Discover 16 Popular Italian Foods That Aren’t Italian

italian foods that aren't italian

Italian cuisine is loved by many around the world, but not all the dishes we think of as Italian actually come from Italy. Some of these beloved meals have fascinating origins elsewhere.

In this article, we’ll uncover some popular Italian foods that aren’t Italian. You’ll be surprised to learn where these dishes really come from and how they became so closely linked with Italian cuisine. Whether you’re a food lover or just curious, this journey through culinary history will change how you see your favorite foods. Let’s dive in and explore these intriguing dishes together!

16 Italian Foods That Aren’t Italian

1. Spaghetti and Meatballs

Spaghetti and Meatballs

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Spaghetti and meatballs are often seen as a classic Italian dish, but its roots are firmly planted in American soil. Italian immigrants brought their pasta-making skills to the United States, where they combined spaghetti with meatballs, a more affordable source of protein.

This hearty combination quickly became popular in Italian-American communities. In Italy, you might find meatballs (polpette) served as a separate dish, not traditionally paired with pasta. The American version is a delicious fusion of Italian culinary techniques and American tastes.

2. Fettuccine Alfredo

Fettuccine Alfredo

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Fettuccine Alfredo, with its rich and creamy sauce, is a favorite in many households. However, this dish is quite different from its original Italian counterpart. In Rome, Alfredo di Lelio created a simple dish using fettuccine, butter, and Parmesan cheese to appeal to his wife’s palate.

This dish, known simply as “fettuccine al burro,” became famous when Hollywood actors dined at Alfredo’s restaurant and brought the recipe back to the United States. Over time, American chefs added cream and other ingredients, creating the decadent version we know today.

3. Garlic Bread

Garlic Bread

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Garlic bread, often served as a starter or side in Italian restaurants in the U.S., is not a traditional Italian dish. In Italy, bread is commonly enjoyed plain or with a light drizzle of olive oil. The concept of slathering bread with garlic and butter before toasting it originated in America.

While Italians do use garlic in their cooking, the buttery, garlicky bread we love is a distinctly American twist. Traditional Italian bread, such as focaccia or ciabatta, is seasoned differently and enjoyed in various ways.

4. Caesar Salad

Caesar Salad

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Caesar salad is a staple in many Italian-American restaurants, but its origins lie in Mexico. It was created by Caesar Cardini, an Italian immigrant who owned a restaurant in Tijuana. During a busy Fourth of July weekend, Cardini improvised a salad with the ingredients he had on hand, including romaine lettuce, garlic, croutons, Parmesan cheese, eggs, olive oil, and Worcestershire sauce.

This simple yet flavorful creation quickly gained popularity and was associated with Italian cuisine due to Cardini’s heritage, but it remains a uniquely Mexican-American invention.

5. Pepperoni Pizza

Pepperoni Pizza

Pepperoni pizza is one of the most beloved pizza varieties in the United States, but you won’t find it in traditional Italian pizzerias. In Italy, pizza toppings are more varied and often include fresh vegetables, seafood, and cured meats like prosciutto.

Pepperoni, as we know it, is an American creation, inspired by Italian salami but made with a unique blend of spices and cured meat. The addition of pepperoni to pizza is a distinctly American innovation, combining the love for pizza with the bold flavors of American-style pepperoni.

6. Chicken Parmesan

Chicken Parmesan

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Chicken Parmesan, or “chicken parm,” is a popular dish in Italian-American cuisine, but it has evolved significantly from its Italian roots. In Italy, the dish that inspired chicken Parmesan is melanzane alla parmigiana, which features eggplant instead of chicken.

Italian immigrants in America adapted this recipe, substituting eggplant with breaded and fried chicken cutlets, topped with marinara sauce and melted cheese. The result is a hearty and comforting dish that, while delicious, is a far cry from the traditional Italian recipes it was based on.

7. Italian Dressing

Italian Dressing

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Italian dressing, a staple in many American households and restaurants, is not a product of traditional Italian cuisine. This tangy, herb-infused vinaigrette was created in the United States.

In Italy, salads are typically dressed simply with olive oil, vinegar, and sometimes a squeeze of lemon, allowing the fresh flavors of the vegetables to shine. The American version, with its robust blend of garlic, oregano, and other herbs, provides a flavorful but distinctly non-Italian twist to salads.

8. Italian Wedding Soup

Italian Wedding Soup

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Italian Wedding Soup is a popular dish in the United States, often believed to be a traditional Italian recipe. However, the name is a mistranslation of “minestra maritata,” which refers to the “marriage” of flavors in the soup, not an actual wedding.

While similar soups exist in Italy, the American version, with its meatballs, greens, and pasta, has been significantly adapted and popularized in the U.S. It is more a product of Italian-American culinary innovation than a true Italian tradition.

9. Shrimp Scampi

Shrimp Scampi

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Shrimp scampi, as known in the U.S., is an adaptation of an Italian dish. In Italy, “scampi” refers to langoustines, a type of crustacean. Italian immigrants in America substituted readily available shrimp for scampi, creating a new dish.

The American version features shrimp sautéed in a garlic, lemon, and white wine sauce, often served over pasta. This flavorful adaptation is a favorite in American-Italian cuisine, but it differs significantly from the original Italian recipes that inspired it.

10. Tiramisu


Tiramisu is often considered a quintessential Italian dessert, but its history is more recent and complex than many realize. While it did originate in Italy, tiramisu as we know it today gained widespread popularity in the 1960s and 1970s.

Some sources claim it was created in the Veneto region, while others attribute it to different parts of Italy. The layers of coffee-soaked ladyfingers, mascarpone cheese, and cocoa powder are now beloved worldwide, but the dessert’s recent invention and rapid rise to fame make it a unique case of a modern “Italian” classic.

11. Italian Beef Sandwich

Italian Beef Sandwich

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The Italian Beef Sandwich is a Chicago specialty, not an Italian creation. This hearty sandwich features thinly sliced beef, seasoned with Italian spices, and served on a long roll, often with giardiniera or sweet peppers.

Italian immigrants in Chicago created this sandwich using ingredients available to them, drawing inspiration from Italian roast beef dishes but adapting it to local tastes and ingredients. This savory sandwich is a beloved part of Chicago’s culinary landscape, distinctly American despite its name.

12. Mozzarella Sticks

Mozzarella Sticks

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Mozzarella sticks are a popular appetizer in the United States, featuring breaded and fried sticks of mozzarella cheese served with marinara sauce. Despite the use of mozzarella, an Italian cheese, this dish is not traditionally Italian.

Fried cheese dishes do exist in Italy, but mozzarella sticks, as we know them, were created in America. This crunchy, gooey appetizer has become a favorite in American cuisine, showcasing how Italian ingredients can be transformed into new and beloved dishes far from their original context.

13. Pizza with Pineapple (Hawaiian Pizza)

Hawaiian Pizza

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Hawaiian pizza, which features pineapple and ham as toppings, is a far cry from traditional Italian pizza. This controversial combination was actually created in Canada by Greek immigrant Sam Panopoulos in the 1960s.

Traditional Italian pizzas are typically topped with ingredients like fresh tomatoes, mozzarella, and a variety of meats and vegetables. The idea of adding sweet pineapple to a savory pizza is not only unusual in Italy but often frowned upon. Despite its polarizing nature, Hawaiian pizza has become a popular choice in many parts of the world.

14. Minestrone Soup

Minestrone Soup

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Minestrone soup is indeed Italian, but the versions commonly found in the United States often diverge significantly from traditional recipes. American versions tend to be more uniform, frequently featuring specific vegetables like carrots, celery, and beans in a tomato-based broth.

In Italy, minestrone is more of a concept than a specific recipe, varying widely by region and season, and not always tomato-based. The American adaptation, while inspired by Italian minestrone, has become a standardized version that doesn’t capture the dish’s traditional diversity.

15. Stuffed Shells

Stuffed Shells

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Stuffed shells, or “conchiglioni ripieni,” are large pasta shells filled with a mixture of cheeses, spinach, and sometimes meat, then baked with marinara sauce. While similar dishes exist in Italy, the stuffed shells popular in American-Italian cuisine are an adaptation.

Traditional Italian recipes might use different types of pasta or fillings and often emphasize simplicity. The American version, with its rich, cheesy filling and ample marinara sauce, has evolved into a distinct comfort food that’s more elaborate than its Italian inspirations.

16. Marinara Sauce

Marinara Sauce

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Marinara sauce in the United States is a thick, flavorful tomato sauce often used on pasta and pizza. While the name “marinara” suggests Italian origins, traditional Italian marinara sauce is typically much simpler, made with tomatoes, garlic, and basil, and used more sparingly.

The rich, heavily seasoned version common in America has been adapted to suit local tastes, emphasizing a robust flavor that complements various dishes. This American-style marinara sauce has become a defining feature of Italian-American cuisine, distinct from its lighter, more straightforward Italian counterpart.

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