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Bourdain asks: Why Can't We Have That Here?

*WARNING* to the Authenticity Police: Authenticity is discussed here!

In our previous discussions, we've hit upon the thought that you can never actually replicate a particular food experience from one place and time in another. This has gone several places - some of us think that new traditions have to evolve based on the new ingredients, cultures, geography. Some of us think that it's a matter of sufficient volume - get enough people thinking along the lines of the authentic experience, with sufficient knowledge and understanding, and the food becomes more authentic.

Tony Bourdain voices these thoughts in his blog about the Spain show. He speaks to the wonderful food he had in Spain, Japan and other locations and asks, why can't we have that here? He says:

"Why can't I have that? How come I gotta go halfway across the earth -- to like, Singapore, or Hong Kong (or Spain), for instance, to really get MY culinary jollies these days? He's on a magic carpet ride in his own town and I'm like a full-bloom junkie, the honeymoon period over, needing a higher and higher dosage to get off in MY home town of New York!. Why?

The sad fact is, we'll never -- and I mean NEVER have it so good as in Spain. It's not like we don't have great restaurants in Manhattan - -and will surely have many more. And certainly, we can get many of the same ingredients jetted over (more or less -- if at a steep price). No. It's attitudinal. You can faithfully reproduce the look of a Spanish tapas bar in New York City. You can stock it with all the best, most authentic ingredients, just-jerked from the rivers, streams, soil and seas of Spain. You can staff the joint with the best cooks, dragooned off the streets of the parta vieja. And you'll still never be close to the real thing. Because what your tapas bar needs -- really needs -- is three or four or eight OTHER tapas bars (or casual Spanish eateries within walking distance)."

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  1. And a bunch of spaniards lounging about discussing futbol and the corrida etc to make it really authentic.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Phaedrus

      Discussing ... tennis, Formula1, motoGP, ...

    2. We also have health codes and fire codes that limit what restaurants can do.

      "Authentic" usually means "the way mom made it." Leads to some very confusing discussions. "Traditional" is less subjective.

      2 Replies
      1. re: Robert Lauriston

        But see, when Tony says, "You can stock it with all the best, most authentic ingredients, just-jerked from the rivers, streams, soil and seas of Spain.", I have absolutely no problem at all understanding his meaning. He could have said "traditional" or "classic", but he said authentic, because that's what he probably meant - authentic, as in the genuine article, from the place he had just been to.

        I honestly have come to see this anti-authenticity movement here at chowhound as reverse snobbery, bordering on bigotry. I'm not specifically referring to you or your post, but to so many people ganging up on those that use the term. Some people are as righteous about the so-called misuse of authenticity as they might be about religion. It's a descriptor. It's often misused. Like delicious or tasty or yummy or wonderful or whatever other food adjective is overused and misused in everything from marketing to poorly written reviews. It carries a denotation of superiority - as if inauthentic food is inferior. But to me, that's a part of the description. Some food is indeed inferior - not necessarily in deliciousness or size or spiciness or any other descriptor, but in that one factor of being authentic.

        Tony feels that nothing is going to be the authentic experience of the originating place. You can't replicate Spain or Japan in NYC, even if you bring the ingredients and the chefs. You have to bring the attitude (and the culture) - it's the clientele. Phaedrus is right - whether its Spaniards with the futbol or Japanese salarymen with their shinbun opened up to the basubol page, you can't get the real thing without the real clientele.

        I think that if you accept that experience as being authentic, then you can extract the food you might get during that authentic experience (and there would be a broad range of types and preparations as you went down the street from one Tapas bar to the other) and relate to it as authentic to that experience. More to the point, food that you would not see in that place and time would not be authentic. It's a useful descriptor.

        1. re: applehome

          I think the operative word here is "experience".

          Without getting too far into the debate, the metaphor I think about regarding this discussion is "camping and how food tastes better in the outdoors." In this case it's about the whole experience because you're still eating hot dogs and canned beans...and yet there's some truth to it being better in that particular context.

          Regarding the reverse snobbery of "authentic", I see that and I think it's a reaction to years of yuppies, minor league intellectuals and such looking (here in the U.S.) for the most authentic and being bent and snobby when the they don't find it. Funny I was on a commuter train listening to college students talk about food and something else and they used the word next to authentic - validity. I wanted to laugh but it's a phase.

          For me there's authentic and that's a good thing and if I can get some, I say most excellent. The objection to "authentic" is the "validity" argument that because it's different it's no good...which might be the case but why get into it?

          I mean use some common sense. It's like ex-pat NY'er on the West Coast going on about bagels, deli and pizza which gets annoying. You're never going to find those things on the West Coast like in NY...just like you're not going to find decent Mexican food in NYC. The difference is if the "authentic" card is called and debated.

          Conversely the best line I've heard regarding all of this was from a transplanted Southern in NorCal eating some BBQ. All he said was, "that wasn't to my liking." I understood perfectly what he meant.

      2. One point that goes against our food culture is that we as a country have been around for a little over a couple hundred years. We don't have multiple centuries of culture-building to establish and build our own food culture that is of similar depth to that of many other countries and cultures.

        Another issue is that the we have always been a country of immigrants whose pasts were typically disenfranchised and from many paths throughout the globe. I think this impacts our food culture in at least two ways. One is the vast majority of immigrants that come here in the initial wave are mostly poor and often removed from the heart of their home country's cultural elite and privileged. Because they were poor, they probably didn't spend their afternoons leisurely sipping, eating, and chatting in the local eateries of note. Levels of cuisine like omakase, kaiseki, and even izakaya, dim sum, and tapas are true luxuries beyond the reach of most of those who In essence, would be considered peasants or of a similar socioeconomic category. Those that are relatively well-off or some how or another connected to those who are (ie, those who would cater to the middle and upper classes) have little or no incentive to emigrate. Consequently, the vast majority of immigrants didn't bring levels of food culture beyond their means with them, and those that did initially found little or no support for these higher levels of eating - their surrounding communities didn't have the economic means to indulge.

        Moreover, because the US is so multicultural, I think it is difficult for one predominant food culture to arise that is of the depth and breadth of those that have been mentioned, except in some geographic areas where there is a true dominant culture, like the San Gabriel Valley, York Avenue in LA, Little Havana, parts of Louisiana, etc.

        Our country's ethnocentrism also kept us very close-minded and naive toward cuisines until very recently - maybe since pioneers like Julia Childs and recent waves of immigrants with their food cultures opened our eyes as a relatively shallow food nation to the world of cuisines that lay beyond our borders.

        Over the past one or two decades the explosion of food media has truly whet the appetites and curiosity of so many people in this country that now we can't get enough of anything. I think in time there will be a fair amount of give-and-take in food and its importance and place in our everyday lives, and this evolution will eventually allow us to one day have it here as well...

        7 Replies
        1. re: bulavinaka

          You're right about the multiculturalism. Where we have pockets of great food, it is because of strong monolithic cultures - from pastrami on the lower east side, to whole pig que in the low country, to boudin and gumbo (and everything else) in Nola. The more we get away from those pockets, the more we get into chains and mediocre foods - places that try to replicate the foods that originated elsewhere, and do it inauthentically, presumably because they know no better, or because they're saving a buck. But the real reason they make the food so poorly is that the clientele lets them, because they know no better, or because it isn't important enough to them to have authentic food.

          I'm not sure that the explosion of food media will really help that much. For every person that watches Tony or Mario, there are dozens that watch Sandra Lee and Rachel Ray. For every hour of great food on PBS, there must be 10 of crap on TVFN.

          When Tony blames attitude, I wonder if America's core culture - the one that all the newcomers emulate and eventually become part of - is actually a very negative one when it comes to adventurous eating and the whole idea of living to eat. That core comes from the WASP, strong work-ethic, hard-nosed and no-nonsense, prude, and generally xenophobic and provincial. They don't travel - certainly not out of the country. It's a core that long ago rejected offal and endorsed prepared and fast foods. These are certainly the majority of Americans I know - in Oklahoma as well as New England. 2nd or 3rd generations of virtually every immigrant culture morph into this. It's not clear to me that today's youth is any better, that the future is any brighter.

          Perhaps Tony is right - we'll always have to go to elsewhere for the authentic food experience. Developing our own great food culture, other than in the pockets, is not going to happen any time soon.

          I honestly think that education about authentic food is important. Not traditional, not historical, not classic - but authentic. We shouldn't misuse authentic - it doesn't mean any one particular way to do anything. But it does mean something that has not been modified with shortcuts and low quality ingredients, or to meet inaccurate expectations or undeveloped tastes. The more pockets of authentic foods we can create in America, the better the food we'll all eat. If we want our food and our food culture to improve, we can't keep being happy that california rolls were invented for Americans - we need to learn to appreciate authentic sushi.

          1. re: applehome

            Some people take great leaps into food culture, some take little steps, some take a twisted path where fate bestows them the great favor, and for many, well, many never get it. And remember this is true for many in those areas that we've mentioned as well... Not everyone in countries with great food cultures are well-versed, participate in, or have great respect for their own food cultures for tons of reasons. East Asians in general are notorious for popping open a container of Cup Noodles, pouring hot water in, and calling that lunch - even dinner.

            I think Mister Bourdain is a gifted host. But I think the flaw that his show leaves us with is that this or that place in the world has great food culture - why can't we have it too? This leaves us and our country feeling somewhat barren. And rightfully so. Another issue is that we can't just slice out and bring home a piece of their culture - in this case food - and leave the rest of it back there. Both you and I have touched on this already - "Developing our own great freat food culture, other than in pockets, is not going to happen any time soon." Again, these great food cultures have evolved over many centuries, through hardship, pain, revolutions, invasions, beauty, art, waves of stability and creativity followed by ebbs of repression and dogma. When I think of great cities in Europe and Asia, I first think of the buildings. Some of these have been around before the the birth of Christ. And some of these buildings have more history to them than our entire country's history. These cultures have a huge head start on us.

            I do think that the people of today in general have a relatively short attention span. And a lot of this has to do with the media. And this short attention span definitely plays against our country's ability to establish any cohesiveness, any thread of culture or tradition that is passed on from generation to generation, that is vital in creating and perpetuating a great food culture.

            I don't have cable or DirecTV - I only catch many of the great and not-so-great shows occasionally - but am a huge fan of PBS. And my kids also enjoy PBS, who surprisingly enjoy many of the food shows as well. And I think this is one of the keys to growing and perpetuating the food culture here. It begins with adults, but adults need to pass it on to their kids as well. And this means taking the pains of going to restaurants and other food experiences that the kids may not initially appreciate. Or taking them to a restaurant that may be borderline about accommodating young ones. We haven't batted a thousand, but our batting percentage definitely increases as each of our two kids get older, and instead of wanting to eat pizza with that frickin' comic rat at the money pit disguised as a pizza parlor, they choose ethnic food or want to join us adults in cheese, fruit, charcuterie sans the wine - they still like Coke. But Mexican Coke with sugar cane. My personal experience has been that if we are fortunate enough to have developed an appreciation for better food, and if we are responsible enough to pass this on, along with the understanding of its cultural importance to our young ones, then there's a good chance that they will do the same.

          2. re: bulavinaka

            Without multiculturalism and the food it brings...California and many places would still be nice but it wouldn't be the same. Thinking about California without Mexican, Asian, Middle Eastern...why that's depressing.

            1. re: ML8000

              I couldn't agree more. But I think within the context of the OP's post, I think multiculturalism hinders the ability for our country to develop A (as in single) food culture in the short term. But it definitely argues for the point that many fruitful branches of food culture will hopefully continue to grow. My fear, as mentioned already, is that immigrants often bring these food cultures with them. But the problem is following generations emulate into the "mainstream" American culture - whatever that may be - and may or may not continue the traditions and the businesses that may keep those traditions alive. Think about how hard it is to competently run a great dim sum house in the San Gabriel Valley. It is all immigrants - I don't see their kids wanting to follow in their paths, from line cooks, to servers, etc. And their parents probably don't want them to either. "Go to school, study hard, become a doctor..."

              1. re: bulavinaka

                That's actually very insightful. You can't replicate the food authentically without the culture, and you can't replicate the culture where all the social systems, constraints and benefits, no longer apply.

                I also appreciate what you said about our kids, above. We, as first generation parents, can't replicate what we grew up with - our kids will not be of the culture we are. But we can pass on as much as we can of appreciating not only our particular foods, but of understanding the value of authenticity from all cultures. This doesn't mean that they must never eat at Olive Garden or PF Chang, but that they appreciate and hold a special place in their hearts for a great salumeria in Little Italy, or a great sichuan restaurant. Maybe they'll get to travel where we haven't, and experience the authentic foods we have yet to try. And maybe that'll be enough, if not to stop America's continual slide into the world of chinese restaurant sushi tacos and bratwurst quesadillas, at least to insure the continuation of pockets of authentic foods.

                hmmm... bratwurst quesadillas... I'm gonna have to try that... maybe some kraut, a little cheese (wisconsin, of course)...I can see it now - a tour guide in 2200, "And now we come to Boston where legend says that the bratwurst quesadilla comes from!"

                1. re: applehome

                  Hmmm... bratwurst might work - maybe even weisswurst with an apple sauce reduction with calvados, topped with gruyere, folded into a tortilla studded with mustard seeds only available at a 22nd century redeux of Taco Bell? Might that be Mister Bourdain's vision of what fast food should be like here?!?!

                  I think many of us Chowhounds are like-minded in so many ways - we just have connected different dots from different sides of the board on the same gigantic puzzle. Bottom line is we all want great food, what ever that may be, and want it now! Mister Bourdain only has so much time on each show to get his points across, but I'm sure he's given this thread's issue a lot of thought - especially while he's crossing the Atlantic or the Pacific (and probably going crazy that he can't have a smoke!) - and has probably come to some similar lines of logic.

                  In my eyes, what he poses is more rhetorical, maybe even a challenge to all interested to never settle for anything less than the best as an eater, a restauranteur, a chef, a provider, etc. He wants everyone to have great passion for life and for everything that feeds into the chain of events where the cumulative set of traditions and values is leached out and personified in depth of food culture at least equal to those others that he is so in admiration of.

                  Will this country ever rise to this level? If Brittney Spears is the best we can do for cultural icons, if "Fast Food Nation" ultimately becomes our nation's food epitaph, and if George Dubbayah is an example of the depth of our leadership, we have a long way to go...

            2. re: bulavinaka

              Having spent the weekend hopping from a Korean supermarket in L.A. to a Japanese one and a pan-Asian one and having recently been to the one in Thaitown, it struck me that it's not just Americans who are sometimes craving "authenticity" in cuisine (leaving the debate about that word alone).

              I've had great Asian food, prepared fresh, not Americanized. And these stores were filled with Asian ripoffs and convenience foods sold to the immigrant communities that shop there. (I knew that, but the trip really reinforced it.) The frozen dumplings are every bit as "Ore-Ida frozen french fries" as anything the U.S. can offer up. Looking at the sauces aisles, possibly by some exponent.

              Fortunately these stores have the fresh ingredients from which to make one's own, too.

              I'm not criticizing people who would buy the frozen stuff and eat that - everybody's got a different point of view on what they want from their food, a different budget and amount of available time and skill. When I'm hungry, I'll go for a convenience food too.

              Heck, Tony could have said "why can't we have that here" about authentic American food in its many varieties... it's still around but gets harder and harder to find in the radio noise of all the faux and fast bastardizations of food out there now. To some degree that must be happening in Tokyo, Hong Kong, etc., looking at the commercial brands available with not so hot ingredients.

              Then there's the drastic difference in ingredients from place to place, which speaks to the 'why can't we get that here' question. Would love to see Bourdain trace what changes about a cuisine as it's interpreted in other lands. Thread on that is here, partly a rant about peas in Thai red curry and wondering if they were a desperate foreign substitution or simply some misguided but authentic application:

              But yeah, even Chinatowns aren't China.

            3. Folks, this has been most interesting and entertaining. I really enjoyed the discussion. I feel like I am watching "My Dinner With Andre" again except its all about food. Kudos to all.

              1 Reply
              1. re: Phaedrus

                I think your simply stated first entry summed it all up... Thanks

              2. As my parents (who are from Europe) remarked to me this evening, "The service here is over the top; every 2 minutes a waiter stops by to pour more wine from your bottle, ask 3-4 questions, or ask if you need anything else. If you decline dessert, the bill arrives. Not only do you feel on-edge but you are in and out within 60 minutes."

                At least when it comes to French and Spanish restaurants, the US culture is such that it is hard to replicate the authentic, relaxed atmosphere of a European eating experience.

                4 Replies
                1. re: ooroger

                  "Not only do you feel on-edge but you are in and out within 60 minutes."

                  I think this sentence sums up a lot about the difference of food in the US and most other parts of the world. Here in the US people don't take the time to eat. For them, they eat to live. In most other parts of the world (Europe, Asia) people live to eat. Coming myself from Europe I still have problems here in the US that in nearly every restaurant you feel rushed and it is hard for me to meet any America who is willing to sit for 2-3 hours to have a nice meal (and I am not talking about a tasting menu but just a simple meal of appetizer, entree and perhaps dessert). Most people in the US still don't see food as a joy but just something you have to do from time to time. As long as this attitude doesn't change there will never be a real food culture in the US.

                  1. re: honkman

                    Short meals are not limited to the US. Most restaurants I ate in while I lived in Japan, outside of izakaya where you pay to eat and/or drink for x amount of hours, got parties in and out within the span of 30-45 minutes. Students are expected to eat their school lunches in about 15 minutes. Japan still has a very strong food culture despite having shorter meals. You can still enjoy eating without spending 2-3 hours at a time doing it.

                    1. re: queencru

                      There are of course also short meals in Europe, e.g, students and their school lunches or workers during a 30 minutes break but I was talking about the mindset to be able to enjoy long meals because of the food. I missing this kind of mindset with many Americans who are often not patient in a restaurant and want to have their food as fast as possible and be out of the restaurant as soon as possible. If the majority of people have this mindset about food you will never het the same food culture as in most countries in Europe or Asia

                    2. re: honkman

                      Yes, it's often disappointing. I remember when in Nice for a conference many years ago, recommending La Merenda to some fellow American attendees. They did go, coming in a few minutes after me that evening. They also ate quickly and were gone, while I lingered an hour longer and ended up socializing with an Italian doctor and her friend who were in town on holiday.

                  2. So people who don't live in spain are not living in Spain. People who live in northern Spain are not getting the authentic food of southern Spain.People who live in Madagascar are not getting the authentic food of the Azores. People who live in one home in New Orleans are not getting the authentic jambalaya of the home next door. So what?

                    11 Replies
                    1. re: mpalmer6c

                      "So people who don't live in spain are not living in Spain."
                      Some may be so bold as to admire from afar...

                      "People who live in northern Spain are not getting the authentic food of southern Spain."
                      Regional pride and geography has created wonderful food and wine in Spain - probably some of the most passionate in the world.

                      "People who live in Madagascar are not getting the authentic food of the Azores."

                      Portugal was a major trading partner with Madagascar centuries ago - this single thread between Madagascar and the Azores coupled with their geographic dissimilarities (the two are diagonally separated by Africa) probably explains that to a certain degree. Also, Madagascar's more recent exposure to Eurpope was with England and France. In recent history, Madagascar made a point of siding with the world's most radical political regimes, thereby isolating itself politically as well as socially.

                      "People who live in one home in New Orleans are not getting the authentic jambalaya of the home next door."

                      According to a former workmate who is generations deep in New Orleans, "every family swears that their version of jambalaya (and gumbo) is the best in Nu' Ohluns..."

                      "So what?"
                      Sorry we didn't inspire something more... :)

                      1. re: bulavinaka

                        Re: Madagascar: Peoples of the Central Highlands are a mixture originating from what is now Indonesia and Africa. Lanaguages have structures and many cognates from Malayo-Indonesian. Agriculture is rice based and similar to SE Asia. Foods in the countryside are simple, Asia-like, although with more beans.

                        1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                          I do the rough sketchwork - you are the true artist who fills in the colors and detail work! Thanks, Sam, and please consider writing a (few) books about your life's experiences - they truly need to be documented and shared...

                      2. re: mpalmer6c

                        When we discuss food (or anything else), we need to use a common vocabulary - one where all parties involved agree on the meaning of the terms used. People have argued against the use of the word authentic because it seems nebulous and it is often used to indicate a superiority. But it can be used effectively to describe a dish or cuisine, and it can carry valid meaning, even including the idea of a dish being superior in the sense that it is more authentic. That doesn't mean that it's more delicious, more spicy or anything else, but only that it conforms more to what is genuine and true for that time and place.

                        It's wrong, in my opinion, to define authentic as there being only one authentic version. That's why I disagreed with Lauriston - authentic isn't how your mother made it. Authentic has a much broader meaning - that of a regional cuisine of a time and place. There are many different versions of every dish, but there are commonly accepted forms that can be recognized as being from that time and place. More importantly, there are dishes and variations of dishes that would never (or rarely) be served in that time and place, which if presented as a product of that time and place would be inauthentic. Dishes can be inauthentic because an ingredient would never have been available there. Or they can be inauthentic because modifications in technique or process have been made that would never have been done there.

                        So people making different versions from house to house, or from Tapas bar to Tapas bar, or from Itamae to Itamae aren't the main issue when discussing authenticity. It's when you try to replicate the food outside of the region that it becomes a greater issue.

                        The question becomes - is it even possible to make something authentic outside of the original time and place? Tony's quote argues that it isn't. But is it worth trying? Should you try to make the most authentic version of a dish that you can, given that you cannot actually have the true authentic experience? Or should you simply say that you should not even have the dish, or just make up something sort of like it and call it that dish?

                        From the perspective of an immigrant that's hoping to have that dish again as authentically as possible, the response is obviously that you try to replicate it. Having moved here from Japan in 1962 and watched my Japanese mother trying her best at finding even the most basic acceptable rice (no calrose yet in Massachusetts, just long grain South Carolina river rice), I can tell you that the next 10 years were most frustrating - and interesting. As more and more foods came in from Japan, as US rice growers grew the types of rice that Japanese (and other Asians) preferred, my mother's cuisine became more authentic. Of course, food in Japanese restaurants became more authentic as well - but therein lies the other part of this issue.

                        Quality pokes up its ugly head. It's not that authentic = quality, but that bad products are often inauthentic, because the maker simply didn't care to meet the standards of authenticity. If his clientele can't tell the difference, why bother using more expensive ingredients, or more timestaking processes?

                        The local food culture makes a big difference. Where people appreciate their own authentic foods, they may be more likely to work at appreciating other people's authentic foods. So the question comes down to what do we have here in America today? Do we have curious, interested clientele that will demand the most authentic foods, or do we have a general population that will simply eat anything labeled sushi in a restaurant where it's served by Asians? Is Mexican food for most Americans supposed to be nothing more than slushy margaritas and an enchilada combination #3 with parboiled rice and canned beans?

                        We can't all travel around the world like Tony. If we could, we might just dismiss the entire issue of authenticity in America. But for those of us that can't travel around the world on a whim, it would be nice to have access to some level of authentic food - especially for those of us who have had the food at these places, either because we grew up there, or we got a chance to travel there in the past.

                        It's worth it to us to have these discussions - to learn what others feel about this issue. There's just so much out there that passes for ethnic or foreign food that is not authentic. I understand that there are a lot of folks saying, hey I like my california roll next to my pupu platter - and there's nothing wrong with those ritas. But the true hound will be interested in more, I think. Maybe he's been watching Bourdain and others, and even if he's never actually traveled to these places, the idea of having a real sushi experience, or opening a $150 can of fatty clams at a Tapas bar - might be just authentic enough, for now.

                        1. re: applehome

                          applehome, your early experiences mirror mine in Colombia. I have to hand carry (as I just did night before last coming back from DC) foods to maintain the Japanese kitchen I grew up with in California. I brought back Kokuho rice, ume, wakame, dried anchovies, and canned eel. On other trips I have to bring back dried shiitakes, nori, hon-dashi, green tea, waterchesnuts, bamboo shoots, and so on.

                          1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                            Sam - just our of curiosity, do you know when (about) what we call cal-rose rice was grown in California? Did it have anything to do with the Japanese-American population, or was it something that just happened out of other reasons for diversity and the JA population just latched onto it. I've always wondered why it's pretty much "our" rice and is wonderful in terms of the stickiness and starchiness - and yet, it's actually quite different from Japonica, and anything that the Japanese would consider true rice (gohan). I love that they still sell powders and additives for when you "have to" buy American rice.

                            1. re: applehome

                              Cal-Rose is a Japonica. Japonicas have been grown in the Delta of California since the Japanese arrived in the late 1800s. Scale increased after WWII. The Japanese were the first rice farmers, followed by hakujin agri-businesses. The Japanese rejected California rices for protectionist reasons--it was always a huge priority to be rice self-sufficient in Japan. When the market was finally opened, the Japanese in blind tasting tests found that the California rices were every bit as good as their rices. Even I have to admit that Kokkuho or Koda Brothers is as good as Fujisaka 5 ( a cold tolerant variety bred at the Fujisaka station in Hokkaido).

                              1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                I didn't know that - I thought that Cal-rose was a medium grain, while japonicas (eg - Koshikari) are short grain. Is that just part of variation within a type?

                                1. re: applehome

                                  In the world of rices, I think Cal-Rose fits right in with other Japonicas. It is certainly Japonica in term of low amylose, higher opacity--and, of couorse, genetically.

                        2. re: mpalmer6c

                          To MPalmer6C's "So people who don't live in spain are not living in Spain... So what?"

                          The so what is the Marco Polo problem.

                          You taste something once, fall in love with it, and it's three years and the price of a house till you can get it again, if your countries aren't at war and the person going to get it survives the trip.

                        3. Here's another perspective of another food author's in Hong Kong who compares won ton noodle soup in his home country versus that of what he's eaten in various Chinatowns in USA, Canada, London.

                          His conclusion, authentic Hong Kong style won ton noodles cannot be replicated overseas. You can import the look and feel of a restaurant, experienced chefs/talent, and even ingredients. But for some reason the end result will be vastly different. This will happen even if you can do the impossible, like import the weather, humidity, air pressure, factors that might affect quality indirectly ie, the physical location of a shop including pipes/drainage/gas/exhaust, and the customers/local residents who eat at your nearby tables (just to go that far to replicate the atmosphere of a restaurant).

                          So it is not just an American's point of view that the old world food culture is superior to the new world's version, even the old world author thinks the same when he vists out of town.

                          Random factors that attribute to this (some are my thoughts)

                          - competition is fierce in the old world. People there hold an accustomed standard of how won ton noodles soup should really be. That viewpoint or standard is different in the US/Canada.

                          - the competition has been doing it for generations and years, especially the ones of the highest repute. You want to learn from someone in the old world so you can recreate that in the new world? Spend 10+ years or so (e.g. sushi chef old school type apprenticeship), if you are lucky to get someone to teach you the arts. In a world where time doesn't wait, most business folks can't afford this investment.

                          - competition forces one to innovate to some extent in order to survive, and as a result put in a lot of effort, labor, ingredients, time, and as a result raise new and different standards. Another example I can raise is dim sum. You can find all sorts of new wacky cool looking and tasting dim sum in Hong Kong (really really innovative). Some border on uber high end like abalone or lobster siu mai. Yet to recreate something like that overseas, an order might cost a customer US$25 (certainly the average joe isn't going to shell out that much to eat 3 pieces for a pork version that will run them $3 to $4). Many restaurant mangars in the US would rather err on the side of caution to satisfy a wider base, and just stick with basics. As a result innovation is deemed as a time waster (in case of failure of being a hit). So yes file this one under attitude.

                          - the cost to make the same thing overseas for some reason is much much higher. People as a result to shave costs don't want to invest that level of time and detail. Let's take the example of the bamboo pole egg noodles in the Hong Kong episode of No Reservations, one of the key ingredients in the noodles having that fine golden tone is duck egg. I noticed one place in San Francisco that claimed to use bamboo pole kneaded egg noodles in their won ton noodle soup, theirs contain likely bare minimum chicken eggs and arguably no duck eggs, as the color and tones look (and thus taste) completely different. Am I the only one to point out the duck egg thing? Maybe. But the locals are eating it up because their standards are lowered, the restaurant is new to them, hey the restaurant is marketing bamboo pole noodles, they're not going to raise much of a stink.

                          At some point you just have to stop and take it as it really is. If you worry too much then just save up for your next trip overseas and concentrate on what you deem to be acceptable. Some people dislike personalities like Bourdain because he is as they say compulsive obsessive disorder and if you nitpick everything and tear it apart you will find no enjoyment in life.

                          Actually Bourdain is wrong about Japanese food in NY. Maybe nobody told him about Masa NYC (even if it is ridiculously priced) and Yasuda for sushi, Sugiyama for kaiseki and many finer lesser known eateries. Then again it is a matter of perspective.

                          6 Replies
                          1. re: K K

                            New York had its heydey in terms of diversity of authentic Japanese food back in the 80's and 90's when the town was full of Salarymen and Izakayas. You could walk into an Izakaya and smell the oden and the bincho charcoal lit up and smoking with the dripping, sizzling fat from the yakitori and yakiton. That arena has sadly shrunk. What I think we have come down to are some very good high end places - not necessarily authentic in ingredients, but more so in spirit. But I can't afford any of those places now, so I really can't comment on how good they are.

                            1. re: applehome

                              You bring up a good point about very good high end places, which in the case of Japanese food seems to be the trend here should you seek the closest available "authentic" experience.

                              In my area there are some really good Japanese restaurants. Unfortunately they have as you said, become high end, and as authentic as they try to be (which they do put in the effort and have the spirit to do so), the result is that something that is theoretically cheaper or close to that in Japan is considered pricey over here.

                              For example would one pay $10 for a bowl of chicken and egg over rice (oyako-don)? Many cheapsters can't imagine doing that. Perhaps this is a "tourist" shop price. In reality, a $5 to $6 bowl is considered dumbed down and hacked. But this $10, a yakitori shop I know of, they cook it like they do in Asia or Japan. The egg is runny and smooth. The chicken is smokey and they even try to make it as close to Japanese jidori (range chicken) as possible by sourcing the meat to local California free range organic chicken farms. Paired with perfectly cooked Japanese rice which is a rarity these days (ie go to any run of the mill "Japanese restaurant" and see how they cook rice and how it tastes, that's the key to a good non sushi restaurant, screw up rice and you might as well not be in business or claim to be authentic). So this place happens to make the "best" version of this comfort food dish, albeit at a price. But I'd gladly down this over the MSG ladened dumbed down version at the Japanese supermarket food court, or at the Korean or Chinese run sushi restaurant, or even my neighborhood Japanese run sushi restaurant that has been around 25 years (because they don't specialize in a dish like this).

                              The same shop also imports bincho-tan (Japanese charcoal) from Japan, hired an executive chef who has worked in Japan and Los Angeles and is a bit of a perfectionist in his craft. The shop is in a high rent expensive neighborhood, so yeah salarymen pre-dinner pre-going home meal is now an extravagant evening. Interior is clean as a whistle.

                              The other generality are businesses upscaling street food and calling it fusion or something new (if not fusion) is happening all over the US. Unfortunately the spirit is lost in a lot of cases in favor of the dollar.

                              And to the poster who said she cannot find good American food. It is strange, here in the SF Bay Area, Thomas Keller's side project Ad Hoc (ie French Laundry dude) is in a way uber high end comfort food. Ad Hoc is now famous for their fried chicken and get this, mac cheese.

                              Now who is going to upscale Roscoe's Chicken and Waffles next (using fancy high end organic free range chicken and eggs and all organic flour and butter), or Denny's for that matter with butler tuxedo service. I can't wait.

                              1. re: applehome

                                applehome, you're right and onto something I keep saying: although kaiseki and fancy sushi may now be popular in the US, it is akin to thinking French food is only truffles and foie gras. It would be nice for Americans to discover more traditional, even peasant foods of Japan--like what was served in Japanese restaurants in California in the 50s and 60s.

                                1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                  Thank goodness someone else feels that way. I hate that my choices for Japanese food are sushi (which never fills me up) or steakhouse (usually makes me sick). Where are the other choices? I'd much rather go to an izakaya with a variety of foods, or see some other sorts of specialty restaurants.

                                  1. re: queencru

                                    Gads, thank you, too. Come to my house for Japanese food or time travel back to my folk's house many years ago. My parents would have welcomed you (Dad would have warned you off of coming with the likes of me) and, above protests of not serving special food for o-kaksan, would have provided great, normal o-kazu. You'd a loved it.

                                    1. re: queencru

                                      Steakhouse (teppanyaki) in the US is a joke on a joke - started by Rocky Aoki in 1964 in NYC as Benihana with a thoroughly Americanized menu and introducing knife and spatula-throwing entertainment - it's now owned and run mostly by non-Japanese Asians. It's authentic 1960's New York, is about the best you can say for it.

                                      Not that there isn't authentic Teppan cooking in Japan. They just don't have Tiki mugs and flaming onion volcanos, and of course, the requisite burb sushi bar. Now that's what I would really like to see - a teppan place that serves great Okonomiyaki, Monjayaki or Yakisoba. This is a great illustration of authentic vs. really bad Americanization - and started by a Japanese ex-wrestler, entrepreneur who became a millionaire (and then spent it all on power boating). I read that he recently died following complications from Hepatitis C which he got from a blood transfusion in 1979 after a speed boat accident. That's too bad - I respect his entrepreneurship, but why oh why did he have to create these stinkin' steakhouses and associate them forever with Japan?

                              2. "The sad fact is, we'll never -- and I mean NEVER have it so good as in Spain."

                                This doesn't sadden me at all. The endless journey of some people to prove that to Americanize something is to make it worse is nauseating. What of Spanish food in Canada, Honduras or Russia? Do you single out the USA because you have compared it to other nations, or just Spain itself? This type of "grass is greener" pouting always comes from societies that have too much time and money.

                                Further, the theory is not true as to all cuisines either. I recall an episode of Elmer Dills radio show (a Southern Cal show) wherein he described his trip to Mexico City and the surrounding areas in an effort to obtain "authentic" Mexican food. He sadly reported that the food in Mexico was disappointing and better eats could be gotten in California. I also have friends who are Chinese, as well as some non-Chinese folks who visited China, and they all did not like the food in China, again preferring the American version of Chinese cuisine.

                                21 Replies
                                1. re: MaxCaviar

                                  That doesn't mean that it isn't there. It just means that they didn't find it.

                                  China has come a long way. the best Chinese food is in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore etc. where the cuisine flourished while the China starved during the cultural revolution and the great leap forward.

                                  The point is authenticity. You can't get authenticity here. Now, whether authenticity is better or worse, that, is up for debate. But you can't get authentic here.

                                  1. re: Phaedrus

                                    Indeed, you can have completely "authentic" food and it could be terrible. Coq au vin prepared in France by a 4th generation French chef and it could still be bad...just like you can get bad "authentic" BBQ in the South.

                                    1. re: ML8000

                                      Of course that is true. But these folks didn't just eat at one place. More like hundreds.

                                      As a side note I found interesting, a couple I know have a house in France they go to 2 months out of the year. They go on and on about how awful the beef is there. The first thing they do upon getting back to the States is go to a steakhouse and onload.

                                    2. re: Phaedrus

                                      Offtopic perhaps, but my biggest concern is how hard it is to get authentic traditional AMERICAN food here. With the move of moms out of the kitchen, the decline of family eating customs and lack of transmission between generations of the traditional food skills (bread and pie baking, etc) the use of industrial foods, the increasing ability of women to chose jobs other than low pay restaurant and service positions, the whole take out fast food culture, it is really hard to find good renditions of our own traditional cuisine in restaurants. I just finished a round trip through PA going to ohio for the umpteenth time in recent years, and the process of decline in the quality of the food served continues, .

                                      As long as we have a flow of immigrants and ingredients from other countries, we have at least a shot at getting authentic, delicious tastes of those countries, tho other intangible factors may be absent and the absolute high points may be missed..

                                      1. re: jen kalb

                                        For the most part, the only young women I know that enjoy cooking and don't consider it some sort of sexist ball & chain are Italian or Jewish. More of my male friends do the cooking in the house.

                                        1. re: MaxCaviar

                                          Is that a meaningful sampling? Do you think that the male mostly cooks in the majority of young families in the US? Is that across all economic strata?

                                          Not that this has anything at all to do with Jen's complaint about traditional American food declining in authenticity and quality. The loss of the traditional meal in the house - whether the mom or dad is cooking - has got to affect us all. You can't help but think that it's going to lower the bar even further for American authenticity and quality. Pop tarts are breakfast and some nightmare straight out of Sandra Lee's imagination and some browned ground chuck and a few open cans is family dinner (to which nobody sits down to).

                                          As far as restaurants go, I'd think that shortcuts and higher profit models are affecting all kinds of food. There are still some good diners (ask Guy Fieri) - but so many of the eateries around here are just glorified pizza/sub shops or red sauce American-Italian with salad bars. Can you say fried cheese sticks, calamari and ravioli? There are a few diners around that serve a great breakfast - pretty much from scratch. But they're not usually open for dinner.

                                          But if you kick it up a few notches and talk about the restaurant scene in Boston, there are quite a few interesting places - some have been around a while, and others are quite new. I'd say that this strata of eatery is doing pretty well in America. From seafood to steaks, there's a good variety of authentic American foods - of course, there's always the international fusion approach, which can be good - or not.

                                          Then again, what is great American steak? Peter Lugers? Smith and Wollensky? Longhorns or Outback? Is there an honest, simple neighborhood place left that'll give you a nicely grilled USDA Choice ribeye for a decent price?

                                          I was wondering if there was an issue with the modern trend towards more and more cooking schools. These CIA and J&W grads don't want to go to work in a diner somewhere. They'd rather go to work in one of the higher strata places downtown. The really good ones with connections go overseas - Italy, France, Spain.

                                          None of this bodes well for us, I'm afraid.

                                          1. re: applehome

                                            "Is that a meaningful sampling?"

                                            applehome, you rocked my world with that question. Simply put, to the point, polite, says volumes. You must be in research. Or statistics.

                                        2. re: jen kalb

                                          still kind of off-topic...i have not traveled abroad as much as some of you here...
                                          have any of you encountered an 'american' restaurant overseas? and how authentic was it?

                                          1. re: ritabwh

                                            The real key is to understand what you mean by American restaurants. There are numerous Burger Kings, McDonalds, KFCs, etcetc... so certainly that level of American food is all over the world, with some corporate-dictated changes, but generally authentic to wha twe have here. If you mean steak houses or fish, there's certainly better fish and beef (and pork and lamb) in different parts of the world - Japan has much better fish and beef, for example. But specific dishes, like Clam Chowder, might not be available or made authentically (either NE, RI or Manhattan).

                                            The trouble is that any other American food you can talk about, from Mac'n Cheese to Chicken noodle soup, are derived from abroad - whence came our ancestors . I think it was Steingarten who said that the only really authentic American food was barbecue (not grilling, but from the original root, barbecoa, the real slow-cooked over wood embers that was derived from both the native islanders in the caribbean and Mayan/Aztec cultures. I never had any authentic barbecue in Europe or Japan. I would guess that if the Japanese decided to try it, they would turn out a top notch, authentic product - few cultures are as committed to authentic foods as Japan is - with their chefs having studied abroad to bring back the real foods of different countries for hundreds of years. I don't know to what extent authentic barbecue is valued in Europe.

                                            I don't believe that you're necessarily going to run into the issues we're discussing here. No other country is as multi-cultural in terms of the large groups of immigrants representing so many generations and so many levels of integration or segregation. That's what leads us to the pockets of mono-cultures that produce great specialized and authentic foods, but mixed in with the general parts of our population that seem to care so little for authenticity and quality.

                                            Few countries have pushed the growing of food to the capitalist extremes that we have - factory farms that produce cheap, mediocre, drug-filled meat and so much methane and manure that it is a significant part of our environmental problems. King Corn - entire crops controlled by Monsanto and Dow and Cargill, to maximize processed foods (and fuels), corporate profits, and of course, better living through modern chemistry.

                                            But then, that's why meat is so cheap over here, and everyone eats more of it than any where else in the world. We eat more processed foods, including HFCS, per capita than anywhere else in the world.

                                            So with all that and more (eg - advertising) going for our culture, of course, we're going to produce the McDonalds of the world, rather than Kobe beef or tins of fatty, delicious clams and sardines.

                                        3. re: Phaedrus

                                          "It just means that they didn't find it."

                                          I don't think that was the problem though. The Chinese people I mentioned are from China, so finding their way around should not have been too hard on them. They also throw money around like confetti so I know they didn't cut corners. As to Elmer Dills, he went along with a Mexican chef as a guide.

                                          1. re: MaxCaviar

                                            Well then, Rick Bayless must be making stuff up in the studio, obviously Elmer Dills is a much more trustworthy source of information on Mexican food.

                                            Tony Bourdain's trips to China, including the one to Hong Kong, where we got to watch an authentic thousand years old hand made (with bamboo poles) noodle making process, must also be bogus - obviously your friends are better informed than Tony, and those authentic noodles actually suck. I just read KK's post above where she talks of this being done in SF, so these quality processes do exist here as long as there is demand. But that doesn't take away from the authenticity of the ones in Hong Kong.

                                            When you say some people are from China, keep in mind that that's almost like saying they're from Earth. People who grew up in Taiwan may indeed find the food in ChengDu or Beijing to be as alien to them as Italian. And ditto, Mexico - the regions are diverse. In these cases, there is no authentic Mexican or Chinese. There is, perhaps, authentic Yucatecan, or Sonoran, and Cantonese or Sichuan, etcetc...

                                            The putting down of American food speaks for itself. I'm an American - I live here, so it's a really disheartening issue to me. The question is, why do we so eagerly tolerate crappy food? Rather than pick on the foreign foods to even up the score on the bad food scale, why not talk about how we can make our food here better? Whether you assume that foreign food is as bad or not, there's just no denying the poor state of our food preferences, from Hamburger Helper to the never ending Pasta bar at Olive Garden. How do we change that? Or is that just what we are - love it or leave it.

                                            1. re: MaxCaviar

                                              I am Chinese and if you dropped me anywhere in China I would be in trouble. i can find my way around HK fine and I am as happy as pig in slop in Taiwan.

                                              Throwing money around just means you got ripped off. You need to know what you are looking for and be friendly with the natives and be able to verbalize what you want.

                                              Of course if your friends went in with your attitude, then no wonder.

                                              1. re: Phaedrus

                                                What attitude? Disagreement is not attitude. Thinner skin doth not a wonton skin have.

                                                In re the money, I only meant they weren't trying to dine on the cheap. Whatever.

                                                1. re: MaxCaviar

                                                  Dining on the cheap IS often the way to get authentic food. In Japan you have a choice - go to your hotel restaurant in Ropongi and pay $150 for a meal that won't fill you up and that, while tasting quite good, would not qualify as authentic anything other than Ropongi hotel food. Or walk across the street to the noodle shop, and have a large bowl of shio ramen with hand made noodles and a scratch soup - that will knock your socks off - fill you up, and leave you wanting to find room for more. All for less than $10. Now that's authenticity.

                                                  I assume that it's the same in Taiwan and HK - and probably Beijing and other places that get clueless businessmen with big expense accounts.

                                                  1. re: applehome

                                                    Yes, I understand that. I didn't think I was being very obscure here - - all I meant was that they wouldn't exclude anything due to price.

                                                    And yes, hotels chage a lot. Here, there and everywhere.

                                                  2. re: MaxCaviar

                                                    Here is the vibe that I got from your post:

                                                    1) They are Chinese, therefore they will find the authentic cuisine just by their race, it doesn't matter that they may not have been there before or does not understand the local food scene.

                                                    2) If people throw money around, they will definitely find the authentic because money will root out authenticity.

                                                    3) Going to a place with a famous person will definitely get you the authentic experience.

                                                    Is this what you intended?

                                                    1. re: Phaedrus

                                                      1) I didn't say American Chinese, Chinese American, et cet. They are from China. Her brother still lives there and operates a carboard box factory. I talk to him too about the food. Same story.

                                                      2) Again, they wouldn't avoid a place because it was overpriced. That is all.

                                                      3) Huh?


                                            2. re: MaxCaviar

                                              I'll throw in another perspective in that my family grew up in Hong Kong (as did I) but I've already lived easily more than half my life in the USA. As a result I'm a bit used to the flavors here (as dumbed down at times they can be) but still have a hankering of old world taste and know what I like.

                                              After living here for years, my parents who came from the old world, came to prefer the soft and tender and juicy Foster Farms American chicken. But their relatives found it disgusting because it lacked any chicken flavor. Ask any visitor from Taiwan and they will tell you their chicken is vastly superior to American counterpart (even if to most of us it has the texture of rubber but more robust in flavor). Again, strictly an aquired taste. I've grown to love range chicken in Taiwan and the amazing cuisine and preps that come along with it and give it a unique deep natural flavor (especially black chicken and of course black mountain pig).

                                              In the old days, farmers in Hong Kong treated chickens with hormones to make them grow more plump and some scandal ensued (we stopped eating it cold turkey for a while until the craze died), but whether it is hormone or avian bird flu, goes up the food chain. Luckily I didn't grow any man boobs or what not (TMI sorry) and for applehome's sake I'm a dude.

                                              There are things in China that will be hard to stomach (especially the amount of pesticides that go into vegetables and feeding practices of livestock) and even harder on the way out. If you go into villages that hardly have much in the way of technology (as I did once in the late 90s in Southern China), even a home cooked meal could be something you're not used to if you didn't get exposed to it.

                                              One thing for sure, I've never heard a native Singaporean or Taiwanese person say that the US versions of their homeland food (especially street food) are superior than back at home in the old world. I could see someone visiting from Taiwan enjoy US grown Chinese vegetables more as the amount of pesticide use is arguably safer/lower than that what they could get back home.

                                              1. re: K K

                                                oops... sorry. I have no Idea why I assumed you already had them...

                                                I've been buying the chicken feet at the se asian stores and the old fowls at the supermarket - together there is more great chickeny flavor in the broth than anything I've used previous to this. For the bird itself, I buy a hormone/anti-biotic free, free-range bird - I think it's from Wellesley Farms - it's cheaper than Empire, Coleman or Bell & Evans, and still pretty tasty. About $1.65/lb in the grocery stores and $1.35/lb at BJ's.

                                                I grew up with a 2gen Chinese friend who's mother would only buy chickens from a Chinatown source - he said that they ran around alive! (egads!) and they selected one and killed/feathered it and threw it in a bag to take home and eat that night. My wife grew up in Oklahoma and had plenty of chicken butchering experience at her grandparents home. We raised chicks to chickens, but always sold them off for butchering. Lotsa chicken manure for the garden, though.

                                                But I now see Tyson selling free-range/no anti-biotic/no hormone chicken. I still stay away from anything with a Tyson or Purdue label on it, but it's interesting to see that they're recognizing the marketplace demand. Somehow, I doubt that they're going to shut down their main chicken-in-a-box farming operations, though. Plenty of Americans will continue to eat those tasteless super-breasts for years to come. (Is this manly, to speak of breasts so much?)

                                                1. re: K K

                                                  Please upload photos to confirm this - about the no-growth claim... :)

                                              2. my $.02
                                                Dare I say that I'm glad to live in the USA, big city USA, and more specifically in Los Angeles.
                                                I'd love to try tapas in Spain, and hope to do so in the near future. I'm glad to have tried pizzas in small town Italy, noodles in Hong Kong, and dumplings and sushi in Japan.
                                                I'm equally glad to have grown up in Cleveland in the 60s with a strong eastern European culture with Bavarian, Polish, and Czech populations and the food they brought with them. Here in LA a trip to the San Gabriel Valley yields good Chinese food of different regions without the 12 hour flight, visas, and currency exchange.
                                                The Jewish community of my hometown exposed me to good examples of the foods that immigrated with the people, allowing me to realistically evaluate the offerings of my adopted community. Langers' rye and pastrami are exquisite.
                                                Yes, I believe that the health codes diminish the authenticity of the foods, and occasionally the flavor , but I see that as aresult of globalization and marketing. Pity. A small producer for their immediate community has a greater vested interest in keeping their friends safe and healthy.!
                                                Where else in the world can I have reasonably authentic Boudin sausage and grits for breakfast, a luscious bowl of pho for lunch, and a respectable tasting menu for supper?
                                                E Pluribus Unum on the pacific rim!
                                                Yes, environment and atmosphere are important. Nothing beast the pho from an itinerant vendor in Hanoi, a pizza in the basement of an Italian castle, noodles in the Muslim quarter of Xi-an, or Tapas in Spain, But when I don't have the opportunity to travel, I'm damn glad to be here, eating foods made by the people who used to make the foods there!
                                                Thanks for listening.

                                                1. 1. Tony needs to eat at the Buckhorn Cafe (or a restaurant of the same ilk) in Pendleton, Oregon, to get the equivalent experience as what he had in Spain.

                                                  2. I've had authentic: Italian in the Argentinian Embassy restaurant in La Paz; Lebanese and German at der Kaiser Haus here in Cali; French at the Hotel du France in Antananaraivo, Madagascar; Basque at the Yturi in Fresno; Chinese at the New China and Fuji Cafe in Fresno in the 50s and 60s; pho in DC; Japanese in Manila 20 years ago; and many more. One key seems to be sufficient clientele from the home country to keep the restaurant honest.

                                                  3. The worst renditions of cuisines in other places: Chinese in Colombia, Italian in the Philippines, Mexican everywhere except Mexico and the US, ....

                                                  11 Replies
                                                  1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                    My father just came back from Bogata and Cali and enjoyed the beauty, particularly in Cali - a little to much rain in Bogata. He practices bonsai and used to visit those two cities often to instruct from the early 80s through the early 90s until the civil war, drug cartels, etc. just made it too unsafe for him to travel there. It seems the climate in Colombia has improved. Have you seen any changes in the food culture there?

                                                    1. re: bulavinaka

                                                      Yes, civil society has improved here over the past few years.

                                                      As to food in Cali, there are now quite a number of up-scale places that are good--in barrios Granada, El Penon, and in the south. I usually dine out at second or third teir places--Los Turcos (Lebanese, been there forever), an Argentinian place (for the occasional big meat fix on weekend days), Le Petit France (from the Pyranees), Kaiser Hause (German), and even a place with AYCE sushi on Wednesday nights.

                                                      Foods available in the supermarkets (la14 and Carrefour in my case) have improved in terms of variety. Fruits and vegetables, always good, have improved even more.

                                                      Too bad Dad didn't get in touch--although I just got back from DC.

                                                      1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                        Carrefour? They are all over the place!

                                                        I'm guessing the prevalence of Lebanese in South America is from the huge exodus in the 70s-80s? Seems like some of the best of this cuisine can be had in South America... Have you seen any carryover/blending/fusion?

                                                        1. re: bulavinaka

                                                          Carrefour here may be largely owned by Colombians. In any case it provides needed competition for the national chains--la14, Exito, Olympica, and Carulla.

                                                          The Lebanese food here hasn't changed in the 15 years I've been here; and is "authentic" if compared to what is served in the Middle East.

                                                    2. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                      I have some friends who still rant about the hideously bad Thai meal they got in Paris, but at least it was expensive...

                                                      You know, I love Tony and his works, but the one truly unpleasant moment we shared when he was here on his last book tour was his scathing attitude towards authentic Los Angeles food; someone asked if he'd been to such and such a place (can't remember which), and Tony said rather sneeringly that he'd leave that sort of thing up to Jonathan Gold, then proceeded to launch into a diatribe about how nobody can make a decent living in the restaurant business here because we're all addicted to cheap food. There is some truth to that - if all the restaurant workers got paid a living wage, meal prices would necessarily go up - but there's no call to trash the food because you hate how the dishwasher is paid. I suspect - no proof, just a suspicion - that Bourdain's easy acceptance of other cultures and other cuisines is non-functional until he crosses any of our borders. Except, of course, he did seem to like Portland OK. I want to see him go to Nashville, though.

                                                      1. re: Will Owen

                                                        Do you think of Nashville as a town with a great food culture? One that appreciates and respects authenticity in its own local cuisine and is therefore more willing to accept authentic foods from others? This is just me overlaying what I believe onto what I've read and seen on his shows, but without that well developed local food culture, (and I believe it can be a sub-culture, a smaller niche within the whole - which I think was the case in the Pacific Northwest), but without that local pride, I don't believe that Tony will appreciate what he sees. He will be unhappy, pouting and sarcastic as all hell. I think it has more to do with local food attitudes than crossing borders or some flavor of anti-Nationalism. Certainly, he's made loving shows about NYC and Nola, and I thought that his appreciation of Low Country Q was spot on. LA is complex - maybe he needs a good food guide (someone presumably other than Gold).

                                                        I ask because I remember a post you made about a Mexican place in Nashville that served authentic food but had to switch to what the locals expected - (badly) Americanized tex-mex - in order to survive. It makes me wonder what is authentic in Nashville that he (and the world) would appreciate - in the way of Tapas in Barcelona or Sushi in Tokyo.

                                                        1. re: applehome

                                                          The Mexican-in-Nashville story is from an awfully long time ago, before the Mexicans (and Colombians and Salvadorans and...) took over Nolensville Road completely. But what I'm sayin' here, see, is that Tony goes to all these places where everybody eats the same thing they've been eating forever - the authentic native grub - and he digs on that, even though those street vendors and wok pilots don't think of themselves as exemplifying any particular Food Culture. Nor are they interested in purity, as observe the rapidity with which Coca-Cola can become all the rage. So can we expect him to give the same respect to Jack at Arnold's Country Kitchen as he does to the guy boiling pig snouts by the road in Burma? In spite of the fact that Jack is wearing a bow tie and hand-slicing the daily beef roast as he's done forever? That's where I get skeptical...

                                                          1. re: Will Owen

                                                            But I think he particularly enjoys those cultures that do indeed understand the importance of their own food culture. The sushi at Sukiyabashi Jiro is traditional to hundreds of years, even though particular ingredients may change seasonally and as the fish supply changes. Singapore and Hong Kong were revered well beyond some of the lesser developed Asian locations. These food cultures go back well beyond one guy's slicing meat for even his entire life. It has to do with the cook's pride and understanding of his part in maintaining traditions that are bigger than any one person or place. I really see no difference between his whole pig experience in South Carolina and his overseas experiences.

                                                            I do feel like he's given LA short shrift up to this point - there are many foods and places that fit this description - great foods, made with pride following ancient and more modern traditions. I've even been to a couple in the short jaunts I've made there. I hope he gives it another chance. As to his denigrating Gold or anyone else - well - he lived to regret calling Emeril the Ewok - who knows, he may yet praise Rachel Ray, and then all bets are off.

                                                            1. re: applehome

                                                              I think we'll see him praising the glee clubs of Iceland before we see that!

                                                              There are plenty of cooks in Nashville who meet your understanding-the-importance criteria, either as a matter of ingrained respect learned first at Mamaw's knee and then over a lifetime, or as the result of careful study, or - not uncommonly - both. Martha Stamps, whose cookbooks and whose restaurants I recommend without reservation, falls into the latter category. Jack Arnold exemplifies the former.

                                                      2. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                        You might enjoy this sort of legendary thread from the L.A. board... there is a Mexican seafood place - Mariscos Chente on the west side - where the owner and family drive to the Mexican border and then take a 24-hours-one-way bus to Mazatlan from there to shop for shrimp every week. They bring it back in a huge cooler.

                                                        It's the best shrimp I've had out West. And definitely authentic Mexican. This is the kind of reason why I love L.A. (that and perfect weather and an ocean and an actual city).


                                                        1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                          Re: "3. The worst renditions of cuisines in other places: Chinese in Colombia, Italian in the Philippines, Mexican everywhere except Mexico and the US,..."

                                                          You just reminded me about finding "Mexican" in Sofia. The only "Mexican" restaurant there during my long stay was a place that confused bbq sauce with salsa. Needless to say they were nowhere near Mexican and as it were, nowhere near barbecue. Dishes were completely unrecognizable to someone familiar with either.

                                                          Still, it was hugely popular. So when you eventualy hear about authentic Bulgarian-Mexican-BBQ, you'll know where it came from ;-)

                                                        2. Calvin Trillan addresses this phenom. in his Zen book. A good read.

                                                          3 Replies
                                                          1. re: Passadumkeg

                                                            To answer the original post: I bring up the concept of terroir. The French word translates to "of the earth" but I think of it as native to the region. The reason we "can't have that here" is because we're here, and not there. As other folks have said, you can import everything you want, and you can pay top dollar for a similar experience, but it won't be the same, because you simply are not there. The air is different, the water is different, the atmosphere is different.

                                                            I always wonder when somebody wants to find the best Philly cheese steak in Austin. Why, when you have other authentic cuisine? Not to say that you can't have a Philly-style cheese steak there, or Singapore-style street food in New York, or great Italian in Chicago, etc. But you simply can't expect it to be exactly the same. Yes, I have had sushi in the U.S. that was every bit as good as the sushi I've eaten in Japan -- however, I've never had soba noodles that tasted like they did in Tokyo. All the espressos I've drunk here can't come close to the ones I drank in Milan.

                                                            Food is just as much an experience of travel as visiting a historic cathedral or seeing a painting. I don't want it to be the same here. And likewise, I want ours to be what others come for, too, and to appreciate it as much as they do.

                                                            1. re: brendastarlet

                                                              I do agree that travel is about food as much as anything else. But when I weigh the desire of wanting the Tapas from Barcelona with the likelihood of my traveling there any time soon, (or in my lifetime), I wouldn't mind seeing some effort put into bringing it to me.

                                                              I speak, again, as an immigrant who grew up elsewhere - the closer you get to the authentic version, the better.

                                                              I sure hope people come here to Boston for Lobster. Cause the thickened glop chowder they serve at the tourist places really sucks. Now that's an example of something, I'm not sure what - food being altered to be less authentic at the place of origin, to please the tastes of the ignorant visitors!

                                                              1. re: applehome

                                                                I hope they come to Maine for lobster. The lobstermen need the revenue.

                                                          2. Everyone who has responded here seems to agree that, while we can't perfect Spanish tapas in New York City, both the influx of ideas about food and actual immigrants demanding their customary ingredients in local ethnic markets have helped. No one has remarked that the spread of democracy and the increased efficiency and attendant wealth creation of free enterprise has helped the quality of our food immensely. When Cuba fell to the communists, many of the middle classes and upper classes fled, often with no money, but fine skills and interests in cooking. This especially helped Florida. The same occurred in Vietnam. The most capable people went on to found businesses, especially restaurants, around the world. United States didn't get its fair share, but we did pretty well. France's cuisine was greatly enlivened because of the close historic ties between France and Vietnam. Lonely is not the French chef cooking with lemongrass and curry. For a while, it was overly prevalent. Denver and Boulder Colorado have Saigon Cafe, Chez Thoa, and a real Vietnamese neighborhood in Denver. Life is better. It can't hurt that so many Chowhounds have the time and energy to investigate these matters, instead of tilling a field or working in a factory (or worse still, McDonalds)

                                                            3 Replies
                                                            1. re: grantham

                                                              First of all, let's not confuse democracy with free markets - the two often go hand in hand, but don't have to, as China is proving to us every day. Free markets, in the hands of totalitarian dictatorships can be really dangerous - feel free to put poison lead in your toothpaste until you're caught - at which time, we'll take you out back and shoot you, while we find the next manager who can take shortcuts and make cheap products. Russia may be worse.

                                                              I'm not sure that the most capable Vietnamese "found businesses, especially restaurants around the world". There are doctors, lawyers, mathematicians and scientists in the mix somewhere who might argue that they are indeed very capable.

                                                              Historically, there have been numerous examples of great cuisine invented by the poor because of the required ingenuity to make their slim pickings edible. Being in the middle and upper classes are not prerequisites to cooking skills. The traditions of a strong food-centric culture, including quality-centric production of meats and vegetables, family meals, great respect for the cook and the passing on of those important aspects of life, are at the root of all great culinary cultures. The question is whether America is one or not. Our democracy and free markets don't help us at all with the continued growth of corporatized food at every level. As we attend the CIA in droves and watch our CIA grads opening up their 5th restaurant, we can pat ourselves on the back for the marvelous food culture we've created. But we love our McDonald's, we rarely have family dinners cooked lovingly by mom using her mom's recipes, and our anti-biotic and hormone enhanced chickens live in boxes.

                                                              And perhaps at least some of us have all the time and energy in the world to investigate matters because we lost our job to some up and coming newly middle class worker in India. God bless him and I hope he can eat better food now - but you know, all things being told, I'd rather have my job back and be able to buy my family some holy cow.

                                                              Dude - don't wipe off your rose colored glasses too hard - the color comes off.

                                                              1. re: applehome

                                                                Nicely put. With eloquence. Bravo!

                                                              2. re: grantham

                                                                "No one has remarked that the spread of democracy and the increased efficiency and the attendant wealth creation of free enterprise has helped the quality of our food immensely."

                                                                I admire your optmism, but at the same time, I don't know if there is a strong correlation. If we take our country as an example, I think most would agree that we have had widespread democracy (please extract November 2000 up to the present), relative efficiency (in our infrastructure and distrubution, right?) and a level of the creation of wealth that has brought our World economy to what it is now.

                                                                One issue is that democracy, while the best option of all choices (IMHO), is far from perfect, as the BIG BOYS' CLUB is still going to assure that measures that will keep their positions in place and continue to enhance their porfolios will only be rooted out by a serious shakeup in the way they (not we) do politics in our current system. One example of this are the lobbyists who represent agribusiness concerns, chemical and drug companies, land-use proponents, etc., have had a huge impact on our food. These interests' impact on our nation seemed promising at first, but have evolved over the decades into nebulous fogs that we can't touch but can touch us in so many strange and uncertain ways. My belief is that the results of those meddling with our foodstuffs for decades has deteriorated our food's quality.

                                                                The issue of increased efficiency goes hand-in-hand with a strong democratic foundation and its (hopefully) resultant flourishing economy. Increasing economies of scale does have the benefit of efficiency, but at what cost to effectiveness? When it comes to food, I again point as an example to those that lurk in our town and city halls, our state capitals, and of course Washington DC. I think there were certain points in time that efficiency in our food industries passed effectiveness (good taste, quality, etc.) as well. Partially-hydrongenated fats in place of "real" fats; HFCS in place of other sweeteners; creation of more transportable/shelf-stable produce and its transportation to areas that would otherwise not be able to sustain such goods due to seasonality, climate, etc. I also think another glaring example that most can relate with is McDonald's. This one company was probably responsible for industrializing food to what it is now. Uniformity, longevity, transportability, altering/compromising/substituting basic ingredients for infinitesimal cost-cutting - these are some of the basic strategies and requirements of McD's that have become food industry standards. And far off distant countries like Chile and New Zealand taking advantage of opposing seasons to grow cash crops and irresponsibly exporting flavorless fruit like peaches and plums over vast distances to the US so naive consumers can make futile efforts in trying to satisfying their summer fruit urge in January? I can see the benefits that efficiency has brought to our society over the decades, yet we don't know where or how to stop once we've achieved that point where efficiency and effectiveness meet.

                                                                Attendant wealth creation seems to be the hardest for me to sum up. I can at times agree and at other times disagree. It has a lot to do with timelines and demographics. I think it's fair to assume that we as a country amassed the vast majority of our wealth post-WWII. Once a relatively young country like the US becomes a wealth-creating machine (post-WWII) with a strong industrial base (industrial-military complex created during the war), little competition (what great powers were left intact after the war?), and an exploding middle class that was once either in the lower economic urban classes or of rural/agricultural background had left a cultural vacuum in our society.

                                                                The creation of this new socioeconomic class is left to answer (among other questions), "What do we do with all of this money?" Combine this with a population whose multiple cultures may no longer be relevant. The habits and personalities of cityfolk and countryfolk alike are awkward in this new socioeconomic category called Suburbanism. Various cultures once seperated by distinct boroughs, parishes, redlines and districts are not as defined as before. "Let's begin building a new culture!" But that takes multiple generations and continuous social evolution.

                                                                "Culture" as was often defined by the upper classes in Europe and Asia was never a major part of lower and even parts of middle America's psyche. Consider the general nature of our population - mostly poor immigrants whose respective cultures are peasant, rural, urban, lower socioeconomic, mainly from Europe, then Asia, Mexico/Central America and all of the following generations. The result is a multi-faceted culture base where no one root can now overwhelmingly dominate on a national level; where cultures have their own interpretations, blend, intermarry. Taking this into consideration with the relatively youthful chronological age of the US and its resultant food offerings and their demand. Most of what was introduced was that of what these introductory immigrants were familiar with and what would be economically feasible given the tastes of potential customers and available resources. This socioeconomic complexity and their dynamics have created enumerable choices and variations of many cuisines- quantity. However, for the most part, quality languished and still does at many levels and in various parts of our country.

                                                                One great benefit of our country's reputation for stability and freedom is that it has attracted many people who are of higher socioeconomic levels from all over the world. The subsequent waves of immigrants who are more financially advantaged and educated demand higher quality as well as higher levels of cuisine. Their transition into the US is much easier as well because of the cultural infrastructure established by their predecessors.

                                                                The most obvious example that I could personally see was when the second and subsequent waves of post-WWII immigrants came from Japan. The first wave mostly consisted of the poor, the disadvantaged, and the war-wrecked - the textbook immigrant. The food that was most common were "peasant," rural, or homey dishes in their most basic forms - served in the homes. Also bastardized versions of more broadly accepted dishes like teriyaki and sukiyaki became standard for the masses. Most Japanese in America as well as their non-Japanese counterparts had rarely if ever experienced higher levels of Japanese cuisine.

                                                                As Japan rebuilt its economy and gained a high degree of prosperity, it sent many of its corporations abroad, and these corporations' employees (and their families) were far better educated, financially capable and far more demanding in their tastes than the first wave of immigrants. This new class of immigrants had experienced the better times in Japan and the higher level of food culture that was nonexistent to the initial wave of immigrants. Couple this with the "introduction" (on a gamble) of sushi, and new higher levels of Japanese cuisine were introduced to and established in the US. This is now one of the more stylized cuisines in America where some US renditions of this cuisine can come close to if not rival those in Japan. When looking at my perspective how attendant wealth creation might be responsible for the higher quality of food here, it is very convoluted and complex.

                                                              3. My thought is a little Darwinian, kinda like darwin's finches. Same bird, same type of eating habits, different places. You can cook almost authentically and you can have almost authentic attitudes. But you can't have it all.

                                                                Weather conditions, local fruit and veggie crops, the price of flying things in, how long they keep in your weather conditions. These are all uncertain variables that can have an effect on the authenticity of the food. I'm not sure I quite agree with Bourdain on this one.

                                                                The same bird in different climates becomes not the same bird but a different version of the species of bird. Authentic food is best done in the same climate like place and I'll agree with Tony that is does wonders when that climate area has the right attitude or culture it isn't the only and most important variable.

                                                                Where would you go in the US for great authentic cuban food, would you say that the dough of your favorite pizza rises the same in a differnet climate and altitudes?

                                                                The answers would be miami for both attitude and climate for the cuban food, the pizza dough is going to react differently. I swore a million times over that pizza dough can be controlled, but only in refridgeration and not in proofing the hot humid summers of florida, even when we have the ac cranked down to 73 changes things slightly. and in math wwith one small slight change it can cause your end solution to becompletely different.

                                                                I worked in a franchised subshop for a while which was famous in New Jersey. We did everything to spec and by the book, and the corporate office was very strict on what ingredients we used. I worked in the heart of tourist town usa in Orlando and we had tons of new jersey transplants and tourist. We had tons of regulars come in day in and day out always reminising about when they were in NJ and how our subs made them feel but we used local produce and what these people always missed the most. the New Jersey Tomato, I've never had an NJ tomato but to them is amazing. We bought the top quality tomatoes in florida and with die hard nj guys they just said, they are good but not quite there, I'll have to bring some down next time I go up, they would say.

                                                                I think I get what Tony means though food can feel and be better when the culturual attitude is there. I mean how many trendy american brats think that eating a california roll makes them an expert on japanese cuisine, or that as long as their burger is expensive they have the right to be an expert food blogger. How many people deviate too much from the menu to make it not authentic anymore in hopes of keeping on some fad diet.

                                                                My puerto rican neighbors had a pig roast for memorial day and the attitude was there, drums, singing, the whole thing. It was extrodinary to see how food can unite families, people, cultures. We have large latin markets and lots of puerto ricans and the tempeture is very similar. There are lots of puerto ricans in new york with the same attitude yet not the same regional conditions.

                                                                Darwinian theory again what do new york PR people eat versus Florida PR people versus Puerto Rican PR people.?

                                                                1 Reply
                                                                1. re: Sandwich_Sister

                                                                  You would think Bourdan would know better than to ask such a question.

                                                                2. I would add that certain communities are in love with themselves and this distorts reality when it comes to objectively rating how good a place really is. SF, Austin and Manhattan come to mind. Love all three personally, but have often been amazed at the delusional cheerleading when it comes to food. I mean La Nacional in Manhattan is very authentic vibe-wise but doesn't even bother to have decent bread... a sin in Spain. If Bourdain went on a "tapa" crawl in the Ironbound he would find an experience pretty close to say maybe Hospitalet, the Brooklyn of Barcelona. Not too shabby really...

                                                                  2 Replies
                                                                  1. re: Flaco

                                                                    Ironbound is in Newark, NJ and the epicenter of Spanish/Portuguese food in the US. Worth the trip.

                                                                    1. I think many times if a restaurant serves authentic it may not be commercially successful. That's why we have "American Chinese" and Benihana. It just attracts more customers this way.

                                                                      I for example had an authentic Japanese Fugu tasting dinner in Tokyo and have to say I just didn't get it.

                                                                      How many people are really willing to eat like Bourdain? I stared recently at Kokorec in istanbul and skipped (aka shit sandwich - lamb intestine). Not so much because its offal- they had it wrapped around a "fat" center which I know I would have hated. I even skip bacon cause of that.

                                                                      I would think if there are sufficient number of customers willing to pay the price you get close to authentic as you can be.

                                                                      The lobsters on Tokyo's fish market where from Maine I noted with a big smile.

                                                                      1 Reply
                                                                      1. re: jk1002

                                                                        The Maine lobsters were from Maine. The Japanese spider crabs, were from Japan. If you were in Japan, you'd do better to eat the crabs. If you were in Maine, you'd do better to eat the lobsters. There are spiny "lobsters" in Japan, but these are more like giant prawns or langustines - clawless and not nearly as sweet or tasty as Maine lobsters.

                                                                        "How many people are really willing to eat like Bourdain?"

                                                                        Really? Seriously? You're on Chowhound! My guess is that most people that consider themselves to be seriously into food would love to eat like Bourdain. NOT like Zimmern - there's no reason to eat strange things for the sake of strange things. But Bourdain doesn't do that. He chases after known delicious foods - ethnic, authentic - stuff that people like us travel around the world just to be able to eat. He finds food at its best, at its ripest, at its most authentic. He disdains tourist traps, artificial settings and menus.

                                                                        The question here is, can you really get to authentic without going there? No matter how much you're willing to pay in NYC for the tapas you had in Barcelona, you may just not find it. You'll get the Americanized version of souvlaki from the cart - but no kokorec.

                                                                      2. Americans ask for espresso in go-cups.
                                                                        Americans ask for flavored syrups in cappuccinos.
                                                                        Americans popularized the (caffe) latte. And then put pumpkin spice syrup into it.

                                                                        Even as simple beverage as coffee can't escape the ridiculous things Americans will do to an "authentic" idea. Howard Schultz's original idea was to bring Italian coffee and Italian coffee culture to the States. Look what happened.