More than 17 million Americans can claim Italian descent. The majority of them have origins in southern Italy, and they settled mostly in the Northeast, California, Florida, Louisiana, Ohio, and Illinois. It would be hard to find a corner of America, though, where you wouldn’t encounter locals with Italian names — or, more to the point, be able to eat some version of Italian-American cuisine.
The cooking of our various Italian-America communities, over the decades, has evolved into a real cuisine, heavily inspired by the old country but playing by its own rules. Unpretentious, generous in proportion, vividly flavored, and almost always irresistible, what we have come to think of as simply “Italian” food is an essential part of the American culinary landscape.
But our Italian food isn’t necessarily what we’ll find if we visit Italy itself. Heavy sauces packed with numerous ingredients and overabundant servings of meat and an excess of cheese are the exception there, and some food names don’t mean the same thing there that they do to us.
In this era of cheap air travel and social media, ideas travel quickly, about food along with everything else. It’s hard to say definitively, then, that you won’t find Italian-American or other not-quite-Italian dishes in Italy today, because these days, more and more, you can find anything anywhere.
Some foods that we might think have foreign origins, though, were actually invented in America, sometimes by people from the countries they appear to represent but frequently not. These are 20 “foreign” foods that are really American.