Debates rage over the proper premier purveyors of dishes such as pasta, pizza and the first real cheesesteak sandwich. Many foods we now take for granted have equally intriguing histories, backstories and controversies over their origins. Below, we delve into the true background of five of the most popular dishes, delicacies and desserts.


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When the New England states were first colonized, there were so many lobsters that they were considered a nuisance. Looked upon as trash, they were used for fertilizer and fish bait. The clawed crustaceans were served to prisoners and servants, seen as a “poor man’s meal.” Those forced to eat them during bad harvests or rough times buried the shells so their neighbors wouldn’t see them in the trash heap. So how did the lowly lobster, once dissed as the “sea roach” because of its appearance, become a ritzy, upscale dinner item? Mechanization and marketing, in short. The Industrial Revolution and the rise of railroads and safer canning processes in the mid-1800s meant lobster was now available to folks all over the country, not just the East Coast. Lobster became one of the most popular canned items, and curious tourists could take a train to Maine for the fresh version. With demand rising, so did prices in restaurants and fish markets, and by World War II, lobster had assumed its role as the top “surf” option for any surf -and- turf combo of seafood and steak.

Caesar Salad

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The Caesar salad is now a menu staple, and it certainly sounds like it would be from Italy. It is named for a Roman emperor, after all, and it has olive oil and anchovies. But the crisp, Romaine-lettuce salad was invented in Mexico by an Italian-American restaurateur. Legend has it that Caesar Cardini concocted the creation in 1924, in Tijuana, Mexico, as part of a business plan to lure Prohibition-frustrated American tourists south of the border. Once there, they could enjoy cocktails at their leisure, and Cardini needed menu items to make the restaurant stand out. The Caesar also is a perfect warm-weather dish, and the recipe is pure simplicity. Garlic, lemon juice, anchovies, Worcestershire sauce and egg yolks are whisked into a thick dressing to coat whole romaine leaves, which are then topped with a generous amount of fresh-shaved parmesan cheese and warm garlic-butter toasted croutons.

India Pale Ale

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The story on India Pale Ale, or IPA, sounds good, but today’s beer experts debate how effective the recipe really was. In order to keep thirsty troops quenched in far flung British colonies, such as India, brewers in 1840s England made a more hearty version of standard pale ale to withstand the long ocean journey before refrigeration. The brew was made with extra malt, allowing the yeast to create more alcohol, and it was fortified with extra hops, a natural preservative. This combination was meant to keep the beer fresh, but it’s surmised now that on months-long trips in tropical climates, even this may not have worked perfectly. However, the strong hop profile may have masked notes of spoilage. This not only made for a happy crew at sea, but it also created a new and sought-after beer style at ports of call from India to Europe. IPA’s popularity has gone up and down over the decades, but the rise of the craft beer movement elevated the style to near cult status. Today, brewers compete to create ever-more hoppy IPAs, hazy IPAs, double and imperial IPAs, all while maintaining a balanced, drinkable beer.

Chocolate Chip Cookies

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In the late 1930s, Ruth Graves Wakefield and her husband ran the Toll House Inn, located in Whitman, Massachusetts. Graves cooked and baked homestyle meals for the inn’s guests, and the term Toll House Cookies is associated with the diminutive dessert to this day. Simple. Sometimes, though, misinformation creeps into history when someone along the way embellishes to make things more interesting. A common misconception is that Graves made the cookies by accident. One story says she was intending to make chocolate cookies, but ran out of baker’s chocolate, so instead substituted broken bits of a chocolate bar, thinking they would melt all the way. In fact, the original 1938 recipe appears in the cookbook “Toll House Tried and True Recipes,” in which Graves states that she purposely used the denser chunks to create the new tasty treat. She noted they had been serving a thin butterscotch-nut cookie with ice cream: “Everybody seemed to love it, but I was trying to give them something different. So I came up with the Toll House Cookie.”