Why hello there, and welcome back to Kitchen Catastrophes quick tips. Last week, we covered 5 foods who are named after specific people, talking briefly about their history and fun facts about them. Today, we’re going to wrap up that post with 4 real humdingers (I keep saying that now, it’s irritating), that cover the same ground.
If you didn’t read last week, some quick ground rules: I didn’t pick any that had hotly contested origins (Like the Reuben or the Margarita) or any I thought were too blatant. (I’ve personally heard ‘the Earl of Sandwich’ something like 9 times.) Last week, we covered some basic ones: Fettucine Alfredo, Caesar Salad, Bananas Foster, German Chocolate Cake, and General Tso’s Chicken. So, today, let’s pop back into the swing of things with our top 4.
Be honest: did you NEED a picture to remember what nachos look like?
Yes, if you were unaware, the word “Nachos” is based off of a name. Specifically, Nacho was the nickname of Ignacio Anaya, a man who lived and worked in Piedras Negras, in northern Mexico. How northern? Well, the story goes that several Army wives came in late one day from Fort Duncan, in nearby Eagle Pass, TX. A quick check of Google suggests that the women had driven maybe 15 minutes to reach the hotel. At their closest point, the towns are literally a few hundred feet apart.
IN any case, that fateful day in 1943, those Army wives arrived at the restaurant after a long day of shopping. Too long, in fact, as the restaurant had already closed. Ignacio, the maître d’, decided to let them stay anyway, making them some drinks, and throwing together ingredients he still had: tortillas, which he fried, shredded cheese that he melted over them, and some sliced pickled jalapenos. He served them as “Nacho’s especiales”, or “My specialty”. The women heard “nachos especiales”, or “Special Nachos”.
To be fair, he doesn't exactly look like the guy you wanna buy "special nachos" off of.
The dish spread outward quite quickly, with the word “nacho” showing up in a cookbook in 1950. The dish had reached California by 1959. A stadium in Arlington started serving the kind with the hot processed cheese, called “ballpark nachos”, in the mid 70s. Famed Sportscaster Howard Cosell heard of them, and liked the sound of the word, making it a point to mention them many times in his broadcasts on Monday Night Football.
And thus was a powerhouse product brought from coast to coast: from a simple slap-dash operation one night in Mexico, to thousands of house variants across bars, game-days, and restaurants across America. The dish is so big, I feel bad about covering it today, because I KNOW it’s impossible that I’ll never cover Nachos again, and I know on that day, I’ll repeat myself with glee.
Last time, I stated that the dish I felt least deserved to be on the list was Fettucine Alfredo, because it didn’t have many cool facts about it, but I included it anyway, because it was the dish that created the whole idea. Let me continue denigrating my own work with this prediction: of all the dishes, I think I’ll get the most crap about this one. Why? Because it breaks literally both of the primary rules I had when narrowing down the list, AND brings back a recurring theme from last post.
Personally, I’ve known the general story behind crepes Suzette for some time: some prince was having brunch, the chef made a new dessert, and they named it after the woman who was dining with the prince. Simple.
What made me put it on the list was the number of nuances that came into the picture when I looked into it: Firstly, that general story above is missing several details. Supposedly, Henri Carpentier was a 14-year-old assistant waiter, who was told to bring out the prepared crepes, cover them in some liqueurs, and serve them to a table consisting of the Prince of Wales (and future King Edward VII) and several friends. He claims the ignition of the liqueur was a mistake, made as he dressed the crepes at the table (Goddamnit, fancy foods, STOP making shit tableside!). He quickly tasted the sauce, and found the flambé hadn’t ruined the flavors of the sauce, so he served them anyway because…well, if YOU had just set the Prince’s crepes on fire in front of him, wouldn’t you try and pretend it was intentional too?
"My, what a bold young waiter this is."
He named the dish “Crepes Princesse”, because Crepes in French is a female word, meaning he couldn’t call them “Prince Crepes” without it sounding wrong. The Prince acknowledged the gesture, but pointed out that there WAS a woman in the group, so why not name it after her? And thus were born Crepes Suzette.
The conflict comes over a simple fact: Who in their right mind would let a FOURTEEN YEAR OLD be the only waiter for a PRINCE? Later investigation suggests that Henri probably simply made the dish like his mother had for him, splashing the liqueur because it was the hip new thing, and the head waiter served it.
So most people agree where and when it was created, there’s just a dispute on how exactly it panned out. (Though, when rechecking the facts today for the proper spellings of the names, I found a competing theory I swear I didn’t see last time, claiming the dish was created in a theater, and named for an actress.)
In the end, I chose this recipe for the fun: can you just imagine the moment of raw terror in young Henri’s heart as he watched the liqueur catch fire? And the moment of indecision, the fear of losing his job, followed by his utter relief when the sauce worked? Until we find proof, that’s the story I want to remember.
Kung Pao Chicken
That's a lotta nuts!
Let’s get the major point of this out of the way: this is another cheat. It’s technically not named after anyone. Because “Kung Pao” wasn’t a name. It was a title. The man was Ding Baozhen, and he was the Governor of Szechuan, and his official rank, Taizi Shaobao, translated to “Crown Prince’s Tutor”, which was often shortened to Gongbao, or “Palace Guardian”. The man was unusually well known for the rank, often being called “Ding Gongbao”.
Since he was at one point the governor of Szechuan, they named the dish, originally made in Szcechuan with Szechuan peppercorns, after him. If this whole story sounds kind of familiar, well, simply imagine that Ding’s name was something more western, rougher, coarser…sandier
Yes, Ding Gongbao is in some ways the Colonel Sanders of China, despite never running an actual restaurant. (Nor having quite so distinguished a career of failures as Sanders, holy crap. That dude’s history is DEFINITELY becoming a post someday. ) I just really liked the idea of a man’s Nickname/Title being what their food is named after.
And finally, the coolest food named after a person is
Alright, this shit is gonna get COMPLICATED, so stick with me. You ready? Good.
So, supposedly the pralines were named by the chef of one Marshal du Plessis-Praslin, where they were whole almonds covered in caramelized sugar. “Praslins” were ground up to make pralin, a topping and ingredient that was then mixed into various confections, which could be covered in chocolate. The fillings became praliné in French, and the candies chocolat praliné, and here’s where things get mildly confusing. (If they weren’t already.)
You ever go out and buy a box of chocolates ? And you ever notice how few of the chocolates are actually, well, pure chocolate? They’ve got coconut, and caramel, and nougat. Some are immediately pointing out “Well, technically they’re not chocolates, they’re chocolate bon-bons, we just simplify the name.” You’re correct. And you know what else they’re called? Pralines.
Even the French are confused at this point.
See, there are actually three distinct VARIETIES of Pralines, and I’m not just talking about Pecans versus Almonds. IN France and Switzerland, we have the original: nuts (typically almonds or hazelnuts) in a caramelized sugar coating. In Belgium, they coated them with chocolates, and began the real confusion with pralines (chocolates with fillings) and praliné, a specific filling made of, well, ground up French praline. And THEN the recipe came to Louisiana, who said “Shit, I don’t have almonds. I’ll use pecans. And I want this coating thicker, so I’ll add cream to it to make a caramel.” So French pralines are what we’d call candied almonds, Belgian pralines are just chocolates, and Southern Pralines are confusing to everyone else who uses the word.
And that concludes our list of Fine Foods with Names. As the enormous etymology nerd that I am, it’s fun to see how these names became day-to-day parts of our lives, and how we can miss them right in front of us. I hope you had as much fun learning these as I did, but now it’s lunch time over here. I’m going to get me a Steak Diane with a Rob Roy, and finish with a Bananas Foster. Have a good one!