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Have you ever sat down in a restaurant abroad and been confused by what’s on the menu? Or puzzled that you can’t find French fries or Belgian waffles, despite being in the supposed homeland of the dish? American names for foods can sometimes be very different from what they’re called in other countries, so to help you, we’ve compiled a list of 15 tasty snacks that often get lost in translation.
These flaky balls of dough are delicious with butter or jam at breakfast, and are also a classic southern comfort food served with gravy. But if you ask a Brit for a biscuit, they’ll serve you something completely different — a sweet, crumbly treat closer to what Americans consider a cookie. American biscuits derived from the floury ship’s biscuit carried on early voyages across the Atlantic by British sailors. The term itself comes from the Latin stems “bis” (twice) and “coctus” (cooked) because the treats were cooked multiple times so that they would harden.
The name “biscuit” would later encompass hard-baked, sweet treats from Europe, such as Italian biscotti. However, when Britain fell out of favor during the Revolutionary War, Americans renamed their sweet treats “crackers” or “cookies,” so “biscuit” only referred to the round breaded cake. If you want an American-style biscuit in the U.K., the closest thing you’ll find is a scone (but be careful how you pronounce it). Or you could ask for a biscuit, and watch as the British argue which one is best dunked into a cup of hot tea.
The best accompaniment to a gyro, Greek salad seamlessly blends feta cheese and olives with sweet tomato and red onion. But in Greece, this style of salad isn’t known as a “Greek salad” — it’s called a “horiatiki salata,” which translates to “village salad.”
Greeks believe that the best food is found in the country’s rural villages — straight from the family kitchen. Like most recipes in Greece, only a few simple, fresh ingredients are needed to create this delicious meal. In Greece, your horiatiki salata will come with a block of feta served on top and a hearty amount of olive oil. With your fork, you simply break the feta off piece by piece and devour it with whatever else you can pick up. As they say in Greece — kali orexi (bon appétit!)
In English, the tangy, tropical fruit gets the name “pineapple” from its appearance. In most countries around the world, however, this yellow fruit is called “ananas.” Early botanists called most unfamiliar fruits an “apple”; for instance, peaches were originally known as “Persian apples.” When English explorer Captain John Smith first wrote about the fruit in the 1600s, he called it a “pineapple” because it looked like a pinecone.
The Spanish had encountered pineapples two centuries earlier and thought the same thing. Christopher Columbus called it “piña de Indes” (pine of the Indies), but the name didn’t catch on outside of Spain. When European countries began importing pineapples, most nations (except for Great Britain and Spain) simply referred to the pineapple by its native Tupi name, ananas.
Healthy, versatile, and delicious when grilled, the zucchini is a miniature squash that grows in summer. In the United Kingdom and France, however, this popular garden vegetable is known as a “courgette.” Both names mean “little squash,” but the American word derives from the Italian name “zucchina” and the British borrowed the name courgette from France.
The difference reflects the fascinating histories of both nations. In the United States, waves of 19th and 20th-century Italian immigrants brought their love for the vegetable with them, and their word “zucchini” was easy enough for anybody to say. Britain didn’t discover the delight of the squash until the 1930s, and simply used the name their French neighbors had.
Seeing the dessert menu is probably everyone’s favorite part of a meal. In the United Kingdom, be prepared to see this course called “pudding.” Although a pudding is technically a specific dish — a squishy cake — the term is used to lovingly refer to desserts as a whole.
Some say this is a result of the entrenched class system in Britain: the working classes tended to say “pudding,” whereas desserts are generally more refined, sophisticated dishes. Yet confusingly, puddings can also be savory. The Middle English word “poding” was a meat-filled animal stomach, but the term now encompasses both sweet and savory food, from Yorkshire pudding with animal fat and eggs to sticky toffee pudding.
Put it on your fries, slather it on your hamburger, or even — if you really want to — swirl it into yogurt. It’s the most popular condiment around, but did you know that in Australia, ketchup is simply called tomato sauce?
American ketchup king, Heinz, wasn’t sold in Australia and New Zealand until fairly recently. This is because the Land Down Under had its own brands selling a tomato, sugar, and vinegar-based condiment — they just called it tomato sauce instead of ketchup. Heinz has attempted to market ketchup in Australia as distinct from tomato sauce, but ketchup connoisseurs have failed to find a huge difference in the two, apart from the fact that ketchup has slightly more tomatoes.
Bell peppers are called by their Latin genus name, capsicum, in Australia and New Zealand. This is also the case in countries in Asia where English is widespread, such as Singapore, India, and Pakistan. “Capsicum” is the Latin name for the plant that grows bell peppers, as well as chilies and pepperoncini. The plant is native to the Americas, but European colonists mistook it for black pepper, as the fruit was spicy. Despite the blunder, the name stuck. Interestingly, the bell pepper is the only member of the capsicum family that doesn’t contain capsaicin, the hot chemical compound found in chili peppers.
This popular nutty spread is known around the world as peanut butter, but in the Netherlands, it’s called “pindakaas,” which means “peanut cheese.” Peanut butter is an American innovation and didn’t make its way over to the Netherlands until 1948, when the country’s top condiment brand started producing it. However, the Dutch are diligent about their dairy, so the word “butter” could only be used for actual butter made from milk. To get around this, peanut butter became known as peanut cheese. No matter what it’s called, the Dutch can’t get enough of it, and the country is one of the biggest consumers of peanut butter in the world.
As far as food names go, the humble baked potato is one of the most literal. However, the British call the baked potato something else entirely — a “jacket potato.” When you think about it, this adorable name makes total sense. The soft flesh of the baked potato is protected by a thick, crinkly skin that can be easily taken off — just like a jacket! Jacket potatoes are just like American baked potatoes, except in the U.K, the potatoes are cooked longer on low heat in the oven.
The humble bread roll is cause for contention in the U.K. Everybody will know what you mean if you talk about bread rolls, but the plethora of regional names that the British have for this midday snack has the whole country up in arms. For example, in Scotland, you’ll see it called a “bap.” A couple of hundred miles south of the border, and it becomes a “bun,” “cob,” “barm,” or even a “teacake,” which is a different food entirely. Each name reflects the local accent and character of a place, so the British will fiercely defend what they believe to be the proper name for a bread roll.
Beef jerky is the perfect snack for carnivores. It’s chewy, meaty, and so well-preserved it might survive an apocalypse. They love it in South Africa, too, except locals prefer their own version of jerky called “biltong.”
A well-known staple of South African food, biltong is very similar to jerky, but there are a few slight differences. Biltong uses a variety of spices to give it an extra kick and distinctive flavor. It’s also a little fattier and chunkier than beef jerky and is processed using a more natural method — curing it with vinegar and air-drying as opposed to using a dehydrator.
It’s believed these beefy meat patties came to the U.S. in the 19th century from Hamburg, Germany. Go to Hamburg today, and you’ll find American-style hamburgers sold by burger chains, but you’re better off trying a more traditional beef patty called the frikadelle.
The predecessor to the modern hamburger, the frikadelle has been eaten in northern Germany for centuries. The recipe hasn’t changed since it was devised hundreds of years ago. Like hamburgers, it’s made from ground beef, egg, and herbs. Frikadellen are usually served hot or cold with potato salad and lettuce. The patty is one of the most popular German fast foods, and you can even find it served in a more familiar way — squished into a doughy bun and slathered with ketchup.
One speech by former President John F. Kennedy in 1963 has gone down in history for all the wrong reasons. It famously included the line “Ich bin ein Berliner,” which actually means “I am a jelly doughnut.” In parts of Germany, a “Berliner” is not a term for a citizen of the city Berlin, but rather a jelly doughnut. Some believe a 17th-century German recipe was the very first jelly doughnut recipe.
Although Berlin residents call the jelly doughnuts “pfannkuchen” to avoid confusion, the popular, jelly-filled treats are called Berliners across Europe. In Lisbon, Portugal, they’re called “bola de Berlim” (Berlin ball), but in Helsinki, Finland, you’re more likely to find a “berliininmunkki” (Berlin doughnut).
The confectionery company Mars made a fortune from space-themed candy bars — most notably the Milky Way, a crumbly nougat and caramel delight. But in Europe — and much of the world — the famous chocolate bar is called a “Mars Bar.”
Though created by the same family, Mars of Minneapolis, they are two distinct bars. The Milky Way was the brainchild of Frank C. Mars, created in the United States in the 1920s. The almost identical Mars Bar was devised a decade later by his son Forrest, who was estranged from his father and moved to the U.K. in the 1930s to start his own chocolate empire. To add insult to injury, Forrest Mars then marketed another bar of chocolate in the U.K. called the Milky Way, which consists of a white vanilla nougat center.
This star-shaped vegetable is a great addition to gumbo or served deep fried. But some English speakers, especially in Singapore and the U.K., refer to them as “ladies’ fingers” because of their long and elegant shape.
The vegetable is native to Ethiopia, but was widely cultivated across North Africa. The term “okra” in the United States comes from Igbo, a dialect spoken in present-day Nigeria. Some historians believe enslaved people from the region brought the vegetable to America, which is why the native name is used in the country today. India also uses the name okra in addition to ladies’ fingers, but the vegetable is also called bhindi to make it even more complicated!