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What's More Important: Being Good or Being Authentic?

foodmonk Oct 2, 2007 07:59 AM

Do my cannoli shells have to be flown to New York daily from a little town outside Palermo and be stuffed with authentic, imported ricotta, or can I just enjoy my cannolo Little Italy style in pastry that they made at the shop? They taste good to me, so why not?

Can I enjoy the ramen soup at the local Japanese joint, even though eating it there is strickly forbidden by the cognoscenti, because it is not authentically-prepared Japanese ramen?

Is the Foodie obsession with authenticity preventing us from actually just enjoying good food?

I kind of wonder about other kinds of food fetishism, too.

Can I just get my cup of coffee the way I like it?

Or I do I need to exclusively drink fair trade coffee picked by members of an indigenous women's collective on the lava-strewn slopes of a Nicaraguan volcano where Western people have not set foot since 1586 ... and the beans are secretly passed to members of a Berkeley-based "freedom foundation" via an underground railroad so that profits don't get to whatever ruling junta is currently in charge there.

And that tomato on the shelf over there looks pretty good to me, too, even though it was grown in a hot house in the Netherlands.

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  1. danhole RE: foodmonk Oct 2, 2007 09:48 AM

    I vote for good, if you don't have access to authentic, but then again isn't it a matter of opinion of what is authentic and what is not? I think that my guacamole should be purely avocado with some lime, and a bit of garlic and salt. That is how a Hispanic woman told me that it was made in her family. She said it was "authentic" and the guacamoles with all the onions, etc. were not. So who is right? I just like it plain, not really going for authentic, but I am not going to argue with someone who swears her mama said the other way is the ONLY way.

    I will make decisions based upon my knowledge, but I am not going to be a snob when it comes to good food. I feel that if you do that you are missing the whole point of eating good food.

    1 Reply
    1. re: danhole
      JayVaBeach RE: danhole Oct 7, 2007 10:11 AM

      Autentico !
      Authentique !
      Authentic !

    2. Brian S RE: foodmonk Oct 2, 2007 09:56 AM

      There have been a lot of discussions about this, and I've enjoyed all of them. They are all worth reading. Most of them are not showing up when I do a search, and I've spent about half an hour searching, both here and on Google. I managed to retrieve these links, only the tip of the iceberg, by doing a search on Google for Brian S applehome authentic.
      http://www.chowhound.com/topics/301046

      http://www.chowhound.com/topics/302918

      http://www.chowhound.com/topics/364142

      http://www.chowhound.com/topics/303097 (on whether chefs must be of same nationality as food

      )

      http://www.chowhound.com/topics/385703

      And here's a comment I wrote two years ago on a thread that has totally disappeared. I've searched for it many times and it's just gone. My remarks on Chinese restaurants are somewhat outdated, they now innovate more than I suggest:

      How valuable is Authenticity? (A cultural perspecitve
      )
      They once showed a famous Chinese calligrapher some US Abstract Impressionist art, which (especially Kline) is much influenced by Chinese calligraphy. This is total freedom, he said, and total freedom is total anarchy. Without rules, without discipline, there can be no great art.

      Go to a top New York restaurant today, and every dish will be a creation of the chef. A chef who reproduced the dishes of other restaurants would not be taken seriously. But if you go to a Hong Kong style restaurant in Chinatown, as I do, and snag the Chinese-only menu, you will find the same dishes at every place. That's what the Chinese patrons want. If a restaurant invented all their dishes, these patrons would say, the traditional dishes have evolved over millenia, they represent the collective wisdom of the Chinese people and they embody the contributions of the most talented chefs of the past thousand years. And this guy throws it all away to present his own creations?? He'd better be pretty darn good!

      Which is my attitude as well. I ate a fish at Jean-Georges that had been crusted with various spices. Jean-Georges Vongenrichten trained in France and Thailand. Most of the spices were unknown in traditional French or Thai cuisine. I couldn't have cared less. But Mr Vongenrichten is pretty darn good.

      I'm usually a stickler for authenticity ... in part because I value the experience of being immersed in a foreign world. I prefer Chinese restaurants where every patron is Chinese. But I often use it as an excuse. I scoff at people eating hard shell tacos. But that's because I don't like hard shell tacos. If I liked hard shell tacos, I would be telling the world that it is the true embodiment of the spirit of Mexican cuisine.

      1. limster RE: foodmonk Oct 2, 2007 11:26 PM

        It's going to depend a lot on the individual. I use authenticity as a measure of knowing what I would get, rather than as a measure of deliciousness. For example, if I had a craving for burger, I'd hope to get a ground beef patty in a bun, not slices of ham in a bun.

        1. k
          Kagey RE: foodmonk Oct 3, 2007 03:47 AM

          First off, it's hard to find any agreement on what "authentic" is, and definitions seem to change over time. Overall, "authentic" seems to be used most often by people looking to judge others' food tastes as inferior.

          As your initial questions indicate, there's no necessary correlation between "authentic" and "good." Not every Italian is a wonderful cook.

          On your other point, I wouldn't call trying to eat local or seasonal food a "fetish." There are good, legitimate reasons to avoid the Dutch hothouse tomato, or to opt for fair trade coffee over non-fair-trade. It's just a matter of your priorities. Of course, anything can be taken to extremes.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Kagey
            j
            J_Queck RE: Kagey Oct 3, 2007 11:48 PM

            Just want to second that authentic doesn't neccessarily equate with good, and that authentic is pretty hard to define.

            That being said, a traditional dish or creative departure from the same, I'll be happy so long as it tastes good. I like my food too much to worry over whether it did or didn't follow some approved recipe or preparation before winding up on my plate.

          2. Sam Fujisaka RE: foodmonk Oct 3, 2007 04:02 AM

            Brian S, great reply as usual.

            foodmonk, you would pay the price premium for that coffee under the assumption that the women's coop is receiving the benefits--not for "good" (although it should be) nor for "authentic" (although what coffee is not authentic?).

            1 Reply
            1. re: Sam Fujisaka
              Brian S RE: Sam Fujisaka Oct 3, 2007 09:23 AM

              Thank you! I agree. For authentic coffee, you should get coffee ONLY from plantations that exploit the workers because that is a centuries-old tradition that dates from the days when Cortes set up his first plantations in Oaxaca.

            2. brekkie_fan RE: foodmonk Oct 3, 2007 07:35 AM

              Folks have pretty much summed it up above, but it depends on my mood or situation. If I have a craving (but no time), good will work just fine. If there's time (to find an authentic place) I'll go for authentic. I have no shame choosing "good" over "authentic".

              1. t
                tartiflette RE: foodmonk Oct 3, 2007 09:15 AM

                I have a dark secret... I like those godawful deep-fried chicken balls covered in orange sauce that you'll only find in the most inauthentic of "Chinese" restaurants.

                Authentic? Hell no. Tasty? Hell yes!

                That said, I think there is a place for appreciating authenticity and seeking it out - if only once, to see what it "should" taste like and see what all the fuss is about. Sometimes there ain't nothing like the real thing, baby (ie. Serrano ham from Andalucia in Spain... or pasteis de belem from Belem in Lisbon... or imported Italian mozzarella instead of the waxy impostor sold in grocery stores).

                5 Replies
                1. re: tartiflette
                  Brian S RE: tartiflette Oct 3, 2007 09:19 AM

                  I agree.

                  1) Usually (but not always!) authentic food is better because it has evolved over centuries in the context of a rich culture.

                  2) Learning what is authentic, learning about that culture, often heightens your appreciation of food. And even if it doesn't, you have learned valuable things about a culture that has much to offer.

                  1. re: Brian S
                    danhole RE: Brian S Oct 3, 2007 09:27 AM

                    On my dad's side of the family they are transylvanian saxons, not germans. My grandmother cooked some special dishes that I could never find anywhere. Some were named the same, but didn't taste the same. Then, to my delight, a chef from transylvania opened a restaurant here in Houston. When I ate there I felt like my grandma must have been in the kitchen cooking. It was like going home again. Now that was authentic, and I will seek it out as often as I can afford to. BUT it was also really good, and I wonder how many people who eat there realize that they are eating authentic and good food all at the same time!

                  2. re: tartiflette
                    k
                    Kagey RE: tartiflette Oct 4, 2007 05:00 AM

                    Hey--couldn't those deep-fried chicken balls be called authentic Chinese-American food?! :)

                    Your mozzarella example made me think of something else: what about the same cheese handmade here in the UK from the milk of happy British cows? Or is my sugo less authentic because I use excellent local tomatoes from south east England? If these items are indistinguishable from their Italian counterparts, what does that say about authenticity?

                    1. re: Kagey
                      t
                      tartiflette RE: Kagey Oct 4, 2007 01:20 PM

                      That's Chinese-Canadian, thankyouverymuch. I'll have you know the sauce seems inexplicably different south of the border. :)

                      1. re: tartiflette
                        k
                        Kagey RE: tartiflette Oct 5, 2007 09:25 AM

                        Oops! Sorry! On a side note, here in England I always get asked if I'm Canadian. A Brit explained that when asking, it's safer to assume Canadian because Canadians get annoyed if you mistake them for Americans. I should have remembered that!

                  3. m
                    mojoeater RE: foodmonk Oct 3, 2007 09:26 AM

                    I want my food to taste good. I've had some great meals and some lousy ones that were considered 'authentic' by my foodie snob friends. I've had both good and bad food at chain restaurants. All that matters is that my mouth and stomach are happy.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: mojoeater
                      e
                      ekammin RE: mojoeater Oct 3, 2007 07:55 PM

                      A few points -

                      Transplanting food sometimes improves it. I once heard a recent immigrant to Canada from Italy say that he preferred the mozzarella made in Canada to that of Italy, largely because, in his opinion, the basic ingredient - milk - was of better quality in Canada. In the same way I have had Quebecois Brie that I preferred even to good French varieties.

                      One doesn't drink "fair traded" coffee for the taste. The point is to have your money end up in the hands of those who produce the coffee, not the "middle men" trying to make a buck from it.

                      Much ethnic food originated surrounded by appalling poverty and in atrociously unsanitary conditions, with very little care for top quality ingredients (For instance, I cannot picture someone preparing a basic dish in a small, poor Italian village refusing to work because the olive oil wasn't "extra virgin" Also, my grandmother, a genuine ethnic immigrant from Transylvania, would buy overripe, almost rotten tomatoes for her sauces because they were cheap. The sauces were delicious.). Such authenticity most of us can do without.

                    2. KenWritez RE: foodmonk Oct 3, 2007 10:23 PM

                      I have an image in my mind of a dark, filthy stone room kitchen where the head cook scratches the lice bites under his arms as he tastes what's cooking in the kettle, and then hawks a lugey into it.

                      A kitchen drudge looks at him.

                      "Needed salt," he growls, "and that's the way me dad taught me, and 'is gran afore 'im!"

                      Authenticity! ;)>

                      1. o
                        odkaty RE: foodmonk Oct 3, 2007 10:45 PM

                        Good.

                        Authenticity is all in the eye of the beholder. Just because something is authentic that doesn't immediately equate good.

                        1. m
                          misterbrucie RE: foodmonk Oct 4, 2007 08:49 AM

                          As long as they are not claiming authenticity when they clearly are not delivering it, it's hard to see where the problem with "good" is. Same for the various organic, ethical, global-warming, profiteering, etc. concerns out there. Some people can't "just enjoy the food" once they know about the suffering that other people / animals / the planet had to go through to produce it (& get it onto the supermarket shelf for $5.99 a pound).

                          On the other side of it though, people who are simply snobs miss out on a lot of great-tasting food because it doesn't have a pedigree that makes it worthy of being processed by their highly sophisticated intestines.

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: misterbrucie
                            danhole RE: misterbrucie Oct 4, 2007 09:04 AM

                            Good point about the ethics. I loved veal, but now find it hard to eat knowing what I do. Another one is foie gras. I have always wanted to try it as I love liver and liver products, but after I read how it is obtained, I'm not sure I want to try it.

                            I also totally agree with your statement about people who are simply snobs. They miss out on a lot. I know people like that and I won't eat with them, as they constantly pick a dish apart.

                            1. re: danhole
                              k
                              Kagey RE: danhole Oct 5, 2007 09:31 AM

                              Agree on the foie gras. I always knew there was a controversy over it, but I didn't really know what it was. Then I actually saw the process of "feeding" the geese, and I'll never eat the stuff again. I'm no animal rights activist, but something about torturing a defenseless creature to create a luxury food item just hit me the wrong way.

                          2. Eat_Nopal RE: foodmonk Oct 4, 2007 09:08 AM

                            Quality is the most important unless you are having an anthropoligical menu. However, IN THIS COUNTRY.... authentic (Ethnic or Foreign) is OFTEN synonomous with better. We can't ignore that we were indulging in Tuna Casserole, TV Dinners & Sunny Delight just a few decades.... that same caricature of real American food... was superimposed on Ethnic & Foreign foods as well.

                            Now... U.S. mainstream tastes have evolved in the last couple of decades... and the appreciation for certain foods which have been attributed an element of chic... French, Italian, Sushi etc., have kept pace with this evolution. That is there are plenty of restaurateurs investing & upgrading the U.S. food ecosystem for those cuisines to represent a more authentic (& superior) level.

                            However... other cuisines which are not yet perceived as Chic in the U.S.... such as Chinese, Mexican, German etc., have not followed the same path... that is they are still being largely represented in that previous Tuna Casserole era light. And that is why those of us who are passionate about those cuisines and know what the real deal is... often use Authentic to be synonomous with good, better, superior etc.,

                            I know my definition has previously been demerited... but I like the phrase Representative. In the example of Guacamole above... based on having Guacamole maybe a hundred times in Mexico's interior (that is no crap tourist places)... I would say that Onions, Cilantro, Tomato, Serranos & Lime Juice is THE most represented version. Other represented versions include:

                            > No Tomatoes... everythingelse the same
                            > Tomatillos instead of Tomatoes

                            Garlic is less common... but still represented... although I usually see it in a smoother Guacamole that has Arbol chiles instead of Serranos.

                            Ultimately you have to know the cuisine well.... I have seen & read about many variations of Guacamole... some that include strips of Nopales, others have crunchy crickets or chicharrones.... there are hundreds if not thousands of varieties.... but they all seem to have a similar thread... freshness & natural flavors.... so when I am presented the Tuna Casserole era version that has Taco Spice (whatever the hell that is supposed to be).... it immediately tastes fake, not fresh.... it reminds me of Doritos & Taco Bell etc.,.. so that is simply not representative of Mexican cooking... although it maybe Mexican inspired.

                            4 Replies
                            1. re: Eat_Nopal
                              honkman RE: Eat_Nopal Oct 5, 2007 12:13 AM

                              "However... other cuisines which are not yet perceived as Chic in the U.S.... such as Chinese, Mexican, German etc., have not followed the same path... that is they are still being largely represented in that previous Tuna Casserole era light. And that is why those of us who are passionate about those cuisines and know what the real deal is... often use Authentic to be synonomous with good, better, superior etc.,"

                              As a German living in the US I couldn't agree more with you. It is Oktoberfest time again and everybody wants to tell me how great it is to eat authentic German food again and everybody feels offended when I just shake my head and try to explain that the crap you get at those "Oktoberfest" has hardly anything to do with authentic German food (and no we don't wear Lederhosen in Germany).

                              1. re: honkman
                                therealbigtasty RE: honkman Oct 5, 2007 02:45 AM

                                Don't forget the Bratwurst... I hate smiling and nodding every time someone tells me that Johnsonville Brats are great. And when I'm served one with that awful fake non-bratwurst texture and flavor (too coarse, flavor isn't delicate enough, mustard tastes like French's, etc...) I cry and think of the wursts I'd get from Imbiss to Imbiss all over the fine country of Germany---none of which tasted bad and all were reasonably priced.

                                I miss Germany and a great many other of that country's fine dishes. Your Oktoberfest statement really warmed me.

                                I hate American Oktoberfests, it just ain't right.

                                1. re: therealbigtasty
                                  Eat_Nopal RE: therealbigtasty Oct 5, 2007 08:50 AM

                                  That is EXACTLY how I feel when some Texans try to convince me that that Tex-Mex crap is on par with proper Mexican.

                                  1. re: Eat_Nopal
                                    danhole RE: Eat_Nopal Oct 5, 2007 09:16 AM

                                    I love my tex-mex. 30 years ago it was the most available form of mexican food, at least here. If you wanted authentic you had to know someone who cooked it or be able to speak spanish. So I grew accustomed to it. Kinda like the tuna noodle casserole point.

                                    It's much more sophisticated these days and a lot of "authentic" mexican restaurants are around, but I admit I'm fairly ignorant about the cuisine. (What I do know is from watching Rick Bayless.) The first time I went into a REAL Mexican place, I didn't know what to order, but they helped me out and it was so very good, but it was not tex-mex at all. Huge difference.

                            2. luckyfatima RE: foodmonk Oct 4, 2007 09:31 AM

                              I totally agree w/ Eat Nopal about the casserole era theory...American cuisine is recovering from it, and so called "ethnic" or international food consumption is part of the recovery.

                              my take is good---not authentic

                              when many people think "authentic" they think gourmet grocery stores filled with exotic and expensive foreign ingredients. But people around the world use cheap ingredients and short cuts in cooking, still the stuff comes out good and isn't so pretentious as those pricey gourmet shops. Like people like stock cubes thrown in with the bones for a broth, or cheap seasonings like Maggi seasoning as a special ingredient for Chinese or Vietnamese food instead of the most expensive finely brewed soy sauce. Or brands of ready made spice mixes rather than home ground spices for Indo-Pak foods. Stuff like that. So somethimes the so called authentic has a fare amount of cheating, too. And you can be sure that they are doing these short cuts at your favorite mom n' pop international restaurant around the corner, authentic as the place may be.

                              I know I sometimes crave the Americanized Chinese food, or some fajitas from my fave Tex-Mex place. It's all good.

                              1. Sam Fujisaka RE: foodmonk Oct 4, 2007 03:46 PM

                                Last night I did something really rare for me--go out for sushi here in Colombia. I tried a roll that had cream cheese in it! It was horrible--and neither authentic nor good!

                                1. SweetPea914 RE: foodmonk Oct 4, 2007 03:59 PM

                                  Without getting too into my reasons for my opinion. I want good food, it can be any fusion the chef dreams up! I recently used soy sauce on some palnieriki (sp?). It was so much better that way than the usual butter, sour cream etc that would accompany it.
                                  There are times where I want authentic, I love soup dumplings (XLB), just the way they are. My Grandma's pierogie, don't mess with that. However, not everything needs to be authentic!

                                  1. Chew on That RE: foodmonk Oct 4, 2007 04:10 PM

                                    Depends on the context. If you're passing it off as authentic, and it's not then that's just wrong. But if something is good, and you're not claiming it's authentic, then whatever, more power to you!

                                    10 Replies
                                    1. re: Chew on That
                                      p
                                      Panini Guy RE: Chew on That Oct 4, 2007 06:09 PM

                                      Exactly! That's the context that burns me - when places use "authentic" when it absolutely is not near authentic or genuine or traditional in any way shape or form.

                                      I think even Eat Nopal would agree that a avocados whipped with mayo is not authentic (unless you want to call it "authentic guacamole mayo") or even a Mexican creation. Yet we that concoction labelled as "Mexican-style Guacamole" in Western PA and other parts of the country.

                                      It's amusing when you get some companies that actually build in the "authentic" or "genuine" into their product labelling, leading to things like:
                                      "Genuine Wisconsin Provolone" (wha?)
                                      "Authentic Brooklyn-style Pizza" (huh?)
                                      "Old World Style Wood-Fired Panini" (try finding that in Italy - it's a freaking oven toasted hoagie, dangit)

                                      and so on...

                                      1. re: Panini Guy
                                        Eat_Nopal RE: Panini Guy Oct 4, 2007 07:26 PM

                                        Yes... I have yet to know of any Guacamole that contains Mayo... definitely doesn't sound good.... what do you think about it?

                                        1. re: Eat_Nopal
                                          danhole RE: Eat_Nopal Oct 5, 2007 06:58 AM

                                          Makes me glad I am in Texas and not Western PA. Guacamole with mayo would make me gag! At least they have the decency to say "Mexican Style", but I bet they don't know any mexicans!

                                          1. re: danhole
                                            Sam Fujisaka RE: danhole Oct 5, 2007 08:02 AM

                                            Mrs Hole, yep, mayo in guacamole is as disgusting as the cream cheese in sushi. I almost gagged too.

                                            1. re: Sam Fujisaka
                                              m
                                              mojoeater RE: Sam Fujisaka Oct 5, 2007 07:19 PM

                                              Saw Emeril make it with mayo. Worked in a place that added sourcream. Avocados can be pretty expensive if you're making guacamole for an entire restaurant.

                                              1. re: mojoeater
                                                SweetPea914 RE: mojoeater Oct 6, 2007 05:45 AM

                                                ewww, if they do that to save money, then the restaurant needs to charge more to make it right, or not serve guacamole!

                                                1. re: SweetPea914
                                                  f
                                                  fara RE: SweetPea914 Oct 6, 2007 09:37 AM

                                                  right, don't most places charge at least 200% of the cost of the avocados?

                                                2. re: mojoeater
                                                  danhole RE: mojoeater Oct 6, 2007 10:21 AM

                                                  I could, maybe, see the sour cream, but mayo just seems wrong. At least they aren't using that god awful avocado pulp you get in so many places. It's nasty.

                                                  1. re: danhole
                                                    m
                                                    mojoeater RE: danhole Oct 7, 2007 08:30 PM

                                                    People loved the guac made with sourcream. We'd have people buy it by the tub. And lots of recipes call for mayo. I've never made it that way, but it's not unusual.

                                        2. re: Chew on That
                                          ccbweb RE: Chew on That Oct 4, 2007 10:16 PM

                                          Exactly. If some place or some person is claiming to make "authentic" cuisine of whatever sort, then authentic matters. Otherwise, only good is important. Sometimes it's good to seek out authentic to learn something...but even then it has to be good. If you're not trying to learn something, it only has to be good.

                                        3. f
                                          Fleur RE: foodmonk Oct 4, 2007 06:50 PM

                                          If food isn't delicious, what possible difference could it make that it is "authentic", whatever that means. Food should be wonderful, and fun. Making it an ideological obsession, or an archaeological, anthropological expedition seems silly. People should go ahead and continue it if they like, but please, spare the rest of us.

                                          This foodie obsession, as mentioned by OP above, has gone from the fairly annoying to the outright ridiculous.

                                          12 Replies
                                          1. re: Fleur
                                            ccbweb RE: Fleur Oct 4, 2007 10:15 PM

                                            Thanks, Fleur. I couldn't agree more.

                                            1. re: ccbweb
                                              p
                                              Panini Guy RE: ccbweb Oct 5, 2007 03:29 AM

                                              Don't know who's talking about archaeological or anthropological expeditions, but pursuing the idea of authentic is not mere folly, at least not for people who really do want to know about their food. Some obvious examples:

                                              a) There is usefulness in knowing the difference between a mozzarella made in its historic origin vs. one made in Wisconsin. Many other examples apply here.

                                              b) "Authentic" when actually authentic - and maybe that's not the right word - gives some idea of what one would find at origin. See the whipped guac example above. Just because something contains avocado, does that make it guacamole? Of course not, but many folks think guac is green and creamy because that's all the see sold in their markets. Ever been in Italy and listen to Americans carping at the food with statements like, "That's not what pizza is supposed to look like!" or worse.

                                              c) This is Chowhound. It's not the Rachael Ray bulletin board. Most people here may not have the means or opportunity to experience everything they'd like to taste, but many of us are interested in learning about foods, their preparations and their origins beyond knowing what we can make in 30 minutes or less. I personally enjoy learning about foods in cultural context both in travels and in reading (ever read "1491"? Eye-opening not just from general historical overview but also from a food angle - the importance of diets and availability in the development of this continent.)

                                              Anyway, I wouldn't be so quick to dismiss the search for authenticity as being solely the province of obsessive nutjobs.

                                              1. re: Panini Guy
                                                k
                                                Kagey RE: Panini Guy Oct 5, 2007 09:46 AM

                                                I realize that I'm repeating myself, but what if the mozzarella made in Wisconsin is indistinguishable from that made "in its historic origin?" What if it's made using traditional techniques, but with excellent quality Wisconsin milk? It's good to know about culture and history and tradition, but as to your point a), there may not be a noticeable difference between the two.

                                                1. re: Kagey
                                                  p
                                                  Panini Guy RE: Kagey Oct 5, 2007 11:27 AM

                                                  But it won't be unless the cows are eating the exact same stuff as the ones in Italy. So it's a nice hypothesis, but all but impossible. I've had some nice prosciutto style ham from Iowa as well, from folks who studied in Parma. But it's not Prosciutto di Parma.

                                                  There's a lot to be said for terrior beyond wine and coffee.

                                                  There's also the challenge of practicality. I don't recall who posted about domestic ricotta from free-range cows, but I haven't found it here in Western PA. Not to mention nothing in the way of sheeps milk ricotta, except for prohibitively expensive (and super gamey) stuff from WF. So we use inferior stuff all the time, or figure out how to make our own close approximations.

                                                  When I'm overseas and I have tons of good locally grown stuff all around and then come home to where obtaining locally grown whatever is an expensive pain, it's disappointing reminder that while I'm in a great country, the food still needs work.

                                                  1. re: Panini Guy
                                                    k
                                                    Kagey RE: Panini Guy Oct 7, 2007 04:42 AM

                                                    If you haven't tried a side-by-side taste test, I'd encourage you to do so. I bet you'll be surprised!

                                                    1. re: Kagey
                                                      p
                                                      Panini Guy RE: Kagey Oct 7, 2007 07:13 AM

                                                      I'd love to do so, but it's difficult to do a side-by-side taste test of fresh mozzarella from Italy and mozz from Wisconsin when you can't legally bring in cheese under six months old from Italy.

                                                      Btw, I can get fresh mozz in Pgh made locally from Polly-O curd. It's simply not the same as fresh I've had in Italy. Better than the packaged BellGioso or Polly-O.

                                                      1. re: Panini Guy
                                                        JayVaBeach RE: Panini Guy Oct 7, 2007 10:06 AM

                                                        As a realist Panini, I couldn't agree with you more; particularly on the subject of fresh Mozzarella, since there are many misconceptions of this fine Italian cheese. Mozzarella di Bufala Campana (my favorite region of most Italian cuisine) is my favorite. Here in the states, the closest method, ingredients & taste to "authentic" fresh Mozz I've found right here in my own backyard (Virginia Beach). La Bella Italia Cafe & Trattoria has a wonderful mini market in front offering the freshest Mozz in town & although owner, Ana in her heavy "La Taormino, Sicily" accent says that her Mozz is authentic, it is however, prepared here in the states & not in Southern Italy. It's the closest taste I've found comparing to my favorite market in Capri, Capannina PiĆ¹ Gourmet.

                                                  2. re: Kagey
                                                    Sam Fujisaka RE: Kagey Oct 5, 2007 11:36 AM

                                                    But mozarella is made from buffalo milk.

                                                    1. re: Sam Fujisaka
                                                      Gio RE: Sam Fujisaka Oct 5, 2007 11:39 AM

                                                      Isn't that Water Buffalo, Sam? There are farmers in Vermont with herds of Water Buffalos making domestic mozzarella!

                                                      http://www.woodstockwaterbuffalo.com/...

                                                      1. re: Gio
                                                        Sam Fujisaka RE: Gio Oct 5, 2007 05:24 PM

                                                        Yes, water buffalo. Outside of the US, buffalo does not refer to American bison. I responded to Kagey and Panini who were talking about mozarella from cow's milk. Fine with me (but not the same): I'm still happy as can be in south Asia when I get mutton or goat after ordering the menu's "lamb",

                                                        1. re: Sam Fujisaka
                                                          Gio RE: Sam Fujisaka Oct 5, 2007 05:29 PM

                                                          Well shoot - see how little I know. That's why I have to hang on your every word. LOL Thanks once again.

                                              2. re: Fleur
                                                Eat_Nopal RE: Fleur Oct 5, 2007 08:55 AM

                                                However... back to my previous example of the Tuna Casserole... there is often 1,000s of years of wisdom in an authentic recipe... whereas the mainstream palette for a given generation could be off on a tangent... in this case pursuing Authenticity might make sense... at least for people who have good taste.

                                              3. f
                                                fara RE: foodmonk Oct 4, 2007 08:03 PM

                                                cannoli shells flown to NY and imported, "authetnic" ricotta? what? you can either buy cannoli shells or make them, much the same way they would in Sicily. Italian food is about using high quality, FRESH ingredients, which is why imported ricotta will not make a better cannolo than state-side home made.
                                                the only Italian ingredients that should be imported are relatively preserved, like hard cheeses, up to semi-soft. i've had some pretty terrible imported buffalo mozz that is way inferior to locally made, free range cow milk mozzarella.
                                                (olive oil, packaged italian tomatoes, some cheeses that aren't made here...like scamorza and crescenza :(

                                                1. s
                                                  Steve RE: foodmonk Oct 5, 2007 08:27 PM

                                                  Yeesh, another Straw Man Debate. Good vs. Authentic. Hmmm.... let me guess how this one turns out...... at least 90 percent will say "Good." Roughly the equivalent of "I know what I like."

                                                  Hard to define authentic?

                                                  Reminds me of the Alan Sherman take on The Superiority of Lying. In "The Rape of the Ape," he explains that to be True, something must be 100% true. If any part is not true, it's a Lie. As where a Lie could have any percentage of Truth in it, and it's still a Lie. The Truth has to be painstakingly remembered or researched. Lying can be invented on the spot. The Truth cannot be altered. A Lie can be adjusted to fit perfectly with the time, mood, or place. The Truth happens haphazardly, as where Lying can be planned and predicted.

                                                  Even in most major religions, if you say something nasty about someone, it is better to Lie than tell the Truth. Why? Because you can take back the Lie.

                                                  So how come I've yet to meet a Chinese person who prefers American-Chinese food? Have a friend that travels to Italy a lot? Oh, I'm sure they come back raving about how good we have it here. French food? Miles better in the States. And the Mexican food I've had in Wisconsin would shame the cooks in Mexico. Pass the Kraft cheddar, please.

                                                  I can't think of a single cuisine where the 'doctored' version is more beloved by people from that culture.

                                                  So go ahead, book your tickets to Iceland to partake of the best empanadas. And BBQ is so much better in Prague than in Texas. And when I go to Bangkok, do you think I'm going to waste my time eating Thai food? Hell, no, it's a steady diet of wurst for me. Because if I really try to eat authentic food, I'll just be wasting my time. I mean, it's just too hard to define.

                                                  1. KenWritez RE: foodmonk Oct 6, 2007 10:19 AM

                                                    The more I think about this question, the more inane it becomes and the funnier the OP becomes. (Thanks, foodmonk!)

                                                    There's bad-tasting food prepared authentically. There's also good-tasting food that's not an authentic representation of any cuisine.

                                                    This question should not be an "either-or." It should be an "and."

                                                    1. t
                                                      thebordella RE: foodmonk Oct 7, 2007 11:16 AM

                                                      Clearly, "tasting good" is the most important issue; authenticity, whatever that may mean, can play a supporting role. If something tastes bad, I don't want to eat it, whether it is "authentic" or not. If it tastes good, I do want to eat it, whether it is "authentic" or not. So, taste wins.

                                                      Many comments in this discussion gripe that "you can't find authentic food X in America!". I suggest looking at things the other way around. Time and again, we hear that a certain "authentic" cuisine is not well replicated in the U.S. But why should it be? This (speaking from a U.S. perspective) is not that place. Can you find authentic Thai in Italy? Real German bratwursts in Thailand?

                                                      There is a distinct difference between these "ethnic" cuisines and the situation here in the U.S. (and Canada); as "new" nations and cultures, North American cuisines borrow global influences and morph them into spinoffs and variations and new concoctions. Some of which, yes, may be bland and off-putting to the chowhound palate, and some of which may inspire affection of their own. (NY-style Chinese takeout could almost be described as a cuisine unto itself.)

                                                      I don't intend to deride or dismiss the gustatory or historical value of "authentic" regional cuisines; they matter, and I enjoy experiencing them in my travels. But I also wouldn't want to live in a place where a single "authentic" regionalism dominates my day to day food choices. Having grown up in "the new world," one develops a taste for a variety that may only represent a little bit of many places, rather than a deep knowledge of one place. Perhaps this difference informs the views of eaters from old and new countries.

                                                      4 Replies
                                                      1. re: thebordella
                                                        s
                                                        Steve RE: thebordella Oct 7, 2007 01:35 PM

                                                        "If something tastes bad, I don't want to eat it"

                                                        How about a cuisine you've never tried before? I know some Korean dishes that I couldn't handle when I first tried Korean food.

                                                        There are many foods I adore now that were worth getting to know.

                                                        1. re: Steve
                                                          JayVaBeach RE: Steve Oct 7, 2007 02:19 PM

                                                          What's your favorite Korean meal/dish?

                                                          1. re: JayVaBeach
                                                            s
                                                            Steve RE: JayVaBeach Oct 7, 2007 04:47 PM

                                                            Soon doo boo, tofu stew. I prefer it very spicy with a mixture of seafood and beef, but I'll take it any way I can get it.

                                                            1. re: Steve
                                                              JayVaBeach RE: Steve Oct 15, 2007 01:58 PM

                                                              Thanks Steve !

                                                      2. ccferg RE: foodmonk Oct 7, 2007 05:07 PM

                                                        "Authentic" food does evolve over generations. My grandmother from England always cooked roast beef and yorkshire pudding for Christmas. Fifty years later, I'm still making that for Christmas, but I make a bordelaise sauce rather than a flour gravy, I cook the beef rarer, etc. Is it less authentic? My DNA is as English as hers, but I've been influenced by those around me -- as I'm sure her parents and grandparents were, even when they all lived in England.

                                                        2 Replies
                                                        1. re: ccferg
                                                          e
                                                          ekammin RE: ccferg Oct 9, 2007 10:52 AM

                                                          Many authentic dishes originated in sanitary conditions you would not put up with for a minute.

                                                          As an illustration, we once had some stew beef which had started to go bad, so my wife threw it out. She then figured that she could resurrect it, so she washed it off, and made some Czech beef stew with it.

                                                          When I told this to a Czech friend, she said "So, the beef had started to go bad, and was in contact with garbage. Great! That way you get the true Czech flavour!!".

                                                          1. re: ekammin
                                                            KenWritez RE: ekammin Oct 9, 2007 11:14 AM

                                                            I heard Anthony Bourdain say something like, "A little honest dirt is no impediment to great cooking."

                                                        2. f
                                                          foodperv RE: foodmonk Oct 9, 2007 12:19 PM

                                                          when it comes to the foods themselves a tomatoe is a tomatoe as long as it comes from a tomatoe plant ( and not a bluberry bush) no matter where it is grown
                                                          it is the recipes where the word authentic IMO is more important
                                                          the following is to me a good example
                                                          tonight we are having spinach/potatoe soup
                                                          the original recipe (my mothers) calls for potatoes to be chunked up boiled in veg stock, add chopped garlic and spinach and a few drops of olive oil simple and done.
                                                          This is the original (to be honest it may not be but for the sake of arguement here it is) therefore it is the AUTHENTIC recipe . but now the clincher, in my ver. i am adding sauted chunks of sausage meat to it . weither or not my ver. is better or worse tasting is not the point the point is MY ver is not the authentic one

                                                          5 Replies
                                                          1. re: foodperv
                                                            m
                                                            MakingSense RE: foodperv Oct 9, 2007 02:06 PM

                                                            This may be true for a recipe but it gets complicated when you talk about the food products that go into recipes. A tomato isn't always a tomato. Just as you can taste the difference between a Yukon Gold and a Russet, Basmati rice and Uncle Ben's, agricultural products vary.

                                                            The simplest example I can cite is Toll House Cookies as everyone is familiar with those. We had a series of European au pairs who fell in love with them and took the recipe back with them. Problem: no Nestle's Toll House Morsels in Europe and they didn't consider cookies made with fine European chocolates to be "authentic." I always brought bags and bags to them when I visited.
                                                            Later, I lived in Latin America and had my own stock of Nestle's Toll House Morsels. Problem: the sugar and flour were different and we couldn't bake an "authentic" Toll House Cookie to save our lives. I brought some flour and sugar back from a trip to Miami and made some "authentic" ones.
                                                            All the same "authentic" recipe, just had to have the "authentic" ingredients or a simple beloved cookie wasn't quite right.

                                                            Can Chinese, Latin, even French or any ethnic restaurant produce completely "authentic" food? Maybe, maybe not? In some things it may not make a difference. The people who grew up there may be able to tell the difference in the taste of the masa, the meat, the bread, the vegetables. They may know the flavor of the "terroir."
                                                            I know from experience that agricultural products are different in different parts of the world and cooking with them produces a different result. A recipe can be completely authentic without a dish being so.

                                                            1. re: MakingSense
                                                              yayadave RE: MakingSense Oct 9, 2007 06:56 PM

                                                              This is funny because it makes me wonder just how bad those not authentic cookies made with fine European chocolates could have been.

                                                              1. re: yayadave
                                                                m
                                                                MakingSense RE: yayadave Oct 9, 2007 09:12 PM

                                                                Not bad at all. They just don't taste like "real" American Toll House Cookies. There are thousands of chocolate chip cookie recipes but only one original that those darling girls had come to associate with their time in the US and to them, that was "authentic." Many people in the US feel the same way and hate "upgrades" to fancy gourmet versions of American classics. There are other people who love other versions. Individual taste.
                                                                The Nestle's chips don't melt the same as other types of chocolate so they hold their shape while baking. Sui generis.

                                                                1. re: MakingSense
                                                                  yayadave RE: MakingSense Oct 10, 2007 07:04 AM

                                                                  A lot like those canned French's onion rings on GBC.

                                                                  1. re: yayadave
                                                                    m
                                                                    MakingSense RE: yayadave Oct 10, 2007 10:10 AM

                                                                    Exactly. Whether we agree with that or not. Sometimes we mess with a recipe at our peril and probably need to think about that with Thanksgiving coming.

                                                                    Steve has a great line in his posting above: "I can't think of a single cuisine where the 'doctored' version is more beloved by people from that culture."

                                                                    I can really see what he's talking about after having lived overseas. The real "authentic" version of a dish in homes and in the countryside, made with local ingredients, was often very different from the sanitized version - made with the authentic recipe - served in city restaurants in the same country. The "commercial" version was often made with better quality ingredients, sometimes simply standardized. Export that same dish to the US and use completely different agricultural products and it's bound to be different yet.
                                                                    The native of that country sometimes can't even cook his very own food with the US ingredients. He can get close but he can't wait to get back to his mother's kitchen.

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