Biryani, burgers, bolognese, sushi and nachos… the world’s best ‘stolen’ dishes

To whom do we really owe the culinary credit?

The global kitchen is a melting pot of flavours, textures and cooking styles. If desired, you could eat your way around the world every night of the week. But, while nations have dishes intrinsic to their heritage, time exposes their origins to a little hearsay. Here we’ve taken five classic meals and investigated their surprising stories:

Biryani

Consisting of slow-cooked rice and meat, the biryani was brought to southern India from Iran and adopted as the nation’s signature dish. Deriving from the Persian word for rice (birinj), the recipe has since evolved in both countries retrospectively. In Iran, you might find a biryani sold from street vendors as chunks of meat in thin bread (rumali roti). Indian recipes are region-specific – the Hyderabadi version deems that both rice and meat (usually mutton) are cooked for an equal time until the rice forms individuals grains. In Kerala, you’ll typically find it served with fish.

Our take: lamb biryani

Sushi

So that meat and fish lasted longer, the people of China would cure and wrapped it in rice; when it was to be eaten, the rice would be discarded leaving the middle for consumption. This process then found its way to Japan where they began fermenting fish; during the 19th century, raw fish was used and sushi – born. When food stalls started gaining popularity, Japanese vendors would place the fish on top of rice in easy portable sizes (nigiri-sushi). Later came the California roll – consisting of cucumber – catering to western palates that were unaccustomed to raw meat.

Our take: quinoa sushi

Burgers

While a hallmark of American cuisine, the hamburger actually has its roots in Germany… although it might be a case of what came first – the chicken or the egg. In 19th century Hamburg, people began making beef patties that had to be cooked immediately – refrigerators weren’t around, you see. When Germans began migrating to America, they opened restaurants serving food from their homeland – burgers were on the menu and rapidly gained popularity. When American factories opened for late-night workers, food trucks equipped with grills would pull up outside, offering beef patties. Because they proved difficult to eat whilst standing, vendors placed the meat between two slices of bread and voilà! The hamburger was born.

Our take: prawn and mango burgers with pickled ginger and cucumber slaw

Bolognese

Ragù is an Italian word referring to meat sauce; depending on which region of Italy you choose to dine, the recipe and name will change accordingly. Bolognese is a variety of ragù that originated from the town of Bologna where it is named ‘ragù alla bolognese’. Adoptions of the term – including a ‘white bolognese’ posted by the New York Times – veer away from the classic recipe recorded by Bologna Chamber of Commerce in 1982, which calls for milk, pancetta, celery, tomatoes and carrot, among other ingredients. Typically, this sauce is served with a thicker pasta – tortellini, tagliatelle, (gnocchi) – in order to hold the sauce’s chunky texture.

Our take: slow-cooked bolognese

Nachos

Nachos, everyone’s favourite all-hands-in dish, is a Mexican staple... right? Well, while the beginnings of this glorious delight – typically made with tortilla chips, cheese, jalapeño peppers, salsa, and guacamole – lead back to a restaurant on the Mexican border, the dish was actually invented for the wives of US servicemen. Throwing together ingredients that were left over at the end of the day (the women arrived late), Nacho Anaya created the wonderful meal that has gone on to include ingredients such as chicken, slow-cooked beef and refried beans.

Our take: loaded nachos with slow-cook spiced beef

Looking to try out some more dishes from around the globe?