What we see on restaurant menus influences our culture in ways few fully comprehend. Restaurants determine whether or not food stays in style, usher new foods in, and also act as a mirror to our cultural soul.
Many of the most famous dishes in the world were invented in restaurants. Some of the restaurants were upscale, others were pioneers in fast food. Either way, inventive venues changed the way we eat.
Feeling hungry for some knowledge? It’s time to serve up some amazing stories behind some of your favorite foods and the restaurants that made them a part of our hearts.
Clam Strips – Howard Johnson
Most younger folks don’t think of Howard Johnson as anything other than a hotel chain, but that’s only because they don’t know the history behind the brand. During the 1950s and 1960s, the Howard Johnson name was mostly associated with a series of diners known for serving a little bit of everything all under an orange roof.
The restaurants were booming in popularity, and that allowed chefs to get a little inventive. One of the restaurant chain’s inventions was fried clam strips. Unfortunately, the franchise lost popularity and closed down its doors. All that’s left of the restaurants is the hotel chain and a new favorite recipe.
General Tso’s Chicken – Peng’s Restaurant
The origin of this classic Chinese dish isn’t Chinese in the least bit. Rather, it was invented by a Hunan immigrant who fled Mao’s totalitarian regime and started working in New York’s restaurant business.
Most people were leery of trying Hunan food back then, so chef Peng Chang-kuei had to compromise on authenticity. He created General Tso’s Chicken as a way to alter Chinese flavors to make it more popular stateside.
It quickly caught on and eventually made its way back to his original province. It’s now one of the most popular dishes in Chinese takeout.
Hibachi Shrimp – Benihana’s
Everyone loves the Japanese tradition of cooking delicious meals in front of onlookers, right? Of course! The problem is that this tradition really isn’t Japanese at all. It was a marketing ploy that was created by restaurateur Rocky Aoki as a means to get Americans curious about Japanese cuisine.
The restauranteur’s sly plan worked wonders and got him rave reviews. Within a year of his new cooking style, Benihana’s attracted A-list celebrities like Sean Connery and Muhammad Ali. The chain is still alive and well today.
Buffalo Wings – The Anchor Bar
We all know Buffalo wings were invented in Buffalo, New York. What we aren’t fully certain of is the specific restaurant that this birthed this bar bite. The Anchor Bar, though, is a leading contender.
Rumor has it that the restaurant’s son came in and asked his mother to whip something up. The restaurant was low on supplies, so she fried up some wings and made a makeshift sauce out of Frank’s Red Hot and butter. The group loved it so much, it was added to the bar menu the next day.
Sliders – White Castle
It was the early 1920s, and Upton Sinclair’s expose on the meat industry had everyone rethinking their beef diet. No one wanted to touch ground beef, but Billy Ingram saw potential. He created petite burgers that could be eaten in a couple of bites, served them in a crisp white restaurant setting and emphasized cleanliness.
The simple concept of making beef look clean again worked wonders and launched White Castle to fame. It was the first major restaurant chain in history, all thanks to their innovative approach.