Where did pavlova originate? The world's seven most-disputed foods

Food can be a huge source of national pride, but sometimes that pride comes from more than one nation. When a dish goes big, there's often more than one place that wants to claim its invention. And that leads to this sort of argument …

The doner kebab

FILE - In this Thursday, Nov. 30, 2017 file photo, a man slices cuts of meat from a rotisserie Doner spit inside a Doner restaurant cafe in Frankfurt, Germany. The European Parliament narrowly defeated plans to ban an additive that is considered key in industrial meats for the popular doner kebab. Needing an absolute majority of at least 376 votes for a ban on phosphates, the legislature fell 3 votes short on Wednesday, Dec. 13, 2017. (AP Photo/Michael Probst, File)

Photo: AP

There are various claims to having invented the doner kebab in Berlin, but the general story remains the same: Turkish guest workers in the 1970s took the sliced meat from a skewer, packaged it up with salad and lots of sauce and made it into a takeaway fast food.

Try explaining this on the streets of Istanbul, however, and you'll be met with absolute disdain – the Turks have been making doner kebabs for centuries, they'll say, and the Berlin guys are just being pedantic about packaging. And that's before we even get on to gyros in Greece and shawarma in the Middle East.

The pisco sour

Two Pisco Sour cocktails.

Photo: Shutterstock

If you ever want to start a fight between a Peruvian and a Chilean, ask them where a pisco sour comes from. Part of the issue is that both got grapes from Spain in the 16th century, and started fermenting them into an aguardiente – later called pisco – fairly quickly. Peru claims it comes from the port city of Pisco, and Chile claims it comes from around the village of Pisco Elqui.

The Chilean claim is not helped by the fact that, until 1936, this village was called La Unión.

The oft-repeated origin story of the pisco sour is that American bartender Victor Morris created it in his Lima bar in the 1920s. However, suspiciously similar recipes have been found in Peruvian cookbooks from earlier than this.

But Chile still claims the pisco sour as its national drink, and makes it differently – there are usually no egg whites, and the pisco used (generally under 40 per cent proof) would not be classified as pisco in Peru, which insists on no watering down.


Chile also makes (and drinks) far more pisco than Peru. But only under its own classification of what pisco is.

The baklava

The Abla's in Carlton. 1 Febraury 2018. The Age Epicure. Photo: Eddie Jim. Food: Mixed dips, Chicken and rice, Silverbeet rolls, Baklava and Fattoush. Owner Abla Amad.

Photo: Eddie Jim

The classic Turkish dessert, made with layers of filo pastry, chopped nuts and honey or syrup to hold it together, is also claimed by the Greeks.

The oldest documented reports of the baklava's current incarnation come from Constantinople in the 15th century. It was supposedly made in the kitchens of the Topkapı Palace for the top dogs of the Ottoman Empire.

What muddies the waters somewhat is that before the Ottomans came the Byzantine and Eastern Roman empires, and the Romans had something very similar called the placenta cake, which key contemporary Roman writers such as Cato the Elder pinpoint as coming from Greek cuisine traditions.

Of course, both Greece and Turkey may be wrong – similar recipes have come from cookbooks in various Middle Eastern empires. There's a strong possibility that lots of civilisations had the same good idea independently.

The pavlova

Anna Pavlova (1882-1931)

Russian dancer Anna Pavlova.

Pretty much the only thing Australia and New Zealand can agree on when it comes to pavlova, the somewhat sickly meringue-based dessert, is that it is named after Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova. Who invented it – and, more importantly, where – is a matter for debate so fierce that books have been written about it.

Dr Helen Leach, who wrote The Pavlova Story, collected hundreds of pavlova recipes, finding 21 in New Zealand cookbooks by 1940, when the first Aussie ones made an appearance.

The Oxford English Dictionary, meanwhile, ruled that the first mention came in a Kiwi cookbook called Davis Dainty Dishes in 1927. But this was a multi-coloured gelatine-based dish with no meringue at all. The muddies are further watered by competing claims from Perth and Wellington.

However, in 2015, New Zealander Andrew Wood and Australian Annabelle Utrecht combined forces to research the dish, and came to the conclusion that it was probably first concocted in the US, and based on a German torte. The pav may well be a multinational invention.



Photo: Shutterstock

Israel and Lebanon have been fighting an increasingly petty war over hummus, with Lebanon petitioning the EU to prevent Israel calling it an Israeli foodstuff, and both countries trying to top each other's previous efforts to get the Guinness World Record for largest hummus portion.

However, several modern-day countries have got a reasonable claim to being the dish's birthplace – the name means simply "chick pea" in Arabic and chick peas have been cultivated for thousands of years.

Egypt may also be in with a shout, as 13th-century cookbooks from Cairo have described a similar dish, albeit without the arguably crucial tahini.

Chicken tikka masala

Chicken tikka masala

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Many dishes that we now see as traditional curry house staples have been adapted by migrant chefs from the Indian subcontinent to suit British tastes, and some have more or less been invented in Britain as a result.

Of these, chicken tikka masala is the most notorious – and the fiercest claim to have invented it comes from Ahmed Aslam Ali in his Shish Mahal restaurant in Glasgow. He claims it came about when a customer complained that his chicken tikka was a bit dry and he'd like some sauce with it. So the masala sauce with yoghurt, cream and spices was born.

Alas, Indian food experts claim this is nonsense, and that the dish goes way back to the Mughal emperors, having been passed down through generations.

Another explanation is that chicken tikka masala is basically just an iteration of murgh makhni – or butter chicken – which first put chicken in a spicy, yoghurt and tomato-based sauce in Delhi's Moti Mahal restaurant in the 1950s.

French fries

French fries

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Well, they're almost certainly not French … the name comes courtesy of American soldiers, who were posted in Belgium during World War I. With traditional American sticklership, they knew the Belgian Army spoke French, and thus assumed the fried potatoes were French too. In reality, frying the spuds probably dates back to the 1600s in Belgium's Meuse Valley.