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.
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.
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/303097 (on whether chefs must be of same nationality as food)
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.
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.
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.
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.