120 Years of Iconic Dishes

Food has an uncanny way of defining a moment in history. Here are the dishes that made a difference.

12 Decades, 12 Dishes

There are many ways to retell history — you can mark time with significant events, important people or even popular entertainment. But we think food is a particularly apt storyteller, as it reveals so much about the trends, mood and tastes of any particular time. Here are 12 dishes that helped define their decades.

Get the Infographic: 12 Dishes That Defined Their Eras

1900s | Perfection Salad

Molded salads — those jiggly dioramas of gelatin-suspended vegetables — first catch on at the beginning of the 20th century and remain popular well into the 1960s. The star of the trend is the aptly named Perfection Salad, created for a Knox Gelatin recipe contest in 1905. The recipe calls for vinegar and lemon juice, and is stuffed with cabbage, celery, bell peppers and pimentos.

1910s | Chop Suey

This iconic Chinese-American dish — typically a mishmash of chopped pork or chicken stir-fried with onions and bean sprouts — originated in a mining town in the mid-1800s and became a hit in restaurants for decades after. In the 1910s it becomes a major fad among home cooks, too — one that lasts well into the '20s.

1920s | Caesar Salad

This classic dish is invented in 1924 by Caesar Cardini (nope, not Julius!), an Italian immigrant with a restaurant in Tijuana, Mexico. The ad hoc salad, originally thrown together with the few ingredients Cardini had on hand, catches on with vacationing Hollywood celebrities and soon is starring on menus at trendsetting restaurants in Los Angeles and beyond.

1930s | Meatloaf

During the Great Depression, meatloaf becomes a favorite way to "extend" meat, which is expensive. Bulking it up with breadcrumbs helps feed families on a tight budget.

1940s | Vichyssoise

Though originally invented in 1917 by Chef Louis Diat at New York City’s Ritz-Carlton Hotel, the recipe for this chilled cream of potato-and-leek soup garnished with chives isn't published until 1941. Soon after, it is widely embraced as a quick and elegant dinner party offering.

1950s | Tuna Noodle Casserole

It took Americans almost half a century to truly fall for canned tuna, but with the help of two other shelf-stable convenience foods (canned cream-of-mushroom soup and packaged egg noodles) in the 1950s their resistance is finally broken.

1960s | Coq au Vin

It is impossible to overstate the impact Julia Child has on American home cooking in the '60s. She inspires home cooks to learn new techniques and more thoughtfully consider their food. Her coq au vin (really a chicken fricassee with a French accent) is one of the defining dinner party dishes of the era.

1970s | Slow-Cooker Beef Stew

Food processors, microwaves and other newfangled appliances vie for counter space in American kitchens in the '70s, but none is as widely adopted as the Crock-Pot slow cooker, introduced by Rival Manufacturing Co. in 1971.

1980s | Risotto Milanese

In the '80s, home cooks turn their attention from France to Italy. Risotto has them on their feet, stirring away at their stoves, with fantasies of the Tuscan hills running through their heads.

1990s | Pepper-Crusted Tuna

This '90s fusion of steak au poivre and sashimi steps into the spotlight at a time when Americans are warming to the idea of eating raw fish, bistro cooking is having a moment, and tuna is abundant. 

2000s | Mac and Cheese

Comfort food reigns supreme in a decade of economic uncertainty. And nothing (nothing!) brings more comfort than mac and cheese — and the many variations and mix-ins we try.

2010s | Kale Salad

After all that mac and cheese, are you surprised that Americans begin craving salad? Other health-minded dishes (like quinoa, bone broth and smoothie bowls) also appear on Instagrams everywhere, but few foresaw this formerly crusty crucifer becoming such a Cinderella story.