What's in a name? - The origins behind these classics

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 5th August 2014
By Jessica McComish We may often ask what is in a recipe, but rarely where that dish’s strange name comes from. We know that Toad in the Hole contains no toads yet with the English language being so full of idiosyncrasies, we give these seemingly unrelated names, little thought. So what are the meanings and origins of some of the most popular dishes’ names?  

Beef Stroganoff Beef Stroganoff

The recipe for beef stroganoff has been revised and varied over the years. Traditionally it is consisting of beef, mushrooms and sour cream. The recipe was created for a cooking competition in the 1890s in St. Petersburg. The chef, Charles Briére, who claimed to have invented the prize-winning dish, worked for Russian diplomat, Pavel Alexandrovich Stroganov. However, it is likely the dish was an old recipe in the noble family, from which it gets its name, and was just slightly revised for the “L’Art Culinaire” competition.  

Caesar Salad

Caesar SaladCaesar salad has absolutely nothing to do with the famous Roman emperor. Developed in the 1920s, the name actually derives from the dish’s creator, Caesar Cardini. The salad was prepared on a busy day in Cardini’s restaurant in Tijuana. The chef threw the dish together using a few ingredients he still had including: romaine lettuce, garlic, croutons, parmesan cheese, olive oil, eggs and Worcestershire sauce. However the dish’s creator has been debated, with both Cardini’s brother Alex, and partner Paul Maggiora, claiming to have invented the salad first. Both men say that it was first named the “Aviator’s salad”, originally made to impress an American airman. Regardless of this, as the dish grew in popularity it became known as “Caesar’s salad” as it came from Caesar’s restaurant.  

Cottage Pie

Cottage Pie   Cottage pie is a home-cooking favourite of minced meat with a mashed potato topping, or crust. “Cottage”, meaning a “modest dwelling for rural workers”, indicated the people who consumed the dish rather than the food itself. In the late 18th century, potatoes were introduced as an edible crop for the poor. Originally, any meat that was available was used, usually leftovers. The combination of cheap potatoes and leftover meat meant that the poorer families could make this dish easily and inexpensively.  


HamburgerUnless you add ham to your burger, a hamburger contains no ham. The burger is inspired by Hamburg, Germany. In the 19th century, beef from Hamburg cows was minced and combined with onions, garlic, salt and pepper, and made into patties. These were once considered gourmet due to the high quality of Hamburg beef. The dish arrived in America when restaurant-opening German immigrants and the Americanised “Hamburg Steak” became one of the most expensive options on the menu. The Industrial Revolution saw Hamburg steaks being sold from food carts. For ease of eating, the steak was placed between two slices of bread and the hamburger as we know it was born and is now an American classic.

Peach Melba

Peach Melba, a dessert of poached peach halves, vanilla ice cream, and a raspberry sauce, first appeared in the early 1900s. Auguste Escoiffer, a Frenchman working at the Ritz Hotel in London, named the dish after Australian Opera Singer, Dame Nellie Melba.Peach Melba Melba frequently performed at the Covent Garden Opera House and often ate at Escoiffer’s restaurants. Allegedly, Melba sent Escoiffer tickets to her performance of “Lohengrin”, an opera featuring a boat in the shape of a swan. Taking inspiration from this, the next evening Escoiffer presented Melba with peaches and vanilla ice cream in a dish atop an ice swan, naming it “Pecheau Cygne” (peach with a swan). He later revised the dish, adding raspberry puree and renaming it after the singer, “Pêche Melba”. Melba toast was also named in the star’s honour by Escoiffer, he seems to have been quite the fan.  

Sirloin of Beef

Sirloin The origin of the “sirloin of beef” is quite straightforward. “Sirloin” is simply a derivation of the French word “surlonge” (“sur la longe”) meaning, above the loin of a cow. However, the misconception is more interesting. The spelling of “sir” in sirloin rather than the French “sur” suggested some sort of prestige to the cut of beef. There have been stories that the cut was enjoyed so much by royalty that it was knighted “Sir Loin of Beef”. This is completely untrue but almost bizarre enough to be believed.  

Steak Tartare

Steak Tartare It has been suggested that the origin of the name “steak tartare” goes back to the Mongolian and Turkic tribes, known as Tartars. They were thought to have placed their beef, or horsemeat, under their saddles so that the meat tenderised as they rode. While this does seem plausible, there appears to be no evidence to prove it. It has also been suggested that they never ate the meat, but used it for additional comfort while riding. Another suggestion, is that it’s simply a shortening of “a la tartare” – served with tartar sauce. It has evolved over time, as many recipes do. This meat dish is now comprised of finely chopped or minced raw beef, with onions and capers, seasoned well, and often served with a raw egg yolk. The word “tartare” is now often used when meat or fish is raw when served.

Toad in the Hole

Toad in the HoleBatter puddings became popular at the beginning of the 18th century. Toad in the hole, with its sausages poking out of the batter, is likely named this due to the resemblance, albeit very slight, to toads peering out of crevices. Another suggestion, although contested, is that a golf course in Northumberland was overrun with Natterjack toads. One of the toads, sitting in one of the holes, projected the ball out of its hole. The dish was created that evening to resemble the toad in the eighteenth hole.   Following this route of weird and wonderful food we've also had a look at those rather odd menu requests that your customers have asked you.

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 5th August 2014

What's in a name? - The origins behind these classics