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Is it Valid to Suggest that Ethnic/foreign Cuisines Can BEST be judged by Members of that Ethnic Group??

  • m

that Chinese people as an example are in the best position to tell you what are the best chinese restaurants. or the best dishes to order.

And as an extension: that if a Chinese restaurant isnt frequented by Chinese, it cant be very good.

(And i would apply this theory to any other non American cuisine)

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  1. Well, if your criteria is strictly authenticity, then a member of an ethnic group should be in a better position to judge, unless the non-member is very well informed. If your criteria is "does it taste good," all bets are off.

    2 Replies
    1. re: sbp

      Nicely put.

      Food is not some type of Rennaisance Festival where you get extra points for authenticity. The true test is whether something tastes good to you, not to somebody else.

      If the food that you like best happens to be authentic, swell, then seek out only the most authentic places. If you find that you like inauthentic but tasty places, that's fine too. All cuisines evolved and changed over time and are *still* changing in response to exposure to new ingredients and other cultures.

      1. re: Bob Martinez

        I would add that just because someone is from a country, they may not be able to judge the authenticity of every dish. For example, my roots are Southern Italian and I'm familiar with that region's food - but not so much with the Northern cuisine.

        Plus, cooking evolves, so what would have been typical Italian food 20 years ago might not reflect the way they cook there now. (It took my dad forever to realize that his friends back home had switched from a mezzaluna to a food processor...)

    2. The way I see it, the best authorities on a particular ethnic cuisine are probably the people who eat it a lot. Often these people are of the same ethnicity as the cuisine in question, but they don't necessarily have to be.

      1 Reply
      1. In a word, yes. With respect to your question about Chinese folks in a Chinese restaurant, the question would be whether you're talking about a true regional cuisine Chinese restaurant in say a Chinatown (if there are no Chinese there, stay away), or whether you're talking about the 4-in-every town, American-Chinese places, in which case, Chinese do not represent the indigenous people for whom the cuisine was originated and evolved, so a lack of their taking part is no measure at all of its relative quality.

        1. I think the best rule of thumb is always whether you like the food, regardless of who patronzes the restaurant.

          FWIW, Chinese in a Chinese restaurant as a a rule of thumb is likely to be as useful as Europeans in a European restaurant. They may have a very rough idea of what's good, but the regional cuisines (and language/dialects) are so diverse that they may not necessarily be eating their indigenous foods (or ordering in the native languages).

          2 Replies
          1. re: limster

            I agree - most Americans do not know the difference between Asians - they wouldn't know a Japanese person from a Vietnamese, Northern from Southern Chinese. Most couldn't differentiate the languages.

            So it does depend - if you don't know these things, then using generic Asians eating in Asian places makes as much sense as using Europeans to judge all European restaurants.

            But if you go to an Italian place in the North End (Boston - or say Little Italy in NYC), and the place is full of people speaking Italian - the owner is obviously familiar with the local crowd, all enjoying their food - well you might make an assumption that the food is going to be better than Olive Garden.

            This is the same as the Sichuan place nearby, which is always full of Chinese people speaking Mandarin, which I take as a sure sign that the place is worthy. In fact, being in the burbs, it is well known to many of the more recent Chinese immigrants living in a large area extending into New Hampshire.

            It is indeed a Chowhound mantra - "it's what you like that matters". But the problem with that attitude is that it offers no opportunity for growth or experimentation. So you're only supposed to eat what you like? What if you don't know? What if you know that the safe and comforting items you've grown up with are just fine - but you know there's a lot more out there, and you want to find out more about it? What if you didn't like something once, but have read so much about it that it's worth another shot - or you feel that it might have been prepared badly, and want to find a better version? How does one go about expanding the palate? How does one gain more knowledge of all types of food?

            Short of having a knowledgable, personal guide (best choice, if you ask me), is using the "patrons test" worthy of consideration when looking into new and different foods? - I'd say yes. Is it an absolute rule that all good restaurants of a particular type get those type of patrons all the time? Probably not. But it probably happens a lot more often than finding a group of say, Mandarin speaking Chinese, congregating in a lousy American-Chinese place - or say a lousy Italian red sauce place.

            But you do have to watch out. The local American-Chinese buffet place in Lowell, a city with an extensive South-East Asian community, is always full of Asians - virtually all Vietnamese or Lao or Cambodian. There are items that are particularly interesting to many of them - the steamed crab legs being a major attraction. But most of the food falls into the brown glop category - there are certainly better versions of General Tso/Gau's, Singapore mei fun, and egg drop soup in the area. I wouldn't judge this place by the large Asian presence, but by the fact that it attracts zilch Cantonese speaking Chinese, (except the servers, who if you catch at a late lunch, are eating something totally off the menu/steam tables), zilch Mandarin speaking Chinese, and probably zilch Americans who particularly like great American-Chinese food. (Although I can only vouch for a certain group of my friends who refuse to eat there and they know where all the good egg rolls are...)

            My tact would be to go into a place that looks to be well attended by the locals or the ethnic/cultural/language group it represents, and then to ask the server what their specialty is - what gets ordered the most by these people? I would then try that same dish or two in other places (over time) - and make up my mind of whether I liked it, and if so, which one I liked the best. Of course, I would discuss it here - and get the real skinny!

            1. re: applehome

              re: "What you like that matters" -- How does one decide whether one likes something? There are lots of theoretical justifications that can improve one's odds at the correct prediction, but I think the most rigorous answer is by eating/drinking. It's essential for expanding one palate etc...

              The other important point in this is critical thinking/eating. "Experts" might be useful here and there, and they might provide useful background facts (e.g. techniques, ingredients etc...) but they are not an excuse to leave the tasting and thinking to someone else; one has to decide *critically* whether one likes something.

              I agree about the imperfection in relying completely on rules of thumb. They are useful and they do improve the odds, but there are lots of exceptional places that are exceptions to these rules (e.g. one of my favourite North End restaurants has a Vietnamese chef), and when we're looking for stuff that's at the good extremes of the bell curve, generalizations aren't going to be as useful a predictor as for stuff that's in the middle. Rather than generalize, it's always better to taste.

              Lastly, nothing bad with safe comforting food, I bet lots of Sichuan folks hang out at Sichuan places eating all sorts of spicy dishes because that's comforting and safe. But what a hound does is to find the best version of that safe comfortable food, rather than settle for an ordinary version.

          2. I've posted on this subject before, and there are some caveats involved with this rule. For example, it might be that the person who owns the restaurant is well-connected into the community. Or there could be some other affiliation.

            I don't believe that it is something that should be strictly adhered to. Think of this way, if we exend it to American food, then McDonalds, Denny's and The Cheesecake Factory should be considered excellent examples of American food.

            Having said that, I do agree with the whole "go to where you like the food" idea. I mean sometimes I've eaten at a Chinese restaurant that I would consider a little too authentic and it turned my stomach because my palete is not used to things like tendon and liver in my beef stew. Sometimes, I just want the Orange Chicken.

            1. This is so ridiculous. There are people in every ethnic group who have little or no appreciation of fine cuisine, little understanding of it, and no discerning palate.

              A rural Chinese, or working class Japanese would be totally unacquainted with "cuisine".

              Being from a particular ethnic group and being knowledgeable about that country's cuisine don't necessarily go togother.

              The average french or Italian is pretty knowledgeable about his own cuisine, but many of his compatriates prefer McDonalds.

              13 Replies
              1. re: Fleur

                I would be curious to meet one French or Italian over age 6 that "prefers" McDonald's. McDonald's is doing well in France but that doesn't mean they "prefer" it to French cuisine.

                1. re: fara

                  Ask any French child what their favorite restaurant is, or where they want to have their birthday party and the answer is McDo!

                  1. re: fara

                    In response to Fara: When I lived in Paris in the early 1990s, I knew several twenty-something Parisians who always wanted to eat at McDonalds when we went out. Yes, they preferred it. Difference appeals to many people, even when it's not outstanding. Probably analogous to the popularity of mediocre fast-food versions of Chinese and Mexican food in some parts of the US...

                  2. re: Fleur

                    "A rural Chinese, or working class Japanese would be totally unacquainted with "cuisine"."

                    But then, I would go out of my way to know where those working class Japanese would go to eat. A concentration of working class Japanese at any establishment is a good sign to me.

                    1. re: E Eto

                      I wonder if that's true, that the working class automatically knows where to find satisfying homestyle food. I mean, would it be true here? Or are we just idealizing the foreign working class?

                      1. re: piccola

                        I totally follow truckers when I'm hungry on the road -- they will go out of their way to find a place that is a good value, and usually good food too. (We're not talking coquilles saint-Jacques here, but greasy-spoon food can be good too.)

                        1. re: piccola

                          I know a fair number of people in Japan who would be considered working class. One of the great chowish things about Japan is that among rural working class, there's a good likelihood that those are the people involved in the food industry, as growers, production/processing, delivery, fishing, etc. And it seems to me that the smaller the community, there is a tighter network of people, with many families in similar lines of work for generations. Also, anywhere you go in Japan, the locals all know what the local "meibutsu" (specialties) are, and they are usually very proud of them (think about it as terroire). Perhaps I'm idealizing a bit, but my experiences in many of the backwoods of Japan have produced some startlingly great food, much of which will never be found in the metropolitan areas. My older relatives tend not to eat anything but Japanese food, but they all know what the best local foods are and if they're in season, and how best to prepare or eat them. It's just a completely different level of relationship with food than you find in the US.

                          1. re: E Eto

                            Japanese government protectionist policies have deliberately encouraged this, by making imported rice and other foodstuffs very expensive.

                            1. re: Brian S

                              Wait, I'm confused. Maybe you can tell us how protectionist policies have allowed food cultures in France, Italy, China, for instance, to flourish.

                              1. re: E Eto

                                You wrote, "One of the great chowish things about Japan is that among rural working class, there's a good likelihood that those are the people involved in the food industry, as growers, production/processing, delivery, fishing, etc" If not for the protectionist policies, many of these people would have been put out of business by cheap imports of, for example, rice. Yes, many consumers would be prepared to pay more for, say, high-quality Japanese rice, but many would not.

                                1. re: Brian S

                                  If only I were talking about rice at all. Still, what about those drastic protectionist policies that allowed food cultures in many other non-US countries to flourish?

                            2. re: E Eto

                              I see your point. But I think this may be more true in rural areas (regardless of the country) than in urban or suburban ones.

                        2. re: Fleur

                          Let me disagree with Fleur. My family was working class Japanese very acquainted with cuisine.

                        3. To paraphrase Duke Ellington, if it tastes good it is good. I am a very experimental eater, but if I don't like the way something tastes I really don't care how 'authentic' it is. There are just as many bad Chinese cooks turning out 'authentic' Chinese food as there are bad American cooks turning out 'authentic' American food. Authenticity neither guarantees quality nor taste; at best it might guarantee that the recipe belongs in some museum of ethnic recipes.

                          Why would Chinese people, particularly ones who I do not know, know what is best for me to order in a Chinese restaurant? That Chinese person, no matter how knowledgeable or well intentioned, does not have my taste buds, my preferences or my prior experiences, all of which are part of the way I experience anything I eat Only I can judge what is good for me. I can tell you I liked this or that dish, and possibly even tell you why I liked (or disliked) it, but I cannot tell you that you will like it.

                          A long time ago I dated a woman from New Delhi. When we went out she would often insist we go to a particular (now long gone) Indian restaurant, the food at which she said reminded her of the way the servant she grew up with cooked. The woman had left India in her late teens and her appreciation of the foods of her homeland stopped developing at that point. Most of the time we went to this restaurant I was the only non-Indian eating there. Was it authentic? Most likely. Was it good? Not particularly. I thought there were several Indian restaurants that served tastier food made from better ingredients, even if the only Indians visible there were the ones serving us.

                          1. No, because then all restaurant critics would have to be chefs and how boring would THAT be?

                            TT

                            1. This is what I think:

                              I don't hesitate to ask ethnic people where they eat food of their ethnicity. And the chances of finding a good spot is usually pretty good.

                              I even do this on vacation. In Mexico, I look for the places where the Mexicans are eating, not the places the tourists are in.

                              Usually works out pretty well.

                              But this is a generality. There are Chinese Americans who eat at Panda Express. I don't like Panda Express. Their are Mexican Americans who eat at El Torito. I don't eat at El Torito. So, sometimes it doesn't work out.

                              I think it depends on how much of a Chowhound the person is your talking to as well.

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: PaulF

                                Can you imagine arriving in an American city from, say Albania,
                                and seeing that so many people are eating at a Denny's - and
                                concluding that must be 'good American food?'

                                1. re: serious

                                  A better example would be being an Albanian, deciding you wanted American food, and looking for a place in Tiranë -- Denny's or not -- where a large concentration of Americans were eating.

                                  (Wow, this is an old post I'm responding to!)

                              2. People judge a food based on their memory of how it was prepared at home. (And there are some pretty bad home cooks.) In my ethnic group there is great controvery on how a particular food should be made/taste. Also there are regional differences within a culture.

                                1. Yes, I think it's valid, fair, reasonable to "suggest" it, as the odds are probably better than 60:40 that this is true. Is it universally true? Of course not.

                                  In addition to members of the particular ethnic community, I would add foreigners who've spent significant time in their country eating the local fare. In many cases, the genuine article is made using ingredients that are not widely available in the US if at all. If you're looking for a meal that tastes like the meal you had at a hawker stall in Penang, maybe 1 in 5,000 Westerners could steer you straight....whereas 10 out of 10 SE Asians would probably steer you straight.

                                  1. You got to remember that within a culture there are different strands. Just like you got the Mint Julep americans from down south and the ones from the lofty city. People's taste are different and people's world to food is only what they are exposed to. I don't agree with some of the chinese people here on what they think chinese food is. To be honest what you see in the US is only a small fraction of the real thing. I was shocked to find out that if I spent my whole life eating something different I'll never get to eat everything. My grandma was a chowhound and I'm paying for it now.

                                    1. I think you can say that only if you want something authentic from a certain part of the world.

                                      If I want friends to recommend a restaurant, I ask two questions. Example:
                                      1) What do you recommend for Thai?
                                      2) Where can I get authentic Northern Thai?

                                      It's almost like a voting system for the first one because it's what my friends prefer and they have different ethnic backgrounds. If I wanted something authentic, then I would ask someone that would know.

                                      1. I don't think it can. Everyone has different taste buds, comfort levels, upbringings, etc.. One of my closest friends will NOT eat anything but steak, potatoes (baked, mashed, fried), cereal, PB, apples, processed "American" cheese, and Kraft Mac. I wouldn't go to her for recommendations at ALL.

                                        I'm a really picky eater, and so is the rest of my family. Ethnically, my mother, step-father and I are the same. My step-father is an ex-restauranteur and knows many of the people whose restaurants we frequent. He'll even recommend suppliers if he notices that something about the food is off. That said, we have VERY different standards. I don't eat savory foods (usually because of the sauces/marinades) that are sweet.(*) That said, I find many of the restaurants that "represent" what's available from my background really lacking. Most of the restaurants serve really sweet food, which I find odd, and they're quite popular, which I find even stranger. It's not as if there's a dearth of restaurants serving this cuisine. But whatever...to each his/her own, right?

                                        * While I don't mind savory-and-sweet pairings when the elements remain disparate things that can be judged singly, I don't enjoy foods that have put the two to poor effect. It keeps me from going to places that the rest of my family enjoys. My mother doesn't like savory foods to be sweet either, but she's not as adamant about it as I. I grew up with her cooking, you know?

                                        1. Hmm...I should amend this slightly or at least clarify it. I live in LA, which has the largest population of my particular ethnicity outside the native country. There are, quite literally, entire chunks of Southern CA that are devoted to businesses (mostly restaurants) that cater to this ex-patriate community. Most of them are clearly popular-- among people who've just immigrated, who've been here all their lives but are ethnically the same as I am, and who've never had exposure to foods of my national origin-- but I don't happen to like most of what they offer. I'm actually a foreign national, but I don't necessarily think that what I think about my own culture's food is always right. It's right for me, and I'd recommend what I like to others who're curious, but I wouldn't want to keep them from eating what they like. Am I wrong for disliking what's popular or for giving people my opinions? It's what I choose to eat and other people can choose to follow my advice if they want to.

                                          I have my own ideas about how things ought to taste based on prior experience-- whatever the "cuisine." I have my own likes and dislikes and will argue for/against certain restaurants and dishes. We all share our opinions on this board, and some people sometimes like to try things out based on recs. As long as they're discovering more about themselves, well...I don't know, what else is there?

                                          2 Replies
                                          1. re: PseudoNerd

                                            It's easy when you either are a non-ethnic American or are/were a foreign national. People in between get very defensive when an Americanized version of their cuisine is touted as the original, it's like losing your culture. Especially as a chowhound.

                                            1. re: fara

                                              I've seen non-first-generation people react that way to the other parts of the mother culture as well. That said, they also tend to be the most willing to criticize and poke fun at things than others who're less acculturated.

                                              I can go either way-- I get defensive too, but chances are that if people are at least enjoying the "bastardized" (or even not so great) food, they'll be more willing to go further and try other things. Food culture is always in flux, and something that a third-gen __-American might've enjoyed and understood as part of his/her cultural heritage could very well be considered obsolete or simply be out of fashion in its original country/culture of origin.

                                              In general, I'm just a bit tired of arguing with people about it, I suppose, and more willing now to let it be...

                                          2. I think it's okay to give out your opinion. It's not like you're physically keeping people from trying out the store you don't like.

                                            That's why, when I don't like a restaurant for whatever reason (not only authenticity), I say so. However, if other people like it, I will say so too. "I don't like it because ___, but others like it, so try it."

                                            1. Having lived in an Taipei for 20 years and eaten many meals in peoples homes I can assure you that one persons perfect ma po tofu may have nothing in common with anothers. Do you have friends who are good cooks and friends who are hopeless?

                                              Familiar is the way to describe food, authentic is for brands.

                                              1. Many years ago, when I still traveled the world and not just the five boroughs, I spent time with people deep in the rain forests of central New Guinea. I had a can of beef, like Spam but worse, and on my last night I gave it to them. They were ecstatic. They had no cuisine to speak of, but even if they had had a rich and sophisticated cuisine, they would have abandoned it gladly for a load of that abominable beef. For them, the tinned beef embodied the glamour of the outside world.

                                                I've heard that until recently in Mexico, the more sophisticated city dwellers would spurn Mexican restaurants in favor of something vaguely "Continental" Dining in Aureole and Gramercy Tavern in NYC, I've seen quite a few rich Limenos. Those Lima residents would be able to tell you the best 4 star restaurants in any major world city, but I bet they know less about the Inca-influenced food of the Peruvian Andes that I do (and I dont know much) They'd scorn it as peasant food.

                                                My point being that under some circumstances, a member of a certain ethnic group would know very little about his "native" cuisine. One can even imagine a cuisine being scorned by the descendants of those who developed it, only to be preserved by intrepid chowhounds, outsiders.

                                                4 Replies
                                                1. re: Brian S

                                                  Along these lines, I've noticed that, with regard to Chinese cuisine, inauthentic is the new authentic. There's a place in Flushing, neon lights and bright plastic walls, called the Accord Cafe. You can get fish and cheese on spaghetti, chicken filet with garlic sauce with spaghetti on the side, as well as traditional Cantonese casseroles, Udon noodles, Malay curries, and even spam and egg with macaroni. The patrons exclusively Chinese. Even less radical restaurants offer an amalgam of Shanghai, Sichuan and Cantonese dishes. Again, the patrons are exclusively Chinese. Chowhounds wont go there because they find the mishmash of cuisines inauthentic. Witness the criticism I got for recommending one. http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/... But maybe inauthentic is the new authentic.

                                                  1. re: Brian S

                                                    Are you sure you didn't go to a gong sik sai chan place? This is chinese-style western food and is "authentic" in the sense that it was actually developed and consumed by chinese people.

                                                    See this link:

                                                    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hong_Kon...

                                                    1. re: Brian S

                                                      "Even less radical restaurants offer an amalgam of Shanghai, Sichuan and Cantonese dishes."

                                                      Some Chinese restaurants have several head chefs, each specializing a particular region.

                                                    2. re: Brian S

                                                      > My point being that under some circumstances, a member of a certain ethnic group would know very little about his "native" cuisine.

                                                      I think the mistake here is to assume that everyone who is from a given country is a member of the same ethnic or cultural group. Most countries are much more diverse than this.

                                                      Most high end dining in the US is guilty of exoticism, as well. How many of the top restaurants in major US cities are rooted in truly American cooking?

                                                    3. not necessarily...my cousin who has stepped out of japan only once really has horrible taste in japanese food. granted he's a young 21 yr old, i don't think he understands the finer taste of japanese food. his favorites are cup o noodles and top ramen. there are also plenty of people in japan who don't have very good taste. i remember my grandmother liked her somen broth out of a can. yuck! i think in all cultures there are people who appreciate the good and those who just don't know the difference...

                                                      1. The political correctness is getting a bit too thick. ;)

                                                        As many have said here, there are always exceptions...there are people who don't know good food in all ethnic groups.

                                                        BUT...if the ethnic group is known for a good cuisine, then it is quite likely that most people you'll run into will have a good insight into what is authentic and what is not. If I'm looking for Chinese food and see a Chinese restaurant filled with Westerners, I will not give it a second look. If I'm looking for sushi, then I'll be looking for Japanese chefs behind the counter.

                                                        I'm guilty as charged of culinary ethnic profiling! ;)

                                                        1. Yes...if they love good food.

                                                          1. I would say definately not. I lived in Japan for several years and Japanese food is a passion of mine. I have gone out of my way to know some of the best places in the Osaka and Kyoto areas, educated myself about Kaiseki and all other kinds of Japanese food.

                                                            Meanwhile, a lot of the Japanese kids my age I met while living there couldn't care less, and would prefer to eat instant noodles or MacDonald's instead of decent food.

                                                            So no, I don't think ethnicity has anything to do with it. Interest has the most to do with it.

                                                            1. Being asian americans (we both grew up here), my husband and I often joke about how we should be paid to eat in Chinese restaurants because then others will look in and say, "See, it must be good. They're eating there." That being said, my mom is not the best cook and I had no idea what good chinese (taiwanese) food was like but my MIL and FIL are both great cooks (my FIL owned a Washingtonian Top 100 Restaurants years ago when it was a top 100 restaurant) and my husband can tell what good chinese food is. I can tell what's bad but not what's good. But, having been married close to 15 years, I'm getting better at it. So, if you grow up with good food, you know good food; if you don't, you don't. It has nothing to do with ethnicity. I agree with linlinchan about interest. Someone could easily spend a lot of time in the US and only eat McDonald's. Would that person know what was good American food? I have a friend from England who comes here occasionally but only indulges in the best restaurants. He knows good food.

                                                              1. I'm not so sure... I think anyone can use their subjective tastes to determine what "good food" is. But if you are talking about whether a traditional dish is properly prepared, using the right ingredients and techniques, then I think only someone who has eaten this dish regularly in its native habitat would know.

                                                                But, of course, there are many other factors other than food quality that might pack a restaurant in the US full of expats from another country. I think it's important to realize that the produce, fish, meat, etc. in the US is different from what you find in other parts of the world and that no one can duplicate a foreign cuisine exactly.

                                                                1. If the question is "Does this food closely resemble what would be a highly regarded meal in country X?" then of course you would best heed someone with long experience eating the food of country X. This is a perfectly valid method of educating oneself about other people and what they like to eat. Every time I find myself the only white guy in some ethnic eatery I count it as having saved the cost of an airline ticket. But this is not my only desire when eating out. I also keep going back to the Mexican restaurant where I have never seen anyone who looks like an actual Mexican.

                                                                  1. You know if you took out the "ethnic" element and asked the same question about southern cuisine or Texas barbecue, you'd have a pretty good answer that applies to all.

                                                                    Would I trust a Southerner to point me to "real" Southern food, chicken fried steak, fried green tomatoes, peach cobbler, etc. or a Texan about Texas barbeque (never mind the question about KC vs. Texas vs. Carolina)? In a word, yes. If I knew the person I'd take the recommendation as a very strong rec knowing things are relative in expectations, palette, level of service, etc, etc.

                                                                    1. I just stumbled on this thread, and it reminds me of a comment my brother made a while ago about how he and his buddies find good chow -- its where the firefighters and paramedics eat! That is how they stumbled onto their favorite Greek in Los Angeles.

                                                                      At first my reaction was "hey, he's got an idea there" because folks in these and certain other occupations have to know their area like the back of their hand... and when on duty have to eat, so they must try practically all dining establishments/eateries in their local hood. But then I got to thinking, sure these folks might have the nose for great casual eatery spots, but what about formal dining and/or banquet situations.

                                                                      Going back to the part about people with ethnic backgrounds knowing good chow when it comes to their own ethnic cuisine, I don't believe that is the case -- some Chinese people (at least in my general experience) will oftentimes sacrafice authenticity/traditionality in exchange for budgetary concerns; especially when it comes to casual dining. I think the best bet is to hang out with people who have the ethnic backgrounds AND ARE CHOWHOUNDS!

                                                                      So, my answer is basically: Yes, folks with ethnic backgrounds can be good judges of the food's authenticity IF they are also chowhounds at heart.

                                                                      1. I know many Italian-Americans who are wonderful cooks and appreciators of good food. However, they may be limited only to the experience of knowing and appreciating the cuisine of their forebears. For example, some of my friends whose family immigrated from Campania are clueless about risotto. There are many non-Italian Americans on the other hand who have travelled extensively in Italy, studied the cuisine here and over there, may even speak the language and be way more knowledgeable about the breadth and depth of regional Italian cuisine then the majority of those here. (People like Fred Plotkin and Arthur Schwartz come to mind).

                                                                        1. I hope foreigners don't use that same logic with white americans. If they did they'd get the impression that Cheesecake Factory et. al. must be excellent due to their being packed with hour plus waits!

                                                                          3 Replies
                                                                          1. re: Rick

                                                                            As I posted above to serious -- you're only doing half the occasion. American food isn't "ethnic" in America. But if I were in Paris or Tokyo and wanted American food, you bet I'd be looking for the concentrations of Americans in restaurants!

                                                                            1. re: Das Ubergeek

                                                                              Sounds like a plan.
                                                                              Hope you like Tony Roma's!

                                                                              1. re: Leonardo

                                                                                Funny, I lived in Paris and never once set foot in Tony Roma's, Hard Rock Cafe. I will admit to going to McDo now and then for a fix.

                                                                          2. So often in NY I've tried places solely because they are crowded with people from another land, in large part because, though I'm ashamed to admit it on a food board, I crave the experience of being immersed in another world and pretending I'm far, far from home. And I've never been disappointed. Poor people the world over have an enormous respect for food, and on the rare occasion that they have access to expensive ingredients, don't want to see them ruined.

                                                                            I know there are exceptions, and I avoid them. Many Indians jam into places where indifferent food, cooked long before, is dished out from steam tables. They know the best food is served at home and don't even try to duplicate it at restaurants. Young Mexican men crowd the taquerias with the prettiest waitresses. (They don't order the food though, just beer.) And there's the old joke about the chowhound who stops at a highway place crowded with truckers and gets the worst meal imaginable. Then he hears a burly trucker yell out to the owner, "So when do we get to kiss the bride?!"

                                                                            1. the answer to your question is NO.

                                                                              1. It depends. My husband grew up in Greece and is the best authority on whether Greek food in a restaurant (or home or festival) is "good." Having visited numerous times, I believe I am now a good judge of whether something I am being served is authentic or good. However, it is true that "good" is very relative. Last week we went to an authentic Sezchuan restaurant, filled with Chinese people, and decided to ask the family at the next table what was the very best thing to order. The advice- beef tendon. Well, we ordered it and it was one of the strangest things I have ever had. WE tasted it but really could not eat it. It was surely authentic but, to our taste buds, not"good."