Some foods in the English language are not as they appear. Here’s a list of some 30+ food names that have amused us over the years. Note that in other countries, their names in the local language will be different.
Albany Beef: A slang term for sturgeons, which were once abundant in the Hudson River which flows through Albany County, New York).
Blood Pudding: (photo #1) Don’t expect dessert. This is what Americans call blood sausage. Blood sausages date to 800 B.C.E., where a mention of black pudding (another name for blood pudding) appears in Homer’s “The Odyssey.” They are believed to be the oldest form of sausages. Casings are filled with blood that is cooked or dried and mixed with a filler (bread, cereal, nuts) until it is thick enough to solidify when cooled. “Blak podyngs” were first recorded in the U.K. around 1450. The term “pudding” is Britain; ground meat steamed in a casing was called a pudding.
Bombay Duck: Is neither from Bombay nor duck. It is a type of lizardfish, a food fish that is also called bummalo, boomlaor bombil in the Indo-Pacific region. It got its name in the days of the Raj, from being transported on an iconic train, the Bombay Daak (daak is the Hindi word for mail). The British thus called the fish Bombay duck.
Bubble and Squeak: Nothing to do with sparkling wine and cheese (think mouse), this is a breakfast of potatoes and cabbage, mixed together and fried. Around since at least the 18th century, earlier versions contained corned beef. The first recorded use of the name appears in 1762, and alludes to the sounds made by the ingredients as they are fried.
Cape Cod Turkey: You’d think there’d have been plenty of wild turkeys running around Cape Cod, but this is a dish of salted cod, salt pork or bacon, potatoes, and eggs in a cream sauce. The origin of the name is obscure, but some sources say that Irish immigrants in the Boston area used the term to refer to their Friday meal of fish. Here’s a recipe.
Chicken Of The Woods: (photo #2) A mushroom (Laetiporus cincinnatus) that has a remarkable resemblance to chicken meat when cooked properly. It has the same texture and the “peeling” as chicken.
Egg Cream: Neither eggs nor cream is in this soft drink of milk, seltzer (carbonated water), and chocolate syrup, which originated in 1890 at a soda fountain in New York City. The history of the egg cream.
Eggplant: Americans know these fruits (yes, they’re botanical fruits) as elongated and purple. But in the 1700s, early European versions of eggplant were smaller and yellow or white. They looked like goose or chicken eggs, which led to the name “eggplant.”
English Muffin: Not a muffin, but more accurately a split crumpet, invented by an English immigrant to New York City. Here’s the story.
French Dressing: An American creamy dressing based on tomato paste (or ketchup), vinegar, paprika, sugar, and other ingredients. The French never heard of it.
French Fries: Fried potatoes have likely been made for millennia (potatoes originated in Peru) in Latin America. Europeans didn’t begin to eat them until the late 1700s. But what Americans call French fries originated in Belgium. The French and Belgians simply call them frites, i.e. fries.
Geoduck: Pronounced “gooey-duck,” it’s not a duck but a giant saltwater clam. It’s a sashimi delicacy.
Gunpowder Dosa: A dosa is a crêpe popular in South India and Sri Lanka; gunpowder is the name of a spice blend. Called milagai podi in India, gunpowder spice is a mixture of dal (lentils), seeds, and spices traditionally found in South Indian cuisine, plus chiles for heat.
Gunpowder Tea: (photo #4) Gunpowder tea is a green tea in which each leaf has been rolled into a small round pellet. Nowadays you can also find a black tea version. Its name comes from its resemblance to grains of gunpowder.
Hamburger: Everybody knows that there’s no ham in a hamburger. Fewer people realize that it came to the U.S. from Hamburg, Germany, where the ground meat patty was known as Hamburg steak. Here’s the scoop.
Head Cheese: No cheese is involved here. Head cheese is a congealed meat jelly or terrine made with the head of a calf or pig.
Hen-of-the-Woods: (photo #3) This mushroom (Grifola frondosa), also known by its Japanese name, maitake, has frond-like growths that resemble the feathers of a fluffed chicken. Also called ram’s head and sheep’s head.
Hot Dog: The hot dog traces its lineage to the 15th-century Viennese sausage, wienerwurst in German, a beef-pork blend (the weiner!). In the 17th century, a butcher from Bavaria used pure pork and sold the slender sausage as the “dachshund” or “little dog” sausage. He brought it to Frankfurt (the frankfurter!), but it was still a sausage eaten with a knife and fork. The hot dog, a slender sausage in a bun, was an American invention. Here’s more about it.
Ladyfingers: These sweet sponge cookies originated in the late 15th century at the court of the Duchy of Savoy, and were called savoiardi. In England, they were renamed ladyfingers because their shape resembles the slender fingers of a woman. France took a more racy approach and called them boudoirs, a woman’s dressing room, bedroom, or private sitting room.
Mongolian BBQ: Neither Mongolian nor barbecue, this stir fry was created in Taiwan in the 1950s. It’s more like teppanyaki, a restaurant meal where guests sit around a large, flat grill surface and watch the chef cook their meat (à la Benihana).
Phoenix Claws: No mythical creatures were harmed here. Phoenix claws are a classic Cantonese dim sum dish of braised chicken feet. In Chinese mythology, the phoenix is an immortal bird.
Plum Pudding: (photo #6) This British Christmas classic is made with dried fruit, but no actual plums. It uses plums’ dried form, prunes, plus any assortment of currants, raisins, and other dried, preserved, or candied fruits. It is also called figgy pudding, since it can contain dried figs. Here’s a recipe.
Pork Butt: Not the hindquarters, but the shoulder of the pig. Why? In colonial New England, butchers packed these cuts into large barrels, called butts, for storage and transportation. The shoulder meat became known as a pork butt. Check out the different cuts of pork.
Prairie Oysters / Rocky Mountain Oysters: These are bull testicles, also called calf fries and huevos de toro. Ranchers and butchers in the Rockies looked for ways to use the testicles—no part was wasted. The testicles are typically skinned and sometimes pounded flat. They are breaded in flour, pepper, and salt, then deep-fried. Prairie oysters are considered a delicacy, and are most often served as an appetizer. They are called oysters tongue-in-cheek, as oysters, an appetizer delicacy, were not typically available that far from the ocean.
Russian Dressing: Another American dressing based on ketchup and mayonnaise. It’s similar to Thousand Island dressing, but without the relish. In Germany, a similar salad dressing is called American dressing or American sauce. In today’s Russia, traditional salads tend to be made of other vegetables (beets, carrots, potatoes, pickles, e.g.) rather than leafy greens, and are dressed with mayonnaise or vinaigrette (including one where pickle juice substitutes for regular vinegar).
Refried Beans: News to most Americans: These beans we enjoy in Tex-Mex fare aren’t actually fried twice. The name comes from the Spanish refritos, meaning well fried.
Scotch Bonnet: This fiery chile pepper from West Africa is named for its vague resemblance to a Scottish tam o’shanter cap.
Scotch Woodcock: Not a Scottish game bird, but a breakfast dish: scrambled eggs on toast, topped with anchovies; alternatively, the toast is spread with anchovy paste. The name is modeled after Welsh Rabbit (see below). Welsh Rabbit contains no rabbit meat, and Scotch Woodcock has no woodcock.
Sea Cucumber: Sea cucumbers are part of a marine group called echinoderms, which also contains starfish and sea urchins. Their body shape is similar to a cucumber, hence the name.
Spotted Dick: (photo #7) The British have such creative names for their foods. Spotted dick is a type of steamed dessert pudding made with suet and pieces of dried fruit (the spots). Steamed puddings typically have the consistency of cake. The name is first found in print in Alexis Soyer’s The Modern Housewife or Ménagère, published in 1849. It is also called Spotted Dog and Railway Cake.
 Blood pudding in the U.S. is blood pudding in the U.S. (photo © Visit Estonia).
 You can see why these mushrooms are called chicken of the woods. They look like ruffled feathers (photo © Rolf And Daughters | Nashville).
 Its relative, hen of the woods mushrooms, are also called by their Japanese name, maitake (photo © Mushroom Council).
 Gunpowder tea, here made with black tea. The original was (and is) made with green tea leaves (photo © Fava Tea).
 Head cheese is a cold cut terrine or meat jelly that originated in Europe. Here’s a recipe to make your own (photo © Brit + Co).
 Plum pudding has no plums, but does have prunes (dried plums) and other delicious dried fruits. Here’s a recipe (photo © Gary Lerner | StockXchange).
 Spotted dick is a British steamed pudding that cooks up as a cake Here’s a recipe (photo © Epicurious).