Where Did Your Favorite Fast Foods Come From?

Pizza, burgers, fries… what are their origins?

Photo Sasabune Omakase Modified: Flickr/erin/CC 4.0

Hot dogs were first popularized by Eastern European immigrants in New York. 

It’s not too often that we stop and think about the fact that everything on earth, big or small, has its origins somewhere. Every word; every object, natural or manmade; every food. The origins of some foods are common knowledge — the Egg McMuffin was invented at McDonald’s, for example — but the roots of many of the foods we eat remain a mystery to us.

Where Did Your Favorite Fast Foods Come From? (Slideshow)

Fast food is some of the most popular food in America. It's simple, inexpensive, handheld, satisfying, and, for the most part, not very good for us. But do you ever stop and think about where the fast foods we eat come from, and why they’re so popular?

We’re not talking about specific fast food items — although we’re sure that the story behind the invention of Hardee’s Monster Thickburger is incredibly fascinating; we’re talking about the food items themselves, like burgers and fries. These foods can trace their origins from the farthest reaches of the globe, but we’ve made them our own, and gave them a decidedly American twist.

So read on to learn the stories behind some of the most commonly eaten foods, which also happen to be foods that we take for granted. While these dishes tend to be rather mundane, their origin stories are anything but.

Chicken Nuggets

Chicken nuggets were invented in the 1950s by a food science professor at Cornell University named Robert Baker. He published the formula for forming nuggets into any shape as an academic work instead of patenting it, thus spreading the gospel to millions nationwide, free of charge. McDonald’s commissioned Tyson Foods to create Chicken McNuggets for them in 1979, and the chicken processor still makes them for the fast food giant today.

Fish and Chips

Deep-fried fish was brought to England by Jewish refugees from Portugal and Spain in the 1500s, but two major developments in the second half of the nineteenth century led to the popularization of fish and chips as a fast food there: the increase in trawl fishing in the North Sea and the construction of railways to transport fish from the ports into major cities. The first fish and chip shop (called a “chipper”) opened in London in 1860, soon followed by one in Mossley, in the north of England, in 1863, and the inexpensive dish, wrapped up to go in newspaper, instantly caught on. Its popularity reached new heights during World War II, when it was one of the few dishes that weren’t rationed. 

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