Chinese Recipe Name Origins

Lion's Head Meatballs
Lion's Head Meatballs. Rhonda Parkinson

There is a mystique that surrounds the origin of certain recipe names. Take Caesar salad, for example. People often assume that the classic combination of romaine lettuce and dressing dates back to the time of Roman Emperor Julius Caesar. In fact, its origins are much more recent, although the exact circumstances defy documentation. In one version, it was invented in 1924 by Caesar Cardini. If true, the Tijuana restaurateur must have been amazed by the confusion he unleashed when he chose to bestow his own name on his culinary masterpiece.

Another view holds that Caesar Salad was created in 1906 in the United States, and named in honor of the Romans. This makes sense when you consider that the Romans held romaine lettuce in high esteem, believing it had health-giving properties. (In fact, it is rumored that Emperor Caesar Augustus erected a statue in honor of the leafy green vegetable).

And then there's Chicken Cordon Bleu. Try as you might, you won't find a step-by-step procedure for stuffing chicken breasts with ham and cheese in any of the standard French cookbooks. While its origins are difficult to trace, the dish probably debuted in New Orleans, the brainchild of a chef who once trained at the France's world-famous cooking school Le Cordon Bleu.

Like all great mysteries, the truth about how these two famous recipes came to be named will probably never be known. The Chinese have their own collection of tales surrounding the origin of certain recipes:

Three factors that may play a role in naming a Chinese dish:

  • the appearance of the dish - (lion's head meatballs, ants climbing a tree)
  • the person who supposedly invented the dish or caused the dish to be invented (kung pao chicken, pockmarked tofu, beggar's chicken)
  • how the dish is made - (crossing the bridge noodles)

    How did these popular Chinese dishes get their names?:

    Beggar's Chicken: