"Authentic" doesn't mean good. Good doesn't have to be "Authentic."

Discussion in 'General Discussion | Dining' started by Bay Pisco Shark, Mar 6, 2011.  |  Print Topic

  1. Bay Pisco Shark
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    Bay Pisco Shark Gold Member

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    I'm pretty tired about hearing "this place has authentic X cuisine" or "that is the most authentic Y cuisine," blah blah blah. There is plenty of "authentic" food that just isn't good. "Authentic Mexican food?" What is that, exactly? If you are serving me a glop-filled burrito, please don't call yourself that. Yet, your food may be delish. There are plenty of restaurants in Mexico that aren't very good. But how authentic are they? As authentic as they can be, because they are restaurants in Mexico. If you open up shop in the USA and serve me your same slop that you make in your untasty dive in, say, Guadalajara, you are serving me authentic food.

    On the other hand, there is some really great food that just can't be authentic because "spice X" or "vegetable Y" isn't available here, but local restaurant makes a great modified version of the old country dish. It isn't authentic. But it is delicious.

    So, I'm usually tired of hearing "authentic _____ food."

    Discuss
     
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  2. violist
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    violist Gold Member

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    For reasons unknown, a lengthy rant on this subject was deleted (probably by
    a Firefox error, not by the administration). Suffice it to say that authenticity
    has value, deliciosity has value. But when something uses an accepted
    terminology, it must at minimum adhere to the definitions as commonly used.
    A "Napoleon" of crabmeat whose mille-feuilleness is of raw zucchini should
    result in capital punishment for the cook and/or the menu writer. I.e.,
    authenticity takes precedence. Always.
     
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  3. travelgourmet
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    travelgourmet Silver Member

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    My attitude is that I am not eating in a museum. Authenticity can be interesting from an intellectual standpoint, but I don't think it should take precedence over taste. That being said, the most interesting dishes often remain grounded in tradition, even if they aren't slavishly authentic.
     
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  4. jbcarioca
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    We seem to be agreeing. Here in Rio de Janeiro there is a fanatical attachment to sushi, imported by the hundres of thousands of Japanese immigrants. You would imagine their food to be 'authentic' but nothing could be further from the truth. The most popular single item is 'hot Philadelphia' a concoction with cream cheese (we consume most of the Philadelphia in the world here, or so it seems). Thus it is obviously not 'authentic' but neither is it labeled as such. I do not care for it, but it is not falsified, and people do like it.

    I have a larger problem with wines, sparkling ones being the best example. If it is clearly labeled "method champagnoise" or "method charmant" it is fine. Calling something Champagne that is not is offensive.

    My own list of these issues could go on endlessly. I value accuracy, precision and clarity in labeling, ingredients and preparation. With those things I can decide whether I want authenticity or not.
     
  5. sobore
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    sobore Gold Member

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    Very good point. It's almost silly to say 'authentic Mexican food' since there are so many regions in Mexico and no single food represents an entire country.
    There are six regions of Mexico with very different cuisines. Yucatán, tends to have less spicy more sweet food. Oaxacan is more of a tamales / mole region. Etc..
     
  6. PTravel
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    I don't know about Mexican food, but there most certainly is authentic and inauthentic Chinese food. The Chinese food served in the U.S. in non-authentic restaurants is specifically westernized: it is sweeter, less strong, and uses a hodge-podge of ingredients. After many years of visiting China on a regular basis, I can't abide westernized Chinese food. I would take virtually any authentic Chinese cuisine over a westernized Chinese restaurant offering.
     
  7. KyRoamer
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    KyRoamer Gold Member

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    Good food is a pleasure, authentic or not. But good, authentic food is a delight worth seaching for.
     
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  8. Bay Pisco Shark
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    My point is that some of the very authentic Chinese food can be bad. Or it could be excellent. I'm sure there are plenty of bad restaurants in China, and if the same food was cooked in the US, it would be bad authentic food. But the sign "authentic" isn't necessarily going to be the draw for me. (And the more regional Chinese cuisines that are listed on the same "Authentic" menu, the less I believe it.) While I can understand that one might want to stay away from the inauthentic as an immediate exclusion (I'm thinking of the Chinese food of my childhood), perhaps some of the best and most creative chefs wouldn't put authentic on the sign because they know it isn't 100%.
     
  9. PTravel
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    I agree that an "authentic" sign would not be inviting but, then again, when it's authentic it's rarely labeled as such. My point, too, wasn't that all Chinese food in China would be good, but that all westernized Chinese food is inauthentic and, for that reason, I prefer to avoid it. I'm also not a particular fan of fusion -- it's the rare cuisine that can be fused with unrelated cuisines and produce a pleasing result. I think one of the reasons is that, for a highly evolved cuisine, if it was amenable to alternative methods of preparations or ingredients, it would already have been done a long time ago.
     
  10. AtomicGardener
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    Three issues. Authentic like you say is a "version of the old country dish". There are many versions of an old country dish because of different regions of the national cuisine.

    I think a big part of what you are really saying is the US culture war. Food is a part of culture. Cultures have norms or rules. Which is one reason why people that identify with a certain culture also identify with the food following certain rules. So if I went to some imaginary nation- OolaAuftDuiChernQuStan-and ordered an Authentic American styled Hamburger and was given a Coconut tofu chicken milk pattie on a bun- based on the rules, I could say this is not an American hamburger, it's not authentic- the ingredients are not the same. This is why some say there is a world of difference between Taco Bell (Americanized Mexican food) and Mexican food from "x" region.

    The last issue, taste, is subjective and really has nothing to do with authentic or not. But your individual taste is influenced by your culture- unless you go exploring beyond it.
     
  11. Bay Pisco Shark
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    You are being far far far too generous :p
     
  12. PTravel
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    PTravel Silver Member

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    Well, now I'm really confused. :)
    To me, "authentic," means, "made to the taste of, and prepared in the style of," a specific region. There may be many variations on an authentic dish, but it will always be recognizable as such. For example, if I want "authentic" Italian cuisine and order pasta with a meat sauce, I wouldn't expect the sauce to contain soy and wasabi.

    I'm not sure what you mean by saying food is an expression of a culture war. My interest in authentic dining has nothing to do with identification with a specific culture. When I travel internationally, I make a point of dining, "local," and avoiding touristy venues specifically because I'm not interested in gastronomic imperialism -- I don't want to eat a watered-down version of a cuisine prepared to a perceived expectation of American standards.

    BTW, I don't consider Taco Bell to be Americanized Mexican food (I'm actually not sure I consider it to be "food" at all). Americanized Mexican food, like Americanized Chinese food, is simply food prepared to resemble Mexican food, but using ingredients and preparation techniques "customized" to American palettes. Taco Bell is no more Americanized Mexican food than fast food "chicken tenders" are . . . what? . . . Suburbanized Southern Fried Chicken.

    As for taste, I'm not sure if you're referring to my rejection of fusion. If so, it has nothing to do with being culture-bound. Quite the contrary, my international travels are extensive and the reason I travel internationally is not to "see another place," but to experience another culture. That, of course, includes food.
     
  13. AtomicGardener
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    My post is in response to the original topic. Just so happens it followed your post.

    :) I'll be more specific. OP is located in California and mentions a hypothetical trip to Guadalajara, a bordering Mexican town. California has a large Latino population. This topic is hinting at a larger discussion- evolution of US culture and how immigrants affect the culture.

    I might even go so far as to say there is culture shock on both parties in this phenomena -immigrants and "local"/non-immigrant population.

    Fast food is still food. Like I said before, taste is subjective.

    No I don't mind that you reject fusion. For my personal comment on fusion - fusion by definition is not authentic- as it tries to create something new by fusing different cuisines or abstractly give a nod to the idea of a cuisine using another.
     
  14. travelgourmet
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    But how does this provide any scope for progress? How does it account for new technologies? Doesn't this ignore the long history of cross-pollination that gave us much of our 'traditional' cuisine?

    Just how far back is 'authentic'? I mean, taken to a not too distant extreme, we could say that any 'European' dish that uses potatoes or vanilla is inauthentic. Similarly, 'Mexican' cuisine that features chicken was unknown only 600 or so years ago. Heck, the use of chilis in Indian cuisine is a relatively recent innovation. Frankly, pretty much all cuisine is 'fusion' cuisine. I see no reason why we should now put a stake in the ground and say that we won't have any more cross-cultural contamination. Then again, I like Irish Stew, spaghetti with tomato sauce, a chili-laden curry, and scores of other examples of 'fusion' cuisine.

    I think the idea of authenticity is a bit blunt. To my mind, cuisine isn't static. One simply can't define a single 'Mexican' ( or French, or Chinese, or Indian cuisine). One might be able to reasonably define Bolognese cuisine of the 1940s, but I think the time element is crucial, and that attempts to define cuisines over reasonably long periods is not practical.
     
  15. PTravel
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    Of course not. However, things like fusion is not cultural cross-pollination; it's an arbitrary attempt at integration. Westernized Chinese food in the U.S. is not cross-pollination; none of the changes made to make Chinese food more "palatable" to American tastes have any influence whatsoever on cooking in China.

    "Authentic" isn't measured by history, but by custom. As with my example of westernized Chinese food, it is not part of Chinese culture now or at any time in history. It is an American-influenced bastardization of the cusine.

    I didn't mean to suggest that cuisine is static. However, I don't think it's that hard to define. I consider authentic cuisine to be that which is prepared in accordance with the common practices of cooking methods and ingredient selection reasonably considered to be typical of a specific geographic area, ethnicity, country or culture. El Bulli may be very good, but it's not authentic Spanish cuisine (though, perhaps, some day it may be). Taco Bell isn't authentic Mexican cuisine. And the neighborhood Chinese restaurant in a predominantly white, mid-American suburb is not authentic Chinese cuisine.
     
  16. travelgourmet
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    We will have to agree to disagree.

    The question is how long-standing that custom is. Larousse is less than 100 years old and yet many of the recipes are absolutely, positively dated. Custom changes even faster than history. If anything, I was being generous to the 'authentic' camp by using examples from the Columbian Exchange.

    What is your obsession with American Chinese food? Do you think this is all that fusion cuisine is?

    Even if you do, I'd point to the dramatic increase in meat consumption in China, particularly among the middle classes. Or the huge market for Bordeaux that has sprung up. Or the incredible proliferation of Western restaurants in the country. Even if we accept the idea that Chinese cuisine, today, is 'authentic' it will be markedly different within 25 years. We will ignore the regional cuisines of China and their evident outside influences. We will, similarly, pretend that Penang and Singapore don't exist.

    I think you are opening a huge can of worms when you talk of common practices or typical of a specific geography. At best, this limits cuisine to very narrow geographies. At worst, it becomes a nebulous, if not meaningless distinction. I mean, where does Chinese cuisine end and Vietnamese cuisine begin, if the dividing line is geography, ethnicity, or even culture.
     
  17. wingspan
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    wingspan Silver Member

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    I stand with you on this one, PTravel. If, for some reason (usually because my family wants to go to a westernised Chinese restaurant) I find myself in a place like this, I find that ordering either a noodle dish, or asking for something more specific, such as gan bian si ji dou sometimes (and only sometimes) yields a delicious meal.
     
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  18. wingspan
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    As far as "fusion" is concerned, I wouldn't say I 'like' or 'dislike' fusion cuisine itself. I've had some great fusion, I've had some bad fusion. I'd much prefer a spaghetti served with soy and wasabi anyday over a spaghetti bolognese. And I've had some phenomenal curry-filled varenyky before that I am craving now just thinking about them.

    The family lunar new year feast this year was a fusion meal, taken from an Australian chef, Kylie Kwong. It involved a number of Chinese and Moroccan spices and was cooked in a tagine and it was AMAZING. Try it: http://soupurb.wordpress.com/2009/09/20/moroccan-asian-fusion-lamb-or-veggie-tagine/
     
  19. PTravel
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    Fair enough.

    Long enough so that, (1) it has become a cultural norm, and (2) certainly long enough that more than just 1 or 2 chefs are cooking it.

    First of all, I don't consider American Chinese food to be fusion -- fusion is something entirely different. As for my "obsession" as you put it, it is the foreign cuisine that I know the best, sufficiently so that I am comfortable speaking about the differences between the Americanized version and the authentic cuisines.

    I think you miss the point. Authentic Chinese food is available in the U.S. You can find it in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Orange County (California), New York (particularly Flushing), and other communities that have a large Chinese population. It is what and where the "fobs" eat, along with ethnic Chinese who also want the real thing. They do not eat in the Americanized Chinese restaurants specifically because what is prepared there is not Chinese food (nor is it fusion, which is something entirely different). Americanized Chinese cooking does not, in any way, influence cooking in China, irrespective of region. Neither, for that matter, does Singapore, though there is a stronger case to be made for Malaysian influences on authentic Chinese cuisine, than American influences on in the U.S.

    Yes, Chinese cuisine will change and, when it does, it will remain authentic. It will not, however, change as a result of Americanized Chinese food nor, for that matter, what is served in Pick up Stix and P.F. Chang's. Yes, there are some western-style restaurants in China, but very few and they serve the same function there as the Americanized Chinese restaurants serve here.

    I didn't limit it to geographies. I included, as well, ethnicity, culture and country.

    With respect to Vietnamese and Chinese cuisine, I agree that there are many, many commonalities. However, between Chinese cuisine and, say, McCormick & Schmidts? Not so much.
     
  20. PTravel
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    The question isn't whether the food is delicious, but whether it is authentic.
     
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  21. PTravel
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    I know a couple of fusion places in Beijing that I've liked (can't recall their names at the moment). I'm not opposed to all fusion. I'm just usually not interested in it, particularly when I'm in China -- there are too many other good things to try. YMMV.
     
  22. wingspan
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    When I've asked for gan bian si ji dou, it tends to be very authentic. Often not on the menu, but still authentic! [​IMG]
     
  23. Original Member
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    What's up with all the cream cheese containing sushi rolls everywhere? I've never been to Japan, but I can't imagine that >50% of their rolls have cream cheese in it. Does it?
     
  24. viguera
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    Preach.

    I went to a restaurant right near Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekathedraal in Antwerp a few years back and decided to try my luck at some "authentic" local food. Huge mistake, even if it was supposedly a chicken Caesar salad. :)

    On the other hand sometimes you have "Mexican" food in Europe and it's fantastic, even though there isn't a single person from Mexico within 100 miles.
     
  25. N965VJ
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    Areas of the States that have a large Hispanic population will often have a dedicated aisle in grocery stores for items imported from Mexico. I love spicy food, so I things like green habenaro sauce and a wide variety of dried chiles is a welcome departure from the Old El Paso brand blandness.

    Haven't seen the makings for a "chilito" though. :eek::D
     

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