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September 2019

Dishes Outside the Homeland

How food evolves outside its home country

When people emigrate to a foreign country, they face many changes. Over time, these changes often lead to an evolution of behavior, speech, and habits with regards to how they live. Similarly, when cuisine is introduced in a country outside of the food culture’s homeland, the dishes themselves face changes too. Whether this is due to differences in available ingredients or an effort to satisfy foreign tastebuds, over time, dishes once thought of as “traditional” can take on new forms.

Many of these new forms gain popularity for themselves, and many of us cannot imagine a world without them. Let’s take a look at some of the most popular non-traditional dishes in the world.

California Roll

The California roll, now a staple in many sushi restaurants around the world, has origins in North America and not Japan. And while it’s disputed whether the ubiquitous roll was first created in Los Angeles or Vancouver (one would think the ‘California’ part of the name would be a dead giveaway), it is agreed upon that its birth was outside the motherland of sushi.

The California roll is an inside-out sushi roll made of sushi rice, cucumber, crab meat (sometimes of the imitated variety), avocado, and sesame seeds. The result is a tasty, creamy, and delectable sushi delight punctuated by the freshness of crisp cucumber. Its popularity has grown so much that it can now also be found in Japan.

General Tso’s Chicken

Did General Zuo Zangtang, a statesman of the Qing Dynasty, really eat his eponymous fried chicken dish? The connection is tenuous, if not non-existent. The popular documentary The Search for General Tso, which premiered at the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival in New York City, describes that the roots of the famous dish can be traced back to a Chinese restaurant in Missouri. The dish was such a hit that apparently McDonald’s sought the recipe for what would become the Chicken McNugget.

According to the documentary, other Chinese restaurants in America offered the dish to wide acclaim, and these restaurateurs claim to this day that they were the first ones to create it. Whomever it was that started the trend, the dish can be found pretty much everywhere in America. But don’t ask for it in China; most of the people there have never even heard of it.

New York Pizza

New York Pizza is not just a staple in the United States; it’s a work of art. Pizza joints across the country strive to recreate what New Yorkers seem to toss up so effortlessly, leading many to claim that there’s just something in NYC water that makes pizza taste better. Of course, the origins of the pizza are traced to Italy, specifically to Naples.

While pizza in New York features big slices that can be held and folded by hand, pizza in Naples is consumed with a fork and a knife. It’s essentially obligatory to use silverware, as the pizza is so thin, it can be wet in the middle, leading many tourists in Italy to wonder if their pizze were undercooked (they weren’t).


The Mexican street taco is a thing of beauty. Atop a bed of tortillas is piled a mound of freshly grilled meat, seasonings, and robust salsa. The cost is low but the flavor is high, as is the satisfaction. Of course, tacos can be found in many countries around the world, whether in fast food or fusion form.

What makes the taco so wonderful for adaptation is its simple nature; you can make a variation of tacos with mostly anything, so long as you have the tortillas. In the American Southwest, giant tacos are made with brisket, avocado, eggs, and many other flavorful additions. In Hawaii and in California, one can find grilled fish tacos with all the freshness of the coasts.


Pronounced ‘po-keh’, poke has been a popular food item in Hawaii for decades, if not longer. Today it has become such a worldwide smash hit that most people don’t even realise its origins, and its popularity brings up questions of tuna sustainability across the globe.

While in Hawaii it remains a simple concoction of raw fish (ahi poke for the tuna variety) or octopus (tako poke) marinated in soy sauce, sesame oil, and seasonings, one can find complex poke bowls across the globe featuring a wide variety of amalgamated ingredients and flavors. However you choose to eat it, make sure that the fish is fresh and that the additional ingredients don’t overpower the star of the dish: the seafood.

Can you think of other dishes that have evolved as they traveled abroad? Which are your favorite foods? Let us know on the telc English Facebook Page and be sure to “like” telc English for more articles on culture around the world!