Food & Wine, Caesar Cardini moved to North America in the 1910s, opening restaurants in Sacramento and San Diego, before making a run for the border town of Tijuana, Mexico, which was experiencing a tourism boom in the 1920s thanks to prohibition. Legend has it that his Avenida Revolución eatery was overrun with thirsty tourists and running low on supplies on July 4, 1924, when he took what was left and attempted to make a finger food tableside. Some claim it was his brother Alessandro who invented it while others say he was only responsible for adding anchovies. Another theory: Italian immigrant/employee Livio Santini based it on his mama’s recipe, but Cardini took credit for the instant hit. Either way, fans can savor the original salad in its birthplace as a renovated Caesar’s reopened in 2010. Check out 9 other foods you’d never guess were American.
French dip sandwich: Los Angeles
A war has long waged in the streets of downtown Los Angeles between two longtime (and still-operating) diners, Philippe’s and Cole’s, regarding who fathered the French dip sandwich. When stacked up, most concrete evidence points to the former although various owners have disagreed on specifics over the years. A 1951 Los Angeles Times’ interview with the original 1908 owner Philippe Mathieu finds the French-born cook explaining that he created the wet roast beef sandwich on a lark for a counter regular who saw the jus in the pan. The restaurant’s website argues that the creation was a result of Mathieu accidentally dropping the French roll from a policeman’s order into the roasting pan still filled with hot juices in 1918. The cop ate it anyway, came back for more, and brought friends who also wanted to sample the meaty mishap. Other accounts involve a fireman, pork, a stale roll, and 1917. Thrillist argues that the name supports Mathieu’s claim given that he was from France and might also be a double entendre meant to be funny as it shared its name with a waistline type said to make the wearer appear thinner that was becoming trendy. Cole’s, whose sign still declares them the titleholder in neon, argues that they invented it by accident in 1908, but no printed mentions support the German owner’s claim until after Philippe’s reputation had blossomed.
Bloody Mary: New York City
Seems appropriate that one of the most popular brunch beverages was first poured in The City That Never Sleeps. In 1934, Serge Obolensky, an aristocratic Russian man about town, waltzed into the King Cole Bar at the St. Regis New York and asked bartender Fernand Petiot to pour him a Bloody Mary. He’d sampled an early version of Petiot’s vodka and tomato juice cocktail at Paris’s La Maisonette Russe where the mixologist previously worked. Petiot perfected a zestier recipe that day adding salt, pepper, lemon, and Worcestershire sauce. The moniker was deemed too unrefined for the hotel’s elegant clientele, so it was rechristened Red Snapper. Today, imbibers can partake in Petiot’s piece de résistance under the same 1906 Maxfield Parrish mural. Or they can walk into any St. Regis and try a local spin on the libation, now the brand’s signature cocktail. For example, the St. Regis in Abu Dhabi adds smoke and za’atar as a nod to hookah lounges, Punta Mita’s makes it with tequila and Mexican Maggi sauce, and the Washington, D.C., branch starts with gin and incorporates horseradish, clam juice, and Old Bay Seasoning to evoke a classic Chesapeake Bay crab boil.
Jell-O: LeRoy, New York
In 1897, carpenter Pearle Wait was mixing a cough remedy and laxative tea in his home kitchen when he started experimenting with gelatin. The result of that tinkering, according to the Jell-O Museum‘s website, was a fruit-flavored dessert whose name was coined by his wife May. Wait tried to market the wiggly treat, lacking funds and experience; he ultimately sold the trademark in 1899 for $ 450 to fellow LeRoy-ian and successful proprietary medicines manufacturer Orator Frank Woodward. He too gave up and sold it to Sam Nico for $ 35. The third sale was a charm as the Genesee Pure Food Company started selling Jell-O in 1900 and reported $ 250,000 in sales in 1902 when the packets were still stuffed by hand and sold from horse-drawn wagons. The first four flavors were orange, lemon, strawberry, and raspberry. Lime was not introduced until 1930. The meteoric rise of J-E-L-L-O was certainly helped by advertising that utilized artists like Norman Rockwell and the aforementioned Parrish and comedian Jack Benny.