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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:


                                    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

                                                    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--


                                            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.


                                            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.


                                                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


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


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



                                                      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).


                                                      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:
                                                    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.


                                                      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.


                                            1. I usually gloss over the threads that get into the authenticity debates - as long as it's delicious, I'm happy.

                                              1. "American" is not and has never been the opposite of "authentic," except in the minds of a few narrow-thinking food snobs. On the other hand, when discussing foods from other lands, "American" (or, perhaps more accurately, "Americanized") can be the opposite of "traditional."

                                                America is a land of immigrants, and so has a long history of taking foods from other places and adapting them to locally-available ingredients. Red sauce Italian, Tex-Mex, and Chop Suey Chinese probably would never have been invented if their original cooks had been able to lay hands on traditional Italian, Mexican, or Cantonese ingredients.

                                                Over the years, each of these cuisines has evolved its own identity distinct from its roots. Are they inferior to traditional foods? If the standard is food as it is served in Italy / Mexico / China, then the answer is an unequivocal yes. But who says that there must be a standard against which a dish is judged, and who gets to decide what that standard should be?

                                                That's not to say that I won't be disappointed if I walk into a restaurant that bills itself as serving Tan Family Cuisine and am served sweet and sour pork, or if a "Traditional Yucatecan" place plops a bowl of chili con queso on the table, or if someplace that ostensibly specializes in Milanese cuisine prominently features spaghetti and meatballs on its menu. But that disappointment has to do with accuracy of description, not inferiority or superiority of cuisine. It would be like walking into a sushi-ya and being seated at a table covered with banchan and a bulgoki grill.

                                                Tradition is a good thing. If I'm trying to experience food from a distant land, I would like it to taste as close as possible to the way it tastes in its place of origin. But innovation is good, too. New American Cuisine (does anybody say that any more?) takes ingredients and techniques from all over the world and brings them together in dishes that, at their best, transcend the sum of their parts. And properly executed, it is inferior to nothing.

                                                4 Replies
                                                1. re: alanbarnes

                                                  I think your point about expectations is a good one - there's a difference between an "Italian American" restaurant and an "Italian" restaurant in the U.S. in my mind. Neither is inauthentic.

                                                  When I start to cook from a new cookbook - say a Sardinian one, I'm the first to admit that I'm somewhat obsessive about trying to get "indigenous" ingredients - olive oil, salt, cheeses, etc., so that I can best replicate the dish at home. That said, it probably won't taste exactly the same as the same dish served in Sardinia, as a result of the terroir issue raised above. But is it not authentic? I'd say that it is. Sometimes in my cooking I aspire to authenticity, sometimes I don't (bacon instead of pancetta or guanciale in an Italian recipe, because I just happen to be out of those).

                                                  And, fwiw, I do agree with the OP that the term "American" should not be used as a pejorative in this context, but I think sometimes it is used as shorthand for "not what you would find in the home country", and I don't think there is anything wrong with that.

                                                  1. re: MMRuth

                                                    I agree, If you try to make a true Neopolitan pizza it would cost you a bundle, if you can learn to just enjoy what someone is making that sticks to the true values of the way it was meant to be then, who cares?

                                                  2. re: alanbarnes

                                                    Sweet and Sour Pork is most definitely not Americanized... it has origins in Chinese cooking before their arrival in America.

                                                    1. re: Blueicus

                                                      Agreed; it's a fine Cantonese dish, although execution in the US tends to leave something to be desired. In fact, the fairly common over-breaded chunks of gristle glazed with flourescent red corn syrup here might well be described as Americanized. But the point was accuracy of description, and nobody can legitimately claim that this dish is a traditional part of Tan Family Cuisine.

                                                  3. I think sometimes are people are flat-out wrong when they say something is modified from the original is then "Americanized." For instance, take sushi with mayo on it. This is not American because you can walk into a Japanese supermarket and find sushi with mayo. Even within a given country, a cuisine can evolve away from what we consider to be "authentic."

                                                    I think a lot of Americanized foods are changed for other reasons. Many Asian cuisines are simply too spicy for the typical American. While it might be "dumbed down," there is something to say for having cuisine that people can actually eat.

                                                    Plus, even within a given country, there are so many regional differences that who is to say what is really authentic. There have been a few topics recently about what makes a Cuban sandwich authentic, and the Tampa version is different from what you'd find in Miami. I wouldn't consider either less authentic than the other version.

                                                    28 Replies
                                                    1. re: queencru

                                                      "I think a lot of Americanized foods are changed for other reasons. Many Asian cuisines are simply too spicy for the typical American. While it might be "dumbed down," there is something to say for having cuisine that people can actually eat."

                                                      True, and you've just scored a point for the opposing position. There are plenty of people (and out here on Chowhound, I'd venture to say the vast majority) who don't have any trouble at all eating foods made as as they were meant to be, who in fact go out of their way to find exactly those places that offer such flavors. It's a major reason that this site exists.

                                                      Granted, those "dumbed down" places may provide an introduction to such cuisines for those just beginning to expand their culinary horizons, and thus serve a useful function. But they are without doubt, and with insult intended, Americanized.

                                                      1. re: queencru

                                                        "I think a lot of Americanized foods are changed for other reasons. Many Asian cuisines are simply too spicy for the typical American. While it might be "dumbed down," there is something to say for having cuisine that people can actually eat."

                                                        I assume by "people," you mean Americans because I doubt that native Thai, Szechuan or Indian Asians have trouble eating their cuisine! But having been subjected to the "dumbed down" version of Asian food, it is frustrating to me that certain people have come to expect that this is what the food should taste like. And as they vote with their patronage, restaurants have accomodated their tastes leading to the cuisines as a whole becoming "dumbed down" where I live. That isn't accomodation or regionalism. It's a wholesale loss of a traditional cuisine.

                                                        1. re: JungMann

                                                          I said "typical American." In your average American city, there probably isn't a big enough population to support a menu that has nothing Americanized. I've been to plenty of restaurants that will offer a selection of more authentic cuisine mixed with more Americanized cuisine and I think that's fine. I've lived in other countries where they also modify the menu items to support whatever the local population might be. The fact is that restaurants have to stay open, and unless you're in a huge metropolis, it's hard to get by on a fully authentic menu.

                                                          1. re: queencru

                                                            In general, you're correct. But even in small-town America today, there are many places that host significant immigrant communities, and there you'll find restaurants that provide them with a taste of home (wherever home may be). And as you say yourself, even many restaurants that do offer Americanized dishes have more authentic (or traditional, choose your preferred term) items on the menu - or maybe not on the menu, but available for the asking. That's one of the major functions of Chowhounds, to help those of us who are interested in such options to find them.

                                                            It's not that we want such places to go out of business, quite the contrary. But it doesn't stop us from deploring those venues that serve ONLY the bland Americanized junk.

                                                            1. re: queencru

                                                              Even if the menu is "dumbed down", spice wise, you can always ask to get it spicier. But if it is too spicy to begin with you can't take that heat away. I really like spicy, but I have a stomach condition that limits the amount of heat I can eat. It's a bummer!

                                                              1. re: danhole

                                                                I'm not American but I think it's insulting to say that only Americans like "dumbed-down" non-spicy food... it all depends on the food culture of the person that was brought up and what they're open towards. I have lots of Chinese family members who are very picky about what they eat and don't like spicy.

                                                                1. re: Blueicus

                                                                  I didn't say it! queencru did. I am American but was brought up with VERY spicy food. My dad said if your nose didn't drip it just wasn't spicy enough!

                                                                  1. re: danhole

                                                                    I pointed out the opposite is true in my first post; however, when we are talking about American restaurants, the cuisine is Americanized. I've also lived in the UK and Japan and saw a lot of modified cuisines in those countries as well.

                                                                    1. re: queencru

                                                                      This reminds me of the old school age game "telephone". One cook has an "authentic recipe" and they tell the next person how to make it, but they miss an ingredient, and yet are still happy with the outcome. So they pass it along to another cook, and they add their own little twist. After a time they are all making the same "named" dish, yet they are worlds apart. So, does that mean "authentic" is the only real way to eat, or are we just being snobs? I, myself, like what I like whether or not it is "authentic" or not. But then again I wouldn't really know what "authentic" was unless I had lived in every country of the world, and been there first hand when the original chef/cook came up with the dish.

                                                          2. re: queencru

                                                            Sushi + mayonnaise = Frenchification of Japanese food. ;) Banh mi is a prime example of the Frenchification of Viet food. As a colonial power France left behind a legacy of culinary influence and bureaucracy. The English borrowed and adapted cuisines (Curry is now the unofficial official English national food). America, for example, took a humble German sausage and mutated it into the hotdog ...

                                                            1. re: mrbozo

                                                              There's no such thing as curry in India (or at least there wasn't before the Raj). And never ming banh mi--pho, the quintessential Vietnamese street food, is a fairly recent invention that got its name from pot au feu.

                                                              Food fusion is like evolution. Most genetic mutants are poorly-adapted, but those that thrive can survive better than their ancestors. And most fusion food can and should be relegated to the ashcan of history. But there's the occasional spark when flint strikes steel...

                                                              1. re: alanbarnes

                                                                alan: pho - feu

                                                                shoulda figured that one out. fascinating.

                                                                1. re: alanbarnes

                                                                  Oh, curry well predates the British occupation of the Indian subcontinent. Besides, I did note British curry as a "borrowed and adapted' cuisine.

                                                                  Banh mi is a sandwich that uses a small baguette as its foundation. Pate and mayonnaise, along with local Vietnamese ingredients, are usual fillings. And I do enjoy a bowl of good feu.

                                                                  One of my favourite fusion foods is the Trinidadian?Guyanese roti.

                                                                  So, at what point in time are successful fusion foods considered "authentic"?

                                                                  1. re: mrbozo

                                                                    "So, at what point in time are successful fusion foods considered "authentic"?"

                                                                    Obviously not a black & white subject... which is great because it keeps us "intellectual types in business"

                                                                    BTW... can we all just agree on:

                                                                    > Authentic as something that has not been dumbed down and is well representative of a classic dish.

                                                                    > Fusion to denote something that is not quite Authentic but done extremely well, such that even people of the source culture find it compelling (for example how Chicken Kiev has become popular in the Ukraine).

                                                                    > Modern to represent Authentic flavors presented in a new light such that upper classes in the source & world cultures find it compelling.

                                                                    > Americanized to represent a dumbing of dishes to conform the masses of disney loving, mall shopping, overly consumerist, petite burgeosie that eats ungodly amounts of flesh but doesn't want to be reminded of the animal that made the sacrifice?

                                                                    1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                                                      Can you explain further what you mean by:

                                                                      "Modern to represent Authentic flavors presented in a new light such that upper classes in the source & world cultures find it compelling."


                                                                      1. re: MMRuth

                                                                        Example... Modern meaning a proxy for Haute particularly in the contemporary sense... perhaps interpreting a Modern Arrabiata as Ravioli of rare Kobe beef, Ancho pepper reconstituted in balsamic vinager & blood orange zest served with filets of roasted Cippolini onions & Campari foam. Assuming there is someone in Milan that would enjoy this dish... we could call it an "authentic" Modern Italian dish... no?

                                                                      2. re: Eat_Nopal

                                                                        Sorry, I can't accept your definition of "americanize". You're mischaracterizing the term "dumbing down" or "making palatable for the local tastes" as a national practice. So, if you find bad Japanese restaurants in Mexico, can we call that Mexicanized food? Or bad Chinese food in Italy, can we call that Italianized? Wherever you find immigrant goups serving their native cuisines to their adopted countrypeople, you will find this. It isn't an American practice per se.

                                                                        Instead, what I think of as "americanized" seems a result of the flourishing of the post-war economy that basically wiped out many culinary traditions for simplified, convenience, and packaged variety foods, and the rise of the American supermarkets, further displacing consumers from their food sources. While there surely are exceptions to this generalization, the majority of Americans since, say, the 1950s have been socialized in this social context. To complicate this matter further, this seems to be a symptom of many industrialized (or post-industrial) nations. What separates the US from others, however, might be the lack of an identifiable native cuisine. While there are great regional cuisines in many parts of the US, the ones that have made that breakthrough to the masses seem to have done so through the marketing efforts of large corporations (e.g., bologna, canned chili, jarred salsa, etc.) or fast food chains. On the one hand, this is one view of what American food is, but if you read someone like Jennifer Lee, she reveals that there are more Chinese restaurants in the US than all the fast food companies combined. Chinese restaurants are in every little nook of this country, and if Americans eat as much Chinese food as she suggests, it shouldn't be considered "americanized", it should be considered American food. I'm not certain what I'm trying to say with this example, except perhaps that the semantics of the term "americanized" is more complex than meets the eye.

                                                                        1. re: E Eto

                                                                          You are absolutely right... it would not be fair to characterize it as Americanized as it taints a nationality, a culture.. and entire civilization. I guess I was just using a word that has already come to represent the "Disney-McDonald's-MallofAmerica" house of cards.

                                                                          I am certainly open for a new term... perhaps Gen-Xed no even better... Disneyfied?

                                                                          1. re: Eat_Nopal


                                                                            which is a global phenom

                                                                            1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                                                              I think Michael Pollan hit it on the head in The Omnivore's Dilemma. It's when you start treating food as a commodity that things go downhill. The notion that a given taco (or egg, or pound of hamburger) is equivalent to any other, with price being the only relevant distinction, is fairly common among the general population. But it's anathema to the chowhound.

                                                                              Let's face it, there are people for whom $.39 tacos and $.99/lb boneless skinless chicken breasts are a cause for celebration, without regard for quality. If this weren't the case, the weekly grocery store circular and the PennySaver wouldn't focus almost exclusively on the price of a pound of sirloin or a large pizza.

                                                                              Commodified (or is it commoditized?) food is the polar opposite of Chow. If you want a good pejorative, there it is.

                                                                        2. re: mrbozo

                                                                          Sorry, I wasn't very clear. Most of these dishes have been around for centuries. But "curry" as a type of food is a recent (and largely English) development. My Indian friends know what you're talking about when you discuss rogan josh; lamb curry is a little less specific.

                                                                          1. re: alanbarnes

                                                                            I suspected that was your meaning. Just didn't want my query re the probationary period for "fusion" foods to become accepted as "authentic" to get lost in the richness of this thread.

                                                                            Indeed, if you were to utter the words "pasta sauce" to an Italian (from any part of that country) s/he would quite rightly expect that you have one of many possible such sauces in mind. However, utter those two words on this continent and most people will automatically assume that one is referring to a tomato based sauce weighed down by fried, not simmered, ground beef.

                                                                            1. re: mrbozo

                                                                              Exactly. Indian "curry" and Italian "spaghetti sauce" usually describe dishes that are served in (or at least bear some resemblance to) dishes served in the respective countries of origin. The dish itself may or may not be significantly different from the traditional preparation (as you note, fried hamburger and canned tomato sauce do not a bolognese make), but the nomenclature is something that would make no sense to a native.

                                                                              The more interesting question is when a fusion food becomes authentic. My position would be that any food that is consumed by more than a few people for more than a few years is authentic. Thus, for example, the stuff Olive Garden serves is authentic. But "authentic" is an adjective--what does it modify here? Olive Garden serves authentic commodified mediocre Italian-inspired corporate fare. McDonalds serves authentic low-quality mass-produced hamburgers, fries, and shakes.

                                                                              Those who agree with me on definition will also agree that "authentic" is pretty useless when it comes to describing food unless it is accompanied by enough other descriptors to render it superfluous. For me, whether a food is "authentic" isn't the question--the question is whether it's good. No probationary period necessary.

                                                                              1. re: alanbarnes

                                                                                "Those who agree with me on definition will also agree that "authentic" is pretty useless when it comes to describing food unless it is accompanied by enough other descriptors to render it superfluous. For me, whether a food is "authentic" isn't the question--the question is whether it's good. No probationary period necessary."

                                                                                I heartily agree Alan! Well said.

                                                                                1. re: alanbarnes

                                                                                  I'm all for food that schmecks.

                                                                                  But the lawyer in me wants to close some loopholes.Perhaps all dishes if "authentically" prepared should be awarded the distinction of a appellation controlée stamp on the menu, indicating that said dish was prepared with ingredients from the terroir of origin and cooked by approved methods (Mario Batali, anyone?).

                                                                                  1. re: mrbozo

                                                                                    AGREED. Recently the Mexican government has been working with 100 or so restaurants in the U.S. to get them Certified as "Authentic or Representative Mexican"

                                                                                    1. re: mrbozo

                                                                                      The problem with a legal definition of "authentic" is that it's nothing but a set of rules. And while a set of rules can control ingredients, their sources, and their methods of preparation, it can't guarantee the quality of the final product.

                                                                                      Case in point: Verace Pizza Napoletana has a certification program for pizzarias that serve "authentic" Neopolitan pizza. But I've eaten at one of the certified places, and there are plenty of uncertified places that make better--and equally authentic--Pizza Margherita.

                                                                                      A certification of authenticity would provide some information, but it wouldn't answer the ultimate question of whether, as you put it, the food schmecks. For that, you need food evangelists, not food bureaucrats.

                                                                            2. re: alanbarnes

                                                                              The remainder being when steel again strikes mud, your now- familiar giant sucking sound, Alan? :)

                                                                        3. There have been other similar threads I will state my opinion again.... when it comes to Mexican cuisine then the 'American' prefix is definitely a pejorative. Mexican cuisine in the U.S. was largely hijacked by three restaurant chains... El Cholo "Spanish" Cafe, El Torito, Taco Bell... they have way overly influenced all perception & expectation of Mexican cuisine in this country and have touched & in my opinion ruined 99.99% of menus (yup I am even including the "Authentic Taquerias"). Not because 'American' is a pejorative.. but those of us who are passionate & know the reality of Mexican cuisine in Mexico and its potential in the U.S.... know that Americans (at least those into the finer cuisines) would mostly prefer what Mexico has to offer if given a fair opportunity. Maybe its not beneficial to use such strong language... but I suspect those of us who know what we are talking about on this topic will continue to educate, inform & evangelize the American consumer particularly Chowhounders.

                                                                          So in conclusion... when it comes to Mexican cuisine... 99.99% of the time Authentic is superior to what it has devolved to NOB.

                                                                          11 Replies
                                                                            1. re: danhole

                                                                              I'm guessing North Of [the] Border.

                                                                            2. re: Eat_Nopal

                                                                              mexican food is american

                                                                              check a map

                                                                              1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                                                                Okay, devil's advocate here...

                                                                                First, I'm not going to try to defend the chain variety of corporate homogenized "Mexican" food. Those places are as appallingly bad as any other chains. Maybe worse.

                                                                                But there are legitimate "regional Mexican" cuisines that don't pay any attention to current political boundaries. For example, my forebears moved to northern New Mexico shortly after it was ceded to the US. And I have friends whose families were divided in the mid-19th century when it was decided that the international border was the Rio Grande, not the Nueces.

                                                                                Is the traditional food of Santa Fe or San Antonio any less "authentic" than that of Monterrey or Chihuahua? I think not. Has there been devolution north of the border? Absolutely. But devolution is not limited to the US--El Pollo Loco and Arrachera House aren't McDonald's or Chick-Fil-A, but they're not exactly "authentic" now, are they?

                                                                                Traditional food tells us something about a place. And I'm with you 100% that the typical American consumer fails to appreciate that fact, whether it's in the context of Veracruzano mariscos, Sardinian sheep's milk cheeses, or Lao sausages. Educate, inform, and evangelize away, but disparaging a cuisine just because it evolved north of what is an essentially arbitrary dividing line doesn't make a whole lot of sense.

                                                                                1. re: alanbarnes

                                                                                  wait a second..., there is a chain called Arrachera House? in what states are they located?

                                                                                  1. re: swsidejim


                                                                                    They're in food courts all over Mexico. They also have a US outpost in North Star mall in San Antonio, TX. Seriously, it's like a Mexican Sbarro.

                                                                                    1. re: alanbarnes

                                                                                      interesting, thanks for the info.

                                                                                      I had just never heard a chain named that.

                                                                                  2. re: alanbarnes

                                                                                    1) I like El Pollo Loco... quality is certainly no longer anywhere near what it was back in the 80's when lines would wrap around the block at the original's in the MacArthur Park and East L.A. areas. And sure the Corp that acquired has bastardized the menu quite a bit. But the Chicken & Salsa is still an Authentic represenatation of Sinaloa style grilled split chickens.

                                                                                    2) I am not at all disparaging New Mexican or Texan cuisine as a whole. I have a lot of respect particularly for many aspects of New Mexican cuisine (although I have met enough "Mexicans" who dislike Mexicans, and really consider themselves Hopi etc., and are upset to be labeled as Mexican-Americans... and of course most of the Spanish speaking founding families like the Albuquerques were really Crypto-Jews who have no regard, affiliation or warm fuzzies over Mesoamerican culture) because they are pretty gung ho about their traditions etc., But I have been to some of the famous Texas restaurants... and can't help but feel disappointed at the menus, execution, and ingredient choices.

                                                                                    The reality is... independent of New Mexico & Texas deep roots... most menus & the kitschy restaurant concepts they embody are so much closer to the template set by the gringo founded El Cholo Spanish Cafe back in 1920's Hollywood than anything I have encountered in Mexico. When I disparage Americanized Mexican... what I am really disparaging in is the typecast set by El Cholo, El Torito, Taco Bell and the affinity for the kitschy caricature of Mexican culture that Americans tend to consume... I am not disparaging Mexican Americans, Hopi Chicanos, Sephardic Mexican-Americans etc., I am however very disappointed at how repetitive and dominant certain restaurant concepts are.

                                                                                    My parents grew up in the Highlands of Jalisco... a large percentage of Mexicans in the L.A. area have the same ancestry... yet out of 5,000+ Mexican Restaurants in L.A.. there are only a handful that are reasonably representative of Highland's Jalisco (I actually can only think of Birrieria La Barca but I am assuming there might be a few others). The Cholo-Torito-Bell shadow is so large that almost all Mexican restaurants (with few exceptions) have to include some type of Burritos, Combination Plates etc.,

                                                                                    I am not asking for every restaurant to be something out of Mexico City... I would just to f___ing walk into a random place... and be to sit down to bowl of Frijoles de la Olla (made from recent harvest beans... a cultivar that represents the restarateurs roots not the same f___g old pinto beans)... they would be cooked in a Clay Pot... served with a decent wedge of Fresco, some Nopalitos, a decent salsa & handmade tortillas is so unreasonable? I have only found a few restaurants in all the West Coast that will do that - most staple & basic of Mexican meals - well (if at all).

                                                                                    Aside from that... I wish Mexican immigrants were more assertive in introducing their regional specialties... if you are going to make a burrito then make a f____g burrito but make it well... .lardy, hand made, paper thing tortillas... a killer guisado... no freaking rice, beans, guacamole, sour cream crap!

                                                                                    If you are going to make carnitas... make them well. If you are going to make Pozole than start with dried hominy... and give me the choice of meat that I want... cheeks & neck bones, thank you.

                                                                                    1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                                                                      FWIW, the original El Pollo Loco wasn't in LA, it was in Guasave. And they were all over northern Mexico before the first outpost opened NOB. At some point the US operations got sold off; quality did not benefit, but I still occasionally enjoy the food they serve on both sides of the border. My point is that it's a fast-food concept, albeit a well-conceived one, rather than a traditional cuisine.

                                                                                      I agree wholeheartedly that Mexican restaurants that serve delicious regional food tend to be the exception rather than the rule. And those exceptions tend to focus on more elaborate dishes than frijoles de olla with a wedge of queso.

                                                                                      As far as burritos go, I didn't know they existed in Mexican (as opposed to "Mexican") cuisine until I moved to California. They're apparently a northwestern thing.

                                                                                      And as for pozole--you're treading on my NM roots here. Don't even think about starting with dried hominy. Take dried corn and nixtamalize it your own dang self. Cal is cheap, and the process is easy as long as you don't insist on pozole sin cabeza. I'll save a slice of cheek meat for you.

                                                                                      1. re: alanbarnes

                                                                                        FWIW, the original El Pollo Loco wasn't in LA, it was in Guasave. And they were all over northern Mexico before the first outpost opened NOB.

                                                                                        You are absolutely right... didn't realize it was that prolific in Mexico... I had always thought they shut down in Mexico and then came to the States. I guess I need to travel Sinaloa a little more... well I will wait until things die down a bit... don't want to get caught in the same shopping center as El Chapo

                                                                                        1. re: alanbarnes

                                                                                          I guess I used hominy loosely.... I meant dried corn.

                                                                                  3. The inauthentic is always going to be with us. And it will flourish. Adapting a cuisine to the US usually means cost savings and more people will buy it because it is familiar.

                                                                                    If folks on Chowhound don't prize the authentic, than it will die out. In many cases this means adapting your palate and the way you eat to a different culture. But it is an effort that I have found deeply rewarding, and from what I read on this site, there are many others who agree.

                                                                                    1. the wonderful thing about this whole internet thing is how cultures and foods are getting into mash-ups and really interesting results occur.

                                                                                      and we arre the richer.

                                                                                      1. Who cares? If it tastes good then enjoy it, "authenticity" be damned.

                                                                                        1. Why do people become so exercised by a meaningless word?

                                                                                          Traditional cuisines are notorious for handing down food traditions orally. Few "ethnic groups" sit still in one place, undisturbed with perfectly reliable sources of supply for their groceries. Next door neighbors do not cook alike.

                                                                                          Yet, we expect to be able to glean, somehow, **THE CORRECT WAY** to cook a dish.


                                                                                          3 Replies
                                                                                          1. re: Big Bunny

                                                                                            Ok, here goes: personally, I don't know in many cases what makes something authentic. But when I hear continually about all of the wonderful food that is out there that isn't available where I live, my curiosity is piqued. I know I am about to embark on a voyage of discovery that will lead me hopefully a little bit closer to "that food which probably exists elsewhere" (since evidently the word 'authentic' is meaningless to you). In some cases, I do find gold in them thar hills. Maybe I can indeed find food that is the equivalent of "that food which others pine for." Or close. Or closer than what I would eat if I didn't try.

                                                                                            Fine, look at it as The Impossible Dream if you want. Or the Holy Grail. But I have had wonderful experiences by persevering. And yet, like the Knight of the Woeful Countenance, it still isn't good enough when faced with the harsh mirror of reality: I will still have to travel to China, France, and Malaysia to get the authentic stuff. There, I said it.

                                                                                            1. re: Steve

                                                                                              I imagine somewhere in China, right now there is a desperate soul posting on message boards trying to find Authentic American Fried Chicken... and some other person is probably feeling offended that Sino-ized has baggage to it... and wondering why its inauthentic to marinade the chicken in soy sauce, serve it with Gravy & Rice, and pork buns... or why KFC is not good enough (Americans eat there.. must be Authentic?).

                                                                                              1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                                                                                You needn't look that far. In the early days of the Internet, I remember searching on my 56K modem for recipes for authentic Southern fried chicken and American barbecue, crossing my fingers that there were no pictures of golden legs or glistening racks to slow down my page loading. Somehow I just didn't believe that Americans were eating their barbecue with soy sauce and anise.

                                                                                          2. One thing that has to affect ethnic foods in the US is the elimination of many foods as edible by many Americans. I'm continually surprised that even on CH there are those who don't like/would never eat tripe, liver, kidneys, brains, lung, heart, sweatbreads, eyeballs, anii, heads, whole fish, mutton, goat, goat's milk cheese, okra, bitter gourd, insects, sashimi, and the like. Many of these items are integral parts of "authentic".

                                                                                            1 Reply
                                                                                            1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                                                              Exactly... their not just integral parts of "Authentic" but to the vast majority of thus who are as open to those ingredients as we are to more accepted ingredients... we also find those ingredients to be superior in flavor, texture etc., than the more conventional ingredients.

                                                                                            2. I liked your rant and I see your point. I think maybe a better term would be "the original" method of preparing jambalaya, chili, or what have you.

                                                                                              Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

                                                                                              9 Replies
                                                                                              1. re: Chew on That

                                                                                                Hmmm. The problem with "original" is that dishes like chili, jambalaya, etc., evolved so there is no recipe that somebody created one day out of the blue.

                                                                                                I wish there was a term like "roots food" like "roots music" that captures the sense of a culture, time and place about music. Then the food becomes transportable within reason as long as you honor its roots.
                                                                                                The Preservation Hall Jazz Band can play in New Orleans, Paris or Beijing and its the same but if you add an electric keyboard, it's wrong.
                                                                                                I can make Jambalaya anywhere in the world that I can find rice and certain meats/seafood/vegetables. There are some that simply are NOT going in there. NO lobster, tofu, asparagus, mushrooms, cheese, etc. Nobody in South Louisiana would do that - at least they shouldn't.
                                                                                                I will do a Creole version with tomato or a Cajun-style without tomato. The Cajun gets served with runner beans on the side, the Creole without.
                                                                                                If someone in Wisconsin wants to make some rice dish with odd things and call it jambalaya, it's not my problem but they aren't honoring the "roots" of the dish.

                                                                                                1. re: MakingSense

                                                                                                  I hear you. My pet peeve in this regard is cassoulet. There are lots of variations on this wonderful dish, but chicken cooked with beans in a crock pot (yes, I've seen this called cassoulet!) isn't one of them.

                                                                                                  At some point you end up with Humpty Dumpty in Wonderland:

                                                                                                  `I don't know what you mean by "glory,"' Alice said.

                                                                                                  Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. `Of course you don't -- till I tell you. I meant "there's a nice knock-down argument for you!"'

                                                                                                  `But "glory" doesn't mean "a nice knock-down argument,"' Alice objected.

                                                                                                  `When _I_ use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, `it means just what I choose it to mean -- neither more nor less.'

                                                                                                  1. re: MakingSense

                                                                                                    Just for the record, I do NOT put bratwurst in my jambalaya. Usinger's happens to make a pretty good andouille-style sausage, and though someone out there is already saying "If it's made in Milwaukee, it aint andouille!", that's what I'm going to use.

                                                                                                    [I also contend that if the Cajuns had settled in Wisconsin instead of Louisiana, "traditional" jambalaya WOULD be made with bratwurst. But that's a topic for another thread, or an alternate history novel, or something.]

                                                                                                    [In fact, that's not a bad idea: the gentlemanly, agricultural South defeats the industrialized North in the War Between the States, and 150 years later, the most common phrase heard north of Chicago is "Hey, Y'all want any kraut on that bratwurst po boy?"]

                                                                                                    1. re: Fydeaux

                                                                                                      Everyone seems to respect the jambalaya-ers but not the sushi-ers.

                                                                                                      Many hounds think that I should just get over it in terms of California and Philidelphia sushi rolls: "Cream cheese and avocado are OK. Get with it!!"

                                                                                                      If I had the same attitude, I should be able to offer the following jambalaya!

                                                                                                      Minute rice, chicken hot dogs, ketchup, onion powder, celery salt, garlic powder, margarine, canned chicken product, canned tuna, and a packet of chile flakes from Pizza Hut.

                                                                                                      "Yippie do we got' go, me oh my oh, kin folk come fum 'way down on the bayoo, jambalay the cod fish pie, the filee gumbo, cus tonight I got a date with m' shad a mi oh....."

                                                                                                      For recipe details, please contact, Sam Etoufujisakaux, Bayou Pom Pom, Colouisiana.

                                                                                                      1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                                                                        While I understand the sentiment, I don't quite agree re sushi. In a way, california rolls, philadelphia rolls, dragon rolls, etc., are abominations compared to the austerity and tradition of edo-mae sushi, but it's not like these items were created in a gaijin vacuum. They were, for the most part, invented by Japanese chefs, trying to use whatever local ingredients they had on hand, and to please local tastes. Whether it was for the sake of originality or wimsy, these kinds of untraditional rolls were likely introduced first to the Japanese American community and later became a big hit with everyone else. I've had my fair share of california rolls as a kid in LA, perhaps because they were easy to make with ingredients most Japanese mothers could get at the market, and they found their ways onto the table, along with inari sushi, or kappa makis, or chirashi sushi, especially at picnics or potlucks. So, yeah, avocados, cream cheese, whatever... bring it on. But let's not confuse it for "good" sushi. When I was working in Japanese restaurants while I was in college (a few decades ago), I remember some of the young Japanese expat sushi chefs worked on creating new rolls, using all kinds of odd ingredients. They would give samples to the employees or some customers asking for feedback. But I guess the sushi world in the US was still a frontier back then, so there weren't so many rules to follow.

                                                                                                        Today, there's a whole new sushi world and a whole new sushi generation that can only identify sushi as these unorthodox "Americanized" rolls. Like you, I have a problem with this narrow-minded thinking. But I don't find it necessary to dismiss the fusion entirely. The early sushi chefs did their chefly duties to please their American customers by creating these "Americanized" rolls. It would be harsh to blame them for violating the integrity of a cuisine, but they were responsible for the growth of sushi's popularity.

                                                                                                        It must be like the Philly cheesesteak before and after the 1950s or 60s, whenever Cheez-Wiz became one of the main ingredients. I wonder if there was a lament for the old cheesesteaks made with real cheese, over the new-fangled cheese product. Though the recent generations of cheesesteak purists are on the Cheez-Wiz bandwagon, I still get mine "provolone wit'" (cheesesteak with provolone with grilled onions).

                                                                                                        Not quite a jambalaya made with alternative ingredients, but what do you think about this popular Korean spot that makes stews with hotdogs and spam, that was recently reviewed in the LA Weekly?

                                                                                                        1. re: E Eto

                                                                                                          Good points.

                                                                                                          When I was growing up in the 50s and 60s we never had non-traditional sushi. We had Central Fish on the old west side of Fresno and Urashima's grocery store way out in the sticks in the Valley for Japanese goods. One of my cousins had a Japanese restaurant in San Francisco's Japan Town. Another had a couple of small Japanese places (Dai Ichii) in Fresno. They served only traditional sushi plus more common everyday Japanese foods.

                                                                                                          I have to acept that cream-cheesed and avocadoed rolls exist and that people like them, just as many Hounds have stated their love of cheesesteaks with Wiz.

                                                                                                          It is simply interesting that the BBQers and jambalaya cooks are fully accepted in their indignation at any changes or alternatives.

                                                                                                          There is an important lesson for me in that hotdog - instant noodle - Spam Korean stew: I would eat and like it . . . but not as much as more traditional preparations.

                                                                                                          1. re: E Eto

                                                                                                            Agreed. And, to bring this point very much to home, how many people in the US of A have no clue as to what a good authentic burger is because they've been weaned on Mickey D and Burger Thing and their ilk?

                                                                                                            1. re: mrbozo

                                                                                                              When I was a kid back in the 60's my dad would go to the butchers and get some high quality meat (don't know what it was) freshly ground, bring it home and that was a US of A burger. Before we had the burger, though, we had a bit of meat, raw, with chopped onion and salt, as an appetizer. My mom thought that was gross, but we scarfed it down. Burgers were med rare! When I first had a McD's burger, I wondered what the heck that was all about. UGH!

                                                                                                              Flash forward tot he 80's with 2 little girls of my own. I made our burgers at home. When I finally tried to introduce them to a fast food burger, they had the same reaction I did - what the heck. To this day neither of them eat burgers unless they are made at home. Their homes, now, but they learned from a master, who learned from her daddy.

                                                                                                        2. re: Fydeaux

                                                                                                          Dear Fydeaux, I long since gave up trying to find decent andouille outside of my native South Louisiana. I usually compromise with a good coarse garlic-y kielbasa. Works for us.

                                                                                                          Did you know that the original po'boy used shredded cabbage, not the lettuce commonly used now? Not sure if that's from the Germans who arrived in the early 1700s, before the Cajuns, or from the Irish immigrants. Or simply because lettuce doesn't grow well in the heat of South Louisiana.
                                                                                                          Some old timey places still use it and we serve cabbage when we make po-boys at home. My grandmother always did.

                                                                                                    2. I'll add in my $0.02 about the issue of authenticity.

                                                                                                      On one hand, I like to eat "authentic" ethnic food. "Authentic" means that a dish 1) is prepared the way it might be in its country of origin, and 2) is recognizable to those from its native culture, and ideally, will bring back memories of home for them.

                                                                                                      But from another point of view, "inauthentic" isn't bad, either. Western-style Chinese, Italian-American, Anglo-Indian, etc. are all valid cuisines, or variations thereupon. If you think about how what we now consider "authentic" ethnic dishes came to be, it was often by importing a similar dish from a different culture and adapting it to local ingredients and tastes. You can find sambusas in East Africa, samosas in India, and samsas in Western China...similar but different, all variations on what was originally Persian.

                                                                                                      3 Replies
                                                                                                      1. re: tvdxer

                                                                                                        Of course you're right. I don't understand the folks who think it is a sham to call something authentic. Or that it shows a lazy mind. For the people who come from there, whether that means Mexico, Malaysia, or the Lower East Side, they can spot the other stuff a mile away.

                                                                                                        On the other hand, I agree there are adaptations that taste damn good, and they sometimes become a delicious food group in their own right.

                                                                                                        For me a fundamental question is, can I expand my horizons and break away (at least partially) from the chains of conditioning? And if I can, what foods that I previously thought were pretty good are now the opposite?

                                                                                                        1. re: Steve

                                                                                                          *Sigh* OK, here's the deal Steve. I think what you do is absolutely excellent. I'm all for learning about foodways (as I state many times) and I'm all about learning how foods are prepared and eaten in their country of origin. And I, too, think that delicious is great.

                                                                                                          My problem is not with any of this. I simply mean that the WORD 'authentic' has been stretched to the point of near meaninglessness and that it requires the specific definitions you have given.

                                                                                                          An example: Someone asked for 'authentic' food recommendations when visiting a particular nation. I asked what was meant and what that person sought (especially as my rec for a place with traditional fare that was eaten by locals and had been around for decades did not satisfy. When someone begins to ask for 'authentic' food in the place of its origin and making, I do start to wonder what's going on. Advice for 'not a tourist trap' seems different, as some places can serve traditional fare that isn't as good and that is expensive for its proximity to popular tourist spots. Thus they can be authentic while still being bad and overpriced, dig?
                                                                                                          I'm simply talking about the word and the problems of specificity-- not the desire to learn as much as possible. I find it a true shame if my communications are so poor, they have failed to communicate this. Goes to show I should spend more time crafting a post.

                                                                                                          1. re: Lizard

                                                                                                            Well, I guess the word is not meaningless to me; I perfectly understand it when someone wants authentic French food, even in France(!), since I have eaten in places that have bastardized the food for the tourist trade. And I don't think I am alone. I willingly accept the explanations of Passadumkeg, tvdxer, Sam Fujisaka, and quite a few others, even if they are not all exactly the same.

                                                                                                            There are plenty of words that have very complex meanings, but it does not make them meaningless: justice, truth, love, change.

                                                                                                            Still, I realize the difficulty in not coming to accord on the meaning of words. I am reminded of Charlotte Corday's haunting song in Weiss's Marat/Sade:

                                                                                                            "Once both of us saw the world must go
                                                                                                            and change as we read in great Rousseau;
                                                                                                            But change meant one thing to you, I see,
                                                                                                            And something quite different to me."

                                                                                                            See link below:


                                                                                                      2. When one comes from recent ethnic immigrant stock, "authentic" is the way grand mom or mom made it. "American" is the way it is made in a restaurant by folks not of that ethnic group or too far removed from it.

                                                                                                        1 Reply
                                                                                                        1. re: Passadumkeg

                                                                                                          Ever hear this Jewish joke? (Short version!Maybe someone has a better version...)) "Ah, bubbe's (grandma's) "short" roast" "aaaaaaahh, mamele's short roast" ""So you know what REALLY happened? Grandma's oven was so small, she just cut the end off!"!

                                                                                                        2. LA's pulitzer prize winning esoteric eater, Jonathan Gold, will be addressing this very topic at a free lecture.


                                                                                                          Mr Taster