Why is Authenticity So Important. and What is it, Anyway?
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....
Well, this sounds familiar. I am a visual artist and there are whole seminars and essays devoted to this subject as it applies to art. There have been paintings hanging for years in museums attributed to famous artists, but which, when discovered a forgery, were then removed.
Does this mean the joy people felt while seeing these paintings for the years they were hanging was not real joy? They may have been fooled, but does it make a difference? If only a handful of experts and restorers can tell the original and the fake apart, why is originality so important? Good forgers can copy masterpieces so accurately that you or I could never discern a noticeable difference, yet the price they command would never come close to the original. Why? Aren't they as good?
Of course, you could ask the same questions about your food. When I once went to mexico, I don't think I even saw a burrito on a menu... tacos, enchiladas, panuchos... sure, but no burritos. I'm not even sure it's a traditional mexican item. That doesn't mean I don't eat and enjoy lots of burritos here at home.
Generally the art arguement boils down to a belief that the provenance of the piece is important to establish an accurate history of an artists work. It's important to the understanding of his/her growth and development. Fakes, good or not, poison the mix. This doesn't mean I don't enjoy the painting of a Picasso I copied and which hangs on my wall at home. And I've often wondered if a museum of "The World's Greatest Art Forgeries" wouldn't command at least the admission price of your typical museum show.
Terence, Que pasa?!
Oxford dictionary's definition of "authenticity" is the state of being [authentic] of undisputed origin; genuine, reliable and trustworthy.
In music, the term "authenticity" is defined as "containing notes between the final and the octave higher." (suppose this refers to the octave scale - you know - do, re, mi, fa, so, la, ti do - eight notes that repeat themselves in a differnet location on the keyboard - ascending it's middle c, d, e, f, g, a, b, c, etc.) You find "notes" also in perfumes. Anyway,
Add to that the word "indigenous" and you have your answer to "What is it?" (are you referring to food - I assume?)
We do what we do
with what we have and
for as long as we can
or want to.
Add a supply and demand factor to that and that's what might be what's keeping you up at night, Terrence.
Here's a site that might respond to your question: http://content.health.msn.com/content/article/3234.2038
Also, here is a poem by a 9-year-old (Pamela, 9, Thousand Oaks) that appeared in the LA Times today (8/8/02) about what things really are. Could the words be applied to food? - like Wolfgang Puck's poem - Live - Love - Eat?
WHAT THINGS REALLY ARE
Wisdom is beauty.
Love is adventure.
Art is questioning.
Creativity is life.
Writing is mysterious.
I wonder if that translates into French? Anyway,
Here's another poem (by Alex, 9-years-old, Bassett Street Elementary, Van Nuys.
I like horses.
I've liked them ever since
I rode my first one.
I mostly like white ones
Because they remind me of heaven.
I also like unicorns
Even if they are fake.
I'll show you my collection,
But please don't be late,
Because maybe when you come,
I'll be with my imaginary horse.
Well, if my kid wrote that, I wonder if I'd be "taking a constitution" with them. (AND THAT'S NO BURRO!)
Anyway, back to your questions.
"What IS authenticity anyway? Can Wonderbread be authentic?"
In about 1968, my mom stocked the pantry with Wonderbread. I would take a few slices, cut off the crust, smash them together with a pancake flipper and then fold it over. Then, I'd smash it again and fold it over, then smash it again, and fold it over, and I'd end up with a little cube of dough about an inch square. Other white breads (I suppose) were not moist enough for this recipe. So, it was necessary to use the "authentic" Wonderbread. And, it was delicious. (I also made crepes, Swedish meatballs, Baked Alaska, omelletes, and pudding cake - oh and my mom loved it if I made chicken livers and onions for her, and I would do that for her on Mother's Day.)
My brother, on the other hand, would make an "authentic" SUPER sandwich with the Wonderbread. One slice, add tommato, add one package of Leo's meat, stack on another slice, add mayonnaise, another package of Leo's meat, and stack on another slice of Wonderbread. In that case, I don't believe Wonderbread would/should be deemed "authentic."
Finally, (if you're still reading this), here is a poem that I wrote pursuant to a cartoon character from the "authentic" Calvin & Hobbes cartoon strip (do you remember that one? It didn't last as long as Peanuts, . . . :) Anyway, I pictured that little precosiously obtuse boy as a baby (aka Calvin) in a high chair at mealtime, saying:
"Oh, what of my mind's motivation
for M & Ms and tea
When pasta, bread (our grain ovations)
and jam is set for me?"
AND THAT'S THE TRUSE!!! (ask Buchanan)
So, did I answer it right? What do I get?
re: kc girl
Just wanted to correct and clarify a phrase I used.
I said, ". . . take a constitution . . .."
The phrase, properly, is "take a constitutional" and it is a rather antiquated phrase. (est. @ the days of Tara) I guess it was a faux pas.
It means: a walk taken regularly to maintain and restore good health.
I like that phrase. Not many still use it, though. (I wish they did!) But I don't know who first coined it or why. What's up with that?
but the question everyone is side-stepping is: what is authenticity? how do we know what is authentic? how do the cooks? my own opinion is that there is no such thing as authentic. that authenticity is an artificial construct that we only apply to foods we don't really know very much about. apply the authenticity question to your own family: do you cook the same way your mother or father did? did they cook the same way their parents did? when did the authenticity stop?
did Italian food become inauthentic when it migrated to the united states? did it become inauthentic when that damned milanese moved into the neighborhood? did it become inauthentic when columbus brought back tomatoes?
food is either good or it is not. there is only one recognized codebook for how food be prepared and that is escoffier and that applies only to certain types of restaurants in certain french regions in about a 50-year span. and though something prepared from it might well be perfectly authentic turn-of-the-century haute bourgeois cooking from the metropolitan area of Paris, odds are much of it wouldn't taste very good to us today.
re: russ parsons
"there is no such thing as authentic"
"food is either good or it is not"
Russ, a stronger case can be made that there's no such thing as GOOD.
Authenticity indeed is a slippery slope, but that doesn't shoot down the concept. I've had tortilla that conjured up holographic, vivid images of Cadiz, and I've had tortilla that tasted like diner eggs 'n spuds...and I've had both delicious and noxious versions go either way. I can't believe you've never ingested something--within a cultural background with which you're intimately acquainted--that made you say "Yeah, now THIS is authentic!" We can go the relativist route, but you can't deny that experience (can you?).
Food can certainly evoke another place and/or time (which is what *I*, at least, mean by "authentic"). It can evoke to greater or lesser extent, and those making the judgement can be stricter or looser in their assessment (and more/less experienced enough to make a proper call), but if authenticity's a fiction, then a significant amount of my eating experience is pure fantasy.
There's certainly tons of wiggle room in terms of which methods and flavors are "authentic" in a given realm; there's indeed no one "authentic" way to do anything. But there is a range--admittedly blurry along the edges--and that range is real, and people intimately acquainted with a culture can more or less come together on it. Most people who've spent a lot of time in Spain will tell you that the tapas at NY's Xunta are authentic, while those at El Cid are not. I can give you a thousand specific reasons for this assessment, but the boil-down is both valid and useful.
"Good", on the other hand, is FAR more subjective; much less tied to common experience. There will always be more dissension in judging "good" than in judging "authentic", though there's a big element of subjectivity in ANY judgement of this sort.
I think the poster was asking whether chowhounds consider "authenticity" the highest aim. My answer is an emphatic "no". It's but one of many qualities a food can have to greater or lesser extent. It doesn't, for me at least, equate with deliciousness. It CAN equate with deliciousness in certain very specific instances (e.g. I hanker for my mom's burnt brisket), but that's a whole other discussion.
re: Jim Leff
Nice to see such thoughtful posts. even if i deeply disagree with them. a couple of points:
"I can't believe you've never ingested something--within a cultural background with which you're intimately acquainted--that made you say "Yeah, now THIS is authentic!""
I have had this experience, but the question is: how do i know enough about the other culture to say that it truly is authentic? So much of our visions of what food from other cultures should taste like is based on romance: if you really want to know what people in Cadiz are eating, my guess is its going to be skewed much more heavily toward bouillion cubes and fruit-flavored yogurt--they're not THAT different from us, after all. When I taste a great piece of prosciutto, I am instantly taken back to Italy. But that is only the Italy I have known as a tourist, which is never the REAL Italy, where modern people live and eat.
Which kind of brings me to the heart of my argument: "authentic" to what specific place and time? In my experience, when people are talking about authenticity, the answer is NEVER "here and now."
" "Good", on the other hand, is FAR more subjective;"
Yes, but in this case, I'd argue that subjectivity is the only honest measure. I can absolutely say that something is "good," because I know my own taste and I know what pleases it. That does not mean that someone else will find the same thing good.
"Authentic", on the other hand, implies a universal standard. What is authentic for me, if it is truly authentic, must be authentic for someone else. That is a judgement I am unwilling to make. For someone raised in Parma, the truly authentic taste of the region might be his mother's tomato sauce made from asepectic Pomi boxes and flavored with Knorr cubes (both of which are WILDLY popular in Italy today).
The place where I might bend on this is the question of esthetic. Because more than specific flavors, dishes, ingredients or preparations, I think that cuisines are better defined by their specific approaches to food (these of course, are equally time- and place-specific). I might say something was authentic if it seemed to me to be the way that a reasonably talented cook from a specific area might prepare something if they were handed the same set of ingredients.
If I feel strongly about this and I do, it's primarily because over the years I have seen so many people use "authenticity" as a kind of bludgeon. "This is not authentic Italian," someone might say, when the closest they've actually been to authentic Italian is cooking out of Marcella Hazan's books (nothing against those books, though other cooks might have other ways of preparing the same dish). What they really mean, it seems to me, is: "This is just the way I imagine that dish tasting." And what that really means is: "This is good. To me. Right here and right now. YMMV"
re: russ parsons
It's interesting that in the U.S., practically every recipe written for risotto calls for stock, preferably unsalted and homemade. Meanwhile, in Italy, risottos happily simmer away in, as Russ noted, bouillion broth from Knorrs cubes, which are loaded with salt. That stuff is ubiquitous in Europe, home cooks rely on it for everything. Risotto in Italy is a completely different dish than the Americanized version. So which is authentic? (That question could be debated by 100 Italian grandmothers and I'm guessing none of them would agree with each other) Most rabid cooks who follow the noted chefs and cookbook authors in the U.S. would probably be aghast at the thought of using Knorrs cubes. Yet, that seems to be one of the factors that makes Italian risottos authentic. I've had mediocre risotto in Italy (was it authentic?) and mediocre risotto in the U.S. Personally, I make great risotto, and for me, that's authentic enough...
re: russ parsons
I have tried to tackle this difficult subject before. I have reached the conclusion that the roots of authenticity are in ingrediants and preparation. Those factors were once very restricted by travel and geography. This is no longer the case.
I make a lot of noise about buying produce in season and locally whenever you can. These days we are able to buy ingrediants that were unavailable in even the recent past. Still there are some item that just won't travel. Case in point; sometime at the end of May apricot season will begin. During that time there is a 2 to 3 week window when I will be able to get fresh Blenheim apricots. These fragile little gems last about 48 hours after harvest, There are scores of people that will never taste them. If they (or a like item) are a necessary add to make a recipe "authentic" only those people in certain places at certain times will ever enjoy that recipe in it's "authentic" form. The others will have to be satified with a slightly different version.
I love the way pizza baked in a brick oven tastes. It is a goal, once Tanya and I are in a home we own to build a brick oven/bbq in the back yard. We live in an age where anyone can bake bread at home because they have an oven. Ovens were at one point in history, a great luxury. Perhaps there was a town baker with one. Any old Italian bread recipe I might unearth will never taste the same coming out of my Whirlpool electric as it will coming out of an ancient stone oven in Rome. I am as limited today in my peparation of bread as the Roman baker, I am a slave to my equipment.
Authenticity was once bound by necessity. Now it is bound by nostalgia. We are so spoiled in comparison to those who came before us. We can eat fresh lobster in parts nowhere near the coast. We can offer our sweetheart chocolate covered strawberries on Valentines day. We can satisfy todays (March 8!) craving for asparagus with grass harvested in South America. Our broad spectrum of cooking options blurs the old standards of authenticity as they have never been blurred before.
re: Brandon Nelson
re: Tom Hall
re: russ parsons
Not only is it in some sense not authentic to eat (say) strawberries in March, but it may be inauthentic to eat anything at all, at least if the recipe/ingredients we are dealing with have been around a while - a huge number of ingredients are simply not the same as they used to be. All the grains, all the fruits and vegetables, most animals, some fish....
re: Tom Hall
re: russ parsons
I think Jim is right in that authentcity is very fluid. Many many "authentic foods " are fusions of many cultures or evolution of a core dish . But authentic can be so delicious because many times its instinctual and natural. Something learned something in your soul. Often the worst food I have had was "authentic" food cooked by real great cooks but with them having stopped and put brakes on their instincts and adjusted to their percieved audience.
But troubling to me is if a chef creates a new dish that is totally his/hers is that authentic ? Or do you
only define authentic by region and/or ethnic groups ?
re: russ parsons
This is the coolest conversation!
I haven't read all the post, so I hope I am not repeating, but my take on authenticity is that it is personal and an invocation of time/place experiences.
I went to Hong Fats in NYC China town with a Chinese scholar who had lived in exile for most of her life. She asked for a dish that wasn't on the menu and when the waiter brought it out, she looked deeply into the bowl, took one bite, looked up with tears in her eyes and said, "Now this is REAL Chinese food". She was subdued after the meal, but happy and thanked me more than once for the extra trip we had made.
Tha bowl of?? I don't even know what it was, was authentic to her. I would not of had the same reaction...of course, because of the experience piece.
There must even be and "authentic MOM" category. How many times have we all tried to reproduce one of Moms specialties, and failed, only to enjoy the same ingredients a week later at her place where it tastes "authentic".
re: russ parsons
Russ will be astounded to find me publicly agreeing with him :-) Authenticity is a word which is usually applied, not as a description, but as a value judgement. Anyone who has done culinary research in the field will know that if, for instance, you ask fifty women in a Languedoc village how to make a cassoulet, you'll get fifty recipes (or perhaps fifty-one!) My own definition of authenticity is a snapshot taken at an arbitrary point on a continuum.
Russ will agree, I think, that Rachel Lauden's history of Hawaiian cuisine and Sri Owen on Indonesian cuisine leave the careful reader disinclined to throw around the word "authentic". I prefer to think of it as knowledge of and respect for tradition rather than slavish adherence to it.
My mother's family is Lebanese, we make a dish called kibbe sanniyya. My family uses #2 bulgar wheat and no cumin in the dish. It's authentic to us.
At Treasure Island supermarket in Chicago that I used to go to there was an Armenian woman in the produce dept. One day, when I was purchasing #2 bulgar wheat to make kibbe, she ask me what it was for. It told her. She said, "I'm Armenian we only use #1 bulgar wheat to make kibbe, we would NEVER use #2." I replied, "My family's Lebanese and we would NEVER use #1 for kibbe."
To take it one step further there was a bit of a scandal when my second cousing married into a family that did put cumin in their kibbe. They worried that he was going to stuck with lousy food for the rest of his life.
What's the correct way to make kibbe? I have my idea of what authentic is. But I can't discount any of the other methods mentioned. If I was having kibbe for the first time, I would want you to have an authentic version (any of the ones mentioned above) first so I could compare it to ones that might substitute barley for bulgar or almonds for pine nuts. As for whether authentic is better tasting that variations, I think it's up to someone's personal taste.
LisaLou brings up some good ideas that help clarify my own feelings on the subject.
As she shows, indirectly, authentic is not a recipe, but a format. She would not use cumin, but she could concieve of using cumin. Yet to throw fois gras into the kibbe, that would not be authentic.
I think there are three other things to consider when discussing authenticness. First, what about ethnic variations, like Indian-Chinese, authentic? Second, what about when new ingredients are used to replace hard to find ingredients, for instance, Lotus of Siam's use of salmon. Finally, what about the fact that authentic might suck, at least to our tastes. Take the amount of oil in "authentic" chinese food.
Saying all of that, I believe that when things are truest to the spirit of their originators, they are their best. The best for a lot of reasons. Mostly, it will be based on a collectice knowledge of what ingredients go well in what way or the best way to use certain cooking techniques or cook tools. Also when a place is authentic, there is just more love, as famously said by our founding chowhound.
Like most everyone else, I do not think that authentic is the end all or that it even equals deliciousness. What I think however, is that authentic is a the best place to start in the search for deliciousness.
re: Vital Information
"She would not use cumin, but she could concieve of using cumin. Yet to throw fois gras into the kibbe, that would not be authentic."
This is a very good example: I can almost guarantee you that right now in Lebanon, some Lebanese chef is playing with the idea of foie gras in kibbe. How arrogant would I have to be to say that is inauthentic? What I know of Lebanese cuisine comes from American restaurants and cookbooks. The only true measure is: "Is it good?"
re: russ parsons
to me this seems a lot about semantics. Substitute the word traditional for authentic and I think a lot of the debate dissolves. There are of course "authentic" variations on traditional recipes, and "traditional" variations on traditional recipes.
to me when i read authentic or even say authentic what I want is traditional dishes that have been loved and perfected for ages.
A while ago on the chicago board someone mentioned a duck rogan josh. Now rogan josh happens to be something i know fairly well - it is a traditioanlly kashmiri dish and that is my fairly specific cultural background. And to be slightly chauveunistic the best rogan joshes I have had have been made by kashmiri cooks using kashmiri chile powder etc.
that being said, even though I have never seen a duck rogan josh before, it sounds delicious if untraditional and inauthentic (I have never seen duck anything in kashmir). And i wouldn't hold it nontraditionality against its deliciousness.
The pedant in me might argue that traditionally there are no recipes--just dishes. but i do grant your point. as long as you're talking about the cuisine you were raised in. when you begin to make those assumptions about other people's foods (which is what we almost always do on this board), that is a problem.
Here's why I feel so strongly about this (I know, I'm carrying on like a crazy man). Several years ago, Patricia Quintana published her first cookbook at the same time Rick Bayless published his. Patricia is from an old Mexican family, very intelligent, very well-trained. Rick, who I consider a friend, is also very intelligent and very well trained, but comes to the cuisine as an outsider. Guess whose book was considered more authentic?
While everyone loved Rick's book (and rightly so), many critics knocked Patricia's book because there was a lot of cream and butter in it. It was inauthentic. Well, yes, I suppose so--if you limit your definition of Mexican food to street food, and if you ignore the century or so of heavy French influence on the moneyed classes of Mexico.
What they meant to say was that Patricia's book didn't match their (ill-informed) impressions of Mexican food. The problem isn't the words so much as the intentions of the people using them.
re: russ parsons
Which is why I loved the original example of a burrito. I've never had a burrito in Mexico or seen it on the menu in Mexico. The burrito is an American invention using traditional Mexican ingredients. Its been around so long that some people think its Mexican food. I remember when I first moved to California and discovered that the crazy people here put RICE in their burritos. What is authentic? Well, a burrito with rice may be a traditional burrito to someone who grew up in San Francisco and the rice-free rolled taco may be a traditional burrito to someone who grew up in Texas but neither is traditional Mexican food.
So are regional interpretations of non-authentic ethnic foods authentic? Is there generational "authentic"? With maybe some items transcending generations?
re: russ parsons
I bought a Mexican cookbook last year from the Williams Sonoma series. While it's full of good ideas, and I didn't pay all that much for it, I was disappointed that the recipes seem to be modified for the American market-no lard in the whole book, only vegetable oil, and lots of what I'd term 'fusion' food.
I'm sure it's good, but as a source of inspiration, I was looking for something that wasn't already adapted for me in advance. I prefer to make my own adaptations.
re: russ parsons
Thank you Zim for bringing up what I believe is the conceptual error made by the majority on this thread. People seem to conflate the terms "authentic" with "traditional" and as we have seen, the subject has become quite a polemic.
Take pizza for instance. Beyond what most people would consider the "traditional" neopolitan brick oven style, I don't think it's possible to say that NY style, chicago style, roman, or even japanese pizza (with corn, etc) are not "authentic" in and of themselves. As someone mentioned earlier, the notion of authenticity is highly fluid, and quite dependent upon the movement of people, ideas, and the culinary resources available at any given time.
An Oki-Dog is an authentic LA food. Spaghetti and mayonaise (not together) have become a very authentic Asian ingredients. Spam has authentic uses in hawaiian and many asian cuisines. The caesar salad can be considered authentic mexican food. None of these things are close to traditional, but it goes to show that the cultures around cuisine don't necessarily develop by intention, but many times by accident.
Shoot, now I got myself all worked up wishing I can find a good teriyaki sandwich in NYC.
I think that the two options for food are either authentic or delicious. Not all authentic food hits me as being delicious by my standards but I appreciate authentic food for being an expression of a culture. So if it's not delicious it has to at least be authentic.
I have given some thought to this recently and concluded that the reason that authentic food is appealing even if it is not as tasty is because it is sincere and appeals to a taste (even if it is not my own). I eat very little "American" food or authentic dishes that I ate growing up because there is nothing to learn or anticipate from the experience. However when it comes to any food that I wasn't raised on then the food is more appealing to me.
The same goes to other cultural products. I can't even flip past MTV without getting annoyed with the banality of the pop music but I will watch the international channel with Indian "Bollywood" videos which are every bit as pop and banal but because the culture is a new experience to me I actually enjoy them.
Does this have anything to do with how something tastes based on availability of ingredients? When I think of authenticity I think of taste. Things taste different in different parts of the world, same recipe same style of preparation because of the ingredients used. That said, a burrito can taste different from one burrito stand to the one next door, same recipe,same execution, so it must be the ingredients.
I have to admit I am a sucker for Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, as Authentic as Wonderbread, but if you make them with Valhrona chocolate, Wow, different taste.
Then you have to ask is it still authentic if they "dumb down" the ingredients. I think in lots of
Commercial products they use a cheaper ingredient than the original (see the recent thread on Special K).
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.
re: Wendy Lai
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! ! !
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!
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.
"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!