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A specific, recent example of this is the following question:

What is the name of the middle eastern salad containing Tomato and Cucumber?

In it, the accepted answer states that it is called an Israeli salad, and goes on to point out that in Israel it is called a chopped salad or "Arab salad." The reason for this, if you follow through to the Wikipedia entry on Israeli Salad, is that the dish appears to have originated in Palestine.

This is by no means a new or localized phenomenon; Russian Dressing has nothing to do with Russia, it is wholly American in origin. And what we commonly refer to as a Polish Sausage may refer to any number of different regional varieties across Eastern Europe.

Leaving aside the issue of why these dubious regional names take hold, my question is this:

Do we have a responsibility to try to educate others on the authenticity and origins of foods when we refer to them by these colloquial regional names?

If we are supposed to be experts on the subject matter, does it make sense for us to be contributing to the spread of what could arguably be labeled as misinformation? How far should we go in order to set the record straight, and why?

  • @mods: I have not created this as a comm wiki as I would like to put some restriction on the editing. Also, I listed 'moderators' as a tag as it seemed like the only one that captured the spirit of knowingly posting something volatile. Sorry but I am honestly interested in seeing the discussion that comes from this question; I am not making argument to try to be right on some question. – mfg Nov 2 '10 at 17:32
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    This post went way over my head... all I know is that I tried to choose the most specific and most well-known name. If somebody asked "What is the name of the sauce made from whisking milk into a roux?", I could answer "Mornay" and not exactly be wrong, but clearly the answer they're looking for is "Béchamel". Similarly, although I'm well-acquainted with Greek salad and fattoush and several other similar dishes, only what is commonly known as an Israeli salad fits the bill of being chiefly tomatoes and cucumbers without a significant quantity of other ingredients. – Aaronut Nov 2 '10 at 19:19
  • Right, and I think the answer you gave 'Israeli salad' is likely to be the most common one by usage. My post here comes from a note on the quote in your source: "According to Israeli food editor and chef Gil Hovav, Israeli salad has its origins in the similar Palestinian dish. 'This salad that we call an Israeli salad, actually it's an Arab salad, Palestinian salad,'" The question I am asking is ultimately meta, and not really involving the question anymore but rather calling something an Israeli Salad, when in 'fact' it may better be called a Palestinian Salad. – mfg Nov 2 '10 at 19:28
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    @Aar That was arguably the most amazing edit ever. They should have a badge for modifying a post by at least 90% and making it clearer, more concise, and more interesting. – mfg Nov 3 '10 at 15:20
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The single most important principle on Seasoned Advice (and any other Stack Exchange site) is for people to be able to find the information they're looking for.

I am not necessarily talking about SEO, although that certainly factors into it; this applies even if somebody is searching specifically within this community. The bottom line is that somebody at some point is going to be looking for information on Israeli Salad or Polish Sausage; they're unlikely to find what they're looking for if we insist on the possibly more accurate/authentic names Palestinian Rural Salad or Eastern European Style Sausage.

Yes, I am advocating convention over correctness, because ultimately that's what English is. Our language is defined by common usage, not formal rules, to the extent that blatantly incorrect usage of a certain word or phrase can literally end up in the dictionary.

That's not to say that we can't still do our best to educate people about where these dishes really came from, and the answer I submitted to the salad question plainly indicates that the dish might not really be Israeli in origin - it just happens to be where it was popularized.

I whole-heartedly endorse complete and thorough answers and this kind of thing is just one more aspect of thoroughness. If the question merits it - i.e. if it's a question like the salad one, specifically seeking out the name or definition of a dish - then it certainly makes sense to leave a few notes on authenticity and regional variations.

That said, I don't want us to start clouding every single Q&A thread with margin notes on culture, geography, and politics. There's a time and a place for everything, and if the history of a particular dish is not germane to the question, then it shouldn't be part of the answer. If somebody asks How to make French Fries à la McDonald's, then to have people start wildly exclaiming that French Fries didn't actually come from France is only going to paint us as a community of abrasive jerks. Save it for when it's actually helpful or at least relevant.

In conclusion, we should be mindful of these issues and take opportunities to clear up general misconceptions about foods - including their geographic and cultural origins - but wait for that opportunity. Please don't initiate a dogpile whenever somebody uses a widely-accepted term that happens to be mildly inaccurate. Life is full of these idiosyncrasies and we all get along just fine without somebody to whisper clarifications into our ear every few minutes.

For what it's worth, I've eaten at several Middle Eastern restaurants run by Arabs and many of them use the "Israeli Salad" label; similar items, like fattoush [salad], also appear on the menu as they are different preparations. I don't see any of them getting bent out of shape over this terminology. So if you're worried about offending someone, don't be. If somebody has a legitimate reason to be offended then I'm sure they'll point it out to us and we'll give their comments due consideration.

  • my +1 is especially pointed at the paragraphs "I whole-heartedly endorse", "That said" and "In conclusion". I definitely see your point about not looking like jerks, but sharing cultural information when relevant to the question makes sense to me. – stephennmcdonald Nov 3 '10 at 17:59
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    literally +1!!! – yossarian Nov 4 '10 at 21:43
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When I first read the question, my immediate question was how to handle 'french fries', which I then saw was mentioned along with some others in a now-deleted response.

... but the term itself brings up a whole slew of issues ... are we going to cause confusion if we require everyone to use the original name for things? (it's bad enough with the distinction between what the UK contingent call 'chips' tend to be closed to what Americans call 'steak fries')

When I lived in the Netherlands, they were 'frites', and in France, 'pommes frites' to denote that it's potato, or 'pommes de terres frites' to specifically distinguish deep fried potatoes ... but for 'authenticity', there's the question of where they originated, as many claim they're from Belgium, not France; but Belgium at the time was the Spanish Netherlands, so it's possible to claim they're Spanish in origin, and so should be called 'patatas fritas'.

I personally have absolutely no desire to get into these issues. If someone asks a question specifically about a dish, that's fine, and a comment might help to clear up some of the naming issues, but I'm not going to get into policing people for using calling them 'french fries', particularly as the term tells us that they're likely talking about the americanized fried potato product, which tends to be thinner cut and longer than what I think of as 'frites', even if they're a otherwise a similar dish.

...

But then we get anything in the US claiming to be 'Dutch'. It's typically an Americanization of 'Deutsch', which means 'German'. (and the Dutch of a certain generation aren't overly fond of the Germans) ... that one, I might be willing to comment on, and possibly change a tag for, but I'm not going to edit someone's post over it.

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    I don't think that I would expect out-right any kind of recommendation (certainly not requirement) to always have an additional name, and certainly not every name for frites. It would inevitably devolve into a jarbled mash of names. The balance I was most keen on involved maybe a tip of the hat for answers that included them even though the obvious answer by usage was something else (ie. how Aaronut's answer on the salad included both). That's all. There is a certain element of origin and authenticity that I think is important but it doesn't trump clearness of a usable answer. – mfg Nov 4 '10 at 19:03

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