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Authentic ethnic food, your opinion for my research paper?

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PotatoPuff Mar 27, 2007 06:12 PM

I am writing a paper for my writing professor on the homogenization of ethnic cuisine in the United States, with a particular focus on Italian food. I am exploring if this homogenization is creating subsets of ethnic cuisine (ex: Italian-American food) or a new, blended American cuisine. ****Also, info on other cusines (particularly Mexican or Chinese as they are widely available throughout the country) would be greatly appreciated.****Can anyone give me their opinion on the following:

-What foods try to pass off as Italian but are really fake? (ex: Chef Boyarde, overly cheesy pizza, etc.)

-What authentic Italian foods do you think are not represented in restaurants in America? (ex: pizza with potatoes on top)

-Are there any regions of Italy whose food you feel is particularly underrepresented in America?

-Are there any ethnic eating customs that you think are being warped by American culture?

I would like to explore more how this trend affects the majority of America, not only trendy Manhattan restaurants.

Thanks everyone!!!

  1. digkv Mar 27, 2007 06:47 PM

    A food that's not really Italian is most commonly, the "lasagna". As most know, real Italian lasagne uses a bechamel, the red sauce and even mushroom lasagna we have is delicious but not really Italian.

    I haven't really seen any Tuscan Italian restaurants, but I'm not really an expert.

    And eating customs? I'm not really sure what you mean but like in Italy they don't eat bread before their entree, they use it to sop up leftover sauce. And they don't use a spoon when eating pasta, that spoon on the side thing is just a way we invented to keep the oversauced pastas from flinging.

    Good luck on your paper.

    4 Replies
    1. re: digkv
      p
      Pan Mar 28, 2007 09:04 PM

      digkv, I have to address some of your claims.

      Lasagna alla napoletana does indeed use tomato sauce, ricotta, and fior di latte (etc.), NOT bechamel, which is used up north.

      I don't know where you are, but there are indeed Tuscan restaurants in New York.

      I have indeed seen Italians in Italy use spoon and fork to eat pasta.

      One interesting thing I did learn in the Chianti country is that Italians do not automatically add cheese to pasta, even when the option to add cheese is perfectly acceptable. A friend of mine taught me to try the pasta first, because if the sauce is perfect, it can only be damaged by adding anything further to it.

      1. re: Pan
        digkv Mar 28, 2007 10:17 PM

        Oh, thanks for that. All this time people have been telling me that non-bechamel lasagne is not real and I believed them. I'm in So Cal so no Tuscan restaurants here but you are very lucky that you get Tuscan restuarants in NY. And that's interesting about the spoon and the cheese. I guess I would never survive living in Italy.

        1. re: digkv
          p
          Pan Mar 28, 2007 10:33 PM

          Sure you would! You'd just discover that the way people do things in one part of Italy is different from the way they do it in another, and that they consider the way the forestieri (out-of-towners) do things to be "wrong"!

          1. re: Pan
            m
            mangiatore Mar 29, 2007 09:35 AM

            From my experience living in Italy, lasagne alla bolognese (with bechamel) is considered the "classic" lasagne by most Italians, the way pizza in Naples is considered the only "real" pizza. This doesn't mean that other lasagne recipes aren't legit, they're just not the classic recipe.

    2. Leucadian Mar 27, 2007 06:59 PM

      One of my favorite tacos is 'al pastor', consisting of slices of pork that has been marinated in spices and citrus and roasted on a vertical spit. Not too hard to find in areas with a large mexican population, but not yet available in the chains.

      Another favorite dish is fish Veracruz style, with tomatos and olives and capers as well as chiles.

      And who doesn't like mole poblano, that deep dark sauce with undertones of chocolate and cinnamon. Or Mexican chocolate with cinnamon flavoring.

      None of these is pure indigenous pre-colombian cooking. The al pastor refers to shepherds from Lebanon who brought their shwarma technique with them. Citrus is not native either. The olives and capers in the veracruzana style of cooking are Mediterranean ingredients. And of course cinnamon is imported from Asia. So what is authentic anyway? Pre-colombian Italian cooking, by the way, did not have tomatos or hot peppers, because they are New World vegetables. No corn, so no polenta. Even sugar was introducet to Italy and the rest of Europe from India and the middle east.

      People have always adapted new foods to their likes and available resources, so maybe your paper should look at the good things that these chains do, like introduce people to new tastes in a palatable way. I don't mean that those dishes are always my preference, but authentic is a tough term to pin down, and subject to lots of qualifiers. Some of my favorite authors refer to their recipes as 'traditional' instead. Or maybe you could trace a single food from its origin to main street USA. Lettuce or watermelon, oranges or chiles, take your pick.

      Good luck on your paper.

      17 Replies
      1. re: Leucadian
        Sam Fujisaka Mar 27, 2007 07:33 PM

        Excellent reply! Cuisines, languages, and cultures are dynamic, not static. Everything we revere may have intially been criticized as a sign that the barbarians are at the gate.

        1. re: Sam Fujisaka
          u
          uptown jimmy Mar 29, 2007 09:40 AM

          Indeed. Very good post. FWIW, the Italians got pasta from Asia a long time ago.

          1. re: uptown jimmy
            alanstotle Mar 29, 2007 10:15 AM

            Like many of you, I have heard this story numerous times. I have also heard people argue that this story is a myth and needs to be debunked. I'm not certain what to believe for sure, though I tend to take the skeptical route.

            What I _do_ know for certain is that our histories of food and stories about where foods came from (pasta from Asia or Caesar Salad from Tijuana, for instance) are as dynamic as the food itself.

            1. re: alanstotle
              Sam Fujisaka Mar 29, 2007 11:28 AM

              The historical record is clear that pasta came from Asia.

              1. re: Sam Fujisaka
                m
                MakingSense Mar 29, 2007 12:01 PM

                Oh, Sam! History is written by fallible people with biases.
                It is entirely possible that Chinese with flour and water and/or eggs created pasta and Italians, who had no contact with those Chinese, had flour and water and/or eggs and also created pasta.
                Ask the Patent or Copyright Offices how often people come up with identical or nearly identical ideas even though they've had no contact with each other.
                Flour and eggs/water are not rare ingredients and combining them is hardly complex.

                1. re: MakingSense
                  u
                  uptown jimmy Mar 29, 2007 01:23 PM

                  Actually, I think the historical record is pretty clear. Any food historians out there?

                  1. re: uptown jimmy
                    h
                    Hungry Celeste Mar 29, 2007 01:37 PM

                    I think that the only agreement among food historians on the issue is that no evidence exists for a single hearth of origin of pasta. Multiple, independent innovations is the prevailing theory these days.

                    1. re: Hungry Celeste
                      Will Owen Mar 29, 2007 02:59 PM

                      Once you've invented farinaceous dough, you're at least 90% of the way towards any food you can make from it. An Italian invention, I believe late Roman, was the "chitarra", an open-top box with a lot of wires laid closely together across the opening. You lay a rolled-out sheet of dough on that and press it through, and Voila! - noodles! As this was quite a few hundred years before Marco Polo, I assume that the only thing that surprised him about finding noodles in China was that they ate'em with chopsticks. Oh, and there are plenty of published Italian pasta recipes dating from Roman times through the Middle Ages...

                      There's still a variety of pasta made with the chitarra. The Atlas machines, of course, came a bit later...

                    2. re: uptown jimmy
                      n
                      NicoleFriedman Apr 4, 2007 08:55 PM

                      Apicius, an Ancient Roman gourmand and cook book author had a recipe that resembled lasagne.

                    3. re: MakingSense
                      Sam Fujisaka Mar 29, 2007 04:45 PM

                      Good history like good food is cooked up by those who really care and is judged by many, many more who really know. A chef "biased" that his/her food is the best will soon be smoked out.

                      Actually, when I was a more academic anthropologist (at the dawn of time in grad school) we worked with the complex statistics having to do with "Galton's Problem." GP has to do with determining cases of independent invention vs. diffusion. While pasta "could have" easily been invented anywhere wheat (or other staples) was grown and flour was produced, lots of wheat eaters eat only bread--even in the center of origin of wheat. Noodles were clearly consumed in Asia for a long time before they became popular elsewhere. One of the points of one of McCullough's (my favorite historian because he is always making sense) books is that the lack of physical barriers between Europe and the far East allowed for huge interchanges--i.e., argue for diffusion.

                      Yes, independent invention was more than possible. Historians seem to think it was a case of diffusion.

                      1. re: Sam Fujisaka
                        Brian S Mar 29, 2007 07:03 PM

                        There was trade between China and the Roman empire back in the day. It was all done by intermediaries. So Chinese noodles could have come to Rome and for all I know Roman fish sauce could have made it to Asia. Here's something I wrote about this trade last year:

                        Sometime around the year 160, a troupe of strange, disheveled jugglers showed up at the Chinese capital, Chang'an. They were Romans, they announced, and had journeyed overland from Rome. No one knows if their claim was true, or mere carny boasting to attract curious customers. But, if true, they were the only Romans ever to visit China. There was a fair bit of trade in ancient times between the two empires. Roman ladies loved silk. But it was done throuigh intermediaries.

                        The primary reason for this is Parthia. This is that once-mighty empire's only claim to fame. They left very little behind in the way of artwork or anything else. As Will Durant said, the Parthians preferred the art of living to the life of art. They came from just south of the Caspian Sea and, about the time that Brutus was steeling himself to betray his friend Julius, they ruled an empire that included Persia and Syria. They wouldn't let trade through their realm.

                        Now there was a roaring trade between Rome and India in those days. Those Roman aristocrats needed those Indian spices, perfumes and textiles, and no day at the colosseum would be complete without a few savage tigers from India. The Parthians threatened this trade, and their presence in Syria was too close to Roman territory for comfort. When Caesar died, he was planning an invasion of Parthia. Augustus carried out the plans (one reason he romanced Cleopatra was to get financing) but they failed. A century later, the emperor Trajan succeeded in conquering Parthia, and became the only Roman general ever to stand on the shores of the Indian ocean. But under Hadrian, who was more of a philosopher than a general (not unlike his Indian counterpart Ashoka a few centuries before), the Parthians reconquered Syria. They were driven back, and trade with India resumed. But there was never any direct contact between Rome and China. Had there been, and had the routes stayed open, history might have been much different. T'ang dynasty armies might have swept through a weak, barbarian Europe.

                        1. re: Brian S
                          m
                          ML8000 Mar 29, 2007 08:06 PM

                          I heard noodles/pasta came from the Middle East/Central Asia. If I can find the article, I'll post a link.

                          Re: the statement about culture. language being dymanic -- exactly. One could make an argument that "dead" or dying cultures push change away and stagnate while thriving and emerging cultures (with trade) embrace changes and newness but good comes w/ bad.

                          I'd say the US embarces change on its own terms...hence you get Taco Bell and Olive Garden. (harhar) On that note, I'd also consider how food is produced and prepared...if you've ever read or know anything about the Taco Bell distribution model...you'd NEVER eat there again.

                          1. re: ML8000
                            Sam Fujisaka Mar 29, 2007 09:35 PM

                            But noodles and pasta in Central Asia (the center of origin of wheat) are now largely consumed in east Asian-type dishes. They are big bread eaters!

                            1. re: Sam Fujisaka
                              kare_raisu Mar 30, 2007 07:19 AM

                              There have been murals discovered in the Etruscan tombs NE of Rome of these forerunners of the Romans eating pasta.

                        2. re: Sam Fujisaka
                          u
                          uptown jimmy Mar 29, 2007 09:33 PM

                          All good posts, but this one fits my understanding. It's considered pretty solid fact, I thought. Asians were doing all kinds of fancy stuff long before Western Europeans, who then "discovered" such things upon their military/trade excursions Eastward....spices, noodles, metallurgy, etc. Just my impression....

                          1. re: uptown jimmy
                            Brian S Mar 30, 2007 07:01 AM

                            I believe people agree that the Chinese invented noodles first. 4000 year old noodles have been discovered in China... not unlike the hand-pulled noodles you can get on Eldridge Street in NYC.

                            http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/na...

                            1. re: Brian S
                              Karl S Apr 3, 2007 05:05 AM

                              I think the current consensus is that noodles in east Asia and pasta in south Europe developed independently of each other.

            2. rrrob Mar 27, 2007 07:07 PM

              try to catch mario batali's episode of "chefography" on food network...should be in re-run hell right now. alot of the episode is of the difference between italian and italian-american food, and how it is changing, slowly. this is new york, imagine how long it will take america's heartland to figure out italian food.

              re: underrepresented italian foods, fish!

              re: eating customs being warped, grilled korean short-ribs, or kalbi, has morphed by using a different cut of the same meat. traditionally, the meat is butterflied away from the bone of the shortrib, but since shortribs were more often sold in supermarkets cut perpendicular to the bone(creating a flat piece of meat w/3 rib cross-section), they were used instead. So prevalent was this cut, that it is called L.A. kalbi, and can even be found in korea, labeled as such. i'm sure there're hundreds of such stories of how availability of ingredients have changed ethnic recipes.

              good luck w/the paper!

              2 Replies
              1. re: rrrob
                p
                PotatoPuff Mar 27, 2007 07:19 PM

                thanks everyone!!!

                1. re: PotatoPuff
                  n
                  newbatgirl Mar 27, 2007 07:28 PM

                  If you can catch Rick Bayless' "Mexico: One Plate at a Time" show on PBS, you'll learn a lot about the various kinds of authentic Mexican cooking, not the Tex-Mex stuff served all over the place in America. I strongly suggest checking one of his cookbooks out of the library for you paper because he packs a lot of information in them.

                  Mexican cooking, like Indian and Chinese, varies from region to region, and he thankfully takes the time to explain that. My family is from the Yucatan and I've been very impressed with his coverage of Yucatan food. It's so fun to see dishes that my grandfather cooked for me on a TV food show!

              2. m
                MakingSense Mar 27, 2007 09:02 PM

                Some of the changes in ethnic foods as they changed in America weren't evil bastardizations at all. More Creolizations. Honest attempts to reproduce the tastes of the Home Country with what was at hand.
                An Italian woman who married an American GI after WWII and found herself in Kansas couldn't find ricotta or the varieties of pasta and meats that she was used to in Italy. She used what was at hand and everyone grew to love Mom's and then Grandma's "real Italian food." After all, she was a "real Italian," wasn't she?
                It has only been in the past few years that we have been able to buy the wide variety of specialty foodstuffs in the US that we now think are commonplace. Most of our ideas of ethnic food had already been established so many of us have some "un-learning" to do. Most Americans still don't travel abroad and don't have the chance to taste the real thing.
                Of course, it's equally surprising to travel overseas and eat their versions of American food. They do a far worse job than we do. Perhaps because we seem to take so little pride in our own fabulous food culture.

                4 Replies
                1. re: MakingSense
                  p
                  PotatoPuff Mar 28, 2007 05:24 PM

                  thanks!!!

                  1. re: PotatoPuff
                    v
                    vanillagrrl Mar 28, 2007 10:50 PM

                    Eating pizza in Padua was a revelation -- thin, blistered crust with a few very fresh ingredients (grilled eggplant in olive oil was my favorite), instead of typical American pizzas where each slice is as big as my face and is laden with tons of cheese. I think most Italians would be horrified at many of the things that are called pizza here, like "stuffed crust" (more dough! more cheese!) and "stuffed pizza" (like a giant calzone, with the dough on the top and bottom of the pie and the rest of the ingredients baked inside it.

                    Burritos are an example of an American food that people think of as Mexican but really is more of a Tex-Mex border invention. And again the size of a typical burrito distinguishes it from what you'd likely find in a Mexican restaurant that serves Mexicans.

                    It's my understanding that dishes like Chop Suey and crab-and-cream cheese wontons served with red sauce don't come from China, either. This is a rich topic!

                    1. re: vanillagrrl
                      j
                      justagthing Mar 28, 2007 11:15 PM

                      try fortune cookies, they are an american invention. chop suey is an american term and different cantonese restaurants have different versions, but it is usually some type of stir fried veggie/s.

                  2. re: MakingSense
                    maria lorraine Apr 3, 2007 04:44 AM

                    Apologies in advance for the long response.

                    This is one of the most interesting threads I've read on CH, and I particularly like the thinking here, especially Making Sense's comment above.

                    Cuisine evolves, sometimes by happenstance, as in the case of the Italian GI wife above, who essentially improvised without authentic Italian ingredients. She inadvertently created a hybrid cuisine to keep her family fed. What Mrs. GI did was common, and to those who didn’t know any better, her hybrid cuisine was thought to be "authentic" Italian food. When more accurately, it should have been called Italian-American.

                    That improvised "Italian-American" cuisine first invented by Mrs. GI is absolutely authentic and genuine, organically arising out of a particular culture, time and situation. It's not fake. What it's not is authentic Italian. There's a subtle difference.

                    Yet another hybrid under the Italian-American banner was developed when national restaurant chains entered the American dining scene. This might be called a “manufactured,” mass-marketed version of Italian-American cuisine. In this case, the cuisine was standardized (not homogenized) so that it could be reproduced identically in each of chain’s national stores (Olive Garden, for example). Also, the “ingredients” or “raw” materials to prepare the food were often factory-manufactured and then delivered to the chains. This is yet another evolution of Italian-American food, one that evolved from of our nation’s restaurant chain culture, the advent of manufactured food, and the country’s existing affection for Italian-American cuisine. It’s just like Chef Boy-r-dee. Once again, not fake anything, but not authentic Italian.

                    Yet another subset of Italian-American would be Cal-Ital, or Californian-Italian.

                    You could do this kind of “family tree” with any assimilated cuisine in the US.

                    I’d also like to ask you to please watch the words homogenization and fake. These words have judgment attached to them, and hint that there may be nefarious underpinnings to the way that cuisines have evolved here in the US. As mentioned, usually cuisines evolve organically, on their own.

                    Yes, chains are motivated by money, and deception runs rampant in advertising that shows Mama in Italy stirring a pot of red sauce and then cuts to a red-and-white tablecloth inside the restaurant (chain) and a plate of steaming pasta and red sauce – all with the goal to have you believe this food was “authentic Italian,” “like Mama used to make.”

                    Further, your questions almost indicate that you are looking for information to support a premise or an opinion that you already have in your head. Instead, I’d like to ask you to be a little more open to any insights or conclusions that may come out of the information you accumulate.

                    With almost every cuisine in the US, you will find an "authentic" (historical) cuisine hiding under the "marketed" or popularized cuisine. Southwestern cooking is another example of this.

                    Change, in cuisine as in everything else, always occurs with one foot in the camp of the familiar and one food in the camp of the unknown. There are many food trend studies on how cuisine changes with an influx of workers from other countries (Silicon Valley, for example) as well as studies on how a native cuisine changes as more of is population travels.

                    In fact, the US is full of these hybrid cuisines, like Italian-American, Cal-Ital, Tex-Mex, and
                    Cal-Asian. Cajun and Creole are hybrid cuisines, and they keep evolving and changing. Southern cuisine, one of the most unchanged regional US cuisines, is yes, changing
                    slightly to accommodate a healthier lifestyle. Cuisines are not static.

                    This is all fascinating stuff. I’ve pondered this question a lot and some of what I've written here is paraphrased from my own previous, copyrighted work, Potato Puff. Write again. It’d be great to read a new post from you about all you learned.

                  3. c
                    cheesemonger Mar 28, 2007 11:25 PM

                    And remember- that quintessential American-Italian menu staple, the Caesar Salad..... invented in Mexico by Caesar Cardini, who was an Italian restranteur in Tijuana. The salad gained prominence because celebs used to eat there- and the Julia Child herself "discovered" it there.

                    1. ElsieDee Mar 29, 2007 12:25 AM

                      Interesting paper topic.

                      Some ideas just off the top of my head:
                      - Serving large dishes of pasta as a main dish
                      - The issue of serving cheese with seafood (there's a recent thread on this very topic - for the record, I sometimes do and sometimes don't)
                      - Different pizza styles (New Yok, Chicago thin crust/deep dish, California pizza, etc.)

                      I think that there are individual restaurants through out the US serving foods from different regions of Italy - but the large "Italian" chains (Olive Garden, Carrabbas, Macaroni Grill, Buca di Beppo, etc.) seem to stick with Americanized basics and don't offer items such as varieties of seafood, rabbit, untraditional cuts of meat (especially organ meat), different greens, different cheeses, desserts, etc.

                      Regarding ethnic eating customs being warped by American culture - there was a recent thread that discussed Americans expecting to be given chopsticks in Thai restaurants, whereas the Thai eat using a fork to move food onto a spoon - also a discussion about serving sake with sushi - and eating sushi/sashimi with your fingers instead of chopsticks - and whether or not it's acceptable to add wasabi/soy to your sushi ...

                      Regarding Chinese food - I'm lucky enough to live some place (California's San Gabriel Valley) where there's not only oodles of excellent Chinese food, but there's excellent representation of different cooking traditions from different Chinese regions. However, I grew-up eating "Americanized" Chinese food - chop suey, egg foo young, pu-pu platters, egg-drop soup, fortune cookies - and I think that that's what's available in much of the US. I've no idea if such foods would be recognizable to a recently-arrived Chinese person as being representative of "their" cuisine.

                      Actually, along those lines, there was an interesting article in the NYT, within the past couple of months, on the origin of "Orange Chicken" that would be worth seeking-out.

                      Good luck on your paper!

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: ElsieDee
                        j
                        justagthing Mar 29, 2007 06:39 AM

                        to go along with your orange chicken, how about the shrimp and walnuts made with mayo....oh and my favorite chinese chicken salad....

                        1. re: ElsieDee
                          p
                          PotatoPuff Mar 29, 2007 07:52 PM

                          could you please elaborate on the cheese and seafood combo?

                          1. re: PotatoPuff
                            ElsieDee Mar 29, 2007 10:23 PM

                            Here's a link to the recent thread I mentioned:

                            http://www.chowhound.com/topics/384171

                            The topic is about Lobster Mac&Cheese but the thread is about whether or not it's acceptable to serve seafood (and/or fish) with cheese. Some people say yes, others say no - some interesting points are raised.

                            (For the record, I'm a sometimes yes/sometimes no person - depends on the seafood, the cheese, and my mood.)

                        2. Sam Fujisaka Mar 29, 2007 08:47 AM

                          Homogenization of ethnic cuisine happens all over the world where the population of that ethnic group remains relatively small. I haven't eaten "Chinese food" for about 13 years here in Colombia--after I faced white bread served with overcooked, overs salted, greasy bad food. The cause of the problem is that there are no Chinese in Cali.

                          On the other hand, large immigrant populations in the agricultural Central Valley of California created the opposite effect. Restaurants have to maintain the "real" stuff to attract their own ethnic groups. This happened in the Central Valley in the 50s and 60s for Mexican, Armenian, Basque, Japanese, and later in the 80s for Thai, Hmong, Vietnamese, and others. Numbers were not great enough to create such same ethnic group demand for filipino, Portuguese, Swedish, German, perhaps Italian--albeit there are significant populations of these groups in the Valley.

                          Unfortunately, the spread of regional and national chains (and their homogenization of foods) in places like the Central Valley has again partially reversed trends that maintained heterogeneity.

                          I would also speculate that high consumer demand for pho instead of the wide range of Vietnamese foods may, to some degree, result in a different sort of homogenization.

                          1. n
                            niki rothman Mar 29, 2007 08:54 AM

                            An idea for you:
                            In SF, on outer Balboa street, there is a Chinese/Italian restaurant. I've never eaten there but I'm sure the SF chowhounds could answer any questions you might have about it.

                            1. m
                              mangiatore Mar 29, 2007 09:56 AM

                              - American pizza bears little resemblance to Italian pizza
                              - Parmesan cheese is never served with any seafood dish in Italy
                              - The concept of spaghetti and meatballs is horrifying to Italians. Spaghetti is one dish. Meatballs is another.
                              - Northern Italian food in general is underrepresented, but this makes sense due to the number of Southern Italian immigrants that flocked to the U.S. in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Regions such as Friuli, the Veneto, and Le Marche are certainly underrepresented, and I've never seen food from the Alto Adige in the U.S.
                              - Sicilian food is overrepresented
                              - Tuscan restaurants are OVERrepresented in the U.S. of late. It's the whole Under the Tuscan Sun phenomenon. In my experience, Tuscan food (in Tuscany) is often very bland.
                              - As far as southern regions, Calabrian food (read: spicy and good!) is underrepresented.
                              - the use of red and white checkered tablecloths is an example of ethnic eating customs being warped by American culture. This may be common in some area of Italy, but it's not customary anywhere I've spent time in Italy.

                              16 Replies
                              1. re: mangiatore
                                Striver Mar 29, 2007 10:20 AM

                                What's interesting to me is how many of these variations on traditional cuisine were developed by Italians living in America (not by non-Italian Americans "adjusting" someone else's cuisine). It's proper, I think, to talk of Italian-American cuisine as another "regional" variation to be judged on its own merits and not in reference to some non-existent standard. Do Calabrians judge their cooking in reference to Milanese? Do Tuscans care if Sicilians cook everything differently? Frankly, a big bowl of spaghetti under a blanket of "gravy" containing sausages, braciole, and - yes - delicious homemade meatballs deserves to be judged on its own merits - not on how it accords with some platinum model of someone's idea of super-regional Italian cuisine.

                                And, as others have pointed out, it's important to keep in mind that most cuisines are constantly changing and adjusting as other cultures are encountered. In the NYC metro area (and I'm sure LA at least as much and most likely more) you can now dine not only on Chinese food from different regions of China and on "traditional" Chinese-American dishes, but on Indian-Chinese and Korean-Chinese (and Korean-Japanese). Adapting cuisines is just something cultures do. Just ask an Italian where the French got all their culinary ideas from!!

                                1. re: Striver
                                  m
                                  mangiatore Mar 29, 2007 10:39 AM

                                  I have no problem with what you're saying, so long as you recognize the distinction by calling it "Italian-American food" instead of "Italian food," just as a Calabrian shouldn't call his risotto "Milanese" if he leaves out the saffron and adds sausage instead, right?

                                  1. re: mangiatore
                                    Striver Mar 29, 2007 11:21 AM

                                    Absolutely. I think we're on the same page on this one - hence my suggestion that Italian-American be considered yet another "regional" variation on native Italian cuisine, with its own tradition and menu. If definitions are ignored, they ultimately become meaningless - and therefore useless.

                                    I would add, though, that feedback loops can render a lot of this differentiation difficult. For example, as Italians are exposed to American pizza, there may be resulting modifications to Italian pizza (or the opening of American-style pizzerias, which may have already occurred - I don't know) such that there is a convergence of sorts. Over time, we may well be moving toward a more globalized cuisine where regional differences move toward a vanishing point - sadly, IMHO.

                                    1. re: Striver
                                      Sam Fujisaka Mar 29, 2007 11:32 AM

                                      While I agree with you two (and you are on the same page), remember that the original post is concerned with homogenization (i.e., something like melting together all those Italian regional foods into one). You guys have made the case that Italian-American is another regional variation and not a blending of different Italian regional cuisines.

                                      1. re: Sam Fujisaka
                                        Striver Mar 29, 2007 11:59 AM

                                        I'd stick with that - while Italian-American is primarily based on the cuisine of the Mezzogiorno (a super-region, if you will), its own unique variations (like American-style cheese-heavy pizza) make it more than just a blend.

                                2. re: mangiatore
                                  icey Apr 9, 2007 11:03 AM

                                  As an add-on: Italians can tell if you are a tourist if you order a cappuccino after 11 am. That is strictly a breakfast thing. Tuscan bread is usually made without salt to compensate for the fact that their prosciutto is usually much more salty that say a Parma or a San Daniele, so perhaps that is "bland". But I dont think that Italian food is ever bland...perhaps simple ingredients and not overly sauced, etc, but never bland. (but thats just mho) Another thing that I have not encountered EVER in Italy is putting grilled chicken breast on your pasta or pizza...my grandmother did use leftover meats shredded up into tomato sauce so as not to waste anything, but I think grilled chicken on pasta or pizza is a very Italo-American concept.
                                  In an italian restaurant usually the portions are much smaller as people are used to ordering a "primo" (first course; usually pasta or risotto), and a "secondo" (second course: usually your meat or fish) whereas if I were to go to an Italian -Canadian resto, usually there is no way that I would be able to go through both so you usually tend to order one or the other.
                                  Also, if you pick up a copy of "The Silver Spoon" Cook book, you will notice diagrams showing the differences in animal cuts between Americans and Italians. So if Americans are used to different cuts of meat, then their dishes will reflect that as well.

                                  1. re: icey
                                    f
                                    fara Apr 10, 2007 01:03 AM

                                    "grandmother did use leftover meats shredded up into tomato sauce so as not to waste anything, but I think grilled chicken on pasta or pizza is a very Italo-American concept. "
                                    there is no way that a self-respecting italian-american cook would use "grilled chicken" in anything resembling italian food. that is an accomodation in restaurants to california cuisine or something.

                                    1. re: fara
                                      m
                                      MakingSense Apr 10, 2007 09:38 AM

                                      I did learn not to use the words "never" or "no way" hanging around in Italy one summer with Italian friends. They used leftovers in creative ways for antipasti - they referred to it as "cadena" (sp?) or the chain. They would use whatever they had from the previous day's meals to create some treats for antipasti, a quick soup or an addition to a pasta. And, yes, they threw some odd stuff on top of pizzas. They had no problem with improvised recipes.

                                      1. re: MakingSense
                                        f
                                        fara Apr 10, 2007 06:54 PM

                                        oh my g_d....grilled chicken is not even eaten in Italy! as in the grilled spongy stuff with grill marks, etc, that you find on pizza. some things just do not go.
                                        i said NOTHING about improvising.

                                        1. re: fara
                                          m
                                          MakingSense Apr 10, 2007 08:22 PM

                                          Not only have I had chicken cooked over a fire in Italy, but Grilled Chicken alla Diavola, Roman Style is one of my favorite recipes from Marcella Hazan's Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking.
                                          It's worth doing over a wood fire after marinating the butterflied whole chickens in olive oil, lemon juice and cracked pepper. But MH says that charcoal will do.

                                          1. re: MakingSense
                                            f
                                            fara Apr 10, 2007 10:42 PM

                                            apparently you cannot read! i defined "grilled chicken" as above, which is the version served on pizza in the U.S.

                                            1. re: fara
                                              bbqboy Apr 11, 2007 08:57 AM

                                              Isn't that the whole point of this thread? How Italian American cuisine evolved from what Italians brought over on the boat?
                                              Whether Real live Italians eat grilled Chicken on Pizza matters little to about 99% of us.
                                              Besides, it tastes good. Isn't that what eating's about?

                                              1. re: fara
                                                m
                                                MakingSense Apr 11, 2007 11:04 AM

                                                Fara, while I agree that a lot of grilled chicken is awful and putting it on pizza makes it even worse, the versions you might have had aren't indicative of every one served in the US or Italy.
                                                It can be done well and that's why I said "never say never." I had wonderful grilled chicken in Italy that was recycled into white pizza very successfully the next day. I've had good ones in the US.
                                                Life isn't long enough for me to have every experience so I can't define things based only on my own experience - I have to constantly change my opinions because I constantly get new information.
                                                And as bbqboy says, if it tastes good, that's what good eating is all about, whatever my opinion used to be.

                                                1. re: MakingSense
                                                  Sam Fujisaka Apr 11, 2007 11:27 AM

                                                  MS, glad things are cooling down here. Don't want to see you leaving this hijack with those grill marks on your back.

                                          2. re: MakingSense
                                            m
                                            mangiatore Apr 11, 2007 02:56 PM

                                            "Catena" is the word you're looking for MS.

                                            1. re: mangiatore
                                              m
                                              MakingSense Apr 11, 2007 05:44 PM

                                              Oops! Wrote that in Spanish. Catena/cadena = chain.
                                              Grazie, mangiatore.

                                    2. Brian S Mar 29, 2007 10:35 AM

                                      The NY Times had a wonderful article written by a man who swore by his family's traditional spaghetti sauce, and returned to the village his grandmother emigrated from to track it down. He found nothing like it!! He then tried to trace the changes, and found out they were mostly done by his mother, who grew up on a farm but married a fairly well to do city-dweller. Here's a short excerpt:

                                      The author's mother "fell in love with convenience foods and the big, clean supermarkets of the suburbs. She no longer had to can tomatoes or dry basil and parsley on cookie sheets. And all the meat came on those nice, clean plastic trays.
                                      Mom even took to using something food manufacturers call “Italian seasoning.” But she’ll also use a mix of about three parts dried basil to one part dried oregano. My grandmother never used oregano; just lots of parsley and basil. But all the Zappa daughters did.

                                      "I was stumped about why the family sauce ended up heavy with oregano and meat. So I called Lidia Bastianich, the New York chef who has written much about the transfer of Italian food to America.

                                      “This is a cuisine of adaptation, of nostalgia, of comfort,” she said. By overemphasizing some of the seasonings Italian immigrants brought from home, they could more easily conjure it up. And sometimes the adaptations were simply practical. Using tomato paste, for example, was a way to make the watery tomatoes in the United States taste more like the thick-fleshed kind that grew in Italy."

                                      read the entire article at
                                      http://www.nytimes.com/2007/02/21/din...

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: Brian S
                                        pitu Apr 4, 2007 05:29 AM

                                        That *is* a good article about a specific morphing of Ital to Ital-American, but I'm not so sure Kim Severson is a man.
                                        "A Grandchild of Italy Cracks the Spaghetti Code"
                                        http://www.nytimes.com/2007/02/21/din...

                                      2. h
                                        Hungry Celeste Mar 29, 2007 11:50 AM

                                        'Taterpuff, I challenge you to re-examine the use of the word "homogenization." Think like an anthropologist and do a little research on the concept of creolization (mentioned below by Making Sense)....it's a term that will serve you well as you seek to understand cultural change in the U.S. through the lens of foodways. Homogenization implies that everything is uniform, achieved through (perhaps intentional) blending...not really a reflection of how cultural exchange & innovation take place in our society.

                                        In addition, you will indeed find distinctive subsets of Italian cuisine in the U.S. I'm thinking in particular, of creole italian cooking as practiced in south Louisiana. Based on the recipes & taste memories of a horde of southern italian immigrants who flooded the Gulf Coast beginning in the 1890s, it incorporates a wealth of indigenous ingredients (a plethora of seafoods), as well as techniques and ingredients borrowed from their French, Spanish, native, African, and other neighbors. A particular breed of neighborhood italian restaurant still exists, even post-K: see the NOLA board for posts on Liuzza's, Mandina's, Mosca's, etc. (point of trivia: the entity that eventually became Progresso foods, purveyor of italian-ish items to all of America, was founded as a family grocery business in NOLA)

                                        And I also challenge your concept of "fake": in culture, what's fake and what's real? Chef Boyardee does appropriate certain signifiers of Italian-ness, but it's still just flabby pasta in a can. Maybe it's not like "your" italian culture, but it's a quintessentially American product. It's not "warping" anyone or anything...

                                        1. ccbweb Mar 29, 2007 12:15 PM

                                          I think a lot of the answers to your questions have to do wtih whether you conisder Italian food to be defined by ingredients or by a philosophy. Mario Batali (regardless of what you think of him) constatly talks about the attitude and approach of Italians. The ingredients you would use should be the ones more local to you and those that are easier for you to get and easier for you to work with. So, the ingredients in a dish might well vary but still be true to the Italian roots of a dish.

                                          Also, I'd be wary of going into the project with terms like "fake" or "warped" in mind. Altered, modified, changed, etc are all a bit more neutral. Chef Boyarde isn't "fake" necessarily...it might not be good and it doesn't seem on the face of it to be something that many Italians would cook in their homes, but it isn't _that_ far off of some ideas of Italian food. That's simply my opinion; I'm not convinced that just because something is changed that its automatically worse than what came before it. Good luck with the paper, its a great topic.

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: ccbweb
                                            l
                                            Lizard Mar 30, 2007 07:28 AM

                                            Yes, I'd like to voice my agreement with celeste and ccbweb here:

                                            1) You'll have to be careful defining the terms here. Is homogenisation really what you mean? It seems an ineffective term because I'm not sure we've seen homogenisation-- especially not within the diverse space of the US.

                                            2) You'll also want to ask about this thing called 'authenticity' (along with 'fake'); not only do these words carry a moralising impulse, but they also presume something really troubling: that before Americans got there, these things were pure and unchanging. As other commentors have noted, foodways are dynamic and were subject to change even before contact with others. And are these adaptations homogenising, or do they reflect socio-historical trends?

                                            3) I also hope you're doing research beyond this site. You'll get a lot of comments and speculations here but you'll want to look to scholarship for methodologies and histories.

                                          2. Brian S Mar 29, 2007 02:19 PM

                                            There's another aspect barely touched on for which the words homogenized and even fake may be appropriate. The majority of America -- or much of it, anyway -- eats spaghetti with sauce from a jar made by Ragu or other national corporation, and eats in chains such as Olive Garden. Since what you get in that jar or chain restaurant does not vary by region but is instead determined centrally, by a very well paid design team, it is homogenized. Since the development of the recipes is not done by the organic process of lots of homemakers responding to the world around them, it is arguably inauthentic. And maybe fake, too. There are little family-run restaurants in which I feel part of the family. Olive Garden promises this very same feeling, and even has a TV commercial of happy eaters to prove it. But they are actors. It is fake.

                                            3 Replies
                                            1. re: Brian S
                                              ccbweb Mar 29, 2007 10:38 PM

                                              I'd go with "inauthentic" as being far more descriptive than "fake." After all, Olive Garden does serve actual food (I know, I know, just go with me for the sake of argument). I completely agree about the regionless nature of the food too. That, more than anything else about it is what seems to set it apart from authentic Italian food. As I noted, ingredients could vary greatly from what an Italian might serve in their home in Italy, but still remain true to the spirit of the cuisine. Regionless though, you can't overcome that.

                                              1. re: ccbweb
                                                Brian S Mar 30, 2007 07:10 AM

                                                Fake inasmuch as some chains pretend that their recipes were lovingly created by the lovable Italian grandma of the chain's founder and not by a committee of market researchers. No chain ever advertises, our recipes were designed by a group of highly-paid experts whose mission was to appeal to the broadest spectrum of 'Americans possible. People want authentic. Or think they do. I still remember the line from the film "Lone Star": "But we thought that all multiculturalism meant was eating tacos on Tuesday!"

                                                1. re: ccbweb
                                                  l
                                                  Lizard Mar 30, 2007 07:30 AM

                                                  Oh, now I disagree, I think. I think that describing something in opposition not only carries a moralising force (and unquestioned assumptions regarding authenticity) but it isn't effectively descriptive. Then again, given that it seems to be Italian food as filtered through a perverse imaginary, I'm not sure that inauthentic is so bad a choice.

                                              2. s
                                                Sherri Mar 29, 2007 03:15 PM

                                                FOOD AND CULTURE IN AMERICA is a textbook written on this very topic. It targets Registered Dieticians who work with various ethnic populations, first - third generation in America. This interesting work is divided by continents. You will find the chapter on Europe, Southern including Italy to be pertinent for your research paper.
                                                (NB: there is also information on Mexican and Chinese cuisines as you requested.)

                                                Quick summary that lumps both Northern and Southern Italians, first-third generation now living in the U.S.:
                                                Increased use of milk by adults
                                                More meat and less fish is eaten
                                                By the third generation, fruit and vegetable consumption mirrors general American food habits
                                                Decreased use of olive oil
                                                Increased use of sweeteners
                                                Fewer legumes, cereals and grains are eaten

                                                The daily pattern of meals also changes. An American breakfast replaces the caffe latte & bread, lunchtime sandwiches replace what used to be the main meal of the day and dinner is larger in the USA and eaten earlier.

                                                Good luck on your paper.

                                                1. monkeyinthemiddle Mar 29, 2007 04:57 PM

                                                  when travelling thailand i was never once offered a chopstick, yet walk into any thai restaurant and there they are

                                                  1. s
                                                    sweetTooth Mar 29, 2007 06:39 PM

                                                    Funny you should ask. Just the other day I was trying to figure out a way to use this leftover half of a cucumber and make a meal for two out of it. An Indian food blog I'd been browsing a few days earlier, had reminded me of savory crepes (dhirde or cheela) that my mom used to make often for tea time - a chickpea flour crepe usually flavored with fenugreek leaves. That must have been in the back of my head 'cause the cucumber reminded me of a slightly similar dish - the cucumber pancake (thalipeeth), which I haven't made or remembered or even heard of in years! So as I whipped up cucumber crepes for dinner (there ya go! not what my mom used to make.) I was struck by two things that might be relevant to your research:
                                                    1) Left to my own devices in an alien land and an onslaught of exposure to different cuisines, I am forgetting entire classes of recipes from my own cuisine. Don't get me wrong, I am thoroughly enjoying the exposure to cuisines other than my own. I am just saying that even though I have excellent access to most Indian ingredients, I am losing part of my cuisine simply because I am not immersed in it.
                                                    2) On the other hand, I now have access to blogs that bring to light these little known home style recipes - something that Indians who left the old country a couple of decades ago did not have - and as a result their families must have lost touch with parts of their cuisine. Yes, there were always cookbooks before blogs. But no amount of browsing my Indian cookbooks has ever spurred me on to make some long forgotten dish like that picture of a cheela on a blog did.

                                                    1. s
                                                      Steve Mar 29, 2007 10:59 PM

                                                      Well this is a long thread and I confess to not having read every post thoroughly, but I find that authenticity is hard to find, especially considering the way food is served in the US.

                                                      Most Americans expect to be able to order one plate of food in restaurants that will contain meat, grains, and vegetables - and no sharing. In many case this will change the very nature of the dish. Adding broccoli, carrots, and celery to every meat dish changes Chinese food, for example.

                                                      Also, Americans tend to like meats taken off the bone before they are served, contain less fat, and be as tender as possible. Chewiness and flavor are not as important. No fish served whole, no bones in stew, no dried meats, no offal, nothing that can be detected as a diferent texture.

                                                      And then, of course, the meat has to come from only chickens, cows, pigs, fish, and the occassional turkey or duck. Boneless, skinless chicken replaces rabbit, frog, deer, snails, and jellyfish.

                                                      After that, remove the spiciness, and voila, America deflavorizes the World!

                                                      2 Replies
                                                      1. re: Steve
                                                        Brian S Mar 30, 2007 07:05 AM

                                                        Someone writing a hundred years ago would have a different story. Mainstream American cookbooks had tripe recipes. Poorer people in the Southern US happily ate squirrels, etc (and some do today, I've known people who ate armadillo when they couldnt find anything else; I told a lady who was embarrassed about eating deer and rabbit that those entrees would fetch a hefty price at a gourmet restaurant)

                                                        1. re: Brian S
                                                          l
                                                          Lizard Mar 30, 2007 07:35 AM

                                                          Perhaps PotatoPuff can write his paper on the unfortunate tendency to homogenise 'America' in observations. These claims fail to capture the diversity of cooking and experience in the US and seem more often used so one can take pride in not being one of those 'Americans'.

                                                          One thing that does come up, though, is the need to discuss retaurant experience versus cooking experience. To reduce culinary traditions and trajectories to what happens in restaurant experience seems to shut out a number of avenues for research (such as the homecooking transformations).

                                                      2. sweetie Mar 30, 2007 07:43 AM

                                                        Actually Chef Boiardi was a real person. Who worked in a diner and bottled his pasta sauce because so many customers wanted to take it home after eating it in the diner. Now I realize this does not make canned pasta authentic. But Boiardi was a real Italian.

                                                        1. g
                                                          gido Mar 30, 2007 07:44 AM

                                                          This may not really be on point, but I am constantly amazed by the stories I hear from folks about the ethnic purity of grandma's chicken soup recipe or even her porcupine meatballs which they believe were brought over from the homeland (my background is Carpatho-Rusyn, an East Slavic people coming primarily from modern day eastern Slovakia, southeastern Poland and western Ukraine.)

                                                          What these folks perceive as ethnic specialties are often settlement house recipes taught to immigrants, or common American dishes of the 1920s and '30s.

                                                          1. Karl S Apr 3, 2007 05:15 AM

                                                            I will give two small, contrasting, examples on the Italian arena.

                                                            1. Linguine with pesto alla genovese: It is unusual in the US to find the more common Genovese rendition of this dish, namely with potatoes and green beans. In fact, it is unusual in the US to find the many "authentic" Italian dishes that employ potatoes.

                                                            2. Wine: I have been informed by more than one friend living for years in Italy with family that Americans would be shocked at how Italians at home will often dilute their glass of wine with water, especially on non-festive occasions (in other words, more often than not).

                                                            * * *

                                                            Finally, if one is going to compare the ordinary eating habits of poor Americans (yeah, fast food is what a lot of people think), then you'd need to compare that to the historical ordinary eating habits of poor peasants in the "home" countries. Lot's of gruels, porridges, plain breads, pulses/grains, seasoned with vegetables and meat fat and occasional scraps of meat. On Sundays and festive occasions, or during the harvest/slaughter, they'd have the dishes we think are "normal" "authentic" cuisine for them. And, of course, in years of dearth, they'd starve. March through July was usually the fearful time of year in those terms, every year. America has starving people too, but we lack the cultural awareness of its omnipresence the way peasants in the "home" countries did.

                                                            1 Reply
                                                            1. re: Karl S
                                                              kare_raisu Apr 3, 2007 09:03 PM

                                                              great post

                                                            2. anonymoose Apr 3, 2007 12:11 PM

                                                              This wikipedia entry actually is fairly good re: Chinese American dishes. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_American_cuisine

                                                              There are some specialized Canadian Chinese dishes too, like ginger beef. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canadian...

                                                              Many small towns have a restaurant serving Westernized Chinese food, and food courts in malls always have stalls serving this stuff. What drives me crazy are friends who call it Chinese food and then laugh at me when I complain to them that they shouldn't call it that because it's not the real deal.

                                                              5 Replies
                                                              1. re: anonymoose
                                                                m
                                                                MakingSense Apr 3, 2007 12:38 PM

                                                                But how do we know what the "real deal" is in Chinese food any more?
                                                                After the Revolution, many Chinese were resettled and "reeducated," losing ties to their old ways. Some claim that the food in Taiwan may be closer to the "real deal" since they weren't reeducated. Many in the PRC moved to large cities seeking work and there are restaurants in Beijing, for instance, offering foods from other provinces that have been altered from the original so Chinese food is changing in China too.
                                                                In some cases it's being Westernized to suit tourists and business travelers particularly in advance of the coming Olympics. There are chains of Peking Duck restaurants. Regular Chinese don't eat Peking Duck any more than Italians eat Olive Garden.

                                                                1. re: MakingSense
                                                                  m
                                                                  ML8000 Apr 3, 2007 03:01 PM

                                                                  On that note, do Russians eat caviar daily or do the French eat foie gras daily? I'd guess no since both or either are luxo/ritual/symbolized food in many ways...sort of like lobster and Peking duck.

                                                                  1. re: ML8000
                                                                    m
                                                                    MakingSense Apr 3, 2007 03:46 PM

                                                                    I think we're all pretty guilty of making generalizations and assumptions based on limited knowledge of the cuisines of other cultures. We see something on TV or read about it in a food publication and think that's the way it is. Or eat at a restaurant that we're told is authentic and use that as a yardstick. Who said it was authentic? Authentic what?
                                                                    There are lengthy threads on CH, some of which can get pretty heated, about the authenticity of dim sum or sushi and whether they are appropropriately eaten with which condiments and with chopsticks held in what manner. The same happens with Italian food - San Marzano tomatoes come to mind - or Mexican specialties. It makes you wonder how many of the posters have spent any appreciable time in the countries of those cuisines and really have gained their knowledge first-hand, yet they are quite insistent in their beliefs.
                                                                    Every cuisine, not just American cuisine, is in a constant state of adaptation in a rapidly changing world which makes it difficult to say authoritatively that "this one way is THE one way that it is." Even caviar and foie gras are very different in their production, marketing and use than they were 30 years ago. They have even become politicized and forbidden in some places.

                                                                    1. re: MakingSense
                                                                      s
                                                                      Sherri Apr 3, 2007 04:07 PM

                                                                      You are so well-named! When I lived in France many years ago, I arrived thinking I had a pretty good idea of "French Food". Ha! What an eye-opener that was. Most of what we ate on a daily basis had nothing to do with what appeared in Americanized French Cookbooks.

                                                                      The geography of any sizeable country renders the notion of a national cuisine absurd. The French northern area, encompassing Normandy & Brittany, is cool and verdant while the southern region of Provence is rocky, hot and dry. Flora and fauna are very different north - south, not to mention the fats of choice, butter VS olive oil.

                                                                      This is mirrored in the US with the cuisine of Florida pitted against the food of the Northeast, Vermont et al. You don't grow apples or blueberries in Florida, nor do oranges thrive in the NE yet people speak of "American Food" like it is one homogeneous product. We had houseguests from Siberia several weeks ago who were travelling with a childrens' choir. The group would stop at "The Golden Corral" on their bus trips between cities and everyone loved the "American Food" they had there. I have never been to a Golden Corral but dare to say what they enjoyed was standarized glop on the AYCE buffet, bearing no kinship to the real thing.

                                                                      We haven't touched on the differences between "city" food and "country" food either, nor have economics been discussed. Certainly within the same geographic region, people of differing socio-economic levels will be eating different foods. Which is authentic?

                                                                      1. re: Sherri
                                                                        ccbweb Apr 3, 2007 09:25 PM

                                                                        I'm not trying to be snarky, but pointing out that you note that the Golden Corral isn't "the real thing." As you said, in a country this size, what exactly could be considered "the real thing?"

                                                              2. Leucadian Apr 3, 2007 08:49 PM

                                                                A wonderful Szechuan restaurant here in San Diego (Ba Ren, verified as wonderful by a Szechuan friend who should know, I suppose) lists on the last page of the menu 'American Favorites' such as orange chicken, ginger beef, and chow mein. Now I think that's funny. The owner clearly does not consider these dishes Chinese, but American. And some years ago in NYC, I was looking for an espresso in Spanish Harlem, and finally found La Bella China, a Chinese restaurant serving the Puerto Rican community. The owner had emigrated from China to Puerto Rico where he opened a restaurant, and then emigrated with his recipes and skills to New York. How do you classify that? (BTW the coffee was pretty good.)

                                                                There was a great discussion of the adaptation and blending of language in 'Power of Babel': language, dialect, creole, pidgin. I think a similar process goes on with all the other elements of culture, taking the situation at hand and adapting the resources to fit our expectations. As I mentioned in my earlier comment, the Lebanese shepherd, the Spanish colonist, and the apocryphal nun who invented mole poblano, all wanted something good to eat, and relied on his or her good judgement to make it, whether it was exactly like the prototype or not. A dish doesn't have to be authentic or traditional to be good, and good is really what we're all after.

                                                                Does this work?
                                                                Language == cuisine, or grand tradition, for instance French
                                                                Dialect == local variant or constituent, such as Normandy
                                                                Creole == synthesis of multiple traditions, as in Alsace
                                                                Pidgin == simplification of traditions in remote location, maybe french toast, beignets.

                                                                You did ask for opinions, right? Just trying to throw some fuel on the fire.

                                                                2 Replies
                                                                1. re: Leucadian
                                                                  j
                                                                  justagthing Apr 3, 2007 09:40 PM

                                                                  Currently in Little Saigon, there is a trend of Crawfish restaurants opening up and they are very popular. I have not yet tried one of these, but apparently, it is the Viet Tex version of Crawfish. so is this considered American Viet food?

                                                                  1. re: justagthing
                                                                    h
                                                                    Hungry Celeste Apr 4, 2007 05:07 AM

                                                                    Oh, man, my cajun self has GOT to eat at one of these places....the power of crawfish and cultural change. What a beautiful, american thing...

                                                                2. Brian S Apr 4, 2007 07:48 AM

                                                                  Some thoughts on the term "authentic food". Perhaps helpful.

                                                                  All concepts fray around the edges, and, as Derrida and his followers proved, if you pick at these edges the whole concept will unravel. Wittgenstein said that some words embrace whole families of things united only by vague resemblances and ties of consanguinity. And so it is with authenticity. Let's try to pick an example close to the core.

                                                                  In an article in the New Yorker called "Carnal Knowledge: How I became a Tuscan Butcher" (later a part of his book), Bill Buford describes a months-long sojourn with a butcher in Tuscany who taught him his craft. Handed down over the centuries, the seemingly simple procedures for cutting up a pig were devilishly hard to learn and many a time Buford did a pratfall into a vat of pig slime to the great amusement of all (except him). But slowly he learned them, the same way you learn to swim or drive a car. I think the sausages the butcher made were authentic. They are made 1) by complex procedures 2) which evolved over a long period of time 3) and are best learned by apprenticeship 4) and the learning increases the appreciation of the food 5) in part because an attitude of reverence which is imparted along with the tradition. (Link to the article, may be outdated: http://www.newyorker.com/fact/content...

                                                                  )

                                                                  At least for me, a lot of these factors come into play when I ask if food is authentic. Maybe authenticity is the wrong word. No one asks if Michenangelo's painting is authentic (unless they suspect it is a forgery). Even for great communal and traditional art forms like the temple architecture and dances of Bali, authenticity takes second place to greatness. Since food is art, maybe a new linguistic category is needed. One day, perhaps, Tuscan butchers will be an extinct breed, and everyone in Tuscany will want to buy supermarket patties made in the US, and top it with sauce from a can. In time that will become the authentic Tuscan meal. But it will not be great, nor will it be art, nor will it be tied to a long tradition, or any tradition at all, and reverence will not be a part of it.

                                                                  5 Replies
                                                                  1. re: Brian S
                                                                    maria lorraine Apr 4, 2007 11:44 AM

                                                                    Enjoyed this, Brian.

                                                                    1. re: maria lorraine
                                                                      Brian S Apr 4, 2007 02:27 PM

                                                                      Thank you. Your lovely post inspired me, even though you have a different perspective.

                                                                      1. re: Brian S
                                                                        maria lorraine Apr 4, 2007 05:45 PM

                                                                        Anyone who cites Derrida and Wittgenstein in a single post has me bowing in homage.

                                                                        I was thrilled by your thinking, especially the five components of authenticity. (Loved the Buford book, by the way, and have you read his new one?)

                                                                        My guess is that our ideas on authenticity are more closely aligned than you might think.

                                                                        And you’ve caused me to reflect longer on what I’d written above. My ideas are still formulating, but for the moment, here goes.

                                                                        The use of the words “authentic”, “homogenized” and “fake” is a little tricky. I am absolutely in agreement with you that the evolution of authentic cuisine is an "organic process of lots of homemakers responding to the world around them." Implied in your words, importantly, is that a cuisine keeps changing as its cooks keep responding to the world.

                                                                        My use of the word authentic was quite broad, perhaps inexact. To explain, "Italian" chain-restaurant food is disgusting and flavorless, but it is something that has naturally arisen out of our car-driving, ethno-centric, un-traveled, chain-restaurant capitalistic culture. [I hope I didn't leave anything out.] In that sense it is an authentic outgrowth of our American culture, albeit disgusting and saddening.

                                                                        What this chain-restaurant food is not is authentic Italian (especially using the 5-component test), and any claims that purport it is (via advertising or other means) are inaccurate and deceptive. In that sense, yes, the food is fake. Agree with you all the way.

                                                                        Continuing with this broad view (bear with me), you could posit that fake Italian-chain food is actually authentic "American" cuisine. (Of which there are many sub-types.) Heavy sigh. That's what I meant by "it's not fake anything."

                                                                        Getting back to Chef Boy-r-Dee, a canned food item. Yes, it’s fake Italian. But isn’t it also genuinely American, like Campbell’s Soup? Is Campbell’s Soup fake soup? Well, kinda. Isn’t it also an authentically American, even iconic, food item?

                                                                        [Musing that I'm sounding like Trudy, the bag lady, in the play "Searching for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe.]

                                                                        Authentic “American” cuisine encompasses a huge number of regions, hybrids,
                                                                        fresh food, packaged food, manufactured food, national chains and fine-dining restaurants, and a huge range in quality. It’s impossibly vast.

                                                                        As mentioned earlier in this thread, it's a shame when fake Italian food is thought to be authentic by Americans who have never traveled to Italy and tasted the glorious real thing region by region. But again, that is our culture, and thankfully, more and more of us are traveling internationally.

                                                                        That’s why Chowhounders are so wonderful. It's so refreshing to read of their gustatory sense of adventure, zeal for experimentation, and respect for authenticity. I’m bowing in homage again.

                                                                        1. re: maria lorraine
                                                                          Brian S Apr 4, 2007 07:43 PM

                                                                          I like your thinking. One quick thought before I go to sleep. As you use the word, can ANY food NOT be authentic? All food is shaped by forces within the society. Popper said that for a hypothesis to be scientific, it must conceivably be falsifiable. I wonder if the same applies to language. For an adjective to have any meaning, there must be some instance where it does not apply.

                                                                          1. re: Brian S
                                                                            maria lorraine Apr 6, 2007 06:35 PM

                                                                            It depends on what "authentic" is modifying, the degree of inauthenticity and the claim of authenticity (intent). Examples off the top of my head:
                                                                            inauthentic Italian but genuine Italian-American
                                                                            [taking some cues from products to get back to food]
                                                                            imitation leather but genuine naugahyde, leather vinyl or leather-like
                                                                            really bad imitation leather = fake leather
                                                                            "not a fake diamond but a genuine Diamelle"
                                                                            diamond sold as real but not = fake diamond
                                                                            really bad Americanized Italian = fake Italian (not inauthentic because that's too nice)
                                                                            Americanized Italian sold as authentic (intent to deceive) = fake Italian

                                                                  2. Father Kitchen Apr 4, 2007 09:19 AM

                                                                    Writing a mere paper? The topic you have bitten off would take an encyclopedia. Why not limit it to one food, e.g. the pizza. Peter Rhinehart has already done a lot of research for you in his book American Pie, but I don't recall he addresses the claims that pizza was invented in New Jersey and brought back to Italy. (That's what one Tom Mitchell tells me--it's hotter than who invented pasta.) For a paper keep the topic as limited as possible. If you were simply to examine the influence of the kind of oven available or the kinds of cheese available or even American flour and tastes in bread and their influence on the crust, and you would have an interesting paper on one aspect of American pizza and how it got that way. My first bite of pizza, by the way, was at Woolworth's in San Diego. I used to get a 15 cent slice while coming home from high school. It was better than a lot of pizza I've had since in other places. But it wasn't really Italian. Would a single eatery have an archive of evolving recipes that would document changes in pizza preferences from origins to the present day?

                                                                    2 Replies
                                                                    1. re: Father Kitchen
                                                                      Brian S Apr 4, 2007 09:54 AM

                                                                      Most of the US hadn't heard of pizza until about 1950 when a guy named Ike Sewell decided to open up a Mexican restaurant in Chicago, opened it, decided he hated Mexican food, didnt know what to do until he thought... why not pizza? (See
                                                                      http://www.americanheritage.com/artic... ) But in New York it's been around for a lot longer. My dad grew up on pizza. He told me that pizzas were known as quarters... because a whole large pie cost a quarter of a dollar! One day he got a big shock when he went into his favorite pizza shop, said gimme a quarter, and was told it was now fifty cents.

                                                                      1. re: Brian S
                                                                        Father Kitchen Apr 5, 2007 06:01 AM

                                                                        Brian, I suspect pizza was popularized nationally in the fifties. I had my first slice at Woolworth's in San Diego in about 1957. But a classmate in school was from a family that already, as early as when we moved there in 1953, had several pizzerias in the city: Pernicano's pizza. And I understand pizza was available in Rhode Island when we lived there in 1951. I just never had any.

                                                                    2. maria lorraine Apr 4, 2007 09:44 PM

                                                                      hey there, Tato Puff,

                                                                      Look what you started! Now you be sure to come up with some of your own thinking!

                                                                      And, you should check out another CH thread at http://www.chowhound.com/topics/301658
                                                                      titled "Ethnic food differences in various countries".

                                                                      19 Replies
                                                                      1. re: maria lorraine
                                                                        p
                                                                        PotatoPuff Apr 7, 2007 01:02 PM

                                                                        Thanks everyone who posted, it is very helpful and interesting but I'm trying to focus mostly on the first three questions though, and I feel like we are getting off on a bit of a tangent. So...

                                                                        -What foods try to pass off as Italian but are really fake? (ex: Chef Boyarde, overly cheesy pizza, etc.)

                                                                        -What authentic Italian foods do you think are not represented in restaurants in America? (ex: pizza with potatoes on top)

                                                                        -Are there any regions of Italy whose food you feel is particularly underrepresented in America?

                                                                        1. re: PotatoPuff
                                                                          u
                                                                          uptown jimmy Apr 8, 2007 02:03 PM

                                                                          I'm no expert, but having read all the posts, and also judging from my own experience, you've got your answers already. As to # 1, almost everything "Italian" in this country is not much like what you find in Italy, and most of the "Italian" food we eat here is either heavily-modified Sicilian or just downright corporate American trash food, with only a faint physical resemblance to what most Italians eat. That pretty much answers #2 as well; I wish every part of America would have the opportunity to eat the "real" deal, as it's amazing food , truly one of the world's great cuisines, or collection of cuisines. As to #3, I'd say all of Italy is underrepresented, at least outside a few major cities, where Neapolitan pizza places are appearing, and where you can usually find one or two really good regional Italian joints, many of them Northern Italian, I think. We probably don't need too many more "Sicilian"-style places, I guess, as the ones we do have that are any good are generally closer to the "real" thing? I think? Excuse me if I am very mistaken.

                                                                          Havind said all that, I think a lot of people in America are cooking more and more at home in a more traditional Italian style. I've gotten the fever and will be buying a pasta-roller attachment for my Kitchenaid soon.

                                                                          1. re: PotatoPuff
                                                                            m
                                                                            MakingSense Apr 8, 2007 03:14 PM

                                                                            Trying to answer your question, Potato Puff, maybe what we get wrong in the US is balance.
                                                                            Our pastas don't start off as fake but we serve huge portions as main courses not as preliminaries to meals as Italians do. True from expensive restaurants to the Olive Garden to home cooking. Does pasta makes a meal Italian? It's a financial dream for restaurants because the bulk of a dish is inexpensive and then they can improvise. Ultimately, most get further and further away from "authentic."
                                                                            The same applies to pizzas - you can put anything on a basic flat bread and before long people diddled with the crust too. Double cheese, stuffed crust monstrosities that some places even call Kitchen Sink Pizzas.
                                                                            Both pasta and pizza would probably be the two things that most Americans would think of as Italian but there is certainly much more to Italian food.

                                                                            The foods least represented - both from type and region - would be meats, fish, vegetables, and grains, always very fresh and seasonal. Many Italians still shop daily. Meats in the US are treated as something to put on top of pasta while in Italy they are usually served separately. Same with vegetables which the Italians do remarkably well. Very simple salads. Potatoes are used frequently but not often seen in US Italian menus. Fish and seafood is everywhere in Italy. Dessert, when it's not seasonal fruit, is simple.
                                                                            I am always surprised at how much less garlic I find and how much more sage, rosemary and nutmeg. Rarely oregano. Lots of parsley. How the use of butter increases as you travel north and find less olive oil, and even less garlic. Italian food has retained more regional flavor than we have in the US perhaps - or maybe it's just more noticeable because they have fewer chains, more street markets, small restaurants and a different approach to daily life.

                                                                            The most underrepresented characteristic of Italian food in the US is its freshness, simplicity and seasonality. It's a cuisine of moderation and done correctly, it's one of the healthiest. I think we just got its spirit wrong.

                                                                            1. re: PotatoPuff
                                                                              maria lorraine Apr 8, 2007 03:25 PM

                                                                              Hmmm, TaterPuff, your re-asking these questions concerns me. You are doing a ton of research OUTSIDE Chowhound, aren’t you? I see you’re in NYC – have you interviewed a dozen Italian restaurant owners in your backyard and asked them your questions, just to begin? In 5 minutes on Google (c’mon, Tater) I found a reputable report on authentic Italian vs. fake Italian food products, the major American Italian food brands and a ton of industry studies done by them, as well as a number of Italian-brand consumer purchasing behavior studies. I could tell you exactly where to go and who to ask, but I get the feeling you’re not digging enough. Time to roll up your sleeves.

                                                                              1. re: maria lorraine
                                                                                m
                                                                                MakingSense Apr 8, 2007 04:21 PM

                                                                                Sorry, I missed where you lived! You should head up to Arthur Avenue in the Bronx. At 187th Street. If you have time before your paper is due, go next Saturday but during the week the merchants may have more time to talk with you. The area is filled with Italian families doing their grocery shopping and a lot of them are doing business in Italian. These folks will know what the real deal is and what it ain't. This is not the Olive Garden/ChefBoyardee crowd.
                                                                                The stores there sell amazing authentic products, including fish flown in from the Mediterranean, hand made pasta, freshly made cheese, meats butchered the Italian way, bulk olive oil and dried beans and grains, pastries, breads, housewares, etc.
                                                                                There is an Italian produce market in the 2200 block of Arthur Ave. with lots of stalls where you can see lots of raw ingredients and imported products that are so different from those you see in mainstream supermarkets. You'll also find that many of them are exactly the same but in the kitchens of the Italians who shop there, the foods are not the American-Italian that you might be calling "fake" but the real thing - the foods that these first and second generation Italian immigrants are cooking are still those of their homeland.
                                                                                I always had great conversations with shopkeepers and other shoppers about what I should do with the things I was buying. Real Italians who know real Italian food. I'll bet they'll have lots of opinions about your topic.

                                                                                1. re: MakingSense
                                                                                  p
                                                                                  PotatoPuff Apr 8, 2007 07:59 PM

                                                                                  thanks for the idea!

                                                                                2. re: maria lorraine
                                                                                  p
                                                                                  PotatoPuff Apr 8, 2007 08:00 PM

                                                                                  of course I am doing outside research, but I thought it would be interesting to post on chowhound and see what other people thought. somehow i don't think my professor would be too thrilled if this were my only info source!

                                                                                  1. re: PotatoPuff
                                                                                    bbqboy Apr 9, 2007 06:09 AM

                                                                                    How did you choose Italy of all the Immigrant Cuisines?
                                                                                    Compared to the current waves of new residents, it seems Italian-American Culture would be fairly established and static, compared to say, the current flood of Latino Culture washing over our Country.
                                                                                    Just interested.

                                                                                    1. re: bbqboy
                                                                                      Sam Fujisaka Apr 9, 2007 06:49 AM

                                                                                      Aside from native American, our country is made up of immigrant cuisine. Where I grew up, Americans of Latino and of Japanese descent are in their sixth generation or more of being Americans.

                                                                                      Sushi went from rejection in the 50s and 60s to acceptance in the 70s and 80s and to wild incarnations in the US since the 80s.

                                                                                      I think that most older native Californians like me, however, eat "authentic" Japanese and Mexican (and other) food. It may be the "immigrants" from elsewhere in the US that have driven the more recent food changes.

                                                                                      1. re: Sam Fujisaka
                                                                                        bbqboy Apr 9, 2007 07:18 AM

                                                                                        Sam, I agree. But Latino Food and Culture in say, North Carolina rather than California, would be much more in Flux than would Italian American.
                                                                                        Wondering what the results would be if you excluded NY and California from
                                                                                        the idea.
                                                                                        My friend's wife, much like the example given above, is Japanese -American, born in Salina, Kansas of a Japanese Mother and Black Air Force Dad. Talk about a collision of cultures, but she's a Kansan first, ethnic groups less so, and so her cooking and style is definitely an amalgam. Fried Chicken Sushi, sort of.
                                                                                        I'm only saying that the Italian wave of Immigration is over and the diffusion into our culture complete compared to more recent waves
                                                                                        of various groups. Ethnic Groups coming TO America seem interested in being American, while we are wanting our idea of their preserved culture
                                                                                        to be validated.

                                                                                        1. re: bbqboy
                                                                                          Sam Fujisaka Apr 9, 2007 07:39 AM

                                                                                          Fried chicken sushi. Hilarious. That's America.

                                                                                          1. re: Sam Fujisaka
                                                                                            Striver Apr 9, 2007 07:46 AM

                                                                                            I envision a small piece of fried chicken (thigh WITH skin, of course) embedded in dirty rice and wrapped with a strip of collard greens....call it a Popeye Roll...and now I want one.

                                                                                            Make that two!

                                                                                            1. re: Striver
                                                                                              Brian S Apr 9, 2007 09:14 AM

                                                                                              You'll have to go to Australia or Hawaii to get it. Here it is in Melbourne.

                                                                                              http://photos1.blogger.com/photoInclu...

                                                                                              1. re: Striver
                                                                                                m
                                                                                                MakingSense Apr 9, 2007 10:57 AM

                                                                                                The deli in the Breaux Mart in New Orleans sells crawfish sushi made with brown rice. You should suggest the dirty rice and collard greens. It would be a major hit!
                                                                                                Jambalaya sushi with andouille! Let the good times Roll?

                                                                                                1. re: MakingSense
                                                                                                  h
                                                                                                  Hungry Celeste Apr 9, 2007 12:02 PM

                                                                                                  Ha...my brother suggested this very thing: cajun sushi at our Good Friday seafood boil. Etoufee, shrimp stew, etc. spread on rice and rolled & sliced. Beaucoup gimmick-y, but he operates chain restaurants for a living, so he gets paid to think that way.

                                                                                                  1. re: Hungry Celeste
                                                                                                    j
                                                                                                    jackrugby Apr 10, 2007 09:58 AM

                                                                                                    I thought cajun sushi was oysters on the half shell?

                                                                                                    1. re: jackrugby
                                                                                                      Sam Fujisaka Apr 10, 2007 07:56 PM

                                                                                                      What? You pack the sushi rice around the oyster prior to sucking?

                                                                                  2. re: PotatoPuff
                                                                                    vvvindaloo Aug 23, 2007 09:39 AM

                                                                                    Potato- I'd love to hear how your paper turned out. I somehow missed this thread the first time around, but can think of a couple of contributions I would have made that might have been helpful. What a fascinating paper topic. So how did it go?

                                                                                    1. re: vvvindaloo
                                                                                      e
                                                                                      ekammin Aug 24, 2007 06:28 PM

                                                                                      One should remember that a good deal of ethnic food, to be really authentic, should be prepared with polluted water and contaminated ingredients, and eaten surrunded by people in an appalling state of poverty.

                                                                                      Such authenticity I can live without.

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