Dishes Newer Than You Think – It’s TRUE!

Every so often, this photo makes the rounds of Facebook and Reddit, claiming that many beloved “authentic” dishes are much, much younger than you may imagine:

Dishes Newer Than You Think

Well, I did some research and yes… this infographic\photo is largely accurate:

Apple Crumble – Wikipedia doesn’t have much on the history of crumbles specifically but does note that while certain dishes go back a long way – fruit cobblers were invented in Colonial America – “crumbles became popular in Britain during World War II” due to wartime rationing of baking ingredients.

Banoffee pie – Invented by Nigel Mackenzie and Ian Dowding, the owner and chef (respectively) of the Hungry Monk Restaurant in Jevington, East Sussex. They created the dessert in 1971, basing it on an American recipe for “Blum’s Coffee Toffee Pie” from San Francisco. However, they could not get the dessert to gel correctly, so they substantially altered the original recipe into something they *could* make.

Blended Iced Coffee – This is a sketchy one. Iced coffee traces its history back to Vienna in the late 1700s, although that version of iced coffee wasn’t especially popular. Mazagran, a drink invented by French soldiers in Algeria, is likely the “granddaddy of iced coffee”, although the drink was simply made with cold water, not ice or ice water. However, BLENDED iced coffee – that thing you’d recognize from Starbucks – was invented in Westwood, California at the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf coffee shop in 1987. Still, the drink didn’t become a national obsession until Starbucks started selling them in 1995.

Bubble Tea – Although two Taiwanese tea shops have competing claims for this invention – the Chun Shui Tang Tea Room and the Hanlin Tea Room – it’s clear that in the 1980s one of them added tapioca balls to tea with milk and sugar, itself a thing popularized in Taiwan by Dutch colonials in the 1620s. Taiwanese immigrants to the US brought the drink to California in the 1990s, where it spread across the US.

Butter chicken – Admittedly, this recipe didn’t appear out of thin air… curry’s been in thing in India for centuries. But this particular recipe comes from Kundan Lal Jaggi and Kundan Lal Gujral, who ran the Moti Mahal restaurant in the Daryaganj neighborhood of Old Delhi. Fun fact: they also invented the popular lentil dish dal makhani.

Carbonara – The contentious one. It’s not entirely surprising that smoked meat + cheese and\or cream + pasta would be popular over the centuries. But modern carbonara is said to have been invented by Italian army cook Renato Gualandi in 1944. He was helping prepare a big dinner for US officers, and foodwise the US Army had “fabulous bacon, very good cream, some cheese and powdered egg yolks”. Italian food historian Luca Cesari doesn’t believe that exact story, but does believe the gist of it, that US Army bacon was in plentiful supply in Rome just after liberation, and the dish was popular with American servicemen. Also, the first printed recipe for this comes from a cookbook published in CHICAGO in 1952.

Carpaccio – based on the Piedmont specialty carne cruda all’albese, carpaccio was invented in 1963 by Giuseppe Cipriani, founder of Harry’s Bar in Venice. Harry’s, which is still open, was popular with Ernest Hemingway and Charlie Chaplin. Cipriani also invented the bellini, a drink made from Prosecco and peach nectar.

Chicken tikka masala – This is a tough one, ‘cos you’re gonna make SOMEBODY mad no matter which you choose. Tikka masala was, for sure, invented in the United Kingdom in the late 60s or early 70s. But exactly WHO depends on which story you believe: that it was invented in Glasgow by Ali Ahmed Aslam, or was invented somewhere in London by Bangladeshi chef unknown. You can imagine what the Brexit vs. Scottish Independence crowds think.

Chocolate fondant – An easy one: invented by chef Michel Bras in 1981. Bras currently runs the restaurant Bras Michel et Sébastien in Laguiole, France. The restaurant has made several “best restaurants in the world” lists and had three Michelin stars until 2017, when Bras gave them up so he could “experiment” more.

Ciabatta – Ciabatta bread was first produced in 1982, by Arnaldo Cavallari, who called the bread ciabatta polesana after Polesine, the area he lived in. The recipe was subsequently licensed by Cavallari’s company, Molini Adriesi, to bakers in 11 countries by 1999. Yes, ciabatta is a licensed style of bread.

Currywurst – Another easy one: currywurst was invented in 1949 when a Berliner named Herta Heuwer traded some sausages to some British soldiers in exchange for ketchup and curry powder. You can even go to the currywurst stand Heuwer ran back in the day (it’s still open!) and read the historic plaque about her.

Doner Kababs – Although vertical rotisseries were invented in the Ottoman Empire in the mid-1800s – leading to the Arab schwarma, the Greek gyro, and Mexico’s al-pastor (via Lebanese immigrants) – the specific dish that makes a doner kebab – rotisserie meat, salad and chili sauce stuffed in a pita – began with Turkish “guest workers” in Germany in the 1960s. Oddly, however, London was the site of the first known kebab shop, although they almost certainly came to London via Berlin.

Fartons – Yes, a hilarious name for a tasty pastry. They were created by Spain’s Polo (baking) family in the 1960s as the perfect pastry to dip in horchata, much like the ol’ biscotti & coffee combo. You can still buy them from the Polo family today:

General Tso’s Chicken – This was invented by a Hunan chef named Peng Chang-kuei. He was the official government banquet chef of the Chinese Nationalist government, and fled to Taiwan after the Communists took control of the mainland. He came to New York in 1973 and opened his own restaurant on East 44th Street. The dish was initially a dud until he added brown sugar… then it became wildly successful, spreading to Chinese restaurants across the US in months, not years.

Continue reading “Dishes Newer Than You Think – It’s TRUE!”

A Bunch of Crap!

You may be under the impression that an Englishman named Thomas Crapper invented the toilet. Sorry – that’s an urban legend.

Flushing toilets go back to Elizabeth I’s time, and for centuries before that it was common to build latrines over rivers or streams, or with a some sort of water storage tank to flush the waste away.

Crapper DID start the most famous toilet company in the UK, and he invented the floating ballcock, the little floating ball in the tank that turns the incoming water off when the tank water reaches a specific level. However, many other mechanisms had been around before that.

The interesting thing about all this is, the slang term “crap” has different origins in the US and UK.

In the UK, the word “crap” comes from Middle English, probably from crappe, which is thought to come from either the Dutch krappen (to pluck off, cut off, or separate) and\or the Old French crappe (siftings or unwanted matter). It referred to bits of loose grain that were inevitably trod on in storage, like a barn. Over time, it came to mean anything worthless in British English, and wasn’t an especially popular slang term at that.

In the United States, there is no record of the word “crap” existing before World War I: not a single known written example. However, 2 million American GIs were sent to the UK to fight against Germany, and these soldiers saw the “Crapper” name on seemingly EVERY British toilet.

Dutch krappen (to pluck off, cut off, or separate) and the Old French crappe (siftings, waste or rejected matter

His name was as ubiquitous on toilets as “American Standard” or “Sloan” is on American urinals. So GIs started calling all toilets “crappers”, which eventually became multiple terms, like “taking a crap” or the word “crap” itself for waste, which of course itself became a polite euphemism for something not very good, as in “The National’s latest album was crap”.

An Odd Tale of Digital Assistants

Mention “digital assistants” these days and most people will think of Alexa or Siri. But they’re way older than that.

When banks were designing the first ATMs in the early 1970s, they weren’t sure people would know how to use them. Consider: if you’d never seen an ATM before, would you KNOW exactly what to do?

The First National Bank of Atlanta thought about that, and created one of the first digital assistants, a friendly blonde avatar named Tillie, to walk customers through their transaction. She was such an integral part of the experience that the machines were called “Tillie the Alltime Teller”. And they were so popular with customers that within weeks of her 1974 debut Atlantans started calling all ATMs “Tillie Machines” or “Tillies”. “We need to stop by the Tillie for some cash,” you’d say.

Tillie the Alltime Teller

Banks from all over the country came to Atlanta to see how Tillie worked, and some of those banks liked her so much they licensed the technology and image from FirstAtlanta. This is why, if you google “Tillie Teller”, Google Images will return results for Tillie ephemera from American State Bank of Texas and Florida National Bank.

But HERE’s the part that will blow your mind: Tillie’s voice was that of a woman named Susan Bennett… who would later go on to become famous as… Siri!

So the woman behind the most popular digital assistant in history is the same woman behind one of the very first digital assistants!

The Mystery of Douglas Edgar

This is James Douglas Edgar. He was a golfer, born in Newcastle upon Tyne, England in 1884. He won the French Open in 1914, and after WWI he moved to Atlanta, where he became the professional at Druid Hills Golf Club.

Douglas Edgar

He taught future golf legend Tommy Armour and helped Georgia Tech’s phenom, Bobby Jones, become the most successful amateur golfer in history.

Edgar won the 1919 Canadian Open by 16 strokes, still the largest margin of victory in a PGA event. He came back the next year and won again, becoming the first golfer to defend a Canadian Open title.

He had a hip condition that hampered his swing but came up with an even better swing that gave him more distance and accuracy. He wrote a book, The Gate to Golf, that described the new swing and revolutionized how golf is taught down to this very day.

Douglas Edgar seemed to be on the verge of golf superstardom. Which makes the events of August 8, 1921 all the more tragic.

Shortly before midnight, Edgar was found face down in the street, in a pool of blood, near his home on West Peachtree Street. He bled out before help could arrive. It was initially thought that Edgar had been the victim of a hit & run; Good Samaritans tried to help, inadvertently contaminating the scene. So forensics, such as it was in the 1920s, didn’t help. There were even witnesses who claimed to see the hit & run. But none of the area residents reported hearing any cars at that time, much less an accident. And when an autopsy was performed, it was determined that Edgar had been stabbed, a perfect shot into the femoral artery in one of his thighs.

The murder remains unsolved. There were rumors that Edgar had gotten into a spot of gambling trouble, but while he did gamble on matches, he wasn’t known to gamble obsessively or to wager large amounts… certainly nothing to warrant killing over. The most likely explanation, as police and journalists privately said at the time, and later researchers would agree, was that Edgar was simply sleeping with the wrong married woman.

He is buried at Westview Cemetery in Atlanta.

The Amazing Dabbawalas

In 1995, a regional political party named Shiv Sena came into power in India and followed through on a campaign promise to rename the city of Bombay to Mumbai. Which is understandable. No one wants colonial names around. That’s how [King] Charles Town, South Carolina became Charleston.

Still, Mumbai wasn’t very noteworthy until May 11, 1661. That’s when England’s King Charles (hey, the “Charles Town” guy!) acquired Bombay as part his new wife’s dowry. She was Catherine of Braganza, daughter of King John IV of Portugal. Charles in turn leased the land to the English East India Company for £10 a year. And when the East India Company got serious about building a trading center there, they didn’t play around. The population exploded from 10,000 Bombayites in 1661 to 60,000 by 1675. Long story short: the East India Company turned Bombay into a gigantic trading city. For decades, it was a money-printing machine for the British Empire.

But here’s the thing: most people settling in Bombay were traders from all over southeast Asia. Which was a problem. With so many different cultures and tastes and religions, it was hard for anyone to run a successful restaurant that suited everyone. So, in Bombay the practice became to just go home for lunch, or have your wife or maid bring you lunch, or meet you at a park… or something. By 1890, Bombay had become enough of a modern business city that many Bombayites were going to offices every day.

This is where dabbawalas come in. Every workday morning they stop by their customer’s houses to pick up a hot meal, prepared by the wife or household staff, packed in a series of stackable metal dishes called a tiffin or dabba. Each dabba is labeled with a unique destination code that uses symbols, colors, letters, and numbers. This system is universal to dabbawalas and is easily picked up by illiterate dabbawalas.

A typical tiffin or dabba.

The dabbawala picks up all the dabbas from his customers and heads to the nearest train station. He will meet other dabbawalas and may exchange some dabbas with them, whichever is most efficient. He then takes the train downtown and meets other dabbawalas, again exchanging dabbas. He then delivers all his meals, then rests for bit before doing it all again in reverse, picking up all the empty dabbas from offices, exchanging them with other dabbawalas as needed, and returning them to their homes.

Even though there are no computers whatsoever in this system, and even though most dabbawalas only have a rudimentary education (at best), this system is often claimed to be the most reliable and most accurate delivery service in the world. On a typical workday, dabbawalas deliver over 200,000 meals, and average fewer than 4 delivery errors per *million* transactions. That’s astounding. Dabbawalas take their jobs very seriously. In a city where the trains may not run on time, and the phone\power\internet go down way more often than they should, dabbawalas are SERIOUS about making sure you at least your lunch on time.

The Bolton Strid

This is the Bolton Strid. Many call it “the most dangerous river in the world”. And they’re not wrong: if you were fall in the specific bit of the river shown in the picture, your chances of dying are around 95%.

The Strid is part of the River Wharfe in Yorkshire. As you can see from the picture below, the river is fairly broad a few miles north of the Strid.

River Wharfe

So here’s the thing: as it narrows to a space an adult could easily jump over, all that water has to go somewhere. In this case, it goes down, and over the centuries the current has dug trenches as deep as 40 feet (12m) in some places. This means the river effectively turns sideways through the Strid.

But here’s the killer: the first 4 feet (1.2m) of water in the Strid move at a leisurely pace: around 5mph (8KM/h) on a normal day. So ducks can take-off, land and float down the river without a problem. But underneath that there’s another layer running between 25-30mph (40-48KM/h). It’ll sweep you off your feet in an instant, and if you get pushed into one of those 40 foot deep trenches… you’re not coming out. Ever. Not alive, anyway. No amount of human muscle-power can outswim that current, and even if a fully-equipped rescue team watched you fall in, there’s just NOTHING they could do to rescue you.

Red Pistachios?

Red pistachios don’t exist anymore – in the US anyway – because of politics.

Pistachios are native to the Middle East, and Iran used to grow about 98% of America’s supply. The traditional method of harvesting them is to cut down the grape-like bunches and store them until needed. But storing “wet” pistachios for more than 24 hours creates an unattractive (but harmless) mottling on the shell, which Middle Easterners “fixed” by staining them that unnatural shade of red.

Not surprisingly, importing Iranian pistachios was banned in 1979 due to the hostage crisis, so California farmers got into pistachios in a big way. Those farmers learned that, if you put the nuts in an industrial dryer within 24 hours of harvesting, the shells didn’t stain, so there was no need to dye them. Some did, at first, because that’s what consumers were used to. But the whole practice soon died out, so Gen Z kids don’t get the Naked Gun joke at all.

"Naked Gun" Pistachios

Local Time

For thousands of years, timekeeping was kind of a loose thing. When the fastest anything can travel is on horseback, exact times aren’t, strictly speaking, necessary. So in England, as in most places across the globe, someone in a village or town – the local priest maybe, or a prominent citizen – would use simple instruments to figure out when the sun was directly overhead (a.k.a. “noon”) and set up a sundial or clock accordingly. And the rest of the town would be synced to that. And if it wasn’t 100% accurate, or if the village 5 miles away decided to make their clocks an hour earlier – or 20 minutes earlier, or 14 minutes later, or whatever… it just didn’t matter all that much.

Then one day the railways came, and it was nigh impossible to schedule trains using every tiny village and town’s version of “local time”. Thus, the concepts of “standard time” and “time zones” were born.  And then the Statutes (Definition of Time) Act 1880 was passed by Parliament, making Greenwich Mean Time the one official time on the island of Great Britain:

Whenever any expression of time occurs in any Act of Parliament, deed, or other legal instrument, the time referred shall, unless it is otherwise specifically stated, be held in the case of Great Britain to be Greenwich mean time, and in the case of Ireland, Dublin mean time.

Because the Channel Islands are not part of the United Kingdom, GMT wasn’t adopted in the Isle of Man until 1883, Jersey in 1898 and Guernsey in 1913. Ireland, then a British colony, didn’t switch until 1916.

Interestingly, there are a handful of public clocks built in Britain during the transition period between the two systems. The clock pictured behind Victoria and Jimmy on this QI screencap is in Bristol. It has two minute hands. The black hand is for Greenwich Mean Time. The red hand is for the local “Bristol Time”, which was 10 minutes behind GMT:

QI Bristol Time


QUICK TAKES: Time Immemorial

“Time immemorial” is usually used poetically today, often in travel shows. So: “men have been fishing in this small Greek village since time immemorial”.

What you might NOT know is that “time immemorial” has an actual start date: June 6, 1189.

The Statute of Westminster of 1275 was the first attempt to codify the laws of England. As part of this, the idea of “time immemorial” was introduced – a time which was declared “the extent of human memory”. The date chosen was Richard I’s accession day. That’s “Richard the Lionheart”, or “Richard Cœur de Lion”, since he spent most of his life in France. The same Richard who left for the Crusades, leaving his brother John to run England… the same King John of Magna Carta and Robin Hood fame.

So the idea was, if there was some kind of land dispute, if a family could find local witnesses to prove that their goats had been grazing on the land since June 5, 1189, then it was generally accepted to be “your land”. You might think of it as a kind of “ultimate statute of limitations”, if you will.

The THREE! Flags of France

In this post from 2016, I talked about France’s two official flags.

The first is the traditional tricolor everyone’s familiar with:

But there’s also the civil and naval ensign:

In this version the red stripe is larger – specifically, the ensign’s stripes are at a ratio of 30:33:37, versus 33:33:33 on the original flag. This is because this flag looks more “correct” when viewed from a distance, especially if constantly flapping in the wind, as it would on a ship. This flag is also used in some places like seaside military cemeteries or memorials, again because it looks “normal” in the wind.

In my original post, I said that the ensign was also used on TV, for press conferences and the like. Well, I was wrong. There’s actually a third flag for that:

French Presidential flag

Informally called the “Presidential Flag”, it’s used by French presidents in televised communications. And it works, too. Check out this pic of the flag behind two former French presidents:

French Presidents
Click to embiggen

In contrast, here’s a picture of current French president Emmanuel Macron at the White House with President Trump:
The French must have left their special flag at home (and the White House stocked only with “regular” French flags) because there’s an ocean of white in the flag that photograph.

And it’s not just the French who do something like this. Here’s a picture of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu standing in front of special flags that have been altered so that the Star of David appears in correct (upright) orientation:

Benjamin Netanyahu
(click to embiggen)

Compare this with regular Israeli flags, where the Star of David is crooked when hanging from a flagpole:

Benjamin Netanyahu
(click to embiggen)