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Does authentic always = good and does un-authentic always = "un-good"?

As I peruse the boards, I occasionally ask myself this. In order to qualify as good chow, must a dish be authentic? And can an unauthentic dish ever be considered superior chow? I ask because it seems that for some members, authentic is a pre-requisite of being good chow (see discussions of Tex-Mex, Thai, Chinese, and taquerias, for example).

Frankly, I could care less if a dish is "authentic" or not, as long as it is delicious. For instance, my recent trip to Angie's Mexican restaurant yielded excellent carnitas tacos. Authentic? I have no idea. But they tasted great! Others might quibble with the cut of pork used, or whether the size of the tortilla was the original. On the flip side, I've been told that the Bob Armstrong dip at Matt's El Rancho is "authentic" or "the original", yet I thought it was just average - authentic or not.

And for those that DO insist something be authentic, who is the arbiter of what is and is not "authentic"? If you gathered 100 of the best chefs of Mexican cuisine and asked them for an "authentic" mole recipe, how many different recipes would you get?

Anyway, talk amongst yourselves...

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  1. If the Bob Armstrong dip is "authentic Mexican", it certainly isn't like any authentic Mexican food I've had. I would say it is authentic Tex-Mex -- a creamy, soupy, melted yellow-orange cheese with a bunch of stuff thrown in.

    While I'm pretty much a gringo, I'd imagine authentic Mexican would involve white cheeses, queso flameado, or something like that. I bet one of the big brains on Chowhound will be along shortly to answer that point. In my opinion, Angie's is much more "authentic" than Matt's.

    Like you, I simply enjoy eating what tastes awesome. It doesn't matter to me whether it cost twenty cents or twenty dollars; it doesn't matter to me if a dish is prepared in the Ancient and Revered Tradition of Atlantis or was prepared in a way that occurred the chef five minutes ago. A place can be the hippest of the hip, or the lamest of the lame, and I still wouldn't care. When evaluating the food, I consider only the food.

    I guess I have to ask: What the heck does authentic even mean, when applied to foods? An adherence to a predetermined style? If authenticity doesn't generate deliciousness, then who even cares about it?

    An authentic hundred dollar bill? Important, because a forgery is probably worthless. An authentic Picasso? Same deal. An authentic meal? I don't care as long as the meal's deliciousness quotient rock my socks off.

    12 Replies
    1. re: tom in austin

      Let me take your metaphor farther. An authentic dish would be a perfect representation of what that dish was meant to be originally. So in a sense an authentic piece of art (picasso) is still just a representation of the ultimate goal of the dish, which itself was probably a product of fusion or neccesity.

      That said, there is inherent value in the authentic. It is important to see what went into making a dish that became very significant for whatever reason. Just like watching someone authentically reproduce a picasso, in the same way he did, would be a very revealing experience. (or for some, a Jimi Hendrix performance). However, we recognize that this isn't a possibility. If someone gets very close, then it has value, but outside of that it seems to me that we should recognize every dish for what it is, a product of past experiences with the immediately available resources.

      To me it's a terribly inauthentic enterprise to try to produce a dish that doesn't take local ingredients and traditions into consideration. Some think authenticity is about a specific dish, i think it is about the whole dining process. The moral of the story? I love Chipotle.

      1. re: amkirkland

        Sure, but... What is wrong with the creation of whole new cuisines? Be it deliberate or spontaneous, as long as it is delicious, who cares?

        A master chef might not do something "authentic" -- for instance, they might use some spices or ingredients when making Thai food that were never available in Thailand or the surrounding countries. As long as this enhances the dish, why complain? I don't want authentic Thai food nearly as bad as I want DELICIOUS Thai-esque food.

        1. re: tom in austin

          I think I miscommunicated. In that third paragraph I meant local to where you are currently. So in New Mexico, you should be using hatch chiles in stuff, regardless of the origin, or what is "authentic." I'm totally down with delicious is the key. I just want to say there is some benefit to a truly authentic dish, but not striving for it in all cases.

          1. re: tom in austin

            I'd say it's about setting expectations. If I go to a Thai restaurant, I expect Thai, not Thai-esque. I am disappointed if it's not authentic, because I expected it to be the real deal.

            On the other hand, if I go to an Asian fusion restaurant, I'm all for Thai-esque.

            I'd also add that when most people complain about something being "inauthentic," what they really mean is that they think it's been diluted or "dumbed-down" for mass appeal or cheap production. Can this result in deliciousness? I'd say occasionally, but more often than not, it leads to blander, less interesting food.

            1. re: oolah

              Oolah, I agree, with one minor quibble: Necessity is the mother of invention. The necessity to make delicious-yet-cost-effective food can lead to new inventions that either improve food quality or introduce new ways of doing things that aren't necessarily worse than the original way.

              Over time, these new ways become "authentic" traditions of their own. For example, chicory was originally put into coffee because it made coffee production cheaper; now, some people think it is a delicacy. Provel cheese was originally used in St. Louis-style pizza to make pizza production more affordable. Now, people who were raised on St. Louis-style drive miles to get a slice that has Provel. Another example: the introduction of the pressure cooker to make fried chicken both time- and cost-effective.

            2. re: tom in austin

              This reminds me of the historical performance debate in classical music circles. Would Bach have approved of the piano for his fugues? Probably. But, some people think they should be performed only on the harpsichord, despite the range of dynamics offered by the piano's action, and the way the fugue subject and its variations can be brought out on the piano, simply because the harpsichord is what was around when Bach was writing.

              Similarly, if a dish can be improved for some palates with the use of non-authentic items not available in that region. what's the problem? However, I should add the caveat that I certainly have times when I strive to be very authentic, and also make meals where my goals are different from authenticity.

              Authenticity does not necessarily equal good.
              Inauthenticity does not necessarily equal bad.

              One example: my highly-cultured food snob FIL has spent quite a bit of time in China and Japan and says that he thinks American chinese food is much better, although it's not authentically chinese. Still prefers Japanese food in Japan, though.

              1. re: IndyGirl

                To continue the music metaphor: The Beatles borrowed from Chuck Berry, but they obviously weren't black Americans; they were British white guys. Would we argue that their music is "inauthentic" and thusly innately inferior to Chuck Berry? Or would we sit back and let them continue to create and synthesize, using whatever influences they could draw inspiration from?

                I see it that way with food, as well. Just as appreciation of the roots of music helps you appreciate today's music, appreciation of the origins and inspirations of the food you're eating probably helps you enjoy it even more. But there is no requirement that food be authentic to some classical form to be good. Rather, it simply must be good.

            3. re: amkirkland

              Can't help but reply here.....your description is akining food to Plato's allegory of the cave.....I sense a blog post coming on.....

              1. re: mrbunsrocks

                NICE! What we consume is not the true food ideal, merely the shadows of that food cast on our plates.

                1. re: mrbunsrocks

                  oh no! I didn't even notice that when i wrote it. Plato gets his foot in whatever door he can i suppose.

                  1. re: amkirkland

                    Please, no Foucaultian deconstructions on the "burrito-ness" of the burrito. That way madness lies, along with "lots" of "quotation marks."

              2. re: tom in austin

                Point of clarification - I don't believe I was claiming Bob Armstrong was authentic MEXICAN. Everything I've heard is that the dip us the authentic/original queso dip...perhaps my verbiage wasn't clear on that. Anyway, I agree with your assesment of the issue!

              3. I want the food to be good but there are some traditional dishes that should not be messed around with. I was horrified to find a recipe for Saigon Hoppin' John in a recently published new southern cookbook. That is just so wrong!

                4 Replies
                1. re: Candy

                  Mongrelization of cuisines is part of what makes the Western hempisphere so wonderful. My neighborhood, for example, is full of Trinidanian and Guyanese Chinese joints... and I'm sure Soul Food, Cajun cooking and Italian-American cooking traditions all came about from the cheerful and necessary bastardization of recipes from the old country. And takeout Chinese is a fascinating cuisine unto iteslf. Inauthenticity is what makes us American; I'd give the Saigon Hoppin' John a try.

                  1. re: Yaqo Homo

                    I guess I did not make the point clear enough. mongrelization is okay. But if a cookbook is trying to pass itself as authentic and classic as this one did, then Saigon Hoppin' John has no place in it. It may be tasty but it belongs in a book of bastardized recipes.

                    1. re: Yaqo Homo

                      It's not just an American or Western Hemisphere thing. Indians have their own version of Chinese food, as do Koreans. In fact, I had a Chinese dinner in Paris that was definitely French-influenced. Turkish cuisine has been borrowed from and modified throughout the old Ottoman empire. I think the assimilation and transformation of others' cuisines is a very human thing and can often result in new forms of deliciousness.

                      It all probably goes back to some anthropoid giving another a bunch of his favorite roots and getting peeved when the recipient sprinkled it with some tasty little white crystals he had stumbled upon - creating the first "inauthentic" dish.

                    2. re: Candy

                      The term "Saigon Hoppin' John" may be new, but the combination of rice and black eyed peas is very much a Vietnamese dish. It is available at many places near where I live in Arlington, VA.

                    3. More often than not, "authentic" is a buzz word used for PR purposes when it comes to cooking. My concern is not how authentic something is, but how delicious it is.

                      Here in Phoenix metro, we have a restaurant called Chino Bandito. It is a funky place that is a Mexican, Asian and Caribbean fusion place. Nothing fancy or expensive, but the food is fantastic. Things like the Jade Chicken Quesadilla or the Egg Foo Yong Burrito or the Refried Beans and Pork Fried Rice are stellar, but hardly "authentic."

                      I don't worry too much about the whole "authentic" label. I want something that makes love to my palate. Both authentic and inauthentic foods can do that.

                      1 Reply
                      1. I think taste is most critical. However, you can't use the name of something and completely change it. For instance, if you were going to make baklava, it would have to bear a great resemblance to authentic bakalava. If it's made with puff pastry (rather than phyllo) and melted jam (rather than honey) and fruit or something in with the nuts, then you really have to distinguish that it's not really bakalva. You can say "Fruited Baklava" or something like that, but it's not baklava.

                        A true example of this - I was at a local restaurant and ordered a Caesar Salad. This salad came out - carrots, tomatoes, no romaine whatsoever, other assorted vegetables, and a couple of croutons. When the waitress set it down, I said, "Oh, I'm sorry, I think you misunderstood. I ordered a Caesar Salad." She said, "That is a Caesar Salad." Before I even realized what I was doing, the words popped out of my mouth, "No, it's not." She said that was the way their chef ("chef") made a Caesar Salad.

                        I guess I'll open a restaurant and put a piece of parsley on a hot dog and call it filet mignon!

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: luv2bake

                          LOL, you do have a point ... I once made the mistake of ordering "peach cobbler" at a fancy restaurant ... it involved (unripe) peach, but not cobbler. Huge mistake ...

                          I'm a big believer in authentic Tex-Mex. I used to work with a bunch of H1-B guys from all over the world, and when they would ask to be taken out for American food, I usually took them to eat Tex-Mex.

                          1. re: luv2bake

                            I got in such trouble with my BF when I won a chili cook-off with a white bean, no-meat chili that included a full 16 oz of sour cream in the recipe (an Epicurious recipe).

                            He said "That's not chili! Next year I am going to enter a picadillo criollo and call it chili and I know it will win because it tastes so good!"

                            1. re: luv2bake

                              Yes, that's annoying, and I hate those "indiana caesar salads." YUCK!

                            2. Well, as far as authentic/inauthentic, I think it is one of those things that "you have to know the rules before you can break them". That is what fusion is about...knowledge of two different cuisines and combining them for new food experiences. It can go terribly wrong too...I had a flash of Taco Bell coming out with a foie gras chalupa with butter sauce..... I believe though, that some inauthentic cuisine has become authentic cuisine in and of itself-american style chinese food is a good example....pizza is probably an even better example--not an authentic italian food, but it has branched out and you can have authentic new york style, chicago style, california style, boston style apparently too. I tend to think authentic is kind of an arbitrary thing.

                              3 Replies
                                1. re: sunshinedrop

                                  I'll thrid that...know the rules before you break them. I'll add, having a connection before you break them helps too.

                                  1. re: sunshinedrop

                                    Ummm, pizza is most defnitely authentic Italian food. Just sayin'.

                                  2. I think "authentic" sometimes becomes a badge of honor because it involves eating ingredients that many Americans find off-putting (e.g. organ meats). Authentic taquerias, for example, will often feature tacos made with tongue. For some, that's a great adventure. For others, it's a major gross-out.

                                    There was a time in my 20s when authenticity was of paramount concern to me. In retrospect, I think I ate a lot of things I didn't like or was not comfortable with simply to create an image of a connoisseur. At this point in my life (early 40s), I'm not ashamed to admit that I like Chipotle better than some authentic taquerias. Likewise, I'm not ashamed to admit that I don't like tripe or tendon in my pho. In fact, I prefer the all-veggie version, which might be unheard of in Hanoi for all I know.

                                    I value truth in advertising and don't wish to be told something is authentic when it is not. At the same time, there are times when I have voluntarily opted for inauthenticity and feel fine about that decision.

                                    2 Replies
                                    1. re: silverbear

                                      for my first experience with a food, be it pho or tacos, I want the tripe, or lenguas. But after that I'm going to have what I know is good to me. I like them both... on occasion.

                                      1. re: silverbear

                                        This is what I had in mind when I posted the question....Eat what you like, not what you think you should be eating.

                                      2. when we were in mongolia, we lived in a ger tent. the food was cooked by our kind mongolian host, who spoke no english. the place had no electricity or running water. we starved! authentic? absolutely. delicious? no. would we go to a restaurant that reproduced that food authentically? absolutely not, at least not for the food.

                                        1. The trouble I stumbled across when I was after the authentic (in my case, authentic Italian) was how to sort out criteria for which particular version counts as authentic.

                                          My first inclination was that what's authentic is what they do in Italy. But they do lots of things, and lots of the same things differently, in Italy. At that level, given the variety one finds, there's no way to identify authentic Italian cooking.

                                          So I turned my attention to particulars--Bolognese, for instance, or Amatriciana. But my original trouble reemerged. People in Italy do those very differently. There was no particular recipe to point to which could count as the authentic one, even in the case of these particular dishes, so long as my focus was on the whole of Italy.

                                          So I focused instead on regions of origin for particular dishes. There, if anywhere, so I thought, I could find the genuine article. Bolognese as it's made in Bologna is authentic, so I reckoned. But once again it happens that people in Bologna make Bolognese differently! So the question arises, to whose house in Bologna do you go to sample authentic Bolognese? I saw right away, though, that it's a stupid question, since deciding on one house in Bologna over another as serving up the Real McCoy is perfectly arbitrary, as is suggesting (as some might) that the recipe posted in City Hall describes the Real McCoy.

                                          There's the old saw about peeling away layers of an onion in hopes of finding its essence, but coming up at the end--given the nature of onions--with nothing at all. I can't help but think that hunting out the authentic, at least where the hunt take a particularly extreme form, winds up being a snipe hunt in something like the same way.

                                          If you have bacon and no pancetta, why not use it in an Amatriciana sauce? If someone accuses you of being inauthentic, tell them to get you the recipe for authentic Amatriciana and that you’ll gladly make that instead. The trick is, of course, that there is no such recipe. They’ll spend their time looking in vain and there’ll be more pasta for you!

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. Typical example:

                                            "Authentic Argentinean BBQ'd meat" means: WELL done.

                                            An american person at an Argentinean BBQ feels out of place: everybody raving about it, he/she hates the food.

                                            Who's right: hey, both ... (my un-humble opinion)

                                            1. As far as I can see, there are really only two good justifications for seeking "authenticity" in food:

                                              You want to immerse yourself in or experience something as a group/culture/ethnicity/etc. typically consumes as a sort of learning experience or ritual.


                                              Your tastes or preferences just happen to coincide with how the dish is prepared "authentically".

                                              Pursuing "authenticity" for the first reason is more of an academic or intellectual activity, which is fine if you enjoy the act of eating as a sort of sociological study.

                                              I think it is far more important that you like how something tastes rather than if it's authentic or not. Often, the authentic preparation happens to taste the best, but sometimes it isn't. Doggedly pursuing "authenticity" regardless of whether the authentic way is really the best is also silly because "authenticity" is often arbitrarily or ambiguously defined.

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. re: Humbucker

                                                I do not think your first option is soley an academic activity. When i want to know how other people eat across the globe i am doing it more from an eating perspective than an intellectual one. New tastes, textures etcetra are out there, and there are going to be things I love. How would I know without trying them?

                                              2. I'm going to say BOTH. Both are realites, authentic and Americanized, fusioned...whatever...and you're never going to find agreement about the meaning of it.

                                                That said, I will make a point about REFERENCE POINTS. Authenticity can provide a valuable reference point to poeple, foodies, hounds, connessiuers or people trying to understand something, its taste and orgin. If for no other reason to understand what you like or dislike (I'll admit I've had authentic that I didn't like it one bit...). As someone who likes food, authentic (or seeking it) provides information that can enhance my experiences and fun.

                                                A good analogy could be wine. I'm not a big wine drinker yet I can definately see how someone would want to taste many types and vintages as they get into it because a reference point can enhance your experience over the time. Does this mean you don't enjoy a $5 buck bottle...no. You enjoy that too but having a reference point can have a pay off if you suddenly realize that $5 buck bottle reminds you of a $100 vintage.

                                                Apply this concept to eating a .75cent taco off a truck in East Oakland to something you had in Mexico off a cart or at El Torito and suddenly you depth to your palette and understanding.

                                                I can appreciate it doesn't mean the same to everyone...yet I would argue that authentic means something to these same people in another (non-food) context, be that religion, electronics, needle point, dogs...you name it. It does matter.

                                                1. The whole authentic thing is so much snobbery. You like what you like. If your likes coincide with what is "authentic" so much the better for the admiration of the CHers. If you prefer a more Americanized version of something, power to you.

                                                  1. I don't think authentic means "no variation of preparation". For instance, in Italy the Amatriciana sauce or Carbonara can be made with either pancetta or pork cheek, but not bacon. So either pancetta or pork cheek will be authentic, but bacon will not be.

                                                    With that said recipes changes so often and a country's cuisine is not static, so what's considered authentic changes too.

                                                    Authentic just helps categorize a group of food in terms of how they are prepared and what ingredients are used to me. So if I was told that an Italian restaurant is authentic Italian (not American-Italian) I will not expect to see spaghetti & meatballs on the menu.

                                                    Good food is good food, and its roots/origin doesn't really matter to my tastebuds in the final analysis.

                                                    My least favorite chinese dish is the mayo covered shrimp with candied walnuts. It's authentic (although non-traditional), but to me is still bad.

                                                    4 Replies
                                                    1. re: notmartha

                                                      "I don't think authentic means "no variation of preparation". For instance, in Italy the Amatriciana sauce or Carbonara can be made with either pancetta or pork cheek, but not bacon. So either pancetta or pork cheek will be authentic, but bacon will not be."

                                                      It's tempting to think this--that to count as authentic a dish must be prepared in one or another of the ways it's standardly prepared and that variations on this count as inauthentic.

                                                      But this is just as troublesome as the views I lately discussed. Consider Amatriciana. If we take your account of authenticity as the right one, should we say the first Amatriciana ever made was authentic?

                                                      It's hard to see how we could, since there was no way that Amatriciana was standardly made in advance of its being made for the first time. But if the first Amatriciana isn't authentic, it's hard to see how the second and third and so on can be since each of those will either be a replica or something which is inauthentic or else something new which we've already granted couldn't be authentic.

                                                      Suppose instead that we regard the first Amatriciana as authentic (not, of course, because it satisfies your characterization, but by stipulation). Surely that first version was made either with pancetta or guanciale. Let's say it was made with pancetta. Now let's imagine that along comes some wily cook who knows of that first version and decides to make it, but who also decides on a whim to use guanciale instead of pancetta. Now, it appears that if to be authentic is as you say, this second cook who used guanciale has created an inauthentic dish. Why? Because Amatriciana at the time that the second cook cooked what he did was standardly prepared with pancetta and not guanciale. And if this second cook's dish was inauthentic, it's hard to see how Amatriciana cooked with either pancetta or guanciale could have come to be counted as authentic.

                                                      It's hard to see, on the account of authenticity above, how authentic Amatriciana could have come to be made at all, much less come to be authentically made either with pancetta or guanciale but not with bacon.

                                                      What remains is an account of why it is my using bacon when pancetta or guanciale is standard is substantively different from our imagined second cook's using guanciale when pancetta alone was standard.

                                                      The difference, as you seem to suggest, is sufficient to account for a difference between authentic and inauthentic Amatriciana. But it's not at all clear to me that there is much of a difference.

                                                      1. re: eleaticstranger

                                                        That's why I said that "With that said recipes changes so often and a country's cuisine is not static, so what's considered authentic changes too"

                                                        If you see lots of restaurants in Italy started to make Amatricana sauce using bacon that you can then make a case that it's authentically Italian.

                                                        I don't think 'authentic' can be strictly and scientifically be interpreted or rigidly defined. It's a keyword that illicit a certain expectation from people.

                                                        1. re: notmartha

                                                          There's still a question, of course, about what makes a thing 'authentic'. How do the changes occur? And why doesn't using bacon count as one of the acceptable changes as opposed to an inauthentic change. Suppose I go to Italy and make it. And suppose it catches on. Why would the fact that I'm there rather than here, and the fact that it catches on there make it authentic?

                                                          Part of my argument here is exactly that 'authentic' resists an analysis. In light of that it seems a reasonable question why we should make a big deal about it.

                                                          Amatriciana with bacon, by the way, is wildly tasty.

                                                          1. re: eleaticstranger

                                                            My concern isn't so much with the fuzzy borderline cases where the analysis might be difficult, but with huge changes to the extent that the dish isn't the same anymore. For example, if someone substituted beef jerky for pancetta, added cilantro and chickpeas and called the dish Amatriciana, it might just be as delicious, but it wouldn't be what a person ordering Amatriciana might want. I know that might sound like an extreme example, but that's essentially the kind of modifications I've encountered here with dishes that I I grew up with.

                                                            And to re-emphasize -- it's more a labeling issue to me rather than a deliciousness issue.

                                                    2. I posted this on another similar thread but I think it still applies.

                                                      I am personally kind of split on this subject.

                                                      One example is that while there may be traditional food, there is also traditional food that has been adapted to a new country creating something very good but not the same as the original. Indian chinese food is an example of this. The style of cooking by chinese labourers in India b/c what Indians knew as chinese food and basically was a new style of food. This now was authentic Indian Chinese which while not authentic Chinese was still excellent. So you have Chinese food which is different than the original but adapted to local tastes. It can still be good as was the chinese food i ate while living in prague which somehow managed to have a hearty central european flair to it. I enjoyed it for what it was.

                                                      The problem in america is that most peoples tastes tend toward the sweet and cloying, or not acurately spiced. There these are dumbed down versions of dishes which when made in the true way are perfect amalgamtions of flavours that truly dont do it justice. Would someone be wrong for liking this? No taste is subjective. But when someone wants to experience something alien and different it is not wrong of them to demand authenticity.
                                                      Thai food is a perfect example of this. The stuff you get at most american thai places generally is underspiced and overly sweet. It can be a struggle to find a place that does things thai spicy. So far the only place i have ever had close to Thailand is Sripraphai in Queens.

                                                      Basically what i am trying to say is that things can be enjoyed for what they are but sometimes when one cuisine is being adapted to another country's tastes it becomes something much worse. Good food is good whether it is authentic or not. But if someone is trying to eat something different it is worth the time and effort to seek out the authentic as well

                                                      1. I think this is a question that can be discussed till the end of time.
                                                        I don't believe most people actually know what is "authentic". You would have to be unbelievably well traveled, and have spent years in a given country to know what is "authentic" or "typical". I feel like what diners are actually responding to is something different or unique, or something that suits their tastes. The poster above who says he likes things "thai spicy" is a good example. I'm sure you are right that there aren't as many restaurants here that serve things spiced to the level of a restaurant in thailand. When I was there, I found the food delicious, but sometimes inedibly, painfully spicy because my palate wasn't used to it. A restaurant that serves palate punishing food would most likely go out of business pretty quickly. I'm always interested (and frequently disheartened) by posts that ascribe authenticity based on ethnicity or race, too.

                                                        24 Replies
                                                        1. re: mpls brat

                                                          >You would have to be unbelievably well traveled, and have spent years in a given country to know what is "authentic" or "typical".I'm always interested (and frequently disheartened) by posts that ascribe authenticity based on ethnicity or race, too.<

                                                          I've posted this a million jillion times before - not every time we have this authenticity debate, but close...

                                                          These statements ignore the perspective of the people that are of a particular ethnicity or grew up in a country other than ours. We are not particularly well traveled per se, we just grew up somewhere else and ended up here - only to see the foods that we grew up with adapted to the point of being unrecognizable - made completely terrible, by our standards - with no regard to the ingredients and methods that made the dish what it really was. As Limster says below, at least, call it something else. Burb sushi made by Chinese cooks that also make pu-pu platters ought to be called something other than sushi (Chushi?). California rolls ought to be called something else, as well (Amushi?).

                                                          It is a matter of semantics more than any value judgement of good or bad. But the term authentic, when used in the right context, can help establish some level of understanding in a conversation. There are people whom I trust completely, when they tell me that sushi was good at so-and-so - that it was authentic. There are others that I simply don't know - if I asked if it were authentic, would they know? In that context, is it even worth using the "a" word?

                                                          Once again, it is absolutely not a matter of authentic is good and inauthentic is bad. Just another piece of inexact language that we're trying to use to describe a real difference.

                                                          1. re: applehome

                                                            good point- I don't often see that "a word" used in the context of representing something that seems like home to the speaker. Mostly it seems to be used by self-appointed experts.

                                                            1. re: applehome

                                                              "...only to see the foods that we grew up with adapted to the point of being unrecognizable..."

                                                              [For the sake or argument] What if the version you were eating while growing up was the one made incorrectly, and the version made here was made the "authentic" way? How would you know? I'm quite confident that my father's version of Marinara sauce was quite different from a "traditional" recipe. But to me, having eaten it several hundred times in my life, it is more delicious than the traditional. Just because something was made in Thailand, doesn't mean it's good (or even authentic) Thai food. It may be what YOU are used to, but it could be a quite radically inauthentic recipe...

                                                              Just a thought...

                                                              1. re: Bababooey

                                                                There are accepted traditions with food, like it or not. While there may be a lot of versions and controversy over these versions, you can't throw away the baby with the bathwater and say that everything is everything. There is a need for structure in any analysis, and it's critical for understanding food. Otherwise, there simply is no communication.

                                                                If you grow up with one version served by one person, it may not provide a basis for saying that the version is authentic for anything beyond that household. But if you grow up in a country, eating at many places, being exposed to different versions, but always with a given consistency of certain techniques or ingredients, then you have a basis for saying that the authenticity applies over a greater region or even a country or entire ethnicity.

                                                                Sushi is sushi rice. While you can use a lot of different ingredients to make sushi, you can't simply serve noodles and call it sushi. If I were to order sushi in a restaurant and they gave me a noodle based dish, I would be livid - I would most certainly call that inauthentric The dish may be very good, and I may enjoy the heck out of it, but it wouldn't be sushi. Clearly, that's an obvious case - but where do we draw the line? To me, sushi is so full of traditions - that have more to do with the basic quality of the product than the creativeness of the ingredients - that if not done properly, it isn't really sushi, even if it has sushi rice.

                                                                But, it's more than the concept of authentic as if there were a golden standard of some sort. It's the semantics. I want to call something by an accepted name - the nature of that acceptance is based on some common understanding of what that something is. People can argue about the one true cassoulet, or what a gumbo HAS to have in it - but you can't serve a cassoulet and call it a gumbo. That would be inauthentic.

                                                                1. re: applehome

                                                                  Sushi with noodles is an extreme example, as are most of the examples that people are giving. When I hear people talk about authenticity, they're often arguing very minute points, not noodles versus rice. It's dough made with 13.5 percent gluten flour versus 14 percent gluten flour.

                                                                  Currently someone is thinking, but that's a huge difference! You can't make Authentic pizza, bagels (and so on) with that kind of flour. Likewise is the case with each ingredient. The cheese is never quite the same, nor the water, nor the sausage, yada yada yada. This view of autenticity means nothing can ever be authentic, unless it is THE authentic one.

                                                                  On the other hand, think about how much, say, Fish and Chips vary in England. If they can vary that much in their home made by locals, then certainly minor abberations in another country aren't that significant. This view of authenticity would suggest that anything that genuinely attempts to replicate a dish could be called authentic.

                                                                  1. re: applehome

                                                                    I agree with you...There certainly needs to be some common understanding of the nature of certain dishes. I think amkirkland below hits the issue: It's not sushi made with noodles that is the root of the "authentic" problem...It's nitpicking the brand of rice vinegar used to flavor them, or the shape of the knife used to cut the fish or (real instance) not accepting that a non-japanese chef can prepare "authentic" sushi!

                                                                    Your point is well taken, however.

                                                                    1. re: Bababooey

                                                                      Of course, that's a real instance - I've said so myself. Not acknowledging the difference between a chef that trained for 5 years in Tokyo and that understands the difference between the special Yanagiba for eels and the standard one is a complete failure on a person's part to comprehend the culture and the requirements of the authentic ethnic environment.

                                                                      The chef's ethnicity de Facto makes a difference, not because of some magical gene or blood heritage - but because the only way to be a true sushi chef is to have years of apprenticeship and then service in an environment where you are serving clientele that really knows what sushi is. You can get that in Tokyo, LA, NYC... but precious few other places.

                                                                      Even in the case of an excellent Mexican chef working with a top-line Japanese sushiya in say, NYC - he may truly become a wonderful sushi chef, but then what? Is he going to open a place that attracts the knowledgeable clientele? If not, how often is he going to order expensive, special ingredients that only the most knowledgable clientele can appreciate and pay for? How many Japanese salaryman are going to show up at his place and discuss the food, the beer, beisubol - in Japanese.

                                                                      It's all part of the culture. Other places have the same issues. How can you bring Tuscan cuisine to America and serve to people who like to eat at McDonald's, what they do in hours? Of course, you adapt... but when you do, just maintaining a recipe or a process isn't all there is to it. How it's served, where it's served, with what it's served... Getting the recipe right just means something that you might serve in Tuscany, which can have many variations. Making it authentic means that a Tuscan would gladly partake of the food and the eating experience, and think that he's home.

                                                                      1. re: applehome

                                                                        so, would you (applehome) say that authenticity cannot be replicated, only experience?

                                                                        1. re: amkirkland

                                                                          I would say that authenticity can be replicated, but that it involves more than recipe. Food is most authentic where there is a concentration of the original culture, where there is clientelle appreciative of all the elements of the original. This could be enclaves, like Chinatown, or just a certain critical mass density of people in an area. Which isn't to say that such enclaves don't develop their own specialties and versions based on the available ingredients - but even as they do, they will speak to authenticity based on what they recall of their origins.

                                                                          Let me digress a bit more on the knife issue. The most experienced and finicky of sushi/sashimi eaters have developed an affinity for the smoothest texture in raw fish – they can detect the slightest flaws, the smallest tears, where the flesh was torn or ripped, rather than gently separated with the sharpest of edges. The entire heritage and evolution of the specialized cutlery used by trained sushi chefs today is based on years of developing incrementally better solutions and products for making sushi. This is the Japanese way - the culture of these people that originated this dish.

                                                                          If someone here (in the US) says what bs… this is meaningless trivia. We’ll serve Sushi our way, and all that detail stuff just makes no difference. That’s certainly his perspective, and he will undoubtedly be able to market his product to people who similarly don’t understand the elements of the authentic product. But he’s disregarding the authentic perspective – the one that comes from the country where sushi originated.

                                                                          Which isn’t to say that every single person in Japan understands their own traditions and goes only to the most expensive places for the best sushi and sashimi cut with the proper instruments and handled in precisely the old traditional way. There is a growth of robot sushi places and even of California rolls. Nevertheless, there is this authentic tradition, and it is part of the culture. Semantically, we can choose to use a different word than authentic to describe this cultural element – but we can’t decide that it doesn’t exist.

                                                                          1. re: applehome

                                                                            There are many more issues at play- how derivative is the "authentic" experience? Are we speaking of the absolute highest level of the art? For what do we reserve the word "authentic"- only the most exclusive or sohpisticated form of the cuisine?

                                                                            What would we consider "authentic" Thai food, Royal Thai cuisine or Thai street food? Clearly there are "authentic" versions of each that can be appreciated. Just as there are different forms of the Japanese derived food we know as sushi. There are the exquisite art forms, and then there are interesting and new combinations of the ingredients that form flavors that may or may not be appreciated for what they are. It probably depends on whether you view each bite as a zero-sum game. Is the bite a waste to eat, or a waste of the ingredients? Or is there some cost/benefit analysis involved? Since the several hundred dollars it would cost me (well, perhaps thousands so that I may form a relationship with my exclusive sushi chef, so he might know my mouth were worthy of his skill) mean much more than the same amount of money to someone else, is it even possible for me to appreciate the skill involved if the cost is so much more dear?

                                                                            "Authentic" much have a much broader meaning than the specific experience you describe for highest quality sushi, unless you define all the advances and refinements of skill in fine sushi-making to not have changed the nature of the experience qualitatively over time. If the experience changes and is improved over time, which is "authentic" and which isn't?

                                                                            Just as sophisticated schools of Asian cooking completely changed with the introduction of chili peppers from the new world, so have dishes and tastes, and we can appreciate them for what they are, and we can even use the word "authentic"- it does seem a bit much to use it as a bludgeon- we all have different palates, much of the world's food will be foreign to each other, but we can learn and appreciate to a degree.

                                                                  2. re: Bababooey

                                                                    Bababooey, I think you're confusing personal preference with authenticity. While it's true that anyone may have a personal preference for a certain kind of food (authentic or not), and while it's certainly true that some authentic foods are not delicious, there's no question that Thai food from Thailand is more authentic than Thai food from the United States. It's THAI food. By definition, it's more authentic when it's in Thailand.

                                                                    You ask, "how would you know?" Well if I grew up in Thailand, I would know what ingredients were available there, as well as what foods were commonly eaten in that culture and in what context. I would certainly notice if these things were different here.

                                                                    Same goes for the bacon in Amatriciana. I agree that bacon in Amatriciana is quite tasty, but people in Italy don't cook with bacon. Hence, it's not an authentic Italian recipe.

                                                                    1. re: oolah

                                                                      In that case anything made outside of it's original locale cannot be called authentic. If this is the case, why strive for authenticity and not just deliciousness?

                                                                      1. re: amkirkland

                                                                        Just because you can't be perfect doesn't mean you shouldn't try, right? ;)

                                                                        Anyway, I'm always in favor of deliciousness, so you'll get no argument from me. As I said earlier, I think "lack of authenticity" is often used perjoratively to describe a formerly delicious food that's been made less delicious through mass production, e.g., pizza hut "pizza"; or to appeal to a less selective audience, e.g., those freaky chocolate chip "bagels" at "bakeries" like panera.

                                                                        Although there will always be sticklers, I don't think most people take issue with tasty variations on cuisine, especially if it's labelled as such.

                                                                      2. re: oolah

                                                                        Just plaing devil's advocate here - could it be you who is confusing authenticity with personal preference?

                                                                        "there's no question that Thai food from Thailand is more authentic than Thai food from the United States"

                                                                        RUBBISH! the location in which a dish is prepared has nothing to do with authenticity. Am I more likely to find "authentic" Thai food in Thailand? Sure, but Thai food cooked in the US can be just as "authentic" as that cooked in thailand.

                                                                        What if you grew up in a spot in Thailand that substituted "authentic" ingredients for convenient ingredients? Look, I'm not questioning your credentials - my point is just that one's experience may pre-dispose them to favor a certainpreparation of a dish which may or may not be "authentic". My view is that it is impossible to determine (in almost all cases) what an "authentic" preparation of a given dish is and THEREFORE, who cares? Eat what tastes good, and leave the "authentic" argument to the snobs!

                                                                        1. re: Bababooey

                                                                          How can the location in which a dish is prepared have nothing to do with its authenticity? I'd argue that it has EVERYTHING to do with it. Using local preparation methods, local ingredients and local menus and serving customs is what defines a dish's authenticity. How else would you define it?

                                                                          This is particularly true when you're speaking broadly of a national cuisines. You can't get more Thai-y food than in Thailand. It's just not semantically possible, since what makes it Thai food is that it's FROM Thailand.

                                                                          1. re: oolah

                                                                            Because these days all the ingredients, including Thai chefs, are available here in the states.

                                                                            Besides we're straying from the point of the topic. I understand what you are saying, and was merely playing devil's advocate.

                                                                            Our conversation illustrates, in part, how focusing on what (may or may not be) "Authenticity" can distract us from searching out the most delicious chow.

                                                                            Now, where did I put down my noodle sushi.....(/looking) :)

                                                                            1. re: Bababooey

                                                                              That would be at Ming Tsai's Blue Ginger in Wellesley, MA. But to his credit, he tells everybody that his food is not authentic, that they are new fusion creations of his own. Nevertheless, to call soba noodles wrapped in nori, sushi, was quite a shock to my senses. Same argument as before - call it something else, will ya?

                                                                              1. re: applehome

                                                                                "Nevertheless, to call soba noodles wrapped in nori, sushi, was quite a shock to my senses. Same argument as before - call it something else, will ya?"

                                                                                In Japan, it's called sobamaki. It's been around for a while, so if you think it's a Ming Tsai creation, it isn't.

                                                                                1. re: E Eto

                                                                                  That's good to know - he's not even that original. But is it considered sushi in Japan?

                                                                                  1. re: applehome

                                                                                    I think the problem with that specific issue is our own colloquialisms. When we say sushi, we don't mean sushi. most of this country means maki.

                                                                                    a similar, less passionate debate could happen with cheesecake. It's certainly not cake, but somehow the word got applied to it. just another wrench to throw in the authenticity machine.

                                                                                    1. re: amkirkland

                                                                                      I would submit that most of this country thinks sushi means Japanese food. "Let's go for sushi", is an all inclusive phrase these days.

                                                                                      1. re: amkirkland

                                                                                        Cake is anything formed together in a way ends up in a round shape. Pancake, crabcake, fishcake; etc...

                                                                                        1. re: MVNYC

                                                                                          etymologically you are correct, but what would you call something made with butter and sugar creamed together and mixed with eggs, leavening, flavoring and flour, baked in a square pan and iced?

                                                                                          similarly, a salvadoran quesadilla is a sweet/salty cheese cake (as in flour and leavening and so on).

                                                                                          1. re: amkirkland

                                                                                            The perils of an easily stimulated memory:

                                                                                            Gracie Allen to student: "What did you learn in school today, dear?"
                                                                                            Student: "I learned about pi r square"
                                                                                            Gracie: "Oh no, dear! Pie are round - cake are square!"

                                                                  3. Both authentic and inauthentic food can be delicious or inedible. My issue is not so much with deliciousness in this case but in giving a dish a correct label so that one could order the right thing. Noodles stir fried in a sweet curry sauce with a variety of seafood and dried bean curd can be delicious, but it is not mee goreng. I would be happy to eat that once in a while, but I'd like to have mee goreng at other times too.

                                                                    1. Before I went to college I lived with my parents and knew nothing about Chinese Food - then I went to college in Boston which has a large "Chinatown" with many restaurants. I enjoyed going to those restaurants which I assumed served Chinese-American food i.e. NOT authentic.

                                                                      Then I met Ray - who had been raised in Hong Kong and was looking for food like he got there. He found a restaurant that he liked and took a group of us there. It was a little hole in the wall with some Asian folks sitting at the tables and strips on paper with Chinese writing on them - that was the menu.

                                                                      The food was authentic but I didn't like it. I preferred the Chinese-American version - not authentic, but much more to my and Boston's Chinese food-eaters tastes.

                                                                      1. To further complicate things just because I may not like a dish doesn't neccessarily mean that it is "bad" and conversely if I like a dish it doesn't neccessarily mean that it is "good". I try to make a distinction when I judge a dish utilizing my overall background to conclude whether I consider a dish a success (whether I really enjoyed it or not). In these instances it's about evaluating the dish on it's own terms.

                                                                        1. One of the most famous arguments over the authenticity of one single dish is the notorious cassoulet controversy between Toulouse, Castelnaudary and Carcasonne, each claiming its own version to be The One True Cassoulet. I therefore feel perfectly free to make my own, striving only for deliciousness. My best one so far was made with Peruano beans and lamb neck, plus duck confit (authentic!) and Polish and German sausages (inauthentic!). It was slap-yer-granny good. However, I have bought some (hideously expensive) Tarbais beans, which are the correct and authentic ones, and I shall follow a recipe (probably one of Paula Wolfert's) exactly to create a perfectly authentic cassoulet, just to see how I like that. And I think that will be fun. And then I'll almost certainly go back to my Peruanos, as they run less than $1 per pound, as opposed to over $12 a pound for the Tarbais...

                                                                          3 Replies
                                                                          1. re: Will Owen

                                                                            In Winslow, Arizona, I dined on "Southwestern Cassoulet" made with Tepary Beans, Churro lamb, elk sausage, and duck confit. It was terrific, and as cassoulet-like as all getout. My thinking is that in this instance, the "Southwestern" prefix elminated all arguments concerning authenticity.

                                                                            Maybe chefs should just use more quotation marks on their menus? If you put bacon in your Amatriciana (per some earlier posts), just call it Bucatini "Amatriciana". I perceive quotes in such an instance as meaning something like "something like".

                                                                            1. re: Striver

                                                                              Was there "a girl, my Lord, in a flatbed Ford" sharing that Cassoulet with you? :)

                                                                              (apologies to any non-Eagles fans who can hear "Winslow, Arizona," and not have that song pop in your mind!)

                                                                              1. re: luv2bake

                                                                                Slightly off topic, but there's a corner with a Jackson Brownish statue AND a flat-bed Ford parked right there, just next to the Rt.66 Store and catty-corner to the Eagles Store (that's as in band, not as in bird). Really!

                                                                                Great restaurant and fascinating grand old Harvey railroad hotel in the midst of being restored, if anyone's passing through.

                                                                          2. Three words: Americanized Chinese Food. Not authentic Chinese, but it can be done very well.

                                                                            Conversely, every Chinese place I've been to has had at least one non-Chinese item that's been outstanding. It's usually the fried chicken wings or the house special soup

                                                                            I've had plenty of "authentic" neapolitan pizzas: San Marzano tomatos, imported buffalo cheese and olive oil, fresh basil, all sorts of tricks with crusts. More than half just plain suck, for a variety of reasons.

                                                                            Then there's authentically bad, e.g., barbecued iguana.

                                                                            1. I'm glad you posted on this topic because i have wanted to vent my spleen over it. Many Chowhounds recognize two aspects, especially for ethnic food, one being "authentic" (matching the dish to a pre-existing standard, based on ingredients, flavor, preparation) and the other being "good" (which should be unrelated to that pre-existing standard, but whether the taste is good or not). I think the problem is that IF you have a strong pre-conceived notion for how something is supposed to taste to you, you will not be able to overcome disappointment in having something not reach that point. Many of the benchmarks for "authentic" food are complexity and sophistication, based on exotic or local ingredients, and of course if things don't match that they will seem less "good," even though in actuality it could still taste great. The problem I have is that I want to know BOTH things, I would like to know what "authentic" is solely for the education of my palate, but I would ALSO like to know what a dish tastes like on its OWN, described with words that relate that dish to tastes/experiences that might make sense to my uneducated palate.

                                                                              Below is the the bad Chowhound response that irks me to no end:

                                                                              Post 1: I had so and so at this place, and I loved- it tasted great

                                                                              Reply: Well, if you've ever been to obscure part of world where that comes from, you'd know that that dish is crap. When my grandmother visits she makes a much better version of that.

                                                                              The above is totally unhelpful. And I am constantly amazed how all these grandmothers are not in the restaurant business because everyone that appears to be is made to seem incompetant. :)

                                                                              When I describe dishes at ethnic restaurants I first try to describe the ingredients in the actual dish, and the qualities of the dish that I feel really work for that dish as it was prepared when I ate it. However, if I happen to know a little something about traditional preparation, I'll try and state where the dish differed, and how it is usually prepared.

                                                                              The worst examples are usually related to mole, pizza, BBQ, and sushi. I would LOVE to know what makes sushi completely "authentic" but there are several levels of "authentic"- what would be authentic to an average Japanese would not necessarily cover the same ground of what is the pinnacle of artisanal, exotic and incredibly exclusive sushi. The finest sushi is like the finest wine, the palate must be honed and trained to appreciate it, and such appreciation of the finest sushi is an entirely different ballgame from having a selection of well-balanced, and interesting maki as a meal that is both much more accessible to many, yet still quite exotic to some.

                                                                              1 Reply
                                                                              1. re: P. Punko

                                                                                Mole, pizza, BBQ and Sushi... right on. I think you've addressed the problem. It's not the differing opinions about autheticity, but the attitudes and narrow mindedness behind it. They become evangelistic in a "bible-thumping" way, as opposed to a, "let me show you a food that will blow your mind" sort of way. But i guess now we're venturing into areas of sociology that includes religion and politics, and seeing as how we're addressing "chow," these things don't mix.

                                                                              2. This last post makes me want to resurrect the spirit of a remark made earlier in the thread by Humbucker. I guess it has more to do with the appreciation of food than with the controversy about authenticity, so I wonder whether it deserves its own thread. I'll leave that for moderators to decide.

                                                                                It occurs to me that we may distinguish between (i) the appreciation of a dish because it was made according to the old ways (where 'old ways' here means whatever 'authentic' might) and (ii) the appreciation of a dish because it tastes good. Certainly we can imagine someone choking something awful down but still valuing the opportunity on the grounds that it's traditional or traditionally prepared. And we all know we can imagine someone gorging themselves on something really tasty and not caring at all about the fact that it's the bastard child of some distant, more upstanding, traditional ancestor.

                                                                                I don't mean to suggest that these are exclusive.

                                                                                Some might say, for instance, (and probably rightly so) that an acquaintance with the customs and traditions and methods surrounding the preparation of some dish influences the way it tastes or our view of the way it tastes. As evidence of this, we may, so it seems, come to appreciate food which on a time was repugnant to us only after spending some time getting familiar with its original context. And others might say, for another instance, that the way a dish tastes or our view of the way it tastes influences our estimation of the customs and traditions and methods surrounding its preparation. As evidence of this, we may surely decide that a dish's original context was unfortunate as a consequence of the fact that it really does taste just awful.

                                                                                The question that lurks at the heart of this discussion about authenticity, so far as I can tell, is the question about whether (i) or (ii) or some mixture of the two is the *right* way to appreciate food. This seems to be the same sort of question behind the controversy between those, on the one hand, who think that to appreciate a work of art you need to know the circumstances of its origin, the state of mind of the artist, the statement it makes in its place in the grand tradition in which it's located and so on and those, on the other hand, who think that to appreciate a work of art you (should) only need to look at its colors and shapes, contours of line, depiction of characters and events within it, and so on.

                                                                                I know that on the heels of this post are likely to follow a great many appeals to the old line that when it comes to aesthetics, particularly the aesthetics of food, it's all a matter of taste. I'd like to hear an argument for that, especially in view of the fact that many of us are likely to have regarded ourselves and others as getting it wrong--whether after reflection or after getting used to it--about whether some dish was good or not.

                                                                                So, should we worry about that question? Is there a right way to appreciate food? If not, why not? If so, what is it and why is it the right way?

                                                                                11 Replies
                                                                                1. re: eleaticstranger

                                                                                  Tastes can be learned - they can change. So if you want to live all by your existential self and say that what tastes good to you is good - and that's all there is to that - then how do you grow? How do you learn and change? What's your basis for growth? There's got to be more to it than just the empirical evidence - there has to be some analysis and thought, and as with any other learning, there needs to be some sort of common framework amongst people to provide for a common understanding so that we can share our experiences meaningfully.

                                                                                  Most human endeavors are the same - take music. There is simple, and there is complex - and taking the journey from London Bridge to Brahms' German Requiem is a hard but well worn path. Ther is a process of learning - an established pedagogy. Can anyone listen to the Requiem and say it's nice, and they like it? Of course. But a person that's learned an instrument, studied music, played in an orchestra, will get that much more pleasure and satisfaction from listening to the same music.

                                                                                  You don't have to have years of food experience to eat a top-of-the-line creation and state that it's wonderful. But if you have a studied and deep understanding of that food, it will mean that much more to you.

                                                                                  I think that Limster said it best in an earlier discussion of this topic. People have to have an analytical mind, and learn from each food experience. The knowledge and understanding builds with each new adventure- it accumulates and adds that much more to your next experience.

                                                                                  Previous discussions have included the question of where to start - I strongly come down on the side that says that you benefit from a guide - a person that knows a particular food better than you (through study or their cultural background), that takes the time to explain the dishes to you. Others feel that a guide may only reflect their particular understanding, and that you're better off just doing it yourself. If you've never had sushi before - or if you've never had a particular grade of sushi experience (authentic?), then are you better off just going to a renown place by yourself and ordering away, hit or miss, or are you better off asking someone for their guidance - perhaps the sushi chef? Could you tell, on your own, whether this place you're in has a true, apprenticed and well trained Japanese chef, or are these just Chinatown chefs that were cooking egg rolls and learned how to cut raw fish yesterday? If you see Asians in the place, is that a good enough sign that it's going to be an authentic (said it again) experience?

                                                                                  I don't necessarily concur that there is duality here - authentic vs. good. I think that it's all about traveling down the path of food experience and knowledge - and the further you go, the more you can appreciate both the goodness and the authenticity, as well as any and all other aspects of eating. There are always people ahead of you on the path, and there are always people behind you on the path. Ask ahead for advice, and don't be stingy in helping those behind you.

                                                                                  1. re: applehome

                                                                                    I think guidance is likely good, and there may be on occasion even a need for it. But even if it's good and even if it's needed, it so far remains unclear whether that settles the question I raised. People can, after all, provide guidance in lots of ways. In particular, they can guide you by regaling you with tales of customs and traditions and methods of preparation or they can guide you by saying what they like or what you'd like simply by appealing to the tastes involved.

                                                                                    Among the rhetorical questions you pepper your post with are these:

                                                                                    "...are you better off just going to a renown (sic.) place by yourself and ordering away, hit or miss, or are you better off asking someone for their guidance - perhaps the sushi chef? Could you tell, on your own, whether this place you're in has a true, apprenticed and well trained Japanese chef, or are these just Chinatown chefs that were cooking egg rolls and learned how to cut raw fish yesterday?"

                                                                                    The question at issue is whether what I gather you mean to imply by these questions matters, or whether it should matter. And the answer to that question, it seems, requires an argument.

                                                                                    (Your metaphor of a path, by the way, on which some are ahead and some are behind suggests a way of thinking that's likely to be what puts people off about those who adopt the view that you do.)

                                                                                    1. re: eleaticstranger

                                                                                      The gaining of any and all knowledge is a path - a journey. If people are put off by that, they are not ready to learn. As far as food goes, the idea that someone knows more about a specific food than you, should not put you off to listening to their ideas. You don't have to accept every word as gospel, and you should certainly seek alternate sources of information. It's your growth that's affected - not the person ahead (or claiming to be ahead). Once again - an analytical mind and the desire to learn are the real keys.

                                                                                      If, as Punko says below, you believe that the benefits of learning more about a subject are not worth the additional gains in insight and the resultant extra degrees of pleasure, then all is lost. That means that you are happy with McDonald's hamburgers and have no desire to see if a better burger can be had - to understand what makes a better burger - to have that ultimate transcendental burger experience.

                                                                                      I tried to get this away from authentic because as I've stated many times, the term gets lost in the semantics. It's a relative term, and without a clearly established and shared understanding between user and listener, it's not very meaningful. But it is one of several aspects of food that can be analyzed, just as are presentation and service - aspects that aren't necessarily directly part of the flavor and texture experiences of eating, but are part of the whole experience. It's not authentic vs. good. It's good in the context of x, (whatever you define as x), because it is presented well, it is authentic, or whatever other aspects there are to the experience.

                                                                                      It is useless, to even discuss good or bad without the context. My night out with Japanese salarymen at a top notch Izakaya in NYC is going to be quite different from taking my in-laws to the suburban generic Asian place. I would be a fool to try and compare the two. But if one of my in-laws seriously wanted to learn more about sushi, I could help guide them away from the burb asian and into something more serious. I realize that the judgement of "more serious" has this nefarious undertone you reject - that of a sempai or sensei aspect to this process. But there it is... We all learn from one source or another.

                                                                                      And btw - no more of that (sic) stuff... we don't correct spelling, grammar, typos etc... here. Although we do get on people for yelling (ALL CAPS).

                                                                                      1. re: applehome

                                                                                        Once again you've begged the question. What's at issue is whether the kind of knowledge you're talking about is important to the proper appreciation of food. We know that you think it is. The question is, *why* do you think someone needs that sort of knowledge? Simply saying they do doesn't show that they do.

                                                                                        Incidentally, though you allege that I hold a view which is the opposite of yours, I assure you that I don't. To be frank, I'm not sure what to think about this. I'm just interested in the questions--"What's authentic?", "How should one properly appreciate food?", "Is an estimation of food a purely relative affair?" and so on. They seem important to me and worth thinking through carefully, given my affection for food.

                                                                                        1. re: eleaticstranger

                                                                                          I'm not answering your question in the way that you want to hear the answer. And my use of "you" here was not necessarily you - I was mixing replies and reacting to Punko's post.

                                                                                          I've tried to make the point that "what's authentic" is not answerable in the absolute and only meaningful in relative terms to those with shared knowledge and interests in that particular aspect and within a particular context. But it is a description that is useful within those constraints. My telling my in-laws about how much better the authentic izakaya was is truly a futile conversation. But at the Izakaya, having my trusted Japanese salaryman friend tell me that a new restaurant that opened up is quite authentic, has meaning to me.

                                                                                          The other point worth repeating is, if a person is NOT here to increase their food knowledge, and they don't think there's any value in doing so, why would they stick around? I'm sure that they could go over to the chain board and tell folks where the latest McDonalds is going up - and that's fine - it's sharing information. But what's the purpose behind garnering more recipes, discussing what chefs are doing with what ingredients, understanding what the latest and greatest restaurants are presenting, what the next step in understanding sushi may be, if it doesn't fall under the umbrella of increasing food knowledge? I'm not sure we're understanding each other in terms of what you call "that sort of knowledge". I'm not talking about any particular sort of knowledge other than that it's food related. Pie are round is knowledge, as is understanding whether sulfur is always a defect in wine.

                                                                                          How you take the information posted on this site and synthesize it into what you can use, is certainly a relative affair. Your mileage most certainly will vary.

                                                                                          If you're looking for a formal epistemology for food knowledge, I suppose you have to go to the Cordon Blue or the CIA, or apprentice at a sushi restaurant in Tokyo. Beyond that, there's just listening, reading and dialoging to get other people to tell you what they know. Perhaps it's a generational thing - but I go through life assuming that there are people out there that know a lot more than I do, and that there's no harm in asking questions, sticking your opinions out there to kick off the dialectic process - it's how I learn. There's no assumed personal value to someone who knows more or less - it's not about high ground or low ground, it's just information.

                                                                                          1. re: applehome

                                                                                            I guess I've lost the bead on the point you mean to be making.

                                                                                            So far as I can tell, unless you mean to be addressing my worries, your aim in all this is to establish that some people don't know a lot about stuff (like sushi, or maybe Sushi is better) and other people do. And if the people who don't know about stuff (like Sushi) want to, one thing they can do is ask those who know about it (like you).

                                                                                            Hey, that's great. But it isn't at all controversial...

                                                                                            You suggest in addition that what you'll tell them (the unknowing hordes), along the way toward graciously filling them with your knowledge, is that authentic Sushi is sushi prepared in the way that you and the people who agree with you think sushi ought to be made. So that's what you call 'authentic'.

                                                                                            Hey, that's great too. That's controversial only if you regard it, in addition to being what you call 'authentic', as what really is authentic.

                                                                                            1. re: eleaticstranger

                                                                                              Well... as much as it may look like it, I wasn't talking to hear myself talk. I answered your questions, if not succinctly, then as completely as I could. Obviously, you should look for input elsewhere - perhaps a different format would be more acceptable. I used sushi only as examples - others started with Tacos Al Pastor and Amatriciana - Sushi happens to be something I understand a lot better. To summarize my comments:

                                                                                              "What's authentic?"
                                                                                              Authenticity is relative, not absolute, and can only be meaningfully discussed and learned from where the parties all have an understanding of what that term means to them.

                                                                                              "How should one properly appreciate food?
                                                                                              One should appreciate food by learning more about it - by analyzing each food event and growing towards a better understanding of the food in all its aspects.

                                                                                              "Is an estimation of food a purely relative affair?"
                                                                                              Estimation of food is indeed relative, but common knowledge allows discussions that can be better learned from. That common knowledge is garnered by cultural background, experience, and formal learning experiences. General experience includes discussions - here on line and elsewhere. As with any endeavor, you will tend to learn more from those that know more.

                                                                                              1. re: applehome

                                                                                                Yes, yes. That's great that you think so. But why are your answers the right ones?

                                                                                                For instance, why isn't it sufficient for a proper appreciation of food that you recognise that it tastes really really good, and the hell with whether it was made by super-happy-fantastic-Sushi-chef? Surely the answer isn't that all your Japanese salaryman friends would scoff, since of course the question would then remain about why their answers are the right ones.

                                                                                                I'm asking here for justification. And though I can't speak for him or her, I expect Bababooey was, in the original post, asking in part for the same. It seems to me, at least, a respectable question.

                                                                                                Now, if this is the wrong forum for that--if, that is, this is a forum reserved exclusively for a parade of opinions where calls for reasons for thinking those opinions are the right ones are out of place--then you've got me there. But then the question arises, Why do you hold opinions for which you have no arguments? Sounds a might religious to me.

                                                                                                Hamlet was wrong, you know. Thinking a thing is so doesn't make it so. Witness, as evidence against it, my current thought that I'm a millionaire. It ain't so.

                                                                                                Maybe another possibility is that I can remain here asking these kinds of questions (though against, of course, your recommendation) and you can preach elsewhere. I hear the choir is often sympathetic.

                                                                                                1. re: eleaticstranger

                                                                                                  Hamlet may or may not be correct, but your interpretation is wrong. What he said was that "nothing is either good or bad but thinking makes it so", which is quite different from your assertion, and more appropriate - I think- for this discussion.

                                                                                                  From my POV, "authenticity" is a property of food, like its color or shape or plating. It may or may not have anything to do with whether it tastes good, bad, or indifferent (that's where my personal preferences come into play). However, to Applehome's points, I would certainly agree that knowing more about a subject - any subject - can strengthen one's appreciation of the thing in question, and that this can lead (in the best of circumstances) to a greater capacity for enjoyment. OTOH, it can also lead to the sort of snobbery that reduces that capacity.

                                                                                                  It is possible, and to my way of thinking, preferable, to be able to enjoy Bartok AND the Ramones, Bugs Bunny AND Bergman, authentic tamales AND mission-style Burritos, etc. The person whose knowledge of authenticity in tradition, ingredients, preparation, and so on, enhances their capacity to enjoy a particular cuisine is - IMHO - better off then one whose ignorance limits that capacity. Flip side: the person whose knowledge impedes their capacity to enjoy variations on authentic dishes has lost something, and is no better off then the person who limits their eating to versions of a cuisine that don't challenge their provincial tastes; they both live in a more circumscribed world.

                                                                                                  Bottom line: I think that anything which extends our capacity to enjoy life is good and anything which does the reverse is bad. Does that "make it so"? Hamlet would, at least, agree. :)

                                                                                                  1. re: eleaticstranger

                                                                                                    Thomas Gray wrote: “Where ignorance is bliss, / ‘Tis folly to be wise."

                                                                                                    It seems you want to argue in favor ignorance and bliss. That's ok too. This is a big tent, and the only requirement is that you bring delicousness to the table. Since that is indeed a relative term, it seems that everybody is welcome. I represent no-one here - just myself - I was not recommending that you leave, but that you pay no particular attention to me if you disrespect either my philosophy or knowledge of food.

                                                                                                    The argument for knowledge speaks for itself from the simple fact that the only recourse is ignorance. I'm not saying that every single food journey is going to leave you thinking that it was worth it - but if you don't partake, how are you going to know? Are you truly willing to sit there and argue that developing new taste nuances and having the experience associated with a deeper understanding of food is simply not worth bothering with?

                                                                                                    Food isn't the only thing in life, and I certainly appreciate people who want to excel at other endeavors, and only come here to see what might be good for dinner. That's really the primary purpose of this site and there's nothing wrong with that. But at this site, you're going to run into people that have been and are all over the world. They have insight to foods that others will never be able to get to. They have taken the time to learn about and collectively try many restaurants and recipes because food has a certain importance to them. Asking them what's good for dinner may bring you answers that will suprise you - in fact that's one of the big purposes for this site - discovery. Not taking advantage of that body of knowledge and spirit of discovery would indeed be a shame.

                                                                                                    Hamlet also said, ""There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy."

                                                                                    2. re: eleaticstranger

                                                                                      My view is that on many Chowhound boards people enjoying food for new and different flavors (to them) are squashed by those that throw around "authentic." I've had many a delicious Tacos al Pastor that are not what one would get in Mexico. Many of them are quite sophisticated in the complexity of the spices, and many of them taste different, they can't all be "authentic" when measured against some unknown specific "authentic"- I think of delicious as a large mathematical space, where there can be many solutions with similar ingredients. I would still love to know what qualities go into authentic al Pastor, so I can know that experience. However, I refuse to believe that this "authentic" whatever it may be is a priori the optimal concoction of pork, cilantro, onions and corn tortilla. It might be, it might not.

                                                                                      There are many on the boards that treat "inauthentic" food as inedible, or degraded. It is hard to imagine that this really is so. People do get caught up with identifying places that match that particular street stand in wherever far flung land, and that is great. Sometimes it goes too far, and Chowhound becomes exclusive and not inclusive.

                                                                                      I learn so much from these boards, and I love hearing about different places, ingredients and techniques. The negativity and sometimes arbitrary perfectionism and one-up-manship can become a downer, though.

                                                                                    3. The whole question of authentic versus not authentic is really a question about the value of "culture." People have a notion of authenticity that comes from a culture that's being replicated in another country (I never hear the "it's not authentic" argument from people who are eating in Thailand or Cancun, it's always coming from an American criticizing the food being serve in an American City). For me, that's the basic key. If a person is making great food, and preserving a great food tradition in doing so, that is excellent! And if a person is making great food, and innovating in doing so, that's excellent as well!

                                                                                      In the first category, I would put forth El Parian in the Center City of Los Angeles. Many swear it's the best carne asada and pork (carnitas/el pastor) they've ever had. It's a little place that makes all the tortillas fresh, and certainly is preserving a tradition.

                                                                                      On the second hand, I'd look at a place like Babita, which is a gourmet Mexican place that resides in a not-trendy neighborhood. It makes what some would consider the best Mexican food in Los Angeles, and it does a very nice job of pleasing its customers, serving sophisticated and interesting food that isn't typical on your regular taco table. Neither one is more authentic than the other, though.

                                                                                      The taco joint and the gourmet spot are both authentic in their places. I think it's simply part of a trend to do more, to (a) either exploit the perception of authenticity that some places offer or (b) to sublimate the flavors of authenticity for the masses.

                                                                                      Nothing about either option is bad. I think most of America is better off for having the option to eat Baja Fresh, La Salsa or El Pollo Loco over McDonald's, in terms of taste and health options. The innovation has only helped the average american eat better. Whether they exploit it or don't offer it exact the way it came from the country of origin is in some ways beside the point.

                                                                                      1. Here is what my personal experiences with authenticity have been. Generally when trying a new cuisine, my first experience is usually with an Americanized version when applicable for said cuisine. This new experience usually intrigues me and I want more. Even though the food has been shifted towards American tastes, there is something new and exciting about it versus what I have been accustomed to. These new tastes generally spark my need for knowledge about the cuisine and i will voraciously devour any books, web sites, and native knowledge that I can. This leads me to try more and more examples of the food. As has been the case every time I will end up gravitating towards the most "authentic" in my search for the best version of the cuisine.
                                                                                        I do not try to start out with the less authentic versions, but rather one of convienience. I will try the place that happens to be near me, then in the search of chow i will go to the ethnic enclave to find the best. Nowadays, having learned this I will skip trying the stuff that looks inauthentic and go staright for the most authentic. The reason I do this is that I have found when i am searching out new food experiences, my tastes tend to veer towards the food that tastes authentic to whatever culture it is supposed to. The reasons for this are many and have been touched on by many posts above.

                                                                                        1. In my opinion, the final criterion is not "authenticity" but rather whether something is "honest," that is to say it makes good use of ingredients. Very often, if not even most often, "authentic" dishes are honest because they have a tradition behind them of cooks familiar with those ingredients who can use them to their best advantage. But if ingredients are not fresh or good, I would rather have an "inauthentic" substitute that is faithful to the spirit of the original or even a new dish that has evolved from the old one. Also, sometimes a cooking approach or technique can be applied with very good results to totally new ingredients, as happened when tomatoes reached Italy or chilis reached India. Ironically, sometimes trying to be "authentic" can betray the spirit of the original dish. John Thorne (in Outlaw Cook, I believe) has a wonderful discussion of this in relation to cassoulet. The original dish is based on ingredients that peasants preserved in various ways for reasons of economy. Some of those same ingredients are expensive, imported, gourmet items over here. Yes, they taste good. But so does an adaptation of the original concept to ingredients easily found in our markets. It won't be the same, but it will be good on its own terms. Finally, I like to remember the Italian adage: Hunger makes the best sauce. If you are hungry and on a limited budget, authenticity may be your last concern. All things being equal, however, I would look first of all for fresh, organic ingredients and try to do the best possible by them. So much of the great cooking of the world is, in fact, the simple cooking of the people. You can't go wrong if emulate them.

                                                                                          1. i find it useful to use "authentic" and "not authentic" as a tool to figure out how the cuisine will be presented. for instance if i hear that a korean joint is "authentic" i immediately assume that it will be hotter than the americanized counterpart. and this has been true in my experience.

                                                                                            also, i have yet to find sushi that i like that is the americanized or koreanized version because i have yet to meet a non-japanese sushi chef that has the level of skill i want. so when i hear that the chef is japanese and it's "authentic" and the person starts reeling off dishes that i like, then i would probably go and try that place.

                                                                                            on the flip side, if some asian restaurant is called "americanized" or "fusion" then it's pretty much a guarantee that the food will be richer, possibly have some milk products, and be very mild and somewhat bland to my taste, and probably bigger portions.

                                                                                            the "goodness" of authenticity if of course a matter of personal preference but in general i've found that i like some things that are "authentic" better simply because it's clear the chef has more skill in that cuisine than the fusiony counterpart, for instance in dim sum and sushi.

                                                                                            1. It's hard to have a meaningful discussion about authenticity when people don't agree on what it means.

                                                                                              I always think about Italy, since I have a lot of experience there. You'd be hard-pressed to find two people (outside of a single family) who agree on the proper way to make ragu, or many other dishes. A seemingly minor detail or ingredient makes all the difference. So what's authentic Italian food?

                                                                                              I really like Father Kitchen's discussion about "honesty" rather than "authenticity."

                                                                                              1. Two points from my limited world view.

                                                                                                1. I have a friend with whom I work who is from Viet Nam. It's his opinion that until the FDA starts letting chefs slaughter live chickens in the kitchens of their own restaurants, there won't be any "authentic" Vietnamese food in the US. One of the big cultural obstacles facing the Vietnamese public health officials in fighting bird flu is this bias that if the chicken isn't freshly killed, it tastes "funny".

                                                                                                2. In my 'hood there's on ongoing debate about which "neapolitan" pizza is better. One resto has the 800deg oven, so the "authentic" lovers pick the first as their fave. But they are notoriously inconsistent in the making of their pizzas, and the soggy crust and sickly sweet tomatoes make them taste bad. So the "taste" lovers pick the other pizza joint. Just because you do it "authentically" doesn't mean you do it well.

                                                                                                1. I've been meaning to chime in here, but I am too lazy to write the long treatise this subject deserves. Basically I agree, as usual, with Applehome. I think of how my appreciation for food, for art, for film, has developed since childhood and I see a long and fulfilling journey. But if anyone ahead of me on the road as it were exhibits a snobby superiority, by that act he has forfeited any claim to respect. (I'd still learn from him, though.) It would be like a London taxi driver who has spent years memorizing every street in London looking down on the visiting American physicist who doesn't know where Bond Street is.

                                                                                                  So if you like nachos smothered with gloppy cheese, at least try the more authentic Mexican moles, and maybe learn a little of Mexican history and culture. You may discover a whole new language and lexicography of taste. And if not, if you still prefer those gloppy corn chips, eat them with pride; you still have enriched your life. Finally, if you decide that the learning just isn't worth your time, remember that Albert Einstein, Mother Theresa, and the Dalai Lama have many critics. But none of them said, this guy just doesn't appreciate sushi.