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Authentic-What Does It Mean To You?

I, for one, would like this word to go away from our lexicon.
It seems that american/- (insert the cuisine of your choice) is no good unless you can find
the "Real Deal".
Is this valid, or just an elite view that doesn't take in to account our great country and the mutations/variations that take place?

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  1. It's not that I have anything against regional variations - look at the thread on "Chicken Fried Steak" for examples of how that dish varies from place to place, or the multiple variations of chili. But when I see something billed as "authentic", I do expect to get the real deal. For example, I have dined on sweet and sour chicken in Hong Kong. There, the sauce is as much sour as sweet, the chicken is not rolled up into little balls, but are flat pieces with a light, crispy batter. The sauce is only lightly thickened with corn starch, so it's fairly liquid. It is quite delicious. So, when I see a place here in Toronto offering "authentic" Chinese food, and I get a sauce that seems to be 50% sugar, has so much corn starch it could conceivably be used as wallpaper paste, the chicken balls are deep fried to the consistency of rock (I actually chipped a tooth at one spot biting into one of these), and are coated with so much breading, they are as much batter as chicken - well, I feel both disappointed and misled.

    Same thing with BBQ (check out the Ontario board for a thread on this). There are a bunch of places here that claim to offer "authentic" Texas/Memphis/Carolina/KC BBQ, and they are all terrific disappointments compared to the real thing (half the restaurants don't even have a smoker!). If a place wants to offer "BBQ ribs" that are boiled, grilled or baked, and slathered with a sweet sauce, that's fine with me. Just don't fib by telling me they're "authentic" when they're nothing of the kind.

    7 Replies
    1. re: KevinB

      What makes you think the food in Hong Kong is any more 'authentic' than what you got in Toronto. My Grand-mother-in-laws are both Cantonese. born and raised in china. One in the very rural parts of Canton, and the other in one of the larger cities. They disagree about most dishes as far as how to make them and what ingredients are authentic. It just depends on what was avaiable in that region.

      Both of them deny that Hong Kong style dishes are Chinese food. One calls it "Brithish Food." 150 years of colonial rule has changed it substancially.

      All 3 styles are good. All three are radically different. All three are authentically something, I just don't know what.

      1. re: KevinB


        The one big problem is, “authentic” to what? Take Carolina BBQ, for instance. Do you mean Eastern Carolina BBQ, Western Carolina BBQ, or Upland Carolina BBQ? All with some similarities, but really quite different.

        Same thing for Chinese cuisine. Where in China? What Provence? China is a very large place, with hundreds of different cuisines.

        We get drawn into this same debate, on the Southwest Board, with “authentic Mexican” cuisine. Which state? They differ radically from one another. In AZ, most people speak of Sonoran. In TX, it is much different. Same for So. Cal - Baja, which differs from almost every other state/area in Mexico. Which would YOU say was “authentic?”

        There is an on-going debate on gumbo, on the New Orleans board. Some folk have claimed that there are “rules,” for the various recipes for gumbo. Well, I’ve had gumbo, that was like an almost clear broth, over rice, with a few tiny shrimp and some herbs. This was from a fifth-generation Cajun in Donaldsonville. I’ve also had gumbo, that was almost black and had to be eaten with a fork. Rules? What rules? Who is authentic there? Also, I’ve had many hundreds that were in between, and these were recipes that had been handed down for generations. Wife’s is thick, is mostly, but not exclusively, seafood, and is dark brown. She comes from New Orleans stock, with Cajun and Parisian chef ties. Which gumbo is “authentic?”

        “Authentic” Hawaiian is something that I also know. However, while attending Allan Wong’s New Wave Lu`au, I got the same dish, from the same island, but done differently, just because of the family recipe. All were “authentic,” but differed greatly, depending on whether the family was from the North Shore of O`ahu, or the Honolulu side - not to mention the various sides of the other islands.

        I’m with the OP. “Authentic,” is usually a marketing term, and should not be taken to heart. Even tiny spots, like O`ahu, have strong variations on the same dish.


        1. re: Bill Hunt

          Variations on a dish is always thrown up as something that negates any value in using the term authentic. Baloney. At the extreme of the argument, if someone were to take a bowl of chilli and call it gumbo, it wouldn't be authentic gumbo by even the widest acceptance of authentic gumbo. Authentic doesn't mean that there can't be a broad range of variations, but at some point it stops being authentically whatever it was supposed to be.

          Authentic is a useful descriptor when the parties involved share an understanding of what it means to them. If I take my in-laws to a burb sushi place and they like the california and philadelphia rolls, it is absolutely useless for me to tell them that this isn't very authentic sushi. But if I'm talking to my Japanese salaryman friend and we discuss a new place I went to, and I say that it was authentic, he understands what I'm saying. That one word communicated a great deal of information, concisely.

          Authentic is a word that often gives away the user's level of understanding. As you said, saying authentic Mexican isn't a very meaningful term, but it could be used by someone who understands that Tex-mex isn't all there is to Mexican food. If they were to say authentic sonoran, authentic yucatecan, then you would guess that this person understands Mexican food better.

          I don't agree that it's a marketing term, but if a restaurant had a sign that said authentic bbq, it would definitely set me up with some expectations. I would look forward to any of the styles you mentioned, as well as those of Memphis, St. Louis, KC, and Texas. I would expect low and slow cooked meat, cooked over embers, although an adjunct heat source would be acceptable. What I'd be pissed off with, would be sweet sauced up baby back ribs, cooked in the oven with a splash of liquid smoke (like at a Chilli's chain). I'd be even more pissed if I got a hamburger or a hot dog at a bbq. These non-authentic foods might very well be delicious, but they would not be authentic bbq.

          1. re: applehome

            Agree very much. To me authentic refers to a range within which certain dishes can vary from the traditional context. There can be variations which are all authentic. Furthermore, there can be degrees to which a dish is similar to the genuine versions, it's doesn't have to be a black or white thing, and to some extent, it will depend on the threshold of the person.

            I care most about authenticity in the labeling sense -- it helps me figure out what is in the dish and how it's made, just like the words "roasted" and "chicken."

            1. re: applehome

              The word 'traditional' works perfectly fine as a descriptor. 'Authentic' tends to be either a value judgement or a rubric so broad as to be meaningless. As I noted below, one hound on the International board was grousing about finding 'authentic' Belgian cuisine in Brussels. I was gobsmacked. We had been recommending traditional fare in excellent and respectable spots-- the most delicious of items. But meanwhile, this hound kept asking for authentic. I finally asked what he meant. He had no idea and confessed as much.

              ETA: Marketing isn't restricted to chains, BTW.

              1. re: applehome

                Applehome, I really like your elegant defense of the term "authentic." I would agree that in the proper context, this word can convey a lot of important information.

                Unfortunately, one does not need a license or certification to use this word. The marketing world has co-opted this term and devalued its meaning and relevance. The same thing occurred when the term "organic" began appearing on food items. Although government legislation has improved the understanding of the term "organic", there is still some confusion. However, it has become easier to figure out whether something is "organic" because the term has been defined by a regulatory body.

                To a certain degree, authenticity has been regulated by governments for specific food products such as cheese, wine, certain meats. We have the French system of AOC food products, the Italian DOCC system for wines, etc. When you buy an AOC cheese, or an AOC poulet de Bresse, you know that you are getting a product that has been produced in a certain way with certain ingredients, and of a certain quality. You also have the context of who the governing body is, so at least you have some idea that someone with experience has designated this product to be worthy of a label. I think this is the closest thing we have to a standardization of the term "authentic". But even this system has significant marketing implications, as evidenced by food/wine producers who don't conform to the regulations, lose their status, and lose market share.

                It is easy to regulate and label a food-making process. It is much harder to regulate a cuisine, so I don't think we'll be seeing AOC cassoulet anytime soon. There are just too many regional variations. One only has to travel between neighbouring Italian villages to see how acrimonious arguments about cuisine can get.

                In the absence of strict guidelines, the term "authentic" remains a vague idealized notion that requires clarification on the part of both parties. You can label something authentic. I still need to do some legwork to figure out what criteria you have used to make this statement. Are you an artisanal cheese maker who uses a generation-old recipe to make raw milk cheeses? Are you a Philly cheese steak vendor whose been living and eating in Philly for years? Are you an avid fan of jelly beans who takes every opportunity to sample beans from around the globe? I still need to figure out your context in order to get meaningful information from your use of the term "authentic" (not to mention your agenda! Are you trying to sell me a bridge?). Similarly, you need to figure out what I understand when you say "this is authentic". Am I a food historian? Am I looking to recreate a long-lost memory of a childhood food experience from my hometown, or am I looking for food that has been validated by experts in the field? Oh the baggage that comes with the term "authentic"!

                I wouldn't want cuisine regulated anyways. I revel in the variations and regional differences that arise when different people step into the kitchen to cook.

                I have known many immigrants and children of immigrants who have gone back to their country of origin, and been very disappointed with some of the "authentic food". Ingredients aren't as good or as readily available. Also, cuisines evolve, and sometimes the older, "more authentic" version of a recipe can be preserved in the enclaves of an isolated immigrant population, but change dramatically in the country of origin. Which version is more "authentic"? Difficult to say.

                BBQboy, many thanks for starting this thread. It is always fun to read so many interesting, informed opinions, and to have this great dialogue.

            2. With global movement and tourism, these days the word "authentic" really doesn't add up to a hill of beans. In some cases the difference between "original" and "regional variation" are fairly obvious. Pizza is one where I feel this is fairly easy to figure out. The difference between Chicago deep dish crust, or how in some parts of the world they add corn - compared to "authentic" pizza in Italy is obvious. However, with plenty of other foods or cuisines things get a lot more murky.

              I know that "authentic" Irish cuisine is one that has gotten really murky given the numbers of immigrants who left Ireland. Many Irish left Ireland, and brought what Irish food was at the time to where they moved and/or adopted their style to new ingredients (i.e. corned beef). Those Irish immigrants continued to cook their Irish food in their new countries, and then started visiting Ireland in large numbers expecting what they believed to be "authentic" Irish food. So in Ireland, they continued to make that "authentic" Irish food in restaurants despite it not reflecting authentic food the Irish in Ireland were eating. Or - new traditions would develop in these Irish hybrid communities and then travel back to Ireland because that's what tourists want. The tackiest example of this being green beer for St. Patrick's Day.

              At the end of the day "real deal" and "authentic" are words people love to toss around, but things mutate so much so quickly these days with the movement of people.

              1. When you find an authentic Bavarian Pretzel in the states, that is made in the states, come talk to me, until then there isn't one !! Most of the time when I hear the word "authentic" and I am not in the region that is known for making it, then I take it for what it is, another sales pitch.

                Who ever came up with the word "Famous" in pizza place names?? Look around, I guess they are all famous.

                1. is there such a thing as authentic when it comes to food? Surely it's all about interpretation. A spaghetti bolognaise in one Bologna restaurant will be different in another. I think it's about expectations not authenticity. KevinB's sweetn sour chicken in Hong Kong may have been different if tried in 10 different Hong Kong restaurants.

                  1. I'm not at all anti-authentic, as my past posts have indicated. It's neither good nor bad, it's just another property which you can use to describe something, meaningful only if the two parties using it have a common understanding of the term. But I'm sure not going to rehash all that again. It just means different things to different folks. For some, it's meaningless. For others, it's the most important property of food amongst many. For most, it's somewhere in between. That's good enough for me.

                    Try this one on a cold night with nothing left to do:

                    1. Oh, man...with the Hub and I having philosophy, history, art and journalism backgrounds, I think the word "authentic" has come up almost as often as something, somewhere that itches. Equally irritating, but always fun to scratch.

                      Validity can be elite or proletarian, say. Elitism can be valid or incomprehensible. But good food is good food. Who cares how "authentic" it is, except in specific circumstances of oneupmanship?

                      Is it on my plate, tasty, and shared with those I care for (even solo...)? It's authentic enough.

                      And enough is often all we want.


                      1 Reply
                      1. re: cayjohan

                        well said, cay. i think a lot of us use "authentic" as a stand-in for "good." i crave "authentic" chinese food -- but mostly because the chinese american slop one oftentimes finds is slop. i love the fried chicken one finds at KFCs all over China, though, and the french fries stirfried with julienned beef and gravy, as well as red tea with milk, the half coffee/half tea drink popular in Hong Kong -- and to switch cuisines, the tandoori chicken pizza one finds at pizza huts in Delhi.

                        i mostly like "authentic" as a descriptive, not normative, term, since there generally is an established form to whatever it is you're describing. if you ask for authentic edo-style nigiri, you know what you're getting.

                        it's also often just a matter of time when a dish / cuisine becomes established enough to become "authentically" something else. there's now authentic singaporean and hawaiian food, for instance -- a particular mixture of many different cultures mixed together.

                      2. Whenever I hear someone go on about authenticity in food, I'm reminded of a passage in Calvin Trillin's AMERICAN FRIED where he's explaining at length about how the gazpacho he's eating at a dinner party differs from an "authentic" gazpacho, until he suddenly realizes that the main difference is that the stuff he's eating then tastes much better.

                        "Tasty" far outweighs "authentic."

                        2 Replies
                        1. I guess when I want 'authentic' ethnic cuisine, I hope for it to not be watered or dumbed down simply because as a Caucasian, I am perceived to be less adventurous or as "can't handle" certain ingredients or spices.

                          A great example is Thai food, which I love. But only if it is "Thai hot/spicy". I *always* ask for it that way, and yet still sometimes am served something of a joke in the spiciness department.

                          5 Replies
                          1. re: linguafood

                            That is very true lingufood, I have also experiences this. I have a co-worker from Mexico and he brings me burrito's from time to time that his Mom make. He often says to me "be careful with those" meaning she uses some "authentic" ha ha ha ingredients that I may not be used to.

                            I love spicy also and have a hard time getting the "authentic" hots in Thai, Szechuan, Mexican and other restaurants here.

                            1. re: linguafood

                              That's basically how I am. I like all sorts of very "non authentic" things and I like all sorts of "authentic" things. The only time I really care is if I'm trying to get something that I expect to be "authentic" and it is somehow (as you put it) "dumbed down"). If its just a matter of interpretation, so be it - as others have noted, it isn't like every bolognese is going to be identical in bologna. But don't cut out all the spices & flavorings just because you don't think I'm going to like it.

                              1. re: linguafood

                                At what point does "adapted" become "dumbed down?" I'm fortunate enough to have several good tacquerias and pho joints near me, but I'm not a huge fan of cilantro so I either have them go easy on the stuff or serve it on the side. Have they dumbed down the dish so I can handle it? I like spicy food but not toxically hot, near-death-experience spicy. One tacqueria serves a fantastic torta ahogada but, man, the chile sauce it's drowned in goes through me like a Ferrari. Am I "dumbing" this dish down because I don't want to burn my butthole off on the "real deal?"

                                1. re: monkeyrotica

                                  If you expect to receive food you won't like, then go ahead and ask them in advance to adapt to your taste. No harm in that.

                                  But it is a different matter to complain about being served exactly what you ordered.

                                  And, yes, YOU are dumbing down the dish, but that is your choice.

                                  1. re: monkeyrotica

                                    I guess it all boils down to personal preference.

                                    There was a time in my life when I hated both cilantro and hot food, which unfortunately coincided with a 3-week trip to/through Thailand.

                                    I practically lived on chicken & rice dishes, or the fantastic noodle soups, always having to make a point of telling them to leave out the damn cilantro and not make it too spicy.

                                    Well, fast forward to today -- I now love cilantro and consider it an essential ingredient in Thai cuisine, and I have turned into a chili head. Burning butthole and all :-)

                                2. I am not a fan of the term, myself. Or rather, I can't stand how it functions as a criterion of value here on the boards.

                                  On another board, a person was bemoaning not being able to find authentic Belgian food in Brussels. I was baffled because I had no idea what that meant. There are traditional foods, yes, but what would authentically Belgian even mean? I asked the person, but they didn't even know what that would entail. Seems to me a problematic and elusive criterion, especially as it appeared to be getting in the way of recommendations for certain dishes and places that had already been recommended as being good, serving traditional Belgian fare, and even being places that many Belgians would choose for their lunch. What more can a person want? I mean, apart from the fact we were also recommending things that were delicious, which should trump all.

                                  Sometimes, I think that 'authentic' functions like the concept of the 'primitive' for the tourist. Certain Chowhounds seek it as this elusive, pure moment, before modernity came in and ruined it. Look, so close to nature/so close to its original state! It seems to me to refuse the capacity for change that exists in every nation-- and not just bbq boy's 'great country' (USA, I presume? :) ).

                                  There are traditional foods that have been served. That's a more accurate term than 'authentic'. And as for the issue of heat, I don't know, I think that enjoying the heat of the traditional preparation not altered for an imagined audience is not liking 'authentic' dishes, it's liking 'spicy' dishes.

                                  At the same time, if I ordered a doro wat, and someone offered me some watery bland soup or stew with maybe some chunks of chicken and no egg, I'd be disappointed. But then, is that an 'authentic' issue? Or, is this an issue of poor preparation and departure from more traditional recipes without warning?

                                  I realise I'm not addressing the American hyphenate issue bbq boy raised. Sorry.

                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: Lizard

                                    That was a fine summation, Lizard. Thanks.

                                    1. re: Lizard

                                      Very well put, Lizard. I think within the context of immigration, "authentic food" also becomes important as a sense of what was left behind. However, this easily creates a situation where an immigrant community will feel that it has a better hold of authentic food traditions (i.e. no Belgian food in Brussels) because it hasn't been "contaminated" by time/modernity/new populations.

                                      This then gets into tourists who want to find that "untouched pure" version of a food (culture, music, dance, etc.). Departure from a general standard recipe bothers me, but not because of authenticity but rather expectations of what I planned to eat. And then bad food is always bad food.

                                    2. I'm going to play devils advocate here. I believe that 'authentic' does have its place in the world of food. Especially when one looks at these meanings of the word, 'conforming to an original [recipe] so as to reproduce essential features'. Or, 'made or done the same way as an original [recipe]'. Food(s), no matter from what country are going to have variations usually associated with different regions within that particular country. And thus, each can have their own particular 'authenticity'. Guess we could call it 'regional authenticity'. Just my veiw. And it works for me.

                                      3 Replies
                                      1. re: crt

                                        The problem with your definition is how far back do we have to go to get to the "original?" Is it 500 years? One thousand years? Ten thousand years? Then, how do we know that that recipe is the "original" one?" Could the cave, just over the rise, have done that recipe, before?

                                        Sorry, "original" has only a little more meaning, than "authentic." If one goes with the date that a recipe was printed on paper, and copyrighted, we have one date. Suppose that that recipe was handed down for serveral generations, prior to its being printed. Wife's gumbo recipe is three generations old, but was probably handed down from a few generations before. That "original" recipe was probably borrowed from someone else, who had previously borrowed it from another.


                                        1. re: crt

                                          I think I agree with this slant. You have to draw the line somewhere. Look at the French; they are always trying to control the names of food and restrict their usage. Same for balsamic vinegar in Italy.
                                          Seems to me authentic versus traditional is just parsing of words. As far as going back to the stone-age, I dn't think that BBQ is cooked on a stick, with no seasonings. I like the attempts to differentiate one from another and that you, the educated Chowhound can find what you want and tell the difference.

                                          1. re: Scargod

                                            Sorry, I think the examples you chose prove my point. "Authentic" balsamic vinegar is produced the traditional way, by fermenting and aging in wooden casks over a period of years. Commercial balsamic vinegar is made by adding caramel syrup and strong vinegar to red grape juice. There's no comparison between the two. Same thing with champagne, for example. The "champagnes" produced in America and Canada are much sweeter than the real thing.

                                            At my local cheese shop, I can get "Canadian" parmesan cheese, or I can get Parmigiana-Reggiano. If I'm just getting the ground stuff to throw on top of pasta, I might buy the Canadian, as it's considerably cheaper, but it lacks the sharpness of the real thing. If I'm planning a meal where I'm going to shave curls of parmesan over the dish, it's the real thing all the way.

                                        2. I agree wholeheartedly that authentic does not necessarily mean tastier, or better. That said, there are times when I want to eat a dish that is authentic in the sense that it has been prepared following the traditions that would be followed so as to 'conform to original recipes to reproduce essential features.'

                                          Of late, I've been reading this novel The Historian by Elizabeth Kostkova, in which the protagonists travel through 1950's and 1970's Europe, passing from Britain to France, Italy, Turkey, Hungary, and Romania (well, it's a vampire novel). There are a lot of descriptions of traditional dishes in the novel that have me hankering to try hortobàgyi palacsinta and börek prepared the way they would have been in those countries back in those times. Food cooked with real lard, with locally-grown vegetables, without high-fructose corn syrup, without the benefit of a microwave oven, and not "watered down" (as linguafood was saying) or otherwise altered for the benefit of my American tongue.

                                          1. It's just a labeling issue to me. If one write a dish on a menu, then it should be within the range of variation for that dish so that one roughly knows what to expect. For example, we'd be disappointed if we ordered Bucatini all'Amatriciana and got rice noodles. (I know this sounds extreme, but it's not, some of the dishes I'm used to back home are so completely changed in other countries that the original name is no longer an indicator of what the dish is.)

                                            1. Urban anthropologists' myth: An anthropologist was interviewing a Trobiand Islander asking about the couvade and cross-cousin terminology The respondent said, "Just a minute" and came back with Franz Boas' or some other early anthropologist's book, opened it, and said, "Well, let me see"

                                              1. To me... generally - not always - "Authentic" means Superior relative to "Americanized"

                                                I think it goes back to America's culinary legacy... it began with a co-mingling of average Cuisines that didn't particularly have a grandiose past.... German, English, Scottish, Irish, Dutch etc., then on top of that you have Industrialization & Sub-urbanization... and Americans seem to lose the ability to cook from scratch. The semi-homemade / semi-processed way of cooking & eating became the social standard AT THE TIME when many ethnic cooking traditions... Mexican, Chinese, Italian... were becoming widespread. Naturally they were interpreted throught that lense of Semi-Homemade, processed intensive, gastronomic culture. And there was even the idea that the Authentic versions were lower quality, less consistent, less clean etc.,

                                                In the 70's when more authentic representations of Ethnic cooking were becoming more common... you see the developing of a culture in which people think of as the Authentic version as being better than the 1950's version... this follows a general increase in Culinary intellect at the mainstream / American gastronomy level as well.

                                                Beginning with the 90's as Home Cooking, Cooking Shows, Food Network etc., made a comeback... and the Slow Food movement accelerated... Americans began to really demand, in earnest, to have a more competitive Gastronimically culture at the world level and we are seeing many improvements. But at least with Mexican, Italian, Thai & Chinese I know for sure that Authentic is generally still superior to the Americanized versions...

                                                19 Replies
                                                1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                                  But see, this always positions the "ethnic" cuisines as Other, in a way that bothers me because it seems sort of subtly and unintentionally condescending. It starts to lean towards that whole Rousseau "noble savage" thing, which always throws up a bit of a red flag for me, because it doesn't allow those cuisines as much room to evolve with both the times and the changing tastes of the people in those cultures.

                                                  It reminds me of a story I saw in a textile museum in Toronto last year: they had a show on the history of indigo dye and its place in various cultures around the world, and one exhibit pointed out that this lovely piece of traditional indigo-dyed cloth was dyed by craftspeople in...I want to say Cameroon, but I'm afraid I don't remember for sure...who sarcastically refer to clothes made from this cloth as "anthropologist clothes," because if they wear indigo clothes in real life, they're made with a synthetic dye that doesn't rub off onto their skin the way the "traditional" indigo cloth does.

                                                  1. re: BarmyFotheringayPhipps

                                                    I hear your point... but as a member of the "Other"... I have to tell you... when someone brags about how good the cheesy, starcy, gloppy "Mexican" food over at the "Compadre Lazy Donkey Mexican Restaurant"... and then give me a look of fear when I brag about the Cabeza tacos and Fava-Nopales soup at "Taqueria Los Huevos de Tlaloc".... the first thing that comes to mind is "that is not fukking Authentic Mexican food you like... let me instruct you on what the real stuff is" usually my blood boiling a little... when I probably mean to say: "People in Mexico would have to not have anything to eat for 3 or 4 days before considering that puddle of crap.... so don't mislabel it as Mexican"

                                                    1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                                      Eat, baby, you've gotta relax. I grew up eating, among others, real traditional post-war poverty based Japanese food. Daily o-kazu not prepared for o-kaksan, simple and delicious but with little meat and lots of vegetables, and LOTS of hot plain white rice, maybe some pickles or an ume! The Japanese themselves got rich for a while and started eating (to me) inauthentic foods (!!!). People in the US pretty much only know the high end restarant foods that we rarely eat; and have really done a number on sushi (e.g., California rolls). Even the Hounds seem little acquainted with what is the best of Japanese--a bit of sashimi no-maguro or ika and lots of hot gohan!

                                                    2. re: BarmyFotheringayPhipps

                                                      "But see, this always positions the "ethnic" cuisines as Other, in a way that bothers me because it seems sort of subtly and unintentionally condescending."

                                                      I would agree with this statement completely. Authenticity seems to be a North American obsession within a certain subset of consumers. And when it is used, it is always with an element of condescension, a sense of "I know better than you what it worthy of attention". It gets a little old. I do not need Mr. or Ms. North American to tell me a dish is "authentic" to validate that dish.

                                                      Just tell me if it tastes good, and why! Much more useful. Another thing I like is when people tell me "it reminds me of something I ate when I was in ...." This kind of statement gives me a context. It tells me you like it, and that it brings back good memories of a meal you ate in another time, place or country. That alone will be a ringing endorsement in my mind. But just saying something is "authentic" and presuming I understand your context and agree with your assumptions? Not helpful. Almost as useless as "The Best".

                                                      1. re: moh

                                                        Good points but I would also like to reaffirm... that many of us who use the term Authenticity to mean something better... are the immigrants who want to have a say in how we are cataloged / stereotyped... in this case our culinary traditions.

                                                        1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                                          I hear what you're saying, Eat Nopal, and agree with your point.

                                                          I have given up on trying to find "authentic" kimchi though! So many different variations and styles, I've sat through so many discussions, arguments, pissing matches! We can bicker and yell about who makes the most authentic kimchi within our own tribe, but as soon as someone from outside the tribe makes a comment about the authenticity of our kimchi, everyone will band together and let them have it!

                                                        2. re: moh

                                                          "Authenticity seems to be a North American obsession within a certain subset of consumers."


                                                          I've spent many years of my life working with the French and visiting France. They are obsessed with authenticity, within their own country and when abroad. And from living and working in Washington, DC with a wide variety of folks from Asia to North Africa and elsewhere, I'd have to say pretty much the same about them as well.

                                                          1. re: Steve

                                                            Yes, Steve, you are right, I am painting a rather broad brush on North Americans. Obsession with authenticity is a characteristic that can be seen across the world.

                                                            You will note that in a later post, above, I did indeed acknowledge that the French and others have regulated authenticity with systems such as AOC classifications.

                                                            I would also make the following distinction. A person from Burgundy, France who complains that the Chablis in California is not authentic has a reasonable beef. They are from Burgundy, they are very familiar with Chablis, they know what they are looking for. I understand the need to find something that resembles what you had back home, whether that be France, Asia or North Africa.

                                                            What I get frustrated about are the people who are tourists to an area, then come back home feeling like they are now experts in the field. For example, they had kimchi in Korea, and that was "authentic". Then they go to a Korean restaurant in North America, or try someone's mother's kimchi, and decide that because it isn't what they had in Korea, it can't be "authentic". It isn't as spicy, or they don't use the same vegetables, or whatever. This is the "authentic" obsession I don't totally get, the attitude that "I can judge how authentic something is because I've been there". Now, I'll grant you, this attitude is not limited to North Americans.

                                                            1. re: Steve

                                                              I have to agree with you, Steve. I lived with a family in Germany. They always wanted me to cook American food. So I'd offer to make them a stiry-fry. No, they insisted, we want American food. I'd offer to make them pasta. No, they'd repeat American and not Italian. I'd offer to make meatloaf. No that's German; we want real American. I'd offer quiche. That's French and the German version is better. We want American. These were all standbys in my American family. When I asked them what they meant by American food, they couldn't really answer me. I can only surmise that they wanted something quintessentially American they had also never heard of... or they wanted Southern food like gumbo or bbq and could not articulate their desire. (Too bad if they did: I was decidedly a Northeast kid)

                                                              1. re: thinks too much

                                                                Maybe they wanted American. Native American... with a pow-wow & everything?

                                                                1. re: thinks too much

                                                                  Hmm. Speaking as a German here, why didn't you make hot dogs, hamburgers, grilled cheese sandwich, reuben sandwich, blt, club sandwich, bbq, corn on the cob, ribs, spaghetti w/meatballs, deep dish pizza, chicken fried steak or fried chicken, lobster newburg, oysters rockefeller, caesar salad...

                                                                  I would consider any and all of these dishes quintessentially American. Not sure why you didn't come up with a single one of those ----

                                                                  1. re: linguafood

                                                                    But hamburgers & hot dogs are derivatives of german fare, spaghetti w/ meatballs derivative of italian (and he even said that he offered pasta), chicken fried steak is a derivative of german, etc ....

                                                                    1. re: jgg13

                                                                      Derivative, maybe, but not at all the same. A hamburger or a hot dog in Germany will be served with mustard, and that's it. Give them a double patty burger with two slices of cheese, mustard, relish, tomato, onion, and 1000 island dressing, and they wouldn't recognize it. Chicken fried steak with cream gravy might be a distant cousin of Wiener Schnitzel, but it's a completely different taste experience.

                                                                      And I agree with linguafood's choices - I'd forgotten the whole NY deli thing - along with others I've listed in another post. Seems to me that TTM didn't have much imagination.

                                                                  2. re: thinks too much

                                                                    Oh, geez. OK, let's forget the whole Cajun/Creole oeuvre - crab boils, crawfish, jambalaya, etouffe, etc. Let's forget the whole BBQ sector (Texas, Carolina, Memphis, KC, whatever). What about roast turkey, fried chicken, cheeseburgers, cheesesteaks, BLT or club sandwiches, buffalo wings, apple pie (in Vienna, I saw lots of wonderful pastries, but never a single honest-to-god fruit pie), sloppy joes, chili dogs - or just chili, for that matter, boston baked beans, new england clam chowder - I could go on, but I think you get my point.

                                                                2. re: moh

                                                                  "But see, this always positions the "ethnic" cuisines as Other, in a way that bothers me because it seems sort of subtly and unintentionally condescending."

                                                                  I don't look at it that way. "Ethnic" is a draw for me. I think I will get something that is seasoned and prepared in a different and probably superior manner to "chicken-fried steak and mashed potatoes". I guess it's just a matter of perspective. It has no downside for me.

                                                                  I am more suspicious and careful when something is labeled as authentic. I think EN has a right to get heartburn over what some places do to his food heritage. But even in Mexico there will be restaurants that cater to Gringos; it's not what most people eat.*

                                                                  moh: can't we have some presumption? People are here because they are interested in learning and sharing things about food. I'm tired of dumming things down and dumbed-down food. I am always Googling subjects, looking up words, getting translations etc., so I can know more. Even referencing something has its pitfalls* and will not work for many, unless they want to learn.

                                                                  1. re: Scargod

                                                                    <"But see, this always positions the "ethnic" cuisines as Other, in a way that bothers me because it seems sort of subtly and unintentionally condescending."

                                                                    I don't look at it that way. "Ethnic" is a draw for me.>

                                                                    Scargod, sorry, I may not have made myself clear. I was referring to BarmyFotheringayPhipps's post when I made that post. I am not saying that people look down on "ethnic", or think ethnic food is inferior. On the contrary, I am referring to the "noble savage" concept that BarmyFotheringayPhipps brought up. In this model, the dominant culture exalts the less dominant culture, creating an idealized, romanticized view of that culture that is difficult to live up to. When members of the less dominant culture don't conform to that idealized view, then they are accused of not being "authentic". Take a hypothetical example, I'll use Korean cuisine as this is my home base:

                                                                    North American goes to Korea, watches someone make kimchi from scratch. they dry and grind the chilies, they catch and salt the shrimp for the shrimp paste, grow the vegetables from seed, ferment the kimchi in large clay pots they have made by hand, and then buried in the ground. The visitor is impressed, feels that this is the authentic way to make kimchi, raves about it to everyone who'll listen.

                                                                    (so far, I have no problem with this. I appreciate people who show interest in other cultures).

                                                                    Then the visitor returns to North America. Goes in search of "authentic" kimchi. Goes to a Mom and Pop restaurant run by Korean immigrants. Orders the kimchi, is disappointed that the kimchi has been made with purchased chili powder and shrimp sauce, and has been fermented in plastic containers. Accuses the owners of dumbing down the cuisine and not having "authentic" cuisine. They dismiss this establishment because the owners do not conform to their idealized notion of "authentic".

                                                                    <moh: can't we have some presumption? People are here because they are interested in learning and sharing things about food. I'm tired of dumming things down and dumbed-down food.>

                                                                    Scargod, I absolutely agree with you! I am all in favour of people learning and sharing about food. But too often, some people throw around the term "authentic" to imply that they know more about a cuisine of dish than you. "Well, this just isn't authentic" they'll say, implying that you should accept their word as the word of authority. Their point of view is superior. That's when I get pissed off.

                                                                    If you come to the table and say "I wonder about the authenticity of this dish for the following reasons..." and are open to discussion, and use the term as a starting point, not a final judgement, then great! I shall happily discuss and eat with you!

                                                                    1. re: moh

                                                                      (not specially replying to moh, but adding another point to this part of the thread of "ethnic" food)

                                                                      Everything is ethnic -- a burger is ethnically American, coq au vin is ethnically French, pho is ethnically Vietnamese....the list goes on. Just like we don't want dumbed down kimchi, we don't want dumbed down burgers either.

                                                                3. re: BarmyFotheringayPhipps

                                                                  To my ear, "authentic" is broad enough to encompass both "the way the natives traditionally did it in the old days" and "the way the natives do it nowadays." Coq au vin cooked according to Escoffier's dictates is authentically French. A sandwich of ham and gruyere on a baguette is authentically French, even if the French may not have invented sandwiches. Change the baguette to Wonder Bread and the cheese to Kraft American pasteurized processed cheese slices, and it's not authentically French (for me, anyway).

                                                                  Since certain aspects of food processing are still a relatively new phenomenon, just a few decades old, they haven't yet begun to significantly alter cooking practices in many parts of the world. Dishes from those places, when cooked using processed foods and contemporary American shortcuts (since I'm writing from the American perspective), aren't authentic. Eventually, those same processed foods and shortcuts may be adopted in those other places, at which time their use will become authentic, if not traditional.

                                                                4. re: Eat_Nopal

                                                                  If you don't think there was "grandiose cooking" in England, Ireland, Germany, you need to do some more research. Check out Dorothy Hartley's "Cooking in England" and "Irish Traditional Cooking" by Darina Allen. "Luchow's Cookbook" is a time capsule of old German recipes that put some of the more pretentious slop to shame. English cookery gets a bad rap because of wartime rationing and the tendency of English cooks to ape their continental brethren. Fergus Henderson has done some great work reviving "authentic" English recipes (particularly those using offal).

                                                                  As for the Americanized version being always inferior, that's definitely a matter of personal taste. I've had braised chicken feet and fermented duck egg and I gotta say, I prefer a good plate of moogoo gaipan or a chop suey sandwich to both.

                                                                5. authentic: whatever the ethnicity or cuisine that has been passed down and you love.

                                                                  I quite agree with the idea of making do with local/available ingredients. W/O we would have missed out on many things.

                                                                  But it really is the same (generic) idea behind soul food, right? food cooked with history and care? The term soul food has a very specific connotation, but I don't think any cooking has a complete monopoly on that term.

                                                                  Patatas Bravas con Alioli; Okra, Corn and Tomatoes; Brats in Beer and grilled (maybe not all at once)

                                                                  bring the mutations on!! some of the best food I've had was at a (very) multi-ethnic work picnic. who knew Indian and Greek could cross-pollinate?

                                                                  1. One way to look at this is by traveling and looking for food from your home country. If I'm looking for a hamburger in Thailand, "authentic" might be a word I appreciate because it distinguishes a possibly crappy version from someone who might be an expat and know exactly what I'm craving. (Whether the ingredients allow for a good burger in Thailand is another issue).

                                                                    I, personally, hate seeing the word "authentic" when I'm reading the Pacific Northwest boards because it's usually something like, "Your favorite restaurant isn't authentic." Which I don't really give a crap about because it's damn good.

                                                                    As far as I'm concerned, we'd be better-off describing things as Seattle-style crab cakes or Ko Pha Ngan-style green curry. Or Seattle-style green curry and Ko Pha Ngan-style crab cakes. But it's not going to happen, so we keep scouring the message boards. This "authentic" question is the reason I started this other thread:


                                                                    4 Replies
                                                                    1. re: cscsman

                                                                      I am sure its annoying... and despite my well known views I am sure many are surprised to learn that I am quite Progressive in my philosophy (I believe the best is produced by very carefully - and its easier said than done - creatively combining Ancient wisdom with Modern Ideas with humility & earthiness).... man do I like Grilled Squab thighs in Chipotle Adobo with Roquefort Crema & Mexican Basil!

                                                                      Anyways.,.. more directly... I think sometimes people use the "your favorite restaurant/dish is not Authentic" to mean... FYI....when I went to the home country I had those dishes and they were handily superior.,.. if you keep looking instead of settling you might find the restaurant/version that can compete with its home country incarnations.

                                                                      1. re: cscsman


                                                                        I agree with your comments. To get anecdotal, regarding the “authenticity” of certain foods/dishes, I had a big shoot for an art director from NYC, some years back. He’d been in the area for a few years, so knew his way around the local food scene. For the first lunch, during the shoot, an assistant suggested a small, near-by pizza place, that specialized in NY-style pizza. The pies arrived, and they were great. The crust was like a large Saltine cracker, without the salt. There were toasted bubbles in the lower area of the crust. It was thin, had a perfect consistency and the toppings and sauce were perfect compliments to this wonderful crust. My client complained loudly, that it was not “authentic” NY-style pizza, though every piece was devoured. The next day, he ordered the pizza from his idea of an “authentic” NY-style pizza place, not too far from the shoot. These pies were thin-crust, but it seemed that it was corn meal. The bottom crust was dripping in oil and the crust had the consistency of damp corn bread. The toppings were not nearly as tasty, and the sauce was only a hint. After a few tastes, the client decreed these as “authentic” NY-style pizzas. Same crew, same number of pies and there were maybe two complete pies leftover.

                                                                        Give me delicious food, and “authenticity” can take a backseat. If I were a gastro-anthropologist, I might feel differently, but I am just a lowly Chowhound.

                                                                        The Pacific Northwest is a very large place with a diverse population. I imagine that there are strong variations in much of the cuisine, even after many generations. I see the same in New Orleans, and its environs. I would also guess that there are dozens of pizza recipes in NYC, depending on just whose pie you eat and like, and in which neighborhood you are eating.

                                                                        If we wish to find truly “authentic,” we need to define the country, the state/province, the city, the neighborhood, and maybe even the family, from which it comes.

                                                                        As Moh points out, above, one must first define a frame of reference, both for the person talking of “authentic,” and then for the listener.

                                                                        Going back to Applehome, I’d have to say that I have never had any gumbo, that reminded me of any sort of chili, but that doesn’t mean that it is not being done in some household. In my analogy, using gumbo, the range, of my experiences, has included an almost clear broth with limited shrimp, over rice, with scant herbs to a thick black concoction, filled with seafood, and also served over rice. Which was “authentic” gumbo? Since all came from the same general geographic region, South Louisiana, and were done by cooks and chefs, who were multi-generational to that area of the US, I’d be hard pressed. Now, the majority seem to be somewhere in the middle, but shear quantity does not directly translate to “authentic” for me. All were Louisiana seafood gumbo (let’s not even bring in the other iterations), and from people, who had lived, and cooked in the area for years, using multi-generational family recipes.

                                                                        I do admit that “gumbo” is a rather broad, and probably undefined concoction, and may not be the very best subject to debate, regarding “authenticity,” but I do think that it helps to exemplify the variations possible, and still be deemed “authentic.”

                                                                        I also agree that this is an interesting, and thought provoking thread.


                                                                        1. re: Bill Hunt

                                                                          Any "gastro" anthropologist would prefer a good over a bad pizza; but would also be able to distinguish the differerent background influences of each pizza sampled. Isn't that the way it is with your evaluations of wine?

                                                                          Eat Nopal and others raise valid points regarding Mexican food; and others and I talk about how people in the US rarely eat Japanese food that most Japanese eat on a day-to day basis. There is a new thread asking about AYCE sushi, tempura, and sashimi. These are restaurant foods finally appreciated by you hakujin, but hardly "authentic" Japanese food.

                                                                          1. re: Bill Hunt

                                                                            Semantics.... that "pizza guy" was using Authentic to mean Proper or Preferrable. To an outsider... both pies seem similar enough to consistute an acceptable range within a common dish. Now... if one pie had a Tomato-Chipotle-Epazote sauce, or BBQ sauce, or Thai Green curry instead of an Italian inspired Tomato-Garlic-Italian Oregano sauce or some other fundamental difference... then bemoaning lack of authenticity is more relevant... and it shouldn't be called a NY pie... maybe we call the first one a "NYC Flower Vendor" pizza etc.,

                                                                            But ultimately you are going to really understand the way us immigrants use the term authenticity until you go to Cuzco and have a NYC Style Pizza there with local herbs, spices & mountain cheese... then I am sure you will use "this isn't Authentic" to mean this isn't as good as the original.

                                                                        2. This is always a touchy subject with many, especially those who are very familiar with specific ingredients, dishes and cooking techniques from their respective cuisines of interest - uh, passion is more like it...

                                                                          The term, "authentic," is a little too vague, maybe even amorphous to me. Maybe the term, "traditional," works better in my book. I am sure that there is some standard for many dishes that are related to the better known grand cuisines of Mexico, France, Italy, various part of the Middle East, Chinese (throughout Asia), Japan, etc., and I apologize in advance for leaving others that deserve to be mentioned. I think those traditional dishes that do have a standard accepted protocol that are then transformed, bastardized, manipulated or otherwise changed deserve great scrutiny, or do they? What are the intentions for the change? Improve on the proverbial mousetrap? Okay, give it a whirl. Dumbing down in order to appeal to the Lowest Common Denominator? Dreadful but maybe an economic necessity for the enterprising immigrant. Substitute for a sourcing issue? What can I say - if a Japanese restaurant had to cross the Pacific to get its precious fresh yuzu as contraband prior to its introduction in California in the late 80s, is it worth prison time or fines to be authentic, traditional, or otherwise?

                                                                          I just appreciate the fact the so many folks from so many lands have tried with great effort to make a hard-earned buck by trying to introduce something that just might catch her in the US. I am the beneficiary of their efforts. They are rewarded by my dollars if enough like me vote in their favor for whatever reason that their version, authentic, traditional, or otherwise, worked...

                                                                          20 Replies
                                                                          1. re: bulavinaka

                                                                            You know... in my perspective I celebrate ingredient subsitution... it doesn't bother me one bit... I actually think its cool to adapt to local ingredients.... but there are adaptations & there are adaptations. The Mexican immigrant who builds a gawdy burrito selling restaurant, filled with cheap trinkets & mediocre food... isn't going to get any respect from me as a restarateurs... perhaps I will applaud them for having more entrepreneurial drive than me... perhaps I respect them as a person... but lets be honest... Mexicans don't bastardize the cuisine & the culture out of inability to source acceptable ingredients.... it makes easy money.

                                                                            Mediocrity is the foundation of the Captalist economy... creating something appealing to the masses is what is going to be most likely an economic success... but there are many have a higher level of integrity than market forces will recognize and it is those people I will celebrate, praise & support.

                                                                            Ultimately... if someone keeps true to the concept of an Ensenada Taco am I going to whine that they are using Pike? If they can figure out how to prepare that fish in a way that would be compelling to someone in Ensenada... i think that would be so faqqing great! If someone uses Sourdough Baguettes to make Tortas because they are in an area without any Mexican bakeries... or the available Bolillos are plain bad.... who cares?

                                                                            I am more bothered by the things that cannot be understood... yellow cheese & flour tortillas in a "Taco" of grilled, watery halibut topped with Cole Slaw and a sickly sweet Mango salsa (made from frozen or canned Mangos) that is literally what gets passed off frequently as Fish Taco in the Northwest.

                                                                            Now if they called the "Pinche Northwest Gringo Has No Tastebud Style Fish Taco" well then I no complain meeestaarr!

                                                                            1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                                                              ....but why should folks in the PNW care what someone from Ensenada
                                                                              even thinks?
                                                                              It is taking a known style and adapting it to the available ingredients. Would you be any happier if it was a pear or berry salsa instead of mangos?
                                                                              Authentic to you, EN, means what you are familiar with from your past.
                                                                              To me, a catfish or bay shrimp taco with cheddar or blue cheese and cole slaw on a flour tortilla sounds like a tasty new creation, not an abomination.
                                                                              Welcome to America.

                                                                              1. re: bbqboy

                                                                                Eat Nopal, more and more your definition of inauthentic seems to be 'distasteful', or so it seems with words, phrases and intimations such as 'watery', 'sickly sweet', 'no tastebud', 'gawdy', 'cheap', 'mediocre'.

                                                                                There are traditional preparations, and it seems you do allow for innovation (one hopes you also allow for innovation back home and do not assume that once you set foot in the US, modernity commences and you are in the world of time and capitalism, unlike the noble natives who preserve centuries of cookery without even blinking) but the concept of 'authentic' continues to be too wooly. It's too broad ranging, and continues to be elevated as a criterion of worth. Indeed, based on what I've read above, I'm now joining my tourist/imperial nostalgia assessment of the term with Bourdieu's distinction: 'authentic' seems to be, for many, a gatekeeping device and a means of articulating their place in the world (power relations through aesthetic appreciations). This is exemplified in the conversation on the boards, and on the cultural policy initiatives meant to protect forms of cookery (intangible cultural heritage-- a domain of UNESCO).

                                                                                I'm really enjoying the conversation here-- and thanks, also bbqboy for the words of support above!

                                                                                1. re: Lizard

                                                                                  Yes you are right... I do allow for innovation... in fact I cherish it. For mother's day breakfast this morning I made Chiapas style Torrejas (kind of like Sticky French Toast)...

                                                                                  1) Torrejas are a very old Spanish dish... the fact that Mexican adaptations exist is an innovation right there.

                                                                                  2) For my bread instead of using stale Bolillos I used California Sourdough

                                                                                  3) For my cheese I used an Aged Gouda (non-Smoked) important from Holland instead of the traditional aged cheese from the Highlands of Chiapas

                                                                                  4) My Piloncillo based syrup was flavored with Cardomom which is a very recent adaptation in Chiapas cooking (outside if its use in Chewing Gum its virtually unknown in the rest of Mexico).

                                                                                  The results were magnificent... Sourdough bath in frothy egg mix (Eggs, 100% Cacao powder, Papantla Vanilla, Canela, Coconut Milk).... cooked in Rendered Lard then finished in a thin Cardamom-Canela spiced Syrup... topped with thick slices of 24 month aged Gouda.

                                                                                  Innovation right there. But there is innovation & there is innovation. When someone tells me Tex-Mex, Cal-Mex, Fusion Mex, Southwest... I know of the bat there is a 99.5% chance that it is going to be substantially inferior to the more authentic versions of the dish.

                                                                                  Notice I don't say 100%.... I've had some notable Carnitas from a cutting edge Cal-French restaurant, and an awesome Skirt Steak with Roasted Cippolini Guacamole at a red blooded, wild game steakhouse in the Malibu mountains etc., but generally at this point there is still a tendency to completely screw up dishes of Mexican, Chinese, Thai, Japanese & Indian origins among others.

                                                                                  1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                                                                    I guess I forgot to make my point =)

                                                                                    Had I used Wonderbread, Kraft Cheese & Aunt Jemima it would have been a far cry and I would denounce the "innovation" as inauthentic. I am not saying this the perfect use of a the term... but for many people that is the meaning....

                                                                                    Authentic = Classic, Graceful, Perfected Over Many Generations

                                                                                    Inauthentic = Gawdy, Plastic, Abomination etc.,

                                                                                    1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                                                                      Eat, bet you I could take that Kraft, Wonder, and Jemima and--along with a bunch of other ingredients (several of which you've mentioned), I could make some pretty good torrejas.

                                                                                2. re: bbqboy

                                                                                  But its not tasty.... not to someone who has had the holy grail... a taco right from the stands near the pier in Ensenada.... the PNW version is terrible. Don't take my word, compare them for yourself.

                                                                                  1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                                                                    Okay, I now concur with your idea of spinning off the "Informal Poll" thread into two distinctly "different" threads... I think the above poster is thinking more about a "wrap," and not a true taco... We need to get a taco or cemitas truck up to the PNW STAT!

                                                                                  2. re: bbqboy

                                                                                    People anywhere ought to care about the origins of any food, because it provides a context for understanding the flavors as well as the culture. It shows respect, not only for the food itself, but for the people that originated it. Why do we bother having cultural days in elementary school, where someone's mom brings in a bunch of strange food?

                                                                                    "Welcome to America" is about as condescending a phrase as I've heard on this board. It is virtually a code phrase used by intolerant people to justify their bad treatment of immigrants. I don't know if you meant it that way, but there it is. I guess it's up to us immigrants to decide whether to take it that way or not.

                                                                                    Food represents our culture. That tie-in simultaneously enriches our understanding of the food and culture, and gets in the way of pure deliciousness. If someone believes that deliciousness exists on its own, existentially, for each person, and that is all there is to that, then all this talk of authenticity or traditional or original or whatever is quite meaningless. But if someone believes that deliciousness is learned and earned - it is derived from experience, it is shared, and it is enhanced by a greater understanding of all the aspects of food - from ingredients and technique to history and culture - then, authenticity, tradition and origin have some value.

                                                                                    The use of the word authentic obviously conveys some sort of meaning - good or bad, rightly understood or misinterpreted. It may very well be that authentic is an extremely narrow experience for me or for EN or some other import or denizen of a particular cultural enclave right here in the US. That doesn't negate its value, both in starting a conversation, a dialectic, or in coming to an ultimate understanding. As it turns out, there are a lot more people than myself that believe that there is nothing like authentic sushi (and what you're eating is probably nothing like authentic sushi), ditto fish tacos. And we're not all immigrants, thankfully.

                                                                                    1. re: applehome

                                                                                      As a born and bred American from the Heartland, I am sorry that you misunderstood my phraseology. Not knowing what a true Ensenada fish taco should taste like, I have no expectations of whether
                                                                                      "the real deal" is better than the Catfish or Salmon taco I might prefer.
                                                                                      Melting pot is taught to us from youth as a strength, not a weakness.
                                                                                      Taking an idea and improving or adapting it to local preferences is a normal part of the assimilation of varied influences into something uniquely American. Sorry if that offends you, but that really is what this country is about.

                                                                                      1. re: bbqboy

                                                                                        Actually, no, you're wrong. This country is about tolerance and diversity. This country is about respecting each other's differences, while building on the foundation block of those diverse tastes and backgrounds. That's what has ultimately worked for us - when we've gone against that respect, we've failed and fought some very foolish and costly battles that have advanced nothing.

                                                                                        "Welcome to America" in the context you used is about as respectful as "Love It or Leave It". If you think that's what this country is about, you just didn't learn enough of your own history. And I certainly don't need to be told what this country is about from someone that doesn't know its history and hasn't served it the way I have.

                                                                                        With regard to food, a melting pot doesn't make good food - just a bunch of glop. We don't just want to melt all our diverse flavors together - we want to combine them in exciting new ways that work. But without understanding what came before, why things were done the way they were done, having a healthy respect for the original and the authentic (whatever the definition and context), we can't build on it. We can't just arbitrarily decide that I'm going to sell this bowl of chili as gumbo - who would take us seriously? Certainly, many would take catfish or salmon on a flour tortilla, as a fish taco, but many wouldn't consider it authentic - especially those who knew the history.

                                                                                        People that have been here many generations from East North Carolina argue about authentic que with people from the western part of their own state, never mind Beale St. or St. Louis or KC or whatever that annexed, previously foreign territory is called - oh yeah, baja Oklahoma... Tejas.

                                                                                        So it's not just a matter of immigration and looking at foreign foods from south of the border or other foreign places - our own country is full of pockets of great, authentic food that people will fight to the death for.

                                                                                        The truth is that we have to seek deliciousness - that's whats in our blood, as chowhounds. So whether it's the salmon taco or the Ensenada fish taco, whether it's whole pig with vinegar or beef brisket with a tomato based sauce, we should try it all and decide what we like for ourselves.

                                                                                        But like it or not, fish tacos originated in one area, and because of that there is a matter of authenticity in that the ones that came from there, many years before other fish tacos came about, were made a certain way. It's not a matter of rejecting catfish or salmon taco, but of simply stating that the authentic ones didn't use salmon or catfish (or flour tortillas). Diversity means you like the salmon or catfish, others like the authentic ones. As a chowhound, you should want to try the authentic ones just to see if they are any better - if you decide otherwise, that's fine - at least you'll know what fish tacos were all about at one time. Nobody says you have to like the authentic ones more than the assorted adaptations - at least no true American, regardless of where they were born and bred.

                                                                                        1. re: applehome

                                                                                          I know my history just fine, thank you. Everything in America, for the most part, started somewhere else, including the population and the food they brought with them. To demand an authentic ensenada fish taco in Seattle or Kansas City seems absurd to me. Would you demand authentic brisket or gumbo in Ensenada or Mexico City or Rome?
                                                                                          I didn't say I wouldn't appreciate the taco in Ensenada were I to visit, it is the context of expecting the same dish 1000's of miles from the original sourcepoint.
                                                                                          I actually started this thread because of the seemingly continual lament over lack of "authentic" BBQ in Seattle, and the "There is no X in Seattle" thread, which got canned. Why SHOULD Seattle have authentic BBQ, when there is no history of, and little cultural basis for them to have a BBQ tradition? Wanting pulled pork just like one had in NC is never going to happen. That's the diversity you speak of.
                                                                                          When Seattle develops a BBQ tradition of it's own, then they'll be rockin' and rollin.

                                                                                          1. re: bbqboy

                                                                                            i don't agree with your last assertion.

                                                                                            location is nothing. ingredients and technique are. there is no reason why i can't have an excellent laksa in vancouver or a pulled pork in seattle.

                                                                                            but is till think authenticity is overrated
                                                                                            actually i don't think it even exists

                                                                                            nor does being authentic make it better.
                                                                                            i ahve had terrible, but authentic indian food in india, terrible but authentic thai food in thailand, terrible but authentic burgers in america, terrible but authentic pizza in italy and new york.

                                                                                            as well as excellent versions of all these both in their place of origin, as well as thousands of miles away

                                                                                            1. re: bbqboy

                                                                                              "Would you demand authentic brisket or gumbo in Ensenada or Mexico City or Rome?"


                                                                                              In fact in Mexico City... I told the restaurant manager of a "Cocina de Nuevo Orleans" restaurant that his Etouffe wasn't right... that he was trying to pass off a version of Camarones Rancheros for the real thing. Their version of "Etouffe" was good... but it was not what you would expect if you knew what Etouffe was... and I accussed him of giving an exotic name to a dish just to be able to jack up the price in an upscale neighborhood..,.. an I knew I had him.

                                                                                              If you are going to open a restaurant representing a foreign cuisine you have a responsibility to do it in integrity.

                                                                                              1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                                                                                did he change it to your standards?

                                                                                                1. re: bbqboy

                                                                                                  That was several years ago and I haven't been back.

                                                                                              2. re: bbqboy

                                                                                                I think there are 2 separate issues here.

                                                                                                The first is demanding authentic food. If that happens to be one's preference, I think it's great -- one should always seek out what one loves to eat, and be willing to go that extra mile or extra 10000 miles. Chowhounding is NOT about convenience.

                                                                                                The second issue is demanding authentic food everywhere. That's like demanding delicious food everywhere. It's unrealistic. Everyone who opens a restaurant has a responsibility to cook delicious food, but not everyone lives up to it.

                                                                                                What we as chowhounds can do is eat at the places that we like and not eat at the places that we don't like, whatever our rationale is. There's nothing wrong with saying that a particular restaurant isn't good, I'm not going to eat there and warning people away from it. And there's nothing wrong with putting the restaurant into perspective by saying it's good for the area but not up to certain standards.

                                                                                                At the same time, we should also be spending time/effort chowhounding to look for places that suit our tastes, regardless of where it's located. Chowhounding is not about the food coming to you, it's about going to the food. It's not about whether Seattle should or should not have authentic BBQ, it's about where the authentic BBQ is (if that's to your taste) and how one goes and eats some.

                                                                                          2. re: bbqboy

                                                                                            It's worth noting that chowhounds are willing to go further for something more delicious. So, if something authentic also happens to be more delicious, it's perfectly acceptable to get on a plane to seek out something even more delicious. That's why it's essential for chowhounds from the PNW (or anywhere in the world) to care about what folks in Ensenada think is delicious. Chowhounding has no borders.

                                                                                      2. I honestly don't care if things are "authentic". I mean, if you're visiting somewhere, it's nice to eat food that's traditional there, but as long as it tastes good, authenticity doesn't really matter to me.

                                                                                        1. Ok, I'll take a crack at answering this question - from a completely different perspective.

                                                                                          Authentic is often the depth of the experience.

                                                                                          There are many ethnic restaurants in the US - from French to Indonesian to Mexican - that are started by immigrants from those places. But they all offer the same dozen or two recognizable dishes. In some cases, they can't easily get the same ingredients, quality, etc, and in other cases the clientele would not appreciate certain animal parts or other original recipe components.

                                                                                          But quite often there IS something on the menu or even a few items that are pretty much as you would find them at their place of origin.

                                                                                          Sometimes it's the responsibility of the Chowhound to acknowledge and search out the great menu item among a bunch of dreary choices.

                                                                                          It's rarely a case of 'black and white.'

                                                                                          1. funny. i've been thinking of starting a thread just like this myself.

                                                                                            i care way less about "authenticity" than o do about good flavor.

                                                                                            this goes for all foods, not just american or "ethnic" food.
                                                                                            (isnt all food ethnic food?)

                                                                                            8 Replies
                                                                                            1. re: thew

                                                                                              I don't think anyone can argue with food that smells and tastes good even when divorced from considerations of presentation, history, expense, and all the rest.

                                                                                              But there's something to be said, at least as far as some of us who love food are concerned, for occasionally being able to enjoy a particular rendition of a dish that is informed by history and local custom. To draw an analogy from the arts world: It can be a transcendent experience to hear a recorded reading of one of Shakespeare's tragedies that has been updated with modern-day colloquial English; but to see a live performance of the same work on the stage (ideally at the reconstructed Globe Theater in London) with actors in period dress and reciting the actual words that Shakespeare wrote takes the experience to a whole other level. Neither way of experiencing Shakespeare is necessarily "better" than the other. Each has its place.

                                                                                              1. re: racer x

                                                                                                <<<I don't think anyone can argue with food that smells and tastes good even when divorced from considerations of presentation, history, expense, and all the rest.>>>

                                                                                                I will. I was from Singapore, and am living in Vancouver now. Take the classic Singaporean Laksa for example. Just because a restaurant makes a bowl of noodle with red soup and calls it Laksa (it does taste and smell good) does not make the dish Laksa. The same goes for all the other "ethnic" dishes from Singapore / Malaysia - Hainanese Chicken Rice, Satay (yes even satay), Mee Goreng etc..

                                                                                                It baffles me when such restaurants get rave reviews claiming their authenticity.

                                                                                                1. re: kwailan4

                                                                                                  but just because it is made in Vancouver and not Singapore does not make it not Laksa, either

                                                                                                  1. re: thew

                                                                                                    Too many nots here.

                                                                                                    Are you saying because I am in Vancouver, it is ok to call the dish Laksa? I will accept that only if no where else in Vancouver can I find the real thing.

                                                                                                    1. re: kwailan4

                                                                                                      no i'm saying that it is possible to have real laksa in Vancouver

                                                                                                      1. re: thew

                                                                                                        Definitely! Maybe I should rephrase my stand.

                                                                                                        Personally, I am more particular about food from my country of origin. When I visit a Singaopre/Malaysia restaurant, it is not good enough that the food taste good. It has to taste close to the real thing.

                                                                                                        For everything else, yes, as long as it tastes good, I am all for it.

                                                                                                  2. re: kwailan4

                                                                                                    Kwailan, I think you missed my point. I was responding to Thew's assertion that good flavor trumps "authenticity." I was agreeing with Thew that no one can reasonably find fault with food that tastes good.

                                                                                                    It sounds like you are addressing the issue of what can properly be called "authentic," which I think is a separate issue. And I agree with your point (see my previous posts in this thread).

                                                                                                    1. re: racer x

                                                                                                      I suppose authentic means different things to different people.

                                                                                                      Personally, I am more particular about food from my country of origin. For everything else, yes, as long as it tastes good, I am all for it.

                                                                                              2. The concept of authentic is wide and varied, but clearly dear as it refers to an interpretation of the dish as initially encountered by a person with some ties to the place of origin. OR, it's the elusive noble savage (one can love and still be condescending, look at any critique of anthropology, yeah?) sought out by the tourist/chowhound in search of a 'purer' food, untainted by the modern world. (I'm sure there are some who will claim they are not tourists, but travelers. I find this distinction one that is equally fraught with the power relations I have ascribed to claims of authenticity, but as this is not a travel board nor a tourist studies board, I'll leave this undeveloped-- sorry).

                                                                                                What is coming more clear now is the way in which authentic is being defined as opposite to 'inauthentic'. While simply meaning 'not genuine' (itself a broad category) this word means everything negative (often associated with modernity or the modern condition). It means 'gawdy', 'mass produced' , 'plastic', 'abomination'. It is the word that laments the touch with some sort of true origin although one of the questions that has come up with authentic is 'where-- and when-- do we place this origin'? The sheer negativity associated with this term reimbues the authentic with romanticism. It is that moment. When we eat it, we are somehow partaking in something pure.

                                                                                                That said, I love eating traditional foods. I love eating good foods. I love eating artisanal products that reveal the love and artistry of the producer. I love eating experimentations (provided they are made with good, flavourful, fresh ingredients). I love eating. Well, I love eating. But as long as 'authentic' is something that means so many different things to so many people with the only shared element being emotional/romantic, it is too woolly for me to ever get a bead on what it means without more context.

                                                                                                That said, because so many people on these boards equate authentic with good, that's how I usually interpret it, and seek those places out (when not stuck in a part of the world with authentic but not terribly delicious cuisine). I may not like the implications of the term, but there's loads of things I don't like in the world, so I just suck it up. (And with your help, I can mean that literally as well as figuratively.)

                                                                                                1. First, I object to EN's characterization that pretty much anything "authentic" is better than anything "Americanized." The likelihood that, to my palate, snake bile in rice wine in Hanoi is better than a French 75 at Citronelle (using substitute/inauthentic ingredients) is laughable.

                                                                                                  Next, I think racerx alluded to the element of time in this whole mess. My grandparents immigrated to the US about 100 years ago. I suppose that the way my grandmother cooked was "authentic" for the time and place when she grew up. However, if you went to the old country now, the same dishes might be a little bit different. The world has become a much more international place.

                                                                                                  And I'm not just talking about the addition of "foreign" ingredients. Sugar has become much cheaper since 1900 and definitely since 1600. So, for instance, I'm pretty sure that the teriyaki being made now is has a lower soy sauce:sugar ratio than it did a century or more ago. It tastes a little different. Is that inauthentic? I don't know.

                                                                                                  And, as many people have stated, in most cases, there is not any one "index" dish. A few dishes can claim to be traced to a date and place (the Caesar salad, the Cobb Salad, Fettucini Alfredo). Most cannot. So, by definition, there is not any one way to make most dishes.

                                                                                                  1 Reply
                                                                                                  1. re: filth

                                                                                                    What has come across is that there aren't "index" dishes, but is an index range in which variants would still be considered authentic. In addition, if there are sufficiently large changes to the dish that deviate from the authentic range, then it would be inaccurate to label it as such.

                                                                                                    For example, one can't refer to bak choy stir fried with oyster sauce as a caesar salad. It's inaccurate because it falls outside of the range of what one would consider a caesar salad. At some point, a dish ceases to be caesar salad if it is changed sufficiently.

                                                                                                    Certainly not all comparisons are as drastic, but authenticity can be a practical and useful notion when communicating the qualities (ingredients, preparation etc...) of a specific dish. Deliciousness is of course paramount, but it is also important label a dish accurately, so that we know what to expect when we order.

                                                                                                  2. I think we are enjoying arguing the semantics of "authentic" as much as we enjoy arguing about "what's good food"!
                                                                                                    I think bbqboy said he was from the midwest (and is in the N-W now). I am in a strange land; transplanted in southern CT from a long life in North Texas.
                                                                                                    I say this because if I hear "authentic" tied to a cuisine I miss, I immediately want to try it. Whether it is Mexican or "Q", if it is authentic "from anywhere land", I want to try it and see if it is better than those not claiming authenticity (and often disappoint). I am searching for something that reminds be of what I miss (authentic or not). Like dating, having high authenticity expectations can be disappointing and frustrating. Perhaps that is why bbqboy would like the word banished. I am not expecting to find the virgin; I just want one that is not totally defiled. Where are there any "real deals" anyway? As my brother, the physicist, would say, "In relation to what?"

                                                                                                    1 Reply
                                                                                                    1. re: Scargod

                                                                                                      yes. thank you for summing up. I guess I have no expectation of authentic because of the culture aspect; I would just hope for an assimilation of technique transferred to a new reality.

                                                                                                    2. Let me repeat a point I alluded to above.

                                                                                                      I'm uncomfortable with the omission of foods in people's understanding of "authentic". Some seem to think that Japanese food = sushi, sashimi, and tempura. They may easily have eaten very "authentic" versions of these. The "authentic" cuisine, however, includes a huge wealth and depth of other types of dishes, foods, and preparations that appear to remain unknown to many Americans.

                                                                                                      1 Reply
                                                                                                      1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                                                                        I agree. Food changes - that's inevitable. But the cuisine of an entire culture, ethnic or otherwise, changes slowly. Living in that culture, eating that cuisine, one comes to an understanding of life as a native of that culture that no one dish can represent fully.

                                                                                                        It is possible to point to the cuisine of a time and place as being authentic, even including all of its variations. When you pull one dish out of that cuisine, and claim to replicate it authentically, you lose the context - authentic means less and is easily co-opted.

                                                                                                        One aspect of change that often occurs in this lack of context, is the purposeful dumbing-down of a particular dish to meet the expectations of another culture, or to reduce costs, because this other culture would not be able to detect or care about the changes. That's the aspect that most people who argue that authenticity has meaning, feel is the most egregious. That's the change that people are addressing when using the term, "this isn't authentic". It's what makes hamburger with chilli powder in crispy fried corn tortillas, tacos. It's what makes avocado and krab or cream cheese and smoked salmon, sushi. It's what makes Chili's baby back ribs, barbeque. It's what makes deep fat fried cream cheese in wonton wrappers, chinese food.

                                                                                                        If this is elitism, it is so because the elitists find the food to be beneath them, not because they use the term authentic. Removing authentic from the lexicon, as bboy says, does nothing to address the elitism. People seem to be arguing against elitism - but that's like arguing against chowhound. We're here to find better food, to educate ourselves about all kinds of food, to share our experience and knowledge about food.

                                                                                                        Saying that a particular dish is inauthentic is indeed saying that something is not right about that dish. If a discussion follows, a dialectic process is created, and everybody learns something about the history of the dish, the culture it came from, the variations that exist, the attempts to dumb down that dish, etcetc.. I'd say that's a good thing.

                                                                                                      2. the discussion on this thread is very entertaining and at times very energetic. thanks to bbqboy for starting it. several posters made compelling arguments for seeking authenticity, especially applehome (with a nod to limster, too). i happen to agree with those who maintain that this website attracts people who are openminded, with an appreciation for, curiosity about, and passion for good food. as such, curiosity about the roots of a cuisine/dish, or authenticity, is almost necessary to attain a true appreciation of the cuisine/dish. in an academic comparison (although i’m not an academician) it’s like understanding first principles. without knowing first principles in a subject area, there’s no foundation on which to expand a knowledge base or appreciation for that subject. i don’t think seeking and recognizing authenticity is elitism at all, but rather a natural part of the passion for good food that members of this website have.

                                                                                                        30 Replies
                                                                                                        1. re: beantowntitletown

                                                                                                          That's a great way of putting it; a foundation of principals, which goes back to what I said earlier about learning about a food, it's history, the ingredients and preparation. You then have a better idea about authenticity.

                                                                                                          What if all I knew about "Mexican food" was Pancho's Mexican Buffet (a cheap meal chain, concentrated in the Dallas-Ft Worth area)? IMHO, the majority of restaurants calling themselves "Mexican" are not that, at all, but again, most do not use the word "authentic". On Pancho's elaborate website they use authentic and classic only once, but, in general, I don't think the restaurants throw those words around.

                                                                                                          What if a restaurant were to use the phrase, "Classic X, from Y area"? Wouldn't that be more accurate or acceptable?

                                                                                                          1. re: beantowntitletown

                                                                                                            Beano & Godo,
                                                                                                            I been reading and trying to organize my own thoughts. And low and behold..... this past weekend we went to one of our favorite New England Mexican restaurants, Authentica" in S. Hadley, Ma. Authentica specializes in some "authentic" New Mexican dishes. New Mexican/Arizionian(?) differs from TexMex and SoCal. In a previous thread, there were many mixed feelings about the place, as is often the case in New England. I always order 2 items I miss from New Mex cuisine, posole and stacked Hatch(NM) green chile enchiladas w/ a fried egg on top. These I find "authentic" as they are made w/ the "correct" ingredients in the manner done w/in New Mexico. They are not terribly spicy but the flavor is rich and deep of good green chilies. I recognized it form it's original home territory. My wife's burrito, I did not and found it to be "inauthentic" glop. What can one say about my son's green chile berger? Fusion? I do feel on a different plane when eating Mexican style cuisine w/in New England. I'd probably be able to judge the "authenticity" of Norwegian, Finnish and Bolivian foods too if I could ever find restaurants that served them! For most other cuisines, the term "authentic" is a yellow light flashing, and I try to judge by pasts experiences, quality, freshness and, of course flavors (that I prefer).
                                                                                                            What a jumble.

                                                                                                            1. re: Passadumkeg

                                                                                                              Number one, a green chile cheeseburger is 100% authentic New Mexican -- it's one of the archetypal local dishes, and I've seen people damn near get into fistfights over who had the best. (My vote goes to the Owl Cafe in San Antonio NM.)

                                                                                                              Number two, Authentica says as a point of pride that they don't use lard. To quote Ceiling Cat: FAIL.

                                                                                                              1. re: BarmyFotheringayPhipps

                                                                                                                I would argue that the Green Chile Cheeseburger is the exact kind of mutation I'm talking about. The Santa Fe Trail, since the 1840's and before, has traveled both ways.
                                                                                                                Marco Polo amongst the Native Americans. :)

                                                                                                                1. re: bbqboy

                                                                                                                  Authentic to me is food cooked without shortcuts, or cheap substitutions, made with care, using ingredients of good quality. Authentic is food without pretense, that is the sum total of seasonal availability, skill, and tradition.

                                                                                                                  Take Maine lobster on the beach, boiled in ocean water, served with drawn butter....that's authentic, Hell, I can see the boat it came off of...., I finished it with a wild blueberry pie, with a real butter crust. That's not what you get served at Red Lobster. See the difference?

                                                                                                                  1. re: bsheitman

                                                                                                                    How can that really be though?

                                                                                                                    From Webster: "made or done the same way as an original <authentic Mexican fare>"

                                                                                                                    Why do you assume that the original is cooked w/o shortcuts, made with care and using ingredients of good quality?

                                                                                                                    1. re: jgg13

                                                                                                                      The title of the thread is "What does Authentic Mean to You", not "What does Authentic Mean to Merriam-Webster".

                                                                                                                      I described what it meant to me. Are you still confused?

                                                                                                                      1. re: bsheitman

                                                                                                                        The problem is that the word is already properly defined, so if one's definition deviates from that they're incorrect.

                                                                                                                        So if you were in India and were sampling the local fare and found out that they were not using "quality ingredients" you would not consider it to be 'authentic' even if it were made by Indians, for Indians in the traditions of their Indian ancestors? How is that remotely tied to the true definition of "authentic"?

                                                                                                                        Sure, language changes over time but one can't just go inserting any definition they want for words - otherwise words have no meaning.

                                                                                                                        1. re: jgg13

                                                                                                                          whatever dude. that's just the "authentic" definition. useless! ;)

                                                                                                                          1. re: jgg13

                                                                                                                            Or, to put it in clearer terms: a tuna casserole wouldn't be authentic if it was made with bechamel, sauteed cremini mushrooms, fresh bluefin and hand-cut homemade noodles. Would that dish be tasty? You betcha! But it wouldn't be authentic, because that's not the ingredients used in the original recipe.

                                                                                                                            1. re: BarmyFotheringayPhipps


                                                                                                                              IMO, bsheitman is taking the "what does it mean to you?" a little too far. The word "authentic" has a particular meaning, but as people have pointed out all throughout this thread - in a lot of cases there's a bunch of wiggle room in that sort of authenticity (e.g. if talking about a regional dish, there's often not a "one true recipe") but there are going to be boundaries: as you say, at some point a tuna casserole is no longer a "tuna casserole" (i have a big attitude problem about all of these "xyz martinis" that float around).

                                                                                                                              I didn't completely disagree w/ bsheitman - he notes a lack of cheap substitutions & being without shortcuts. Presuming that this is read as being relative to the original, I agree fully. But requiring "made with care", "quality ingredients", "seasonal availability", etc seems a bit much given that the original product might never have been that way!

                                                                                                                              Thinking about this a bit more, I've come up with an anecdotal story which seems to capture the whole "what is required for 'authenticity' debate well, take the Hot Brown sandwich. If one goes by what was the *original* original, well, the recipe is available from the Brown itself. But if one looks as authenticity as being "how does that region prepare their food", well then - there are all sorts of variations done in all sorts of Kentucky kitchens. Growing up, my mom made a "Hot Brown" that was very much *not* the original (and definitely used 'cheap substitutions' and 'shortcuts', tying in to bsheitman) - it tastes similar but not quite the same. Now, she was given these shortcuts by a relative of ours who ran another Louisville restaurant ... so in terms of a "Louisville area food item" it was certainly "authentic" but in terms of "The Hot Brown of the Brown hotel" it was not.

                                                                                                                            2. re: jgg13

                                                                                                                              Authentic, on the surface is about staying true to a set standard. I can agree about that. On the other hand, there's obviously enough ambiguity regarding what's considered authentic to warrant a thread on the subject.

                                                                                                                              My definition of authentic is shaped not only by literal definition but by personal experience. For example, a lot of what's served as authentic cuisine at restaurants is more like a cheap knockoff. Why? because they sought to mass produce an experience and a technique that was a spontaneous fusion of time, place, ingredients, and ingenuity. Much of authentic regional cuisine is the symbiotic relationship between necessity and the inate human drive to make something better....call it art?
                                                                                                                              The idea that something can be reproduced, with inferior ingredients on a mass scale defeats the very concept behind culinary authenticity. Thus why buzz-words such as "hand-crafted" or "natural" still ring true to our ears though they have very little legal meaning. Often, non-traditional ingredients are added to make up the deficit in flavor, such as MSG in cheap soy sauce, or sugar or corn syrup as a flavor enhancer for less than fresh vegetables.
                                                                                                                              To use the barbeque sauce example. Say we want authentic Carolina BBQ sauce, and I go to a rib pit, and look at their sauce ingredients and find a list containing various unpronounceables and ingredients which are either invented or non-existent in the home kitchen, the sauce is no more authentic to me than a McRib sandwhich. When's the last time you made BBQ sauce with HFCS, MSG, BHT, and artificial smoke flavor anyway? So in that respect, authentic to me, though intimately connected with locale, is not synonymous with locally prepared cuisine. And, besides, a lot of Carolinans consider the ubiquitous tomato a grave heresy in their sauce :)
                                                                                                                              I consider these mass-produced, cheaper foods reproductions of an ideal which can only be achieved by using the best ingredients, not taking shortcuts, and, heck why not...having fun making it too.

                                                                                                                              1. re: bsheitman

                                                                                                                                I see where you're coming from now and agree w/ what you wrote in general. But as a counterpoint, MSG is used a lot in cooking over there - it isn't necessarily a "cheap knockoff" (oof, I had a typo w/ an 'n' between the 'u' and the 't', that wouldn't have been good). Or similarly, with your example on the wacky ingredients in the BBQ sauce - its been noted before that sometimes those ingredient labels look scarier than they should because they have to note everything in there - one might be tossing those same things in while cooking at home w/o realizing it (compounds associated with other natural items they're using). Although yeah the HFCS, artificial smoke, etc that's not going to be the case there :)

                                                                                                                                What I thought you were more saying was, as an example, if a regional food item was built around say, crappy meat - that this couldn't be 'authentic' because it wasn't a 'quality ingredient'.

                                                                                                                                1. re: bsheitman

                                                                                                                                  Totally agree with you - to go back to my first comment, "authentic" sweet and sour sauce is thickened mostly by reduction, with a small amount of thickener added at the end. In Toronto, most S&S sauces are thickened with a huge dollop of cornstarch, so that 20 minutes after the meal is served, you can stand a spoon up vertically in it.

                                                                                                                                  As for your lobster - every few years, I visit my friend in Portland Maine, and we have an "authentic" clambake - we dig a pit on the beach, build a fire with real charcoal, line it with seaweed, and throw on clams, lobsters, corn, and potatoes. Cover with more seaweed, wait, and dig in! I don't think you can replicate this experience in-land or at a restaurant.

                                                                                                                                2. re: jgg13

                                                                                                                                  And authenticity be damned, I love a big plate of meaty, greasy Chinese take-out too. :-)

                                                                                                                                  1. re: bsheitman

                                                                                                                                    That we can definitely agree on. As others have said, "authentic" is not as important as "tastes good".

                                                                                                                                    1. re: jgg13

                                                                                                                                      Well, I'm glad we found some common ground. ;)

                                                                                                                                      My previous BBQ example is stemming from the less-than-authentic but seriously good oven-baked ribs I'm slow-roasting right now I use a mustard only sauce as it carmelizes (rather than burns) throughout the cooking process....finish them off on the grill. It wouldn't win any competitions against slow smoked ribs, I suppose, and is only marginally authentic, but what good is tradition if it stifles improvisation and creativity....

                                                                                                                                      1. re: bsheitman

                                                                                                                                        So, if I make a burger with good freshly ground beef, fresh local and in season onions, tomatoes, and lettuce; make my own mayo and pickles; and bake my buns; and grill to perfection--that's what? An authentic burger?

                                                                                                                                        Then I go to "MakDonald's in, say, the Philippines and get a "Big Mike"--I can't say, "Hey this isn't an authentic Big Mac" because acording to you there is no such thing given that Big Macs are not hand crafted perfect ingredient burgers?

                                                                                                                                        1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                                                                                                          i was thinking along those same lines. to me, authenticity doesn't imply quality, craftsmanship, or ethnicity, but rather implies origin. the authentic ...............(fill in the blank) can taste pretty bad and be made from some scary ingredients, but learning about it helps you better recognize and appreciate what you're eating now. actually, that big mike could have been labelled a big mac, and you'd know it's not a real big mac.

                                                                                                                                          1. re: beantowntitletown

                                                                                                                                            exactly.. i saw a restaurant descried as pseudo mexican, even though the chef was mexican, has restaurants in mexico city, was using mexican flavor profiles because he used a modern, more global approach to technique and food theory.

                                                                                                                                            it may not be classical mexican but it certainly isn't pseudo mexican and i'm pretty sure it's authentic.

                                                                                                                                            this conversation reminds of something i overheard in kathmandu a long time ago. It was outside one of the countless small centuries old shrines that line the streets of the city, and this one had been decorated with 2 thin strips of pink neon.
                                                                                                                                            2 other travelers were behind me, and one said to the other how horrible it was and how it shouldn't be allowed, and so on... and i was so offended ... people's cultures are living things, not museum pieces to be preserved for the delight of some visitor there and then gone again. The neon was there because the locals were proud of it and liked it. That neon on the shrine was as authentic as the stone lotus leaves carved there 500 years earlier.

                                                                                                                                            1. re: thew

                                                                                                                                              Thew, sounds like that Mexican chef may have been serving authentic nuevo (rather than pseudo) mexican cuisine.

                                                                                                                                          2. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                                                                                                            Well, by my definition, which suits me just fine...a Big Mac is a reproduction of what a real, idealized burger should be like. But I would never bite into a big mac and say...man, this is the real deal...it only tastes reminiscent of what a real authentic burger tastes like.

                                                                                                                                            This all borders on being dangerously semantic and largely irrelevant though....

                                                                                                                                            If the purpose of this exercise is to highlight the over zealous adherence to tradition and form as elitism then I must say I am no food snob, and I am as opposed to the rigid devotion and regimen which many cling to as it suffocates innovation. But I am a fan of food cooked with pride, and I love cultures that strive to protect their regional authenticity without sacrificing their originality. To me, a MakDonald's is a sacrifice of regional authenticity in an attempt to emulate what amounts to a good business model, but bad cooking.
                                                                                                                                            Preserving your culture's culinary heritage It hardly squashes ingenuity, rather it encourages it, because these various culinary traditions are the building blocks for future dishes. Thus, a dish, may not contain all the typical ingredients considered proper, but it may perfectly capture the spirit of a dish, a rustic peasant dish, an elegant dessert, etc....and of course, Lobster on the beach in Maine.
                                                                                                                                            But it's important to remember the the mass production of prepared food is a phenomenon recent to this century mostly, and previously most food was made by hand, no doubt with craftsmanship learned over the years, so it's not unreasonable to attach handmade/homecooked food with authenticity.

                                                                                                                                            1. re: bsheitman

                                                                                                                                              I have no problem saying that a big mac is an authentic American fast food burger. You have to have been stationed in Turkey for a year, in 1973 - long before BK or anyone else went international, (I doubt that there is a BK or a McD anywhere near where I was stationed even now), to appreciate the feeling of yearning an authentic big mac. Of course, it helps that I had the palate of a carnivorous yak, back then, but the point is that from the perspective of someone wanting something he once had regularly and felt was the epitome of a particular style, then certainly quantity alone would certify the big mac as an authentic something or other.

                                                                                                                                              I do think that we have to be very careful about associating authentic and good directly, with a connotation that is neither in the dictionary nor in general use. All one has to do is look at authentic kosher food to see what bland is all about - and then, to look at the deli foods that developed from the lower east side immigrants - to understand that food evolution certainly has its place.

                                                                                                                                              Authentic is authentic, nothing more. And when someone says that something isn't authentic in a derogatory way, it means that it isn't good in matching the authentic version - it is dumbed down or cheapened, or changed so drastically (even for the better) that it cannot be recognized as the same. These upscale sliders that are being made these days are an abomination to White Castle purists. I mean... the holey patty isn't steamed on the onions... how the heck could it be a slider?

                                                                                                                                              Authentic doesn't mean that the original had the best ingredients or the most timestaking technique. I am amazed at Heston Blumenthal's Black Forest Gateaux (in his book and on his BBC series, In Search of Perfection), and would kill to have one. But my landlord baker, Herr Blaich in Hofen in the Schwarzwald made the real thing daily, and I can assure you that it was nowhere near as complex as Blumenthal's, and yet incredibly wonderful. Herr Blaich's was authentic, Heston's is not. I'd eat either in a New York minute.

                                                                                                                                              A New York minute, btw, was defined by Johnny Carson as the time, in New York City, from the lights to turn green to the time when the guy behind you starts honking his horn.

                                                                                                                                              1. re: applehome

                                                                                                                                                In Boston that's how we define a nanosecond!

                                                                                                                                              2. re: bsheitman

                                                                                                                                                Not elitist, but matters of taste are matters of class and power-- an assertion of cultural, if not financial, capital. But I just say that because apparently I can't get Bourdieu out of my head.

                                                                                                                                                1. re: Lizard

                                                                                                                                                  That's it!
                                                                                                                                                  I'm here (on CH) because I love power and being part of an elite social class that is defining taste!

                                                                                                                                                  1. re: Scargod

                                                                                                                                                    Whatever. If that's how you choose to interpret my statement, be my guest. But that's not what it means.

                                                                                                                                                    1. re: Lizard

                                                                                                                                                      I'm not using (or referring to) your comment.
                                                                                                                                                      If I've got it wrong, it's my problem. I just looked up Bourdieu and read a little.
                                                                                                                                                      It's tongue-in-cheek anyway.

                                                                                                                                                      1. re: Scargod

                                                                                                                                                        Thanks for the reference - I first thought Lizard had just mistyped Bordeaux. Now I've looked up Bourdieu (where practically the first factoid I find is that the man was a classmate of Derrida - quelle horreur! - though he himself appears to have been more of a neo-Marxist than a deconstructionist) and understand much better where this comment is coming from.

                                                                                                                                                        Nonetheless I remain an unmitigated elitist. OK, maybe a mitigated elitist. And that's not entirely tongue-in-cheek.

                                                                                                                            3. re: BarmyFotheringayPhipps

                                                                                                                              Senor Barmyeo, I still go into occasional withdrawl from Blake's Lottabergers w/ double green chile. the hamberger is "authentic" American cuisine, but New Mexico inclusion of green chile creates a new fusion dish: the Green Chile Berger. I cannot eat my Thanksgiving dinner in New England w/out my red chile pork gravey! Not authentic, but I love it. Turkey mole for Thanksgiving? "Authentic"?

                                                                                                                        2. it means a grandmother who is a member of the food's cultural origin approves of the dish as correctly prepared.

                                                                                                                          if grandma doesn't approve, it's inauthentic.

                                                                                                                          2 Replies
                                                                                                                          1. re: beelzebozo

                                                                                                                            My parternal grandma's signature dish was Fideos (Vermicelli) in a thin, mild tomato sauce with Fried Bananas (not plantains). My maternal grandma (who lived about 6 miles away in a different town) prepared Caldo Michi (Stewed Catfish & Vegetables in a spicy Guajillo-CarpHead-Thyme-Garlic-Clove broth) as her signature dish.... neither approved of each other's signature dishes... are neither authentic dishes from the Highlands of Jalisco?

                                                                                                                            1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                                                                                                              i was being facetious. authenticity in food is purely a matter of opinion and is sort of like defining "art"--it's all in the eye of the beholder, and ultimately not something that can be pinned down in a pragmatic way.

                                                                                                                          2. what a very interesting thread. two observations:

                                                                                                                            1. authenticity is subject to change

                                                                                                                            2. however, when an established descriptor for food no longer applies, use another. examples: authentic new American, authentic Hong Kong cuisine, California champagne (although that involves other thorny issues)

                                                                                                                            1 Reply
                                                                                                                            1. re: cimui

                                                                                                                              "Authenticity" is subject to time and movement. Consider the humble spaghetti, tomato, and meatball. Pasta a la Marco Polo via China, Tomato a la Columbo via Central America and Holy Cow! Via India? Envision Thai w/o Post -Columbian chile pepper.
                                                                                                                              American southern fried chicken and rice from Asia etc., etc. etc., ad infinitum, ad naseum.
                                                                                                                              On the other hand, don't anyone mess w/ my mother's authentic Russian kolbasi, kapusta, and mashed potatoes, with horseradish and a cold pilsner beer!
                                                                                                                              "Authentic" religious epitaths: Holy Cow (Hindi?)! Holy Mackeral (Roman Catholic?)! Holy Guacomole (Mexican Food Purist Church)!
                                                                                                                              Have a good weekend.

                                                                                                                            2. I wonder how many dissertations have been written about the notion of "authenticity." I think for the sake of this particular discussion, it would make sense to approach the term within the confines of present time, considering that most food is "fushion food" in some way when viewed historically. If one then limits the discussion in this way, one could say that "authentic food" is food that closely resembles the food as it is prepared (in its myriad of permutations) wherever it is a local specialty. Often it's just hard, sometimes even impossible, to take that food out of its context and have it be the same. I say thank goodness to that, or we'd never have to leave home to have interesting culinary experiences.

                                                                                                                              I'm in North Carolina and there's a new Cajun place I really like - is it authentic? To the extent that it can be and not be in Louisiana, but it's pretty yummy. I was in New Orleans last week and had some jambalaya at a popular old school place in the Quarter and it was pretty yucky - undercooked rice, etc. Authentic? Sure, but not great. We also had some crawfish enchiladas. Authentic?! Damned good, though. Way better than that jambalaya.

                                                                                                                              13 Replies
                                                                                                                              1. re: suse

                                                                                                                                "We also had some crawfish enchiladas. Authentic?! Damned good, though. Way better than that jambalaya."

                                                                                                                                Authentic to where.... Crawfish (Acamaya) Enchiladas are certainly authentic in Veracruz...... in Cajun cooking... probably not.

                                                                                                                                1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                                                                                                                  I guess I was too elliptical. I meant to imply by that question mark that the it's certainly not authentic in Cajun cooking.

                                                                                                                                  1. re: suse

                                                                                                                                    And I was just being obnoxious!

                                                                                                                                    1. re: suse

                                                                                                                                      ...but Cajun and Creole and Louisiana cooking- to an extent the mishmash that happens with Ethnic cultures in America, then becomes the real question: how long is some cuisine/some dish around before it becomes "American"?

                                                                                                                                  2. re: suse

                                                                                                                                    >>think for the sake of this particular discussion, it would make sense to approach the term within the confines of present time, considering that most food is "fushion food" in some way when viewed historically.

                                                                                                                                    i like your approach of adding a temporal indicator, as well as a geographic indicator (i.e. Great Depression era Appalachian {squirrel burgoo} is different from 1990s "New Californian" {sundried tomato pizza} is different from 2000s Taiwanese {bubble tea and egg salad nigiri}). we don't need to limit our approach to the present time, tho, i don't think, as long as you specify the time period.

                                                                                                                                    the real question to me is when a food gets associated strongly enough with a time and place to be labeled "authentic".

                                                                                                                                    1. re: cimui

                                                                                                                                      I think you have hit upon a most important, salient point.
                                                                                                                                      I think (in terms) of my experiences and my lifetime. It is what I associate with that matters the most to me. Authentic in MY context (location/privilege), MY timeframe and MY family history.

                                                                                                                                      1. re: Scargod

                                                                                                                                        you're very gracious for reading that into what i wrote, but i actually think your point about personal experience is your own good point! just MY observation... ;)

                                                                                                                                        i guess i'd add just one thing: if we're to be meaningful about the phrase "authentic ___", though, there has to be some shared meaning and enough overlap between your personal experience and my personal experience for me to understand (at least roughly) what you mean when you use the term.

                                                                                                                                        1. re: cimui

                                                                                                                                          Your's or mine.... I was referring to you saying "when a food gets associated strongly enough with a time and place to be labeled "authentic".
                                                                                                                                          That struck a chord and seemed salient even though it was a question (it catalyzed a point for me).
                                                                                                                                          Agreed, it can't be relevant if it is confined to just your own little bubble.

                                                                                                                                      2. re: cimui

                                                                                                                                        If you really want to split hairs, there's a school of thought that says that not only are time and geography factors, so is the audience. In other words, people could successfully argue that to be "authentic" Cajun food, it has to be made, say, in Eunice, using local items and local techniques and prepared by local cooks, BUT the second someone who isn't a local eats it, it's no longer "authentic" Cajun cooking, because the outlander doesn't and can't know the full social and cultural history of the food.

                                                                                                                                        1. re: BarmyFotheringayPhipps

                                                                                                                                          ah, i do love a good hairsplitting, bfp. =)

                                                                                                                                          i can see how audience can be impt to the definition of authentic (this is how i understood Scargod's emphasis on "MY context... MY timeframe" -- his experience of what is authentic is what matters to him, and overlaps in experience among many people is perhaps what a lot of people mean when we call something "authentic"). but to define "authentic" food X to mean that it has to be intended for, and successfully fed to, a certain audience seems a bit narrow when it comes to food.

                                                                                                                                          i think i have heard the argument slightly more convincingly applied to hip hop (i.e. the arg. that when it's primarily wealthy suburban kids who are listening to a hip hop artist, the music is less authentic... for what it's worth, my take is that music could only be less authentic if the artist has an original recipeint in mind, knows the identity of the recipient has changed and then begins modifying her music to fit the tastes of the modified audience).

                                                                                                                                          i'd personally feel a little silly arguing that my corn pone is only authentic when a southern farm boy eats it with milk for breakfast and that it's no longer authentic when the same plate gets sent to the wrong table and gets fed to Gore Vidal, instead.

                                                                                                                                          1. re: cimui

                                                                                                                                            Ah, but were you to serve your corn pone in front of a bunch of the 'hounds, I'll bet they'd watch with great anticipation to see if the farm boy ate it with pleasure and appreciation. Indeed, if you had a corn pone restaurant, people would comment on how this restaurant was the real deal if it were filled with farm boys. Filled with Gore Vidals? Not so much (although an interesting story, sure).

                                                                                                                                          2. re: BarmyFotheringayPhipps

                                                                                                                                            I don't know which school you are referring to, but I don't see the food as "becoming inauthentic" the minute an outlander takes a bite. The frame of reference is that of locals - denizens of a particular culture at a particular time and place - who understand what authentic means to themselves. They will understand this even if they leave and happen to meet in the middle of Times Square. And if then, one should say to the other, I had some real authentic xxxxx, then the other would understand exactly what that meant - but no on else would, not really, not even if they were taught, unless they had been immersed in that culture of that time and place.

                                                                                                                                            So the food isn't inauthentic just because someone from outside of the culture (of that time and place...) ate it. The frame of reference stands, and the food is authentic within that frame or context. The outlander doesn't necessarily understand that he's eating anything authentic - he does not share that same frame of reference. The outlander passes through with whatever depth of understanding he was able to manage from his visit, and he can only share that level of understanding. He can only appreciate that much of the authenticity that he has come to understand.

                                                                                                                                            Tourists learn a little bit. People who stay and live in the culture learn a lot more. People who grew up in and have lived in that culture beyond a certain age of food understanding, (whatever that is), are best able to take their understanding of authenticity with them to another time and place. Certainly, elements of a particular frame of reference can be taught to outsiders - and with enough time and immersion, a good deal of expertise can be built. But because the frame of reference has actually shifted by no longer being at the original place and time, the new frame of reference will interfere. No matter how well a 1960's Osaka trained Itamae teaches his apprentice in New York City today, the student will never be as fluent with the understanding of the Osaka frame of reference as his master was - instead he will go on to understand authenticity within the framework of today's New York City.

                                                                                                                                        2. re: suse

                                                                                                                                          Literally tens of thousands, especially if you substitute "real" or "true" for "authentic, and "religion" or "religious denomination" for "dish" or "cuisine."

                                                                                                                                          Whole schools of philosophy have risen and fallen in the defense of particular notions of what is authentic, and what being authentic means.

                                                                                                                                        3. This post could also have gone in the "Chowhype" thread on the Boston board. I had a disappointing lunch at a Nepalese spot today, a place which has been fairly well chowhyped. I had made a note of dishes to order, etc. and took along four friends, so I was really hoping for a delicious introduction to a new cuisine. I will not go into the details of why the dishes, decor and service disappointed, did not deliver that authentic experience because

                                                                                                                                          1. some people are just not very good cooks
                                                                                                                                          2. they cut corners or try to appeal to more customers by introducing "fusion" dishes
                                                                                                                                          3. they just cannot source or cannot afford the ingredients that make the food "authentic"

                                                                                                                                          Another reason--and I hope someone will have an opinion about this--is the homogenization and globalization of food. Sure, if you go to a farmer''s market, you can still get some traditional varieties, locally produced, etc. But the rest of the time, and especially if you are struggling to keep your business afloat, you go for mass produced food, universal varieties, etc. And the taste of the food suffers.

                                                                                                                                          Hats off to those who have the courage to open a restaurant serving "home" cooking, be it nepalese or cantonese, but there are many economic pressures working to dilute that "authentic" experience that we are all looking for.

                                                                                                                                          2 Replies
                                                                                                                                          1. re: cassis

                                                                                                                                            having spent a lot of time in india, and some in nepal i have to say authentic doesn't always taste good. sure the tippy top places are great, but that's less than 1% of the food served outside of family homes.

                                                                                                                                            we used to laugh about a restaurant in our 'hood that had "taste as good here as it does there" on the menu - we wondered if that was a recommendation or a warning....

                                                                                                                                            1. re: thew

                                                                                                                                              i agree, thew. some street cart food in india is remarkable. some of it is downright nasty. all of it is authentic.

                                                                                                                                              i will say that the very best food i had in india was probably considered 'inauthentic'. it was indian food prepared by the nepalese cook of a friend's family. the neighbors were constantly trying to steal him away...

                                                                                                                                          2. To me this word has little value. When it goes away it can take genuine with it. I can't stand those adds for what ever product, food or not, that are "Guaranteed genuine authentic state of the art widget composed of the same materials as employed in the space program and on nuclear subs."

                                                                                                                                            1. --prepared and using ingredients in the style of the place of origin of dish. This will encompass neighborhood-to-neighborhood and family-to-family variations, as well as variations due to climate, geography and season, within the place of origin.

                                                                                                                                              To me authentic means staying true to. Not riffing off. I might make a mean caramel brownie trifle with mango, mascarpone and raspberry sauce, but it would by no means be authentic.

                                                                                                                                              1 Reply
                                                                                                                                              1. re: toodie jane

                                                                                                                                                Of course one can't use homogenized or pasturized milk products or refrigerated eggs in making "authentic" trifle, nor can the sponge cake be baked using aoven thermometer or electric or mechanical timer.

                                                                                                                                              2. I generally take "authentic" in discussing foods and eateries to mean its own exact opposite - that is to say any statement including "authentic" I take as BS.

                                                                                                                                                1. Authentic means the dish is prepared as close to the style that it is associated with. Take for example spaghetti Carbonara, if you order it at the majority of American restaurants you get spaghetti tossed in a cream (usually Alfredo) sauce with sometimes peas and bacon bits thrown in. This is NOT carbonara and it is NOT authentic.

                                                                                                                                                  My biggest problem is when people are served the original carbonara and then complain that’s it’s not authentic. This happens all the time with chinese food, we have a true Sichuan restaurant near us and while most people appreciate the fact that the owners go to the trouble to have ingredients imported directly from China that you cannot get here it’s amazing to read reviews of people who are eating as close to Sichuan style cooking as you can get and call it not authentic because it doesn't taste like the mall Chinese food.

                                                                                                                                                  Another poster brought up Bolognese sauce to try to dispute the Authentic tag but while we do not have the exact recipe we all know that if I served you spaghetti bolognese and it had a spinach cream sauce that it would not be authentic. BBQ is another example and there are many legitimate types of BBQ out there but if I told you we were having BBQ chicken tonight and put on your plate a boiled drumstick you would know it wasn’t BBQ.

                                                                                                                                                  The bottom line is that while you beef and broccoli stir fry, General Tso’s chicken and your fortune cookie might be very good they are unheard of in China (American Broccoli was only recently introduced, General Tso’s was invented in NY by a Taiwanese chef and isn’t known in China, and fortune cookies are japanese not Chinese) and are certainly not authentic. The sad part for me is not that these might be tasty dishes but people truly believe that they are eating “authentic” Chinese food instead of authentic American Chinese food.

                                                                                                                                                  6 Replies
                                                                                                                                                  1. re: RetiredChef

                                                                                                                                                    I think that most of us have an item that we feel confident in arguing the nature of its "authenticity". Either because of who raised us, where we were raised, where we've lived, food cultures we've studied, etc - there is 'that' item that we care about. I grew up in a largely vegetarian household - so the carbonara of my childhood involved the eggs and cheese (no cream sauce), but also had broccoli and caramelized onions in it and no meat. Authentic? No....value that I learned about the sauce being egg based and no cream based? Debatable.

                                                                                                                                                    This is bolognese but that's a meat sauce, this is Mexican food - but that's TexCalMex food, this is feta but that's just salty white cheese, the list can go on. I'm not arguing that there isn't value to the historical traditions in how food has been made. Or the value in learning about the regional variations - that something like BBQ from Texas to St Louis to the Carolinas has differences.

                                                                                                                                                    But the world "authentic" always risks ending up in a zero sum place where it doesn't mean much. There are threads on CH with long arguments about the word "curry", whether or not "good" sushi can be made by a non-Japanese chef, what is/isn't BBQ. In general I think that attitude of "yes this/no that" isn't as productive as "let me teach you about how great xyz cooking tradition can be". The reality is that probably no cooking culture (with the possible exception of a few remote tribes) has been left untouched by other cultures. And so while there are "more historic" styles of cooking and "less historic" styles - authentic is basically a throwaway term.

                                                                                                                                                    The lore of the "New York City bagel" - I've had bagels from New York that weren't worth a second bite. There is a place in Cincinnati that makes an amazing bagel. And whatever links to the Jewish tradition the bagel may have - I have never had one bagel in Israel that was remotely worthwhile eating. What is or isn't authentic about a bagel - I don't know - but I know what a good one is and a bad one. Within those thoughts, it's also interesting to learn about the historical traditions of the bagel.

                                                                                                                                                    It is worth sharing and getting people excited about the traditions and cultures of food, and getting people to taste those traditions - even if in a globalized way. However debating about if a restaurant/product is authentic or not always risks becoming a debate about cultural absolutism and who owns cultures/traditions. And that is an argument I don't see great value in.

                                                                                                                                                    1. re: cresyd

                                                                                                                                                      My issue with (the lack of) authenticity is not that of history or tradition, but plain simple labelling. The most hilarious example I've heard of was a case where nuo4 mi3 ji1 - literally translated as glutinous rice with chicken - that had neither chicken nor glutinous rice. Surely there's value in the meaning of the words "chicken" and "rice." That's the kind of labelling issue that we grapple with. I wish it was an extreme and isolated example, but have encountered so many cases that when I eat at new places I have to confirm preparation and ingredients when ordering.

                                                                                                                                                      1. re: limster

                                                                                                                                                        What your describing seems more like a case of poor translation.

                                                                                                                                                        I live in Jerusalem - and there are a number of organ meat items sold that are perceived as being unpopular in Europe and North America. So the translated names given to these items in English can definitely include a bizarre range of items. That being said it takes a while to put together that "Special Viagara" probably means sheep testicles.

                                                                                                                                                        When I hear the word "authenticity" - I more associate the debate to be about whether a dish is the "right" kind by someone serving as the culture police. Not so much about the translation of a dish being helpful or not.

                                                                                                                                                        1. re: cresyd

                                                                                                                                                          This was a case where the original dish was named chicken with glutinous rice (the translation is literal - nuo4 mi = glutinous rice; ji1 = chicken) and was made with chicken and glutinous rice. The inauthentic version was made without chicken or glutinous rice.

                                                                                                                                                          I realise it sounds extreme to some, but that really is the extent to which some Chinese dishes are changed in the US or UK.

                                                                                                                                                          1. re: limster

                                                                                                                                                            If I understand your post, it's that the name of a dish "nuo4 mi" when made in the US/UK/etc, it may not include either chicken or glutinous rice. However US/UK patrons will eat that version of nuo mi, assuming that's what it is.

                                                                                                                                                            I honestly think that does go back to my original point about getting people interested in the initial cultures and traditions of a food. In the US, glutinous rice is not wildly familiar. And so to get someone interested in finding a place where they can order glutinous rice with anything, you have to cross that barrier. That is about getting people interested in food traditions and cultures in China.

                                                                                                                                                            Where I live in Jerusalem, there is a place that serves "chicken burritos" - and by burrito, we're basically talking about (turkey) shwarma served in a laffa and topped with cheese. And it's not made that way because the spouse-owners aren't familiar with a burrito as they used to live in Los Angeles, and the wife is from Mexico. But rather the customer base doesn't really know, and in general Mexican cuisine is very poorly represented and received in the region. So if my mission is to get Mexican food to Jerusalem that is not putting cheese on a shwarma, part of the challenge would be making local residents aware and interested in the items.

                                                                                                                                                            1. re: cresyd

                                                                                                                                                              I'm citing an example where the dish is called glutinous rice with chicken, when the dish lacked BOTH chicken and glutinous rice.

                                                                                                                                                              It's OK if people don't like glutinous rice; there's tons of other dishes that are delicious, I don't feel that we need to force people to understand or enjoy certain cuisines, it really should be up to them. It's OK to make other dishes and to change them. But just label the dish correctly so that there's no confusion about the contents; call it what it should be. (I believe in the example above told to me by a fellow chowhound, the correct name should have been steamed rice with Chinese sausage.)

                                                                                                                                                  2. "Authentic" is the way I make my chili and it's the way an old lady in Riboila makes her favorite pastas. Beyond that there is no 'definition' of what authentic means.

                                                                                                                                                    4 Replies
                                                                                                                                                    1. re: Puffin3

                                                                                                                                                      I'm not even sure my definition goes anywhere near as far as Puffin3's.

                                                                                                                                                      Generally speaking, I'm never really sure what is meant by authentic or how I'll know or recognise it if I come across it. And I'd apply that to dishes from my culture and region so what hope do I have in knowing "authentic" in cuisine which I'm not knowledgeable about.

                                                                                                                                                      Now, if I find the food to be "tasty", then I'm more than happy about that. I know "tasty". I understand "tasty". I want to eat "tasty".

                                                                                                                                                      1. re: Harters

                                                                                                                                                        With "authentic," one must ask a few questions, such as:

                                                                                                                                                        Authentic, compared to what?
                                                                                                                                                        Authentic, relative to where?
                                                                                                                                                        Authentic, according to whom?

                                                                                                                                                        As an example, I am from the US Deep South, and have been a big fan of the cuisine of the areas of the Deep South, where I have either lived, or traveled. However, I am constantly being exposed to various recipes, etc., that are "authentic" to some areas of the Deep South, that are new to me.

                                                                                                                                                        As "authentic" gets bantered about, regarding Mexican food, I am often reminded of the variations that I have encountered with one dish - mole. Even in the same Mexican cities, it can differ greatly, based on the family. For me, a non-Mexican citizen, I think of mole by states in Mexico, and regions in certain states, but even when one gets to a city in that region, in that state, there ARE variations. One could look at the recipes for the Gomez, the Hernandez and the Garcia families, in that city, and find major variations to what is "authentic" to those family members. None would be incorrect, as far as their recipies are concerned, but might not be what I would consider "authentic," from my perspective of being on the outside, looking in.

                                                                                                                                                        It is exactly the same, if one were to state "authentic Indian," "authentic Chinese," and so on. It depends on several factors.

                                                                                                                                                        "Authentic," is very often overused, seldom 100% correct, and almost always confusing to the point of being meaningless.

                                                                                                                                                        I encounter similar, regarding "authentic" UK cuisine, and probably because we are in London 2 - 3x per year. Along with our regular UK dining (say Chef Gordon Ramsay), we also do some more "traditional" restaurants, like Rules, and Butler's, and enjoy those greatly. Are either "authentic," well, I cannot say. I can only state that we enjoy dining there, and the same can be said for some others, like Wilton's. Being from the US, I am not able to ascertain the "authenticity" of any, but can only comment on our enjoyment.

                                                                                                                                                        I do not require an historical rundown of each dish, to know that I enjoy many of them - though not all, but such is life, and such will be personal tastes.

                                                                                                                                                        In two weeks, we will be doing several of Chef Ramsay's restaurants, and then Rules and Butler's, and hope to enjoy our meals. If the "enjoyment level" is high enough, I will NEVER question "authenticity."

                                                                                                                                                        Have wonderful Holidays!


                                                                                                                                                        1. re: Bill Hunt

                                                                                                                                                          Whenever the Spanish brother in law sees a cookery programme in the UK about Spanish dishes, he's always inclined to diss it as not being "authentic". It's transpired over the years what he actually means that it's not as his mother used to cook it.

                                                                                                                                                          1. re: Harters

                                                                                                                                                            That is a common translation of the word "authentic." [Grin]


                                                                                                                                                    2. It is valid.

                                                                                                                                                      For cuisines other than Western European, I am yet to find a restaurant that serves anything other than a simulacrum of the original cuisine. Anything that involves any degree of spicing or complexity is never treated correctly; at best there are what are euphemistically described as 'fusion', 'modern twists', or 'interpretations' of the original cuisine, and they invariably are gross simplifications that incorporate (at best) the most basic and obvious elements of the cuisine, whether that be in terms of the actual dishes or the ingredients. All that made the cuisine wondrous in the first place - all of the variation and complexity - is invariably omitted, because Western chefs do not understand the cuisine or cater to popular conceptions and palates.

                                                                                                                                                      The great risk of it is that all of those traditional skills, knowledge, flavours and dishes are lost, as cooking and palates become internationally uniform. If diners around the world experience the same simplified version of foreign cuisines - for example, if a Chinese diner and American diner know Thai as vapid Pad Thai rather than the complexity, heat, aromatics or fermentation of Issan; or if an English diner and an Australian diner know Indian as the English invention of Vindaloo, rather than the vegetarian thalis of Punjab or the rich curries of Rajasthan and the heat and spicing of Kerala; or if food critics are satisfied that something is Moroccan because it contains a token amount of cumin or Mexican because there are pale imitations of tacos and guacamole - then over time, that is what those cuisines will become.

                                                                                                                                                      Insipid, simple, fast-food and take-out cliches.

                                                                                                                                                      6 Replies
                                                                                                                                                      1. re: mugen

                                                                                                                                                        To be fair, my original question posed 4 1/2 years ago,
                                                                                                                                                        was about American interpretations of various cuisines,
                                                                                                                                                        in what I remember to be a whole lot of threads
                                                                                                                                                        about decrying the watering down of the original import.
                                                                                                                                                        Still, I appreciate all that you imparted in your post.
                                                                                                                                                        Is there a place for both the original and the Americanized or is a case of one or the other?

                                                                                                                                                        1. re: bbqboy

                                                                                                                                                          There is a place for both, provided that the original isn't lost. If Americanized spaghetti bolognese tastes good, then eat it! If bright red, tomato-y mince with packet spaghetti and parmesan comes to represent bolognese to diners around the world, to the exclusion of a deep, rich, slow-cooked ragu with pappardelle, then we've lost something.

                                                                                                                                                            1. re: mugen

                                                                                                                                                              It's all about perspective on who's doing the preparing and who's doing the eating. Take tacos al pastor, which originated in Puebla in the 1920s by Lebanese, Turkish, and Syrian immigrants as a way of adapting local ingredients to create a unique version of the doner kebab. Yet tacos al pastor is considered an "authentic" Mexican dish. But would a native of Lebanon, Turkey, or Syria recognize it as such, or would they consider it a "dumbed down," "watered down" version of their doner kebab? It's also about expectations. I live in DC and don't expect to get an "authentic" Philly cheesesteak or Chicago hotdog or izakaya experience, so I set my expectations accordingly. So long as it tastes good, I'll choke it down. But when I go to Philadelphia or Chicago or Osaka, those expectations are raised significantly.

                                                                                                                                                            2. re: bbqboy

                                                                                                                                                              I think there is room for both, but my biggest complaint, as I put in my post, is when people take a semi-established dish and re-create it into something that doesn't resemble the original. If you serve me Bolognese sauce and it's a meat based tomato sauce I am fine, if it's a creamy pesto sauce I get irked. I also get irked when I am eating at a Chinese restaurant and under their Authentic Chinese dish sections they have General Tso's chicken.. I have no problem with General Tso's chicken being served just don't call it authentic Chinese food.

                                                                                                                                                              1. re: RetiredChef

                                                                                                                                                                I'm reminded of a picture I saw of a neon sign outside a restaurant in 1930s-era Shanghai that advertised "Authentic American Chop Suey."