Famous Food Dishes and How they Got Their Names

Updated August 5, 2020 | Infoplease Staff

The origins of Beef Stroganoff and Peach Melba

by David Johnson

Waldorf Salad

2 cups chopped apples
1 1/2 lemons, juiced
1/4 cup chopped celery
1/4 cup chopped walnuts
1/4 cup raisins
1/4 cup seedless grapes, halved
1/2 cup plain yogurt
1/4 cup mayonnaise
2 green onions, chopped

1. In a bowl, toss together the apples, lemon juice, celery, walnuts, raisins, and grapes.
2. In another bowl, fold together the yogurt and mayonnaise. Add to salad and mix well.

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People often ask what is in a particular dish they are about to eat, but seldom do they ask how that particular meal got its name. The origins of a dish are often as interesting as the food itself, as the following guide indicates.

Beef Stroganoff

A combination of beef, mushrooms, and sour cream, Beef Stroganoff was the prize-winning recipe created for a cooking competition held in the 1890s in St. Petersburg, Russia. The chef who devised the recipe worked for the Russian diplomat Count Pavel Alexandrovich Stroganov, a member of one of Russia's grandest noble families.

Beef Wellington

A national hero for defeating Napoleon at Waterloo in 1815, Arthur Wellesley was made the first Duke of Wellington. He loved a dish of beef, mushrooms, truffles, Madeira wine, and paté cooked in pastry, which has been named in his honor.

Caesar Salad

In the 1920s, Caesar Cardini, owner of an Italian restaurant in Tijuana, Mexico, and his brother, Alex, invented a salad of romaine lettuce, anchovies, coddled egg, lemon juice, grated Parmesan cheese, and garlic-flavored croutons tossed with a garlic vinaigrette flavored with Worcestershire sauce. At first it was called Aviator's Salad, but later Cardini named the dish after himself.

Chicken Marengo

A French dish of chicken braised with garlic, tomatoes, olives, white wine or brandy, and garnished with crayfish and sometimes fried eggs, Chicken Marengo was born on the battlefield. On June 14, 1800, Napoleon Bonaparte defeated the Austro-Hungarian army at the village of Marengo, in northern Italy. After a ferocious battle in which 5,800 French and 9,400 Austrians were killed, the victorious French were ravenous. Chicken Marengo was made from whatever ingredients they were able to take from the village.

Delmonico Steak (and Delmonico Potatoes)

Swiss immigrants, the Delmonico family created New York City's first real luxury restaurant, which they ran from 1835 to 1881. With a menu printed in French and English, Delmonico's featured French and American cuisine. Under the direction of French chef Charles Ranhofer, Delmonico's set the standard for gourmet food. Delmonico Steak, a tender strip of usually boneless top loin, has become an American classic. It is also known as Kansas City strip steak or New York steak. Delmonico Potatoes are boiled, buttered potatoes sprinkled with parsley and lemon juice. Eggs Benedict and Lobster Newburg were also created at the restaurant.

Eggs Benedict

Eggs Benedict was most likely created at Delmonico's Restaurant, in New York City, in response to a complaint that the menu never changed. Regulars at the fancy restaurant, Mr. and Mrs. LeGrand Benedict asked for something new. To oblige, the chef served up eggs on ham served on a muffin and covered in Hollandaise sauce.

Once called Lobster Wenberg, the name of the dish was changed after Ben Wenberg participated in a brawl at the originating restaurant.

Lobster Newburg

In the mid-1800s, shipping magnate Ben Wenberg asked Charles Ranhofer, chef at Delmonico's Restaurant, to prepare a meal he had discovered in South America—chunks of lobster sautéed in butter and served in a sauce of cream and egg flavored with paprika and sherry. The meal was such a success that it was added to the Delmonico's menu as Lobster Wenberg. However, some time later, Wenberg consumed too much wine from Delmonico's renowned cellars and got into a brawl. He was banished from Delmonico's forever and his name stricken from the menu. "Wenberg" became "Newburg."

Peach Melba

Sometimes called the greatest chef who ever lived, Auguste Escoffier created a dessert of poached peach halves, vanilla ice cream, and raspberry sauce in honor of Australian opera singer Dame Nellie Melba. A Frenchman, Escoffier worked at the Ritz Hotel in London in the early 1900s, the period when Melba performed regularly at the Covent Garden opera house. Escoffier also created Melba toast—bread heated in a low oven until golden brown and very brittle—in Melba's honor.

Salisbury Steak

J. H. Salisbury, a nineteenth-century English nutritionist, advocated a diet of lean meat. Salisbury Steak is a fried or broiled ground beef patty mixed with egg, breadcrumbs, onions, and seasonings. It is sometimes served with gravy.

Waldorf Salad

In 1896, Oscar Tschirky, the maître d'hôtel of the famed Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City, created a salad of apples, celery, and mayonnaise. Immediately popular, the new dish was called Waldorf Salad. Chopped walnuts later became an ingredient.

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