Let's talk foreign foods. Pizza, Pad Thai, and tacos may be the first foods that come to mind when you think Italy, Thailand, and Mexico.
However, the flavours of these foreign foods are significantly different when you actually visit these countries. Going to an "authentic" restaurant just doesn't cut it when your food simply isn't prepared with the same ingredients as they are across the globe.
A combination of growing up in a family of frequent travellers and having friends from diverse backgrounds has exposed me to the much healthier authenticity of foreign foods, and how much more appetizing they are when made in the countries they were established in.
That's why I put together a list of some of the most commonly misinterpreted foreign foods in North America, ranked from least to most authentic.
1. General Tso's Chicken — China
General Tso's chicken may be the reason you "loooove Chinese food," but you may have to rethink your claim.
Nobody knows the exact story of how this so-called Chinese dish came to be, but one sure thing is that it's not considered authentic.
Chinese chef, Keng, had fled China and introduced the dish to NYC where he named it after General Tso. The only dish similar to this served in China is really not similar at all. It's less sweet, not battered, not deep-fried, and still has chicken skin and bone in it... I think it's safe to consider that a totally different dish.
2. Ramen — Japan
When you ask us university students what we ate for dinner, ramen is usually one of the first things we say. Dinner in three minutes? Yes please.
In actuality, Japanese ramen takes several days to make, as the chicken or beef broth takes days to develop its flavours, all while mixing with ingredients like kelp and tuna flakes.
When you're in Japan, seaweed, boiled eggs, and braised pork are just some ingredients you'll see over your bowl. If you want to try this Japanese staple, you'll have to go to Kuradepasuta in Ise, Japan where people can only walk to get the ramen shown above.
3. Pizza — Italy
I got a taste of Italian-made pizza this summer, which is made with fresh cheeses like provolone, ricotta, and burrata, and then covered with a thin layer of fresh tomato sauce. All of this deliciousness is topped with fresh ingredients like mussels, clams, mushrooms, boiled eggs, spinach, and of course, prosciutto.
Fear not though, as these never completely cover the dough, giving you a taste of that, heck I'll say it again, FRESH-ly oven-baked crust.
4. Tacos — Mexico
The first thing that comes to mind when you think tacos may be the crunchy tortilla-like shells, but actually, tacos are served on soft and almost quesadilla-like wraps made from corn flour.
Common North American tacos are normally made with ground beef and cheese, but authentic tacos have ingredients like braised beef and fish, topped with peppers, onions, guacamole, cilantro, and lime juice. I'm sorry Old El Paso, you aren't exactly mucho authentic.
5. Pad Thai — Thailand
That Pad Thai you have come to know and love with its tomato based sauce is almost, but not quite, the real deal.
There are just two key ingredients missing, surprisingly. Authentic Pad Thai is made with tamarind paste and fish sauce, which is sweet, sour, and fruity all around. This makes the rice noodles darker and more brown, but other than this, North America uses the same ingredients like sugar, thai chilli powder, tofu, chicken, bean sprouts, and eggs in the dish.
Throw some crushed peanuts over your plate and you're as close as you can get to the real thing.
6. Greek Salad — Greece
Salad on a first date? Fine @genderstereotypes, you win this time, but only because the constant chewing of romaine lettuce is going to keep me from saying something embarrassing.
Take this date to Greece and romaine lettuce is the one and only thing you won't find in their salad... in other words, I'm shit out of luck.
Traditional Greek salad is made with cucumbers, green pepper, tomato, red onions, olives, and feta cheese, seasoned with oregano and tossed with virgin olive oil and red wine vinegar; it's basically the same as served in North America. In case you were waiting for it, yes, red wine works too (it's just less sour). However, if it's Friday night and you're at the bottom of the bottle and feeling kind of fancy, that might not make it to the salad.
With all of this new knowledge, I hope the next time you grab a bite with friends, you get the group thinking by saying something like, "This deep dish pizza just doesn't cut it for me anymore—you know this isn't actually how it's eaten in Italy" #facts. You may even surprise a few of your foreign friends. I guess I've got a few conversation starters the next time I go out for dinner.