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What memorable dishes have been made popular by expositions and world's fairs?

Between about 1850 and the start of the world-wide (and American-specific) Great Depression in 1929, the world had periodic international expositions or fairs. This was due to increasing incomes and a rise in international travel.

This was the era when Mark Twain wrote about traveling in Europe and Jules Verne asserted that you could go around the world in 80 days.

I keep reading about foods which were not generally invented for the particular fair where they were introduced, but were foods which were popularized at the fair. Knowledge of these foods then spread around the globe, as fair-goers brought knowledge of the food home.

My personal experience came from the New York World's Fair of 1963 or 1964, where Belgian waffles were introduced. These involved a much deeper-welled and ridiculously crisp waffle (sometimes annoyingly hard), slathered with strawberries in syrup and covered with a huge amount of heavy whipped cream.

So, what were some of the other foods introduced at the St. Louis Exposition, the Chicago World's Fair, the Paris Exposition, assorted New York Fairs, and some of the more modern ones, like the Montreal Exposition, the Seattle World's Fair, and others? How good were these dishes, and how do you make them (if you know)? Thanks!

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  1. Ice cream cones were created at the St Louis World's Fair -- an ice vendor ran out of dishes, so started buying up the thin waffles being produced at the food cart next to him.

    3 Replies
    1. re: sunshine842

      Some discussion that peanut butter also came out of our 1904 World's Fair in STL. And the guy who came up with the combination was actually there selling paperweights, a man named Doumar.

      1. re: lemons

        The ancient Incas recorded making peanuts into paste thousands of years ago.

        George Washington Carver wrote about peanut butter in his laboratory notes in the 1880s.

        Dr. John Harvey Kellogg patented the process of making peanut butter in 1895 and served it to patients in his Battle Creek Sanitorium, according to multiple sources across the web.

        It might have become popular after the St Louis fair, but it wasn't invented there.

      2. re: sunshine842

        Iced tea was popularized, but probably not invented, at the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair.

      3. The Knoxville Tennessee worlds fair has 2 culinary distinctions.

        Cherry Coke and the deepest incursion of boiled peanuts the North has seen.

        1. Weren't hamburgers introduced at the 1904 St. Louis World Fair?

          I did not personally experience them there.

          6 Replies
          1. re: linguafood

            I've heard this. But I don't know if that is true.

            1. re: linguafood

              Well, supposedly Louis' Lunch in New Haven CT created the first hamburger in 1900. That's their claim to fame anyway.

              1. re: miss_belle

                There are so many different stories of origin of the hamburger it's amazing. Such a lowly, yet popular invention everyone would like to have come up with.

                Having cheezborgerz tomorrow. Just because.

                1. re: linguafood

                  Regardless of who made them first ~ the hamburger should go down in history as the most delicious creation made by man.

                  1. re: miss_belle

                    They're perfect with cheese. I could never have one without.

                    1. re: linguafood

                      + crispy bacon & avocado on a buttery toasted roll:-)

            2. Re: the New York Worlds Fair, my first thought is Belgium waffles also. First place our entire family headed, every time. Second on the list, but Mom and Dad only, the Ireland pub exhibit for Irish Coffee. Became a big favorite for the rest of their lives. Dad figured out years later that Kahlua was an important ingredient.

              9 Replies
              1. re: coll

                I'm pretty sure that Irish Coffee made its first appearance in the US in San Francisco at...oh, heck, that bar at the north end of the streetcar line. Help me out here... And they don't use Kahlua, which is, I admit, an interesting addition.

                1. re: lemons

                  the folks in Galway are pretty insistent that Irish Coffee was created on the Emerald Isle.

                  It's made with Irish whiskey, not Kahlua -- not ever.

                  1. re: sunshine842

                    Buena Vista Cafe in San Francisco claims it.

                    1. re: mwhitmore

                      they claim to have re-created the drink served at Shannon Airport on a raw, cold night, not to having invented it.

                    2. re: sunshine842

                      ???????????? kahlua goes in a mexican coffee.

                      1. re: hotoynoodle

                        Yep and Irish whiskey goes in Irish coffee.

                        1. re: miss_belle

                          Irish whiskey AND Kahlua, but my dad found that combo at an Irish bar in Queens, later on. the Kahlua replaced the Demarrara sugar, which isn't easy to find.

                          1. re: coll

                            Must have been just a touch then. Interesting.

                            1. re: miss_belle

                              Yes, a spoonful is what I was told. Now a family tradition!

                2. "The 1904 St. Louis Louisiana Purchase Exhibition looms largest among fans of fair food. The list of treats attributed to that fair is long, if somewhat inaccurate, and includes hot dogs, hamburgers, ice cream cones, banana splits, iced tea, "Dr Pepper, cotton candy and peanut butter. In reality, hot dogs had existed in some form in Germany for years, and iced tea had been mentioned on menus for at least 40 years before the fair. Travelers to Germany had reported eating ice cream from edible cones in Düsseldorf since the late 1800s, and Dr Pepper had been sold in Waco, Texas, since 1885. While these foods may have first been popularized at the fair, St. Louis can’t take all the credit for some of our favorite snacks."


                  A lot of folk history attributing foods to the St. Louis Worlds Fair probably happened because people traveled many miles from the hinterlands and discovered them there. Remember the scene in the movie, Grape of Wrath, where Ma fishes out her souvenir of the 1904 Worlds Fair just before moving from her home in OK?

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: sueatmo

                    I believe the OP stated exactly that; 'these foods were not invented for the fair (whichever one), but popularized' at it ,

                    - and spread around the country or indeed the world by the exposure.

                    1. re: sueatmo

                      Please note that neither toasted ravioli nor provel cheese or even gooey butter cake are claimed to have begun there....

                    2. grf1111, which books are you reading?

                      Also, it is worth noting that the Belgian Waffle introduced through the American expos bears little to no relation to the waffles of Belgium. Indeed, my Belgian family, visiting NYC at teh time, did not even understand what was going on there.

                      1. I have a photo of me at 3 yrs old, eating the Belgian waffles at the New York World's Fair. Although their real name at the time was "Bel-Gem Brussels Waffle." It must have been the Fall of 1965 just before it closed since I was wearing a sweater. That was my first time having strawberries, or whipped cream, or waffles. I vaguely remember sitting on my dad's lap and driving this old fashioned car that ran on a track with a rail in the middle to keep you from driving off. I also remember the Disney It's a Small World exhibit.

                        5 Replies
                        1. re: JMF

                          It's a Small World, you drove a 1964 or 65 Mustang. Pretty cool. For some reason I still remember the Traveler's Insurance exhibit, with the cavemen. And don't forget the Disney exhibit with all the famous historic figures talking to you.

                          OK back to food. Does Elsie and Elmer the cows count? I always wanted to go see them, for some reason.

                          1. re: coll

                            No, it was a guided antique car ride, not Mustangs.

                            1. re: JMF

                              I was so young, guess I mixed it up! This is what I'm thinking of, guess it was just a Ford exhibit. Which explains why I remember the AM/FM radio so much, and not little Disney kids singing.

                              1. re: coll

                                Disney was a different thing from the antique cars.

                                1. re: JMF

                                  I was around 8 years old, so I beg ignorance! Now, imagine that Mustang with five little kids in the back seat.

                        2. Actually, Belgian waffles were introduced in the U.S. in 1962, at the Seattle World's Fair. New York got the idea from us.