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Authentic or American?!?

This question is part of the title of another thread concerning the use of cilantro in salsa. I didnt want to hijack the thread by posting this there, so I decided to start a new one.

What i'm wondering is, just when did AMERICAN become the opposite of AUTHENTIC?

I am not any sort of 'love ot or leave it' type, and I certainly dont want this to turn into a political thread (not that the moderators would allow that--thank the gods for the moderators), but I have to say the the use of AMERICAN as a seemingly pejorative, especially where food is concerned really bothers me.

And while I personally disparage the dumbing down of (anyone's) traditional recipes in order to make them more palatable for mass consumption, does doing this really make it American?

Is the jambalaya I make in my kitchen in Milwaukee somehow a less 'authentic' dish than that which I might get at a diner in Cutoff, LA just because I used a locally made sausage rather than having it shipped from Louisiana? Similarly, is the jambalaya in Louisiana or the Kentucky Burgoo less 'authetic' than the African dishes from which they evolved, just because western hemisphere ingredients were used?

I happen to love the BBQ ribs as they make them in Chicago. Someone reading this in Texas is already saying, "That isnt BBQ!" Anyone want to talk about chili? (I dont ONLY love the ribs as they make them in Chicago. I love Texas BBQ also. This is America, and I dont HAVE to choose between them!)

I am whole-heartedly in favor of the preservation of cultural tradtions of all types, especially food traditions (excluding of course the traditions that involve things like genocide, sexual oppression and mutilation, spouse beating, and the like). but are we so afraid of recipe evolution that we have to label any change at all as inauthentic, rather than accept those changes as 'variations on a theme'? The theme doesnt die as a result of the variations.

And again I ask, since when is American the opposite of Authentic?

Thank you for indulging me my rant. Have a good morning.

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  1. It's a matter of degrees. Locally-made sausage doesn't necessarily make jambalaya inauthentic, but if I used chorizo instead of andouille and sofrito instead of the trinity, is it still a Cajun jambalaya? Is it still a Chicago-style hotdog if you leave sub kimchi for the pickles?

    For a lot of hounds, the ideal is a dish eaten the way it was meant to be eaten. We seek out novel flavors and experiences and something is detracted from that when we introduce the everyday to our experience. It's Indian food without the spice and flavor of bone-in meat, Thai without the punch of sweet-salty-hot, Italian without seasonality and balance. When foods are reduced to the most common denominator, it's like living in a world where everything tastes like chicken.

    Certainly there are those people who want to look down on anything American to express their cosmopolitan cachet. But then there are others who enjoy foods of all sorts who eschew Americanized flavors not because American is bad, but because they know what American food tastes like. We can get it anywhere. We want to know what food tastes like in Alsace, Lima, Borneo, Siberia. We want extraordinary water buffalo, pomelos and fufu, not commonplace beef, grapefruit and taters.

    And just so you know, sometimes it works the other way. When I was younger, I thought Asianized food was gross. Spaghetti and rice, fried catfish with masala, spice-less chili. I could eat Asian at home all I wanted; I was looking for an authentic, American experience.

    1 Reply
    1. re: JungMann

      I'm generally in agreement with you, but "the way it was meant to be eaten"? Who gets to decide this? Can we find the person who invented Cajun jambalaya and ask him or her? All food evolves, and Cajun jambalaya didn't spring fully-formed from anyone's kitchen. So it's futile, I think, to even use the word "authentic." "Typical" seems a more useful description.

    2. If you learn to throw away the word "Authentic" then food becomes more enjoyable and less arguementative.

      3 Replies
        1. re: Jimbosox04

          Thank you. I agree wholeheartedly.

          1. re: Jimbosox04

            It depends on your reasons for eating the food.

            If you're like me, you're not just interested in how the food tastes, but in the history of the food.... WHY does the food taste this way. Why were these particular ingredients used? (Possible answer: climate of the home country, invasion, colonization, etc.) Why did they use so many chiles? (Possible answer: By traditional medicine techniques, sweating is considered a way to keep cool in such hot climates, etc.)

            Ultimately there are a multitude of answers for all of these questions which have to do with how the respective societies evolved, and this for me is part of the reason that eating food from around the world is so damned fascinating. It's history, etymology, sociology, culture, paleontology on a plate.

            Mr Taster

          2. I would say that the French notion of cuisine du terroir ("which covers regional specialities with a strong focus on quality local produce and peasant tradition" - http://www.google.com/search?q=define...) is the best reference point for authenticity). Strict it is, but it certainly avoids the gray area mumbo-jumbo of the I'm-OK-you're-OK-because-I-want to-think-that-I'm-OK mode of thought that is so prevalent these days in the kitchen and beyond.

            Remember Mario Batali's admonition to use olive oil and wine from the region that your dish originates from?

            The best poutine is an authentic poutine: patates frites made from potatoes stored over the winter so that their sugar content is high, fresh squeaky cheddar cheese curds, and a can of St-Hubert poutine sauce. The rest is imitation and, if done well, flattery.

            Et cetera ...

            52 Replies
            1. re: mrbozo

              But "best" is subjective (see: pretty much every single thread on Chowhound). And it certainly isn't a synonym for "authentic."

              1. re: small h

                True, re the "best". I should have said "authentic" re poutine. My point is that the great pyramids of gastronomy have authenticity, i.e. a ground zero version of a dish (often of peasant origin), as their foundation.

                1. re: mrbozo

                  But then there are some dishes that are "authentic" but have numerous variations based on who the cook is. Some dishes vary from village to village or even mother to mother but are technically the same or similarly authentic.

                  1. re: Blueicus

                    Exactly,Blueicus. As I've said in every thread that takes up this tiresome 'authenticity' fetish: this term presumes that these 'peasants' are these innocents living in another time and manner who are utterly incapable of change.

                    This American thing is a new twist. What narcissism. Sure, it's negative narcissism but it still places AMERICA at the centre of everything (and from what I've seen on the thread, apart from this turn to poutine, we're dealing with the US). Do other nations get a pass because of the clear hands-on colonialism that went into developing some of the dishes chowhounds consider to be 'authentic'?

                    Is 'authentic' this thing that lives in a vacuum, without influence from anything but the purest hidden 'undiscovered' natives?

                    It's a tiresome discussion that fails to address what's really important. If you're interested in foodways, there are many books and articles about this that themselves recognise the minefield that is the word 'authentic'.

                    The other thread that started this re: Salsa, could have been much better phrased as one as is cilantro traditionally or typically used? As the answer pointed out, even within Mexico there are vast differences (of course, it's a pretty large nation, yeah?). When one introduces borders, one forgets that these borders are often arbitrary and relatively new-- especially if we're going for the way back when of that mysterious authentic.

                    Sorry for the rant. It's just that this is getting so tedious. The word seems to exist only for the purposes of aggrandisement. Jimbosox04 is right. Throw it out! Want to compare recipes, go ahead? But really, now the way this term is being used, it actually seems to suggest that the only people capable of change are Americans of the US-- even if some flog themselves with the 'dumbed down' whip.

                    ETA: Thanks and agreement to Alanbarnes and danhole who are saying some very thoughtful things better than cranky coffee-deprived me.

                    1. re: Lizard

                      exactly. cultures have never lived in isolation and thus have always had a shifting set of ingredients and techniques.

                      is an italian tomato sauce "authentic" seeing as there were no tomatoes before the 16th century? Are all spicy foods from asia inauthentic because they use chile peppers that were brought in by european explorers?

                      1. re: thew

                        Oh God, not another News Flash! Tomatoes Come from the New World. Details at 11.

                        Italian food, French food, etc are how the Italian and French and others really eat on a daily basis. More than time, economic status will determine this, especially if you get into the Third World. But it's all authentic if that's what is genarally prepared. There can be authentic 16th century and authentic 21st century. Why not?

                        1. re: Steve

                          but at that point the word authentic loses all meaning. which is ok because it really doesn't mean much anyway

                          1. re: thew

                            Sez who? It STILL has plenty of meaning for me. For example, if I eat at a Vietnemese restaurant in the US, and they substitute cheaper and blander US ingredients for their leafy greens and vegetables, I would say that is not authentic because that would be unlike the way it is prepared in Vietnam. See? Plenty of meaning.

                            If indeed one of those tasty leafy greens was not available three centuries ago, even in Vietnam, so what? It is now, that's what they choose to use in Vietnam, and it darn well tastes better for it.

                            1. re: Steve

                              sez me ;)

                              ok - and if a new ingredient appears tomorrow, is it still authentic?
                              at what point dies it stop being the original recipe?

                              and if it is prepared differently in ho chi min city than hanoi? are they both authentic?

                              If i prepare with less traditional ingredients that are not cheaper and blander, but taste better than the original is that inauthentic? is better tasting but inauthentic better or worse than authentic but not as good tasting.

                              in a different discussion on this topic i mentioned a mexican chef, from mexico, who owns restaurants in mexico city, but who has taken a more classical european set of techniques to his mexican food. is that authentic?

                              1. re: thew

                                I'd say your chef is at the least being genuine.

                                1. re: thew

                                  You seem to be hung up on the idea of 'original recipe'. What is this, KFC?

                                  You are throwing out Straw Man Arguments. I don't need an authentic recipe to be from fruits and vegetables and meats grown, harvested, and cooked in the same way they were several centuries ago.

                                  I also realize that every cook/chef brings their own style, technique, and innovation to a dish. There is a saying that there are as many paellas in Spain as there are cooks. I suppose I could say the same for Pad Thai.

                                  But that is different than a restaurant in the US making every dish they serve as sweet as dessert. I can tell, the difference is obvious to me, it's important to me, and it seems to be obvious to people from that country who come here and don't like the resulting adaptation compared to what they are used to at home.

                                  Now, I am no expert on authenticity. Mostly I rely on others who come from those places or have traveled extensively to help me understand why they are disappointed with the choices they have here. And I benefit enormously from following the advice and passion of those who seem to know.

                                  In direct answer to your questions:

                                  if a dish evolves in its country of origin, then both renditions -the new and the old- are authentic.

                                  If a restaurant opens in the US serving an unfamiliar cuisine, and they change the cuisine in order to appeal to US tastes, then that is inauthentic.

                                  If a chef in Mexico experiments in order to appeal to a Mexican clientele and it is accepted, then that too is authentic. Voila, Modern Mexican cuisine. If it fails, it is an experimentation.

                                  One final example: my favorite restaurant where I live is Joe's Noodle House. It is Sichuan. I have never been to China, let alone the Sichuan province. Some folks tell me it is authentic, and some say it's not. The best I can tell is that it is as close to authentic as I can find near where I live. I think it's delicious, so up to point, I am interested in knowing what is authentic, but I will continue to be deeply satisfied with what they have created even if I find later that it is not authentic. If I find a more authentic version that someone familiar with the cuisine thinks is superior, then I will give that place every opportunity to win me over, including multiple visits spread out over a period of time.

                                  I still patronize and enjoy the Chinese-American food that I grew up with (on Long Island). In some rare cases, I love it. But to tell you the truth it cannot thrill me in the same way as what I have been introduced to by the folks I've met on Chowhound.

                                  1. re: Steve

                                    Re: the concept of an original recipe:

                                    http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage...

                                    I think this NYT article about the debate (in Italy, amongst Italians) as to what goes in an Amatriciana sauce and where it comes from is on point.

                                    1. re: MMRuth

                                      Thanks for the link. I enjoyed reading the article.

                                      I just don't want anyone to confuse the issue. In the US, we are so far from this kind of debate. Here, we take an entire food culture, reduce it down to a half-dozen dishes, then beat the crap out of those remaining dishes by sweetening, breading, adding corn starch, taking away the oil, taking away the spice, substituting the ingredients, until every dish resembles General Tso's chicken.

                                      And finally, to add insult to injury, even on Chowhound we have folks throwing up their hands stating authenticity is unknowable so why strive for it?

                                      General Tso's chicken, that's why.

                                      1. re: Steve

                                        maybe it's because I live in NY, but i think that statement which reduces the tastes, discernment, and understanding of 300,000 people to a quick blanket dismissal is insulting and false. There are plenty of discerning individuals, of every nation , culture, and ancestry that are not a subset of the american populace, but it's very defining characteristic. And their cuisines,traditional and modern, to those cultures are well represented in places large and small, across the country. Will they all be picasso's? no. but a few will.

                                        on the flip side, not all the food in these other countries is transcendent, even though as authentic as possible. just as there are a few amazing restaurants, percentage wise, in a sea of mediocre and worse, that is true everywhere in the world. For example, to use a place i'm somewhat familiar with, in india there is some incredible food. and there is some inedible food. And most food falls between. Even the best recipes are often hampered by the very poor quality of ingredients available.

                                        authenticity and quality have no relationship to each other.

                                        there has never been an era when cultures did not interact and influence each other. since prehistoric time tools have dispersed and been adopted and adapted across global distance. with tools, come techniques. and ideas. and recipes.

                                        there has never been a pure "authentic" recipe, because great cooks have always existed, and always remade every dish in their own image, using whatever techniques and ingredients came anew. this is the way of art.

                                        if your grandmother and your great aunt ever squabbled over how to make a dish, you know there has never been a single authentic way to make anything.

                                        i would rather have a great general tso's chicken than a flaccid rendition of of peking duck, or anything else

                                        1. re: thew

                                          That is why I chose to only focus on the Mexican question.... as I don't know enough about other cuisines... what I can tell you... is that while bad can get really bad in some remote, apathetic towns in Mexico or tourist hell holes.... the highs & the average are so far superior to what we have as Mexican NOB... its not even remotely funny.

                                          But Steve is so right... we tend to reduce foreign cultures to caricatures... if I had a share of Berkshire Hathaway for every time some CH (of all segments of the population) has said something so st---id, useless & deflating like "the Guacamole & Chips are so yummy I could make an entire meal of them"... yeah then you people f___en ask why you can't easily find the good Mexican stuff anywhere.

                                          1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                            I guess I don't see what's wrong with:"the Guacamole & Chips are so yummy I could make an entire meal of them". If they are so delicious, why not? Sure, that doesn't mean there aren't all sorts of wonderful other dishes that could be explored and enjoyed, but if someone finds the guacamole that delicious, what's the harm?

                                            1. re: MMRuth

                                              I agree. I do not think the US is alone in doing this. I lived in Japan for two years and went to American, Chinese, Indian, and and Italian restaurants, among others. In Nagasaki, most of the regional dishes are actually derived from Portuguese and Chinese cuisine. If you go to a Chinese restaurant, you'll find the Chinese-influenced dishes on the menu with the other dishes. I thought it was really neat and interesting to try the Japanese varieties of everything.

                                              1. re: MMRuth

                                                There have been a number of heated discussions on the Bay Area forum about these types of posts. The Bay Area hounds as a collective whole often lament the lack of high end Mexican restaurants there, and the lack of Regional & Specialized Mexican (particularly Oaxacan)... yet many go to Mexican restaurants and get caught up on the Chips, Salsa, Guacamole, Carne Asada tacos and don't move beyond certain dishes..... there is a lot of noise that impedes the development of Mexican gastronomy in the States.... I expect that among the wannabes & Foodies... but not from the Chowhounds. Or is that the Leff's, RWOrange, Melanie Wong & Kare_Raisus of the boards are the exception and not really what Chowhound should be about?

                                            2. re: thew

                                              Thew, you obviously didn't read my previous post which agrees with much of what you said. I refer to the passage I wrote about Paella and Pad Thai.

                                              What I don't agree with is your final observation of General Tso's chicken. Because of Chowhound, I have discovered eats so marvelous that I hope never again to meet up with that unfortunate military figure and his insipid deep fried sugar addiction.

                                              1. re: Steve

                                                Steve, I think you may have the General Tso chicken story wrong. That dish is utterly and completely an American invention, and has nothing to do with the real General Tso and his chicken in China.

                                                Jennifer 8. Lee of the New York Times has spoken extensively on this, showing the first printed write-ups of the dish, and even showing a film of the real General Tso being shown, without any prompting, the American version of the dish and him having no idea what it was.

                                                Many American food writers of Chinese heritage have written that Chinese-American food bears little resemblance to authentic Chinese food. We eat authentic Chinese-American food in the US.

                                                In fact, if you consider what has been popularized as the quintessential American food or American fast food -- McDonalds -- Chinese-American food may be more authentically American than it.

                                                Lee has written that there are 40,000 Chinese restaurants in the United States — more than the number of McDonald's, Burger Kings, and KFCs combined. Most are quick, take-out places. So American fast food is more likely to be "Chinese" take-out than McDonalds. I was floored by this statistic when I heard Lee give a speech.

                                                And those fortune cookies? They aren't from China at all.

                                                We change recipes a great deal in this country for many reasons -- a lack of authentic ingredients (the andouille for jambalaya, for example, and so a substitute sausage is used), a need for personal invention (a cook putting his own stamp of things), and to create a standardized (easily reproducible) or manufactured product (often substituting inferior, inexpensive ingredients). Sometimes the end product bears little resemblance to the original.

                                                It's important to know the origins and statistics when one asks "What is "authentic?" What was the dish as originally conceived? And where was it conceived? How much "improvisation" on a dish can occur before the taste and visual and measure of a dish make it different from the original? How much commodification -- standardization for manufacturing, often using inferior or substituted ingredients -- can occur?

                                            3. re: Steve

                                              It's not that authenticity is unknowable, it's that it's a problematic word that is more fetish that effective descriptive. It's for those who like to tell themselves that they are not tourists when they travel to other countries.

                                              What's the point? Interest in traditional recipes and changes (world wide), go to it. I adore reading about the evolution of foodways; I love reading cookbooks; I love reading about food always (why I'm here reading your posts). But at this point this word only seems to function as a means of hierarchising taste rather than really thinking about the food on the plate-- or more importantly, eating and enjoying it. It's simply a tiresome word that says more about the person who wants to use it than about the food he's describing. ('That food is dumbed down. But me? I'm smarted up.') It's a bit too lazy and overburdened for my taste.

                                              1. re: Lizard

                                                So, you think I'm tilting at windmills, eh? Well, I find it to be a Quest more satisfying than 'whatever.'

                                                Personally, I don't really know what authentic means concerning many different types of foods, and I almost never claim a place to be authentic, because I wouldn't know. But I do know that I have yet to hear a Chinese person say, "boy, the Chinese food here in the US sure beats the heck out of what we got back home." Since I live in an incredibly diverse international community,, I could say the same for the French, Italians, Kenyans, Algerians, Chileans, Germans, Portuguese, Mexican, and Malay. I worked on Embassy Row for fifteen years, and I think I've had the same conversation with over 150 nationalalities.

                                                Couple that with the fact that everytime I go abroad I am amazed at the wonderful possibilities I find that I could never imagine before.

                                                At some point my "lazy" mind starts wondering, could all these people be deceiving themselves? Or maybe they are lying? But they all seem to gleefully explain as I question them what they find lacking in their cuisine as represented in the US.

                                                And finally, when I ask them what places or dishes here they find the most authentic, I go and take their advice, and new worlds start opening up for me.

                                                So there you have it. Like I said, I have no personal knowledge about all this, but I have been rewarded many times over by
                                                taking the suggestions of others.

                                                1. re: Steve

                                                  Not clear on what this has to do with I said. I take issue with the word, not with the mission of food quests and discussion.
                                                  Good for you, though. Seems like it does everything you want it to,

                                                  1. re: Steve

                                                    Steve,
                                                    I work with people from everywhere,Asia,India,South America etc.and my friends from cambodia like the quality of ingredients that they can get here better than in their country

                                          2. re: thew

                                            It's funny you mention Vietnam, where pretty much each village has its own special cooking style or dish, or variation on a theme. There is nothing wrong with Hanoi style pho or Saigon style pho, just as there is nothing wrong with Texas BBQ or Carolina BBQ. Both are regional variations on a theme, and all are authentic.

                                            But if you have a vendor in Thailand creating "American fried rice" (which includes ketchup, hot dogs and raisins), I'd say that's pretty danged inauthentic--

                                            http://www.lonelyplanet.com/travelsto...

                                            I'd say the "hamburger" I had in Taiwan, which had a bun made of two round sticky rice patties and ground pork, was pretty inauthentic. I'd also say that the "Pakistani burrito" I had in Khaosiung, Taiwan, (from a Muslin street vendor outside a Mosque) which contained straight ketchup (which they called "curry sauce") was inauthentic. In fact, most of the "ethnic" food I ate in Taiwan was pretty inauthentic... all of it seemed to have a very particular Taiwanese flavor to it.

                                            On the flipside, this hamburger I ate in Kampot, Cambodia was authentic..... mostly.

                                            http://www.travelpod.com/travel-photo...

                                            But the owner of this place was an American, catering to western backpakers looking for a taste of home. (At $4 for a burger, the prices were cost prohibitive for the locals).

                                            Tastes change, recipes change, new ingredients are introduced..... but slowly. Slowly enough so that it is still possible to know what is authentic and what is not. Ask me again 20 years from now whether a 2008 preparation of a dish is still authentic, and I might have a different answer.

                                            Mr Taster

                                            1. re: Mr Taster

                                              Maybe at some point it becomes an "authentic" something-else entirely.
                                              Eat Nopal would probably be apoplectic at the "tamales" in the Mississippi Delta's Tamale Trail. They're found in roadside shacks from New Orleans to Chicago and dearly loved. Also a famed specialty of the small Doe's Eat Place chain.
                                              Alton Brown featured them in his Feasting on Asphalt: The River Run, but he missed Crawfish Tamales.
                                              Southern Foodways Alliance http://www.tamaletrail.com/
                                              These are a beloved local specialty along the Mighty Mississippi, thought to have originated from the Mexican migrant workers from Yucatan working in the cotton fields who moved up the River from New Orleans. They adapted the local corn and other ingredients for a taste of home.
                                              They evolved into something that you'd likely never find in Old Mexico but they're Authentic Delta Food. As down home as you can get.

                                              1. re: MakingSense

                                                Just had catfish tacos the other night. Not exactly Baja, but good, none the less.

                                                Hunt

                                                1. re: MakingSense

                                                  "Eat Nopal would probably be apoplectic at the "tamales" in the Mississippi Delta's Tamale Trail."

                                                  I read about this in a National Geographic issue... loved learning about it. I have no complaints because they are properly identified as Delta Hot Tamales and not sold at places labeled "Authentic Mexican Home Cooking" etc., In my perspective it is now an authentic Mississippii dish of Mexican Roots that has thoroughly become part of the local cuisine & culture, it is a new thing with its own history, not a watered down imitation. Of course with that said... I would have to taste one to determine whether they can compete at any of the many "Festival del Tamal" south of the border =)

                                                  Finally, when I am in Mexico... I always go out of my way to have at least a couple of Italo-Messicano style pasta dishes... some of my favorite eats in the country.

                                                  1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                                    What are some of these pasta dishes? Sounds fascinating.
                                                    I've never seen that descriptor before either -- Italo-Messicano.

                                                    1. re: maria lorraine

                                                      Italo-Messicano ... I kid of just made it up =)

                                                      Some classic Pasta dishes south of the border:

                                                      Espaguetti with Sweet Peppers in a Chipotle Cream Sauce

                                                      http://www.sanpancho.com.mx/vb/showth...

                                                      Fideos Secos (Vermicelli in a three chile sauce with Queso Fresco)... click on Menu -> Pasta

                                                      http://www.comoencasa.com.mx/

                                                      Espaguetti con Salsa Negra (in an Octopus Ink - Epazote sauce

                                                      )

                                                      http://www.clubplaneta.com.mx/cocina/...

                                                      Other fairly ubiquitous dishes:

                                                      > Lasagna with layers of Huitlacoche bathe in a Chile Poblano sauce.

                                                      > Fettucine & Shrimp in a Chipotle Butter Sauce

                                                      The real experts on the subject are the D'Angeli's. Not only have they been championing the cause of Indigenous Mexican cooking for the last 30+ years, started the Slow Food chapter in Mexico City, lead the charge to get Mexican Corn Gastronomy UNESCO recognition... but they are also the foremost experts on Italo-Mexican cuisine... haven written a book on the subject, and also done a number of documentaries (often repeated on Once Mexico or Mex-22 both Public stations available in Wine Country via Dish Network).

                                                      http://forums.saveur.com/blogs/?q=nod...

                                                      1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                                        As usual, you are a fount of wonderful food history.
                                                        I love "Italo-Messicano"!

                                                2. re: Mr Taster

                                                  but american fried rice is ubiquitous in thailand, served everywhere and eaten by locals. it is a purely thai invention (though i can't say i saw it w/ hot dogs or raisins, but yes ketchup). that seems pretty "authentic" to me. not traditional, but authentic.

                                                  1. re: thew

                                                    From Mirriam-Webster:
                                                    au·then·tic
                                                    3. Not false or imitation

                                                    Here is where the devil is in the details.

                                                    I would argue that you can't represent this dish of "American fried rice" as being authentic because nowhere in America will you find such a thing. How can fried rice with ketchup, hot dogs and raisins be "not false" or "not imitated" with regard to American cuisine?

                                                    If you want to take the tack that it's authentically Thai, well, then call it Thai fried rice. Or Thai style American fried rice. Then you might have a point. But you can't blatantly misrepresent something in the title and then claim it to be authentic by a parallel set of criteria.

                                                    Mr Taster
                                                    (who spent 7 months backpacking through southeast asia, China, Taiwan and Korea in 2006 and never, ever, ever did I see locals eating backpacker food!!)

                                                    1. re: Mr Taster

                                                      That sort of reminds me of a Hong Kong dish called "Western Style Fried Rice", which consists of ketchup, hot dogs and various other ingredients (but no raisins). Surely almost nobody in the "west" has ever eaten that but does that make the term "Authentic Western Style Fried Rice" Invalid? I would say that Hong Kong Style Cafes are notorious of this adaptation, where basically every nationality can be summed up with one dish... "Portuguese Chicken" is a dish based in chicken covered in a creamy curry sauce, "Russian Oxtail" is this strange tomatoey sauce that covers the meat (in this case oxtail) in question and borscht is this tomato cabbage soup with not a hint of beet. Surely these are all authentic versions of the dishes in question but in the end it's just a name. Chicken Kiev was most likely not invented there but are we not allowed to call it that because people in Kiev rarely eat it?

                                                      1. re: Blueicus

                                                        Very reminiscent of a popular trend in semi-fast food some years back. It was called the “Authentic New Orleans Cajun Hamburger.” OK, it had some Cajun influence in the spices, and spiciness, but New Orleans, while known for food, has never been known for hamburger. Also, the cuisines of New Orleans (though with some influences) is NOT Cajun cuisine, nor is Cajun cuisine New Orleans cuisine. Yeah, some similarities, but beyond that, they are NOT the same. To end, due to the land/water ratio in most of Cajun Country, beef was a rarity. Pork, various fishes and swamp-dwelling creatures, were more likely to be used as a protein. Still, many used the “ANOCH” moniker, in one form, or another. Authentic what? Probably dreamed up by the test kitchen for the corporation in Dallas and the ad agency’s copywriter. It happens all of the time.

                                                        Hunt

                                                      2. re: Mr Taster

                                                        it's authentic thai food, and the name is american fried rice. that is the thai name for the dish, which is fried rice with ketchup. It isn't my name for the dish, so it isnt about what i call it. the thai's who make it call it american fried rice, and it is authentically thai, as it was invented by thais, and is cooked by thais. not traditional thai. authentic.

                                                        I've spent more than 7 months in south east asia, and i indeed saw young thai people eating this.

                                                        blueicus' example of chicken kiev is perfect btw

                                                        1. re: thew

                                                          OK I get your point. Sure, it's authentic Thai food, the same way that budae jigae is authentic Korean food. A couple of wars, America drop shipping our cheap (authentically American) processed meat, and suddenly we've changed ancient food traditions. For my purposes, I'm far more interested in authentically traditional foods, which is what I think most people here mean when they use the shorthand "authentic", and I think you know that. But you've made your point.

                                                          Mr Taster

                                                          1. re: Mr Taster

                                                            Let's face it, ancient food traditions have changed with the meeting of cultures, empires and continents. Modern Italian food has as much in common with food from the Roman Empire as it does with modern Chinese food. Now, we can judge whether food influences are good or bad (think Hong Kong style food with very significant "Western" and British influences) but in the end we should take the "good" with the "bad" or you're just painting yourself an incomplete picture and the ideal of the untouched rustic natives.

                                                            1. re: Blueicus

                                                              Of course, but I think there's a difference when cuisines, cultures and tastes evolve by traditional, organic means versus when they change suddenly and rapidly over an extremely short period of time because 1,000,000 lbs of Spam are air dropped by warplanes onto their heads.

                                                              This is the distinction between "authentic" and "traditionally authentic", and I think virtually everone here (aside from the contrarians) who uses the term "authentic" means "traditionally authentic".

                                                              This tangent has become a discussion of linguistic semantics when the heart of this thread is on greater chowtastic pursuits.

                                                              Mr Taster

                                                            2. re: Mr Taster

                                                              i have no problem using the word traditional, if that is what is meant. authentic is something else entirely. that's why we have 2 different words ;)

                                                              1. re: thew

                                                                But I would say that kimchi is "traditionally authentic" whereas budae jigae is "contemporarily authentic." There is a difference, as Steve said back in http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/5396...

                                                                Mr Taster

                                                                1. re: Mr Taster

                                                                  is there any traditional and inauthentic food?

                                                                  1. re: thew

                                                                    Only by comparison when one is compelled to painstakingly define the terms of authenticity, when in fact everyone knows what you're trying to say in the first place.

                                                                    Mr Taster

                                                                    1. re: Mr Taster

                                                                      i find it amusing, when in a purely semantic medium someone dismisses an argument as semantic. all we have here between each other is semantics. words mean something. what we are hashing out here is just what they mean. it is a purely semantic discussion.

                                                                      1. re: thew

                                                                        It would be a sad day if all we had were semantics and syntax. Thankfully we're not computers, and unless you're autistic, we can draw on a wealth of subtle social cues and implications to indirectly communicate our ideas.

                                                                        Mr Taster

                                                                        1. re: Mr Taster

                                                                          and yet here we are typing words at each other.
                                                                          but yeah a discussion that basically boils down to what a single word means, both in denotation and connotation, is semantic.

                                                                          and that's ok

                                                                          i'll just sum up that if all the people asking for "authentic food" had said "traditional food" i'd have less of a problem with it overall

                                                                          1. re: thew

                                                                            Can food be authentically kosher?

                                                                            Mr Taster

                                                                            1. re: Mr Taster

                                                                              no. it is either kosher or it is not kosher.

                                                                              1. re: thew

                                                                                Strictly speaking, yes - but then, there's "kosher-style". One can refer to brisket as being bbq vs.kosher as styles of cooking even if the beef was not appropriately slaughtered. Deli's can be kosher style in that they emulate kosher deli's in the food they serve but do not maintain separate facilities for dairy and non-dairy. In that case, two people might have a conversation in which one asked the other if the place was authentically kosher. And they would understand the meaning of that term explicitly. I'd say, then, that the word authentic had served a meaningful purpose.

                                                                                The inability for the entire world to agree on the meaning of a word, even to the point that it is misused in marketing (what word isn't?), doesn't make the word useless. It just takes a common understanding between the parties that are involved in the conversation to make the word meaningful. Explanations are often necessary - so what? The important details are always in the explanations - the word used is just a summary connotation.

                                                                                The issue I find weird is the willingness for those that don't like the word authentic to substitute another word, such as traditional or classic. If the argument is about the food - and whether it fits a certain definition of form, ingredients, etc., then that's where the argument belongs - not about words. If it is of no value to hold a style of cooking or a particular dish statically, in time and place, in any sort of particular regard, then why would the word you use matter?

                                                                                1. re: applehome

                                                                                  It's not about substitution. It's about looking for precision. The words you list here are hardly synonyms.

                                                                                  Traditional, refers to custom and practice-- it allows for acknowledgement of flux and innovation. 'Authentic' is a stranger choice regarding food because of the connotations that it is 'genuine' or 'true'. It has a sense of the absolute that seems counter to food ways.

                                                                                  I'd much prefer someone simply go for precision in talking about a food. It is prepared in traditional ways of x, y, and z... it is much like I found when visiting said country... it's like mum used to make...

                                                                                  I'm also uncomfortable with the word 'authentic' because it smuggles in value systems that I find problematic at best. I've gone on about these before, so I'll leave it at that.

                                                                                  1. re: applehome

                                                                                    but in your example above asking "is this place kosher" would have the exact same meaning, wouldn't it? if they serve dairy and meat the answer is no. i don't see the word "authentic" as adding anything useful to the question at all.

                                                                                    1. re: thew

                                                                                      The distinction being that in today's world, everything is a deli - a sub shop, an italian grocery store, etcetc... so people use the term kosher to describe the type of deli in general, but the term authentic to indicate that it is actually kosher. Yes - there are any number of ways to express this, one doesn't have to use authentic. But if the point is that if the two people who are conversing understand that term in that way, they are communicating succinctly.

                                                                                      The kosher issue may not be the best example, but I've certainly heard it used that way by one side of my family. The other side (Japanese) use it in an even more purposeful way - and this most definitely includes a judgment and a value system, as Lizard has described. Many Japanese view the Americanization of their most authentic (indeed, there IS a recognized, true way) foods as a bastardization that devolves the entire genre. That it has become accepted, especially by the youth, in Japan is even more denigrating. So when they discuss a sushi joint as being authentic or not, there most definitely is the intended pejorative criticism for places that are not. Why not use the term, if that's what you intend to communicate? Once again, it's just as judgmental, whether you say authentic or traditional. You can argue whether the speaker or culture is right in feeling this way, but the word most certainly fits.

                                                                                      I've come to accept the dual and even multi- purpose use of many food words. It's common in Japanese to use the same word for a general and specific meaning - the listener has to figure out the intent by context. This is most often a speaking issue. When written as Kanji, most meanings are resolved - but when written as Kana, the same context issues remain. Sake means both all whiskeys and the specific brewed rice drink. The specific word for the rice beverage is Nihonshu, but it is rarely used, especially by Gaijin. In the US we use BBQ to mean both general grilling, and a specific form of meat, slow-cooked over embers. Once again, you have to search the context to get the meaning. Ditto Lox to mean all smoked and cured salmon rather than just the cured salmon.

                                                                                      I've come to learn that this business of railing against the use of words because of the lack of specificity or oddball denotation, such as a possible negative judgment is at best, tilting at windmills. At worst, it is in itself, a form of judgment. A person can be as bigoted in taking the position that all food is equally good, as one can in feeling that a particular version is more like one he considers to be the better representative.

                                                                                      Sometimes, I feel that here at Chowhound, we have the authenticity police. You can't say authentic because it doesn't have a shared meaning and it can be construed to be pejorative. Yes... but I intended it to be pejorative. And those that understand me most definitely share my meaning!

                                  2. It's somewhat of a semantic difference, but I think the pejorative term is more likely to be Americanized than simply American. As we all know, there's plenty of delicious American food, from a great hot dog to a perfectly steamed lobster. But AmericanIZED is typically used to describe a dumbed-down, overly bland version of an otherwise noble cuisine - not jambalaya made with local sausage as opposed to andouille, but one made with cheap hot dogs and Minute Rice, flavored with ketchup and not much else.

                                    It may also be that the constituency here on Chowhounds tends to be (I say TENDS to be, not an absolute!) people in their 40s and older, who remember when, for example, pale underseasoned imitations of true Italian dishes were the only option in most places. That's what we think of and refer to as Americanized.

                                    14 Replies
                                    1. re: BobB

                                      And! (Good lord, I cannot seem to shut up about this.) It also reflects the ebb and flow of what constitutes quality. I'm sure that when canned food was invented, people were thrilled about its cleanliness, its ease of use, its consistency, its, um, non-spoilability. Now, we're all like, ew, canned food. It's possible that the meaning of Americanized has also changed. Maybe it was once an amazing improvement over gross old-country peasant garbage that everyone was just dying to stop eating, already.

                                      1. re: BobB

                                        I think your timeline may be off, BobB. Before the mid 70s, there was truly "authentic," for lack of a better word, food of other countries in the US and it wasn't hard to find. There were many European and Asian immigrants as a result of two World Wars and it was easy to find European and Asian restaurants where the food wasn't dumbed down. Home cooking was still the food of the Old Country only slightly changed to accommodate American ingredients - mostly by the use of better quality ingredients than has been available in war-torn countries.
                                        My parents friends cooked magnificent spreads at home and we went to wonderful French, Italian and German restaurants. My friends returning from Vietnam were eager to take us all to Asian restaurants opened by refugees to introduce us to the foods they had discovered on R&R in Japan, Thailand and other destinations.
                                        Somewhere along the line, the next generation started to dumb down the real food that we loved.
                                        It WAS there once upon a time just as the current influx of immigrants to our shores is bringing us new types of food to enjoy - or screw up.

                                        1. re: MakingSense

                                          The time I'm referring to is the baby boom era, from the end of WW2 to the mid-60's. That was the heyday of "convenience" foods, a time when dehydrated potato flakes were considered a modern wonder. And yes, that's a bit of an exaggeration - but when I think how many packaged foods were in my mother's kitchen that I would never let cross my threshold today - yes, things really have changed.

                                          Growing up in the '50s and '60s in Boston, sure there were some good restaurants, mainly French and German, but not a lot of ethnic variety beyond Americanized Chinese and Italian. Greek restaurants got big here in the late '60s - early '70s, but it was the mid- to late '70s before the first Indian restaurant opened in the area (followed quickly by many more), and a few years after that before you could easily find Thai and Vietnamese food. And I'm talking about Boston/Cambridge, hardly the boondocks.

                                          Ever seen the movie "The Big Night"? It's a poignant story of a pair of brothers who tried to open a restaurant offering REAL Italian food in the '50s. Fiction, of course, but powerfully moving in part because it so accurately depicts the general middle American food attitudes of the times.

                                          1. re: BobB

                                            Convenience foods in that era were statistically a very limited percentage of the market compared to today or even to the 80s and 90s. The size of the average grocery store was a fraction of what it is today.
                                            They were also expensive and considered something of a luxury.
                                            They certainly weren't in our kitchen, but then I didn't grow up in Potato-land. Mama tried to stick us with those dehydrated things once but Daddy was having none of it and she went back to rice the next day.

                                            Perhaps the difference in perception is that I grew up in New Orleans, which like other Southern port cities, benefited by interesting waves of immigrants from Asia and Latin America. We had Cubans just after the Revolution and always Central Americans because of the Port. This was true of Houston, Mobile and Charleston too.
                                            There were many Vietnamese perhaps because of the climate similarity. Some of the best "French" bakeries in New Orleans now are owned by VIetnamese. We always had Greeks, Slavs and Lebanese, not only in New Orleans but throughout the Delta.
                                            New Orleans has a substantial Italian community and a section of town still called the Irish Channel. The old families still honor the traditions of their heritage although it's Southern Italian because they were mostly poor immigrants who came as laborers to New Orleans. It's anything but bland and has influenced the food of the entire city. Muffalettas, anyone?

                                            1. re: MakingSense

                                              Ah, that explains it. New Orleans has long been - and hopefully will long remain - a beacon of culinary sophistication. But as such it was hardly typical of America back in the '50s and '60s.

                                              1. re: BobB

                                                Even discounting my very fortunate personal experience, convenience foods weren't the norm in the 50s and 60s because they were still expensive and limited.
                                                I lived in a couple of other areas of the country in the late 60s and early 70s and it wasn't much different except for waaay better veggies in California.
                                                Swanson's made about 4 varieties of TV dinners. LaChoy had chop suey. Spam. Blue box Mac Cheese. A few frozen veggies.
                                                Grocery stores were small because they could be. Produce, meats, staples. Some stores were scarcely larger than today's big 7-11s.
                                                The explosive growth in their size came with the demand for the processed convenience foods that we have now. Most square footage in stores is devoted to them.
                                                People now complain about "food" prices but they should perhaps be complaining about "convenience" prices. They could probably cut their costs dramatically by not buying convenience foods and products.

                                                1. re: MakingSense

                                                  I remember small supermarkets well - we lived two doors down from one, at which my grandfather was a meatcutter. My original point, though, was not about convenience foods but about bland Americanized versions of ethnic foods, which at that time in America were the norm, New Orleans to the contrary notwithstanding.

                                                  1. re: BobB

                                                    I'm almost afraid to say this for fear of bringing the wrath of New England down on my head, but New England in general didn't have as much outside influence as most other sections of the country since it wasn't on the way to any place.
                                                    Other large ports, unlike Boston, received the waves of immigrants from Asia and South America and a wider range of European immigrants than Boston did, perhaps because of the climate.
                                                    Poor immigrants sought out work in agricultural areas or in the Westward expansion. The Mississippi River brought them inland. St. Louis was the Gateway to the West where many sought their fortunes in the Land Grant States. Germans and Czechs worked on cattle drives in Texas. Chinese built the Trans-Continental Railroad and stayed put in Denver.
                                                    There may have been and might still be a lot less "bland food" out there in fly-over country than you think.
                                                    No, I didn't find ethnic restaurants cheek-by-jowl when we lived in rural Missouri or in East Texas in the early 70s but there were some real gems and fabulous food. Bland food? You could find it but great scratch food was easy to find in homes and restaurants. Farmers' markets were normal.
                                                    Few chains and everything was locally owned.

                                                    1. re: MakingSense

                                                      The Irish brought great beer to Boston, and we are thankful !! The also gave us the Celtics whom are now the World Champs.

                                                      In all seriousness, Boston was swarmed with Irish Immigrants after the potato famine. Many immigrants also took "The Post Road" which it is now so called Post Road to New York City, although it does not lead to anywhere New York found its mark.

                                                      1. re: Jimbosox04

                                                        It took awhile for Irish food to have an impact because the immigrants were so poor and they were discriminated against terribly. Even the Kennedys were kept out of the country clubs well into to 20th century. A friend has an "Irish need not apply" sign hanging over his desk.
                                                        Maybe Boston wasn't as open to waves of immigrants as some other cities. It took awhile to get ethnic restaurants even with the upscale university community.
                                                        See the list that Sam gives for the Central Valley in CA. or what we had in NOLA. Even Mobile, Charleston, Houston, and certainly NYC. The South was certainly made richer by Asian and Latin immigrants, as was CA. Even the Mid-Atlantic has been a melting pot for years. I love it.

                                                  2. re: MakingSense

                                                    actually it's cheaper to buy convenience food over staples that used to be cheap: broccoli, $4/lb, salt cod, $9/small box, italian sardines $10 for a small jar.

                                                    1. re: fara

                                                      Dirty little secret, isn't it? Frozen peas are much better than old English peas in the pod and far cheaper. A little frozen corn.
                                                      There are a lot of quickies and cheapos that work if you experiment.
                                                      Depending on how you're using them, most times you can't tell the difference except in your pocketbook. Hide the wrappings in the bottom of the trash!
                                                      I ain't proud.

                                                      1. re: MakingSense

                                                        Agree 100% re frozen peas and corn. Canned beans properly rinsed work well with any recipe except those requiring long slow cooking IMO.

                                              2. re: BobB

                                                I have to fully back MakingSense. There was little packaged and convenience food in the Central Valley of California in the 50s and 60s. Rather, it was a time of real, authentic ethnic restaurants fueled by large ethnic populations of Mexicans and Central Americans, Chinese, Japanese, Basque, Armenians, Germans, Italians, Filipinos, and Swedish, later followed by Vietnamese, Lao, Hmong, Khmer, Sikhs, and more. My family and others I knew were good home scratch cooks and knowledgeable when selecting places and foods when dining out. There were few chains; and I didn't have a BigMac until I was in my early 40s and living in the Philippines.

                                          2. Foods change/evolve constantly in response to local ingredients and individual tastes. Sometimes the new dish is better than the old.

                                            The problem comes with naming the new dish. If you give it a new name, no-one will know what you are talking about. If you keep the old name for a changed dish, someone will be disappointed.

                                            As big and varied as American cuisine is, this will probably always be true.

                                            BB