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Mar 8, 2002 11:07 AM

Why is Authenticity So Important. and What is it, Anyway?

  • t

Is a delicious burrito made in an "authentic" style more delicious than a delicious burrito that is not?

Is the non-authentic burrito not, then, a burrito?

Is an authentic recipe/execution hailed as better than one that is not? Why?

What IS authenticity anyway? Can Wonderbread be authentic?

Is the pursuit of authenticity fruitless and endless? Or is the pursuit its own reward?

This is what keeps me up at night....

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  1. "Is a delicious burrito made in an "authentic" style more delicious than a delicious burrito that is not?"

    No. But if an inauthentic burrito is undelicious, lack of authenticity may be a (or the) reason.

     "Is the non-authentic burrito not, then, a burrito? "

    if it has a number of burrito-like qualities, it could fall under that name. "Burrito", like any food term, includes a lot of variants, both authentic and not, delicious and not.

    "Is an authentic recipe/execution hailed as better than one that is not? Why?"

    No. Deliciousness is deliciousness. However, if you're trying to pass something inauthentic off as authentic, you're being somewhat lame even if the item is delicious. But that has nothing to do with the item's delicious. A painter should be judged for his painting, not how he titles it.

    "What IS authenticity anyway?"

    cooking that evokes the way it's done by a different group of people in a different place and/or time. Subjective? You bet. It's highly arguable (unless you're talking about caviar tamales or deep-fried Wiener schnitzel).

    Food that evokes a different place or time can be captivating to eat. It's certainly not the only road to deliciousness; it's simply part of the wide spectrum admired by chowhounds.

    "Can Wonderbread be authentic?"

    absolutely. essential for an authentic 1960's style peanut buttter and jelly sandwich. Extremely evocative (so be careful what you evoke!). Ovaltine and Spam are authentic chinese foods. Knorr's potato soup mix makes authentic portuguese caldo verdhe.

    "Is the pursuit of authenticity fruitless and endless?"

    no. Like many worthwhile pursuits, t's fruitful and endless

    "Or is the pursuit its own reward?"


    "This is what keeps me up at night...."

    well, get some sleep!

    1. For me - I think the importance of authenticity has to do with keeping of tradition(s). Tradition can be technique or cultural.

      you mention a burrito. Now for me that means= Meat Veggie as the Headliners w/ Rice and Beans . possibly Guacomole and Sour Cream.Fresh Salsa.

      That's an authentic burrito by "California" Mexican standards.

      A Burrito (Wrap) consisting of Thai Peanut Chicken,Cabbage and some other ingredients is not what I'd consider "Authentic".

      Both can be good. but really one is Authentic due to Tradition. Today it seems to me that Authentic is about as good as the Organic is... Neither are worth losing sleep over.

      1. c

        Funny, I think about this when I'm driving a lot. I don't think you literally meant this keeps you up at night.

        It's kind of a chicken/egg debate. But I do believe that if you do deviate from the "authentic", you should be well versed in what that is. I appreciate innovation. I think authenticity, and the demand of it, is in line with the more general sense of tradition. These recipes developed over many years and have a history. If they weren't very good, they wouldn't have survived. But they did, which is a testament to how good they are. Kind of "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."

        But modern times bring modern interpretations. I make compote, which my Jewish family makes with dried fruit- nobody eats this at dinner- in the summer with blueberries, nectarines and rum. I call it compote, but don't market it as such. I think things should be changed only with an understanding of the hows and whys of the original dish, eliminating or adding where modern taste and originality see fit. As long as it works, I think it's great.

        But I do think, particularly in a restaurant environment, that it be clear to the customer whether their bouillabaise is authentic, or like when I ordered paella at a new spanish restaurant a few weeks ago that had no saffron.

        I don't think breaking tradition is a crime. It should be worth it, though. It rarely results in a new-and-improved version, but it does keep the eating lively. But making it clear what's going on, be it traditional or not, should be communicated.

        It's bad when food it put out by people who have no clue what the authentic version is and are butchering it. And it's even sadder when these places thrive and people don't know any better. But that is each person's right. I'm glad to have the chowhound boards to exercise that right with!

        1. I think there is no crime in not being authentic. Delicious is delicious. But, a restaurant cannot advertise and mislead people into thinking it's serving authentic cusinine if it's not doing so.

          3 Replies
          1. re: Wendy Lai

            Exactly!!! For example, I have absolutely no problems chowing down on a fried noodle dish with sprouts, egg and meat, made with thin pad thai rice noodles. It can be delicious. But to call it char kway teow is false advertising.

            It may not be the case with all dishes in all cuisines, but certain dishes from certain places and times have certain names. And if those names are used to label a dish, it should conform to the consensus of what that dish tastes like.

            I have no real issues with authenticity, but I would prefer (perhaps unrealistically) that places name their dishes accurately so that one can get exactly. To put it in another way, if I ordered lobster, I expect lobster, not giant tiger prawns, not crayfish. It's as simple as that.

            1. re: Wendy Lai

              You mean you get upset if your "Caesar salad" has blue cheese and nuts in it? I sure do.

              1. re: Tom Hall

                So "authentic" implies "namesake" ?

                My friend ordered a a combination plate with a beef taco at El Cholo the other day (it was the firat time for both of us there) and the taco was folded like a crepe and deep fried. He didn't know how to add the lettuce, tomato and cheese, etc. He asked for a regular taco and the server said "Oh, you mean a "soft" taco?" Nevertheless, it was "authentic" El Cholo. (they were happy to oblige, though. the server asked if my friend wanted shredded or ground beef and my friend asked for shredded. The server then brought a ground beef taco^ )

                I ordered a Monte Cristo Sandwich from Birraporetti's and it was samply a triple decker on three pieces of - like - french toast - and not the "traditional" three-layered melded together by deep frying the sandwich. It was actually pretty good, but not "authentic" according to Churchill's in 1970. Also, the raspberry jam served with it had lots of cayenne pepper (what's up with that?) in it and I had to ask for a ramikin of sour cream to dip it in (also, "authentic")(and I'm sure they had no creme fraiche).

                THAT I accepted, but a Ceasar with blue cheese with walnuts? No NO! ! !

            2. NO, none of this REALLY keeps me from sleeping.

              I just think these are interesting issues, and I'm enjoying the posts.