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Adapting to local taste versus "dumbing down."

Lots of threads discuss which "x" is the most authentic and decry how a cuisine gets dumbed down to suit the tastes of the locals who clearly can't appreciate the "real deal." I have to wonder how long a business serving the "real deal" would last if the locals didn't want to eat it? Case in point: Japanese curry. I like it and I also like Indian currys, but they're totally different flavor profiles suited to their particular customers. Do Indians in Japan think Japanese curry is "dumbed down" to suit the locals? Do Italians from Naples deride NY/Chicago pizzas as "dumbed down" versions of their own "real deal?" I stopped at a Jamaican carryout (because it was the only place open at 10:30am), picked up some stewed oxtails and jerk chicken. Most of my experiences with jerk have been that it's usually too hot to suit my tastes, but at this place, the heat didn't overpower the other spices, which I found subtle but distinct. Did they "dumb down" the heat for their American customers?

That's not to say all cuilinary adaptation is good. I like a nice plate of American Chinese carryout, but it seems most places just drown stuff in that gooey, sickly sweet sauce. It wasn't always like that; perhaps American tastes have gotten used to massive amounts of HFCS, like they have towards obscene amounts of salt in canned soups. Or maybe it's just cheaper. Anyway, it seems to me that as food migrates, techniques and ingredients evolve depending on who's doing the cooking and who's doing the eating. Sushi, which started in China as a way to preserve fish with layers of salt and rice, migrated to Japan, where instead of throwing the rice away, they ate it because the rice took on the sour flavor of fermentation. Eventually, the preservation aspect disappeared and the raw rice was replaced by cooked rice that was flavored with vinegar. When sushi came to America, non-Japanese ingredients like avocados were added. Would Chinese from a thousand years ago say the Japanese had "dumbed down" their food? Do Japanese think Americans have "dumbed down" theirs?

I read a thread asking for authentic Japanese food in DC. The usual restaurants were mentioned and the usual commentary commenced from people who've lived in Japan, stating unequivocally that Restaurant "X" is mediocre compared to what they serve in Japan. I wasn't so much taken aback by the news flash that Japanese food is better in Japan so much as the implication that authentic food which you can't eat is somehow better than "dumbed down" food that might actually taste good yet misses the nebulous target of "authenticity." I guess my question is: at what point do you stop fetishizing authenticity and start enjoying your meal for what it is?

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  1. "at what point do you stop fetishizing authenticity and start enjoying your meal for what it is?"

    If you have an idea that a restaurant can do better, instead of simply accepting what's been put in front of you, I suggest engaging in conversation. There is no reason to treat waitstaff and management like an intelligent vacuum cleaner. In most cases, all Chowhounds should encourage specials, separate menus, and seek out a more thoroughly rewarding experience. Not all chefs are capable, and not all places are willing. But as I have put this into practice, I have found amazing possibilities.

    So I do not subscribe to the 'relax and enjoy it' mentality.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Steve

      It's definitely a two-way street: restaurants live and die by meeting customer expectations. I just find some of those expectations kind of odd. Take chicken caesar salads. Please. Almost every restaurant I've been in serves them; I suppose if enough people demand it, they have to serve it. But how good are these salads? Do people really go to Indian/Italian/Insert-Ethnicity-Here restaurants, see nothing they want, and order a chicken caesar salad? Apparently. Then there's the vegetarian option at the steakhouse. There's always someone who gets dragged along to some get-together at a steakhouse and laments the poor vegetarian options. But it's a steakhouse. Should vegan restaurants have a carnivore option?

      1. re: monkeyrotica

        I think it depends in part on WHY you are going out to eat. My best friend, who is a huge foodie, takes clients to lunch 3-4 days a week, and then has a very active social life which also involves going out to eat. She gained about 30 pounds in two years once she started her job, because every lunch was an opportunity to eat something new and exciting. Now when she goes out for a business lunch, she almost always orders chicken caesar, or shrimp caesar or grilled steak salad with the dressing on the side and no croutons. Doing that (and hitting the gym) allowed her to lose all of the weight she had gained, without drawling attention to her eating habits when it would not be appropriate to do so. When she goes out in the evening, she eats adventurously and avidly.

        Her decision was that the point of the business lunch was business, not lunch, so she decided not to make the food a priority.

    2. I think this is an interesting and completely legitimate question. As the OP indicates, there are examples of clearly "dumbed down" food (like the "Szechuan" restaurant known as The Inn Place on my block, which serves deep-fried battered meat blobs covered in red syrup), and examples of aesthetically awesome "adaptation to local taste" - or local ingredients (like Japanese spaghetti with fish roe sauce - yum).

      Obviously, we all have some criteria for quality of food beyond popularity - otherwise, we'd have to agree that, e.g., McDonald's makes the BEST hamburgers in the world. There must be SOMETHING upon which we judge food quality, other than popularity. But I suggest that the criteria for quality vary from cuisine to cuisine. Each cuisine has its own aesthetic values, its own structure, its own axes of quality. What's important in one cuisine is irrelevant in another.

      I would say that one of the central important qualities of Thai food is the balance between strong flavors (sweet, spicy, pungent, salty, etc.). In Vietnamese cuisine, it's about clean tastes and the freshness and variety of herbs (for instance).

      To answer the question of whether a given adaptation qualifies as "dumbing down" or legitimate "adaptation" (Thi N calls it "natural fusion"), we could apply these steps:

      1. What is aesthetically important in the "home" cuisine? What are its axes of quality?
      2. Does the adaptation apply or extend the aesthetic values of the "home" cuisine? (Or does it shamelessly crap all over what is important and great about the "home" cuisine?)
      3. Alternatively, does the adaptation impliedly substitute a NEW set of aesthetic values for those of the "home" cuisine?

      I think if the answer is "no" to the final two questions, you've got a "dumbing down" situation. But if the adaptation follows the value structure of the old cuisine, or creates a new, interesting set of aesthetic values, then I think it's legitimate fusion.

      2 Replies
      1. re: Sarah Perry

        I like your 1,2,3. Very well said.

        Impliedly? You must practice law .......Implicitly, of course.

        1. re: Steve

          Ha ha - I used to. Really, I just hang out with too many analytic philosophers.

      2. "at what point do you stop fetishizing authenticity and start enjoying your meal for what it is?"

        Very early on in the process.

        I do not care about "authenticity" as I do not know what is "authentic". There is no single recipe for a dish - my way of cooking an "authentic" dish is different from what my mother's was which is different to what my neighbour's is which is different to the restaurant saying they cook authentic dishes.

        I care about whether food in a restaurant meets my expectations - which usually means "was it tasty?"

        25 Replies
        1. re: Harters

          Yes, but....
          How do you expand your tastes? If tastiness is the final goal (I can't argue with that), what steps can you take to appreciate something that is challenging at first, but which might give you unrivaled pleasure later?

          1. re: Steve

            You make an assumption (I suggest wrongly) that "challenging" is not in itself pleasurable.

            So, for example, it is only recently that Sichuan restaurants have come to our area. Whether it is "authentic" I have no idea - as I've never been to Sichuan nor do I know anyone who is from that part of the world. Having read about it, I had a rough idea what to expect from the food - something very different from the normal Cantonese I'm familiar with. And so it has proved to be - some challenging experiences in both restaurants.

            1. re: Harters

              I meant challenging as in you don't like it at first. As in not pleasurable.

              I'm just pointing out that tastes change. And the most profound and pleasurable changes can come from the progression of actively disliking something to loving it.

              1. re: Steve

                Ah, I see what you mean.

                In that case, I have no answer - with eating as in life's other experiences, when I encounter something I don't enjoy then I'm unlikely to want to repeat the experience.

                Returning to the OP, dumbing down or adapting to local tastes is what we all do. I see a recipe I want to cook at home. I cook it and eat it. Many times I want to eat it again but to tweak the recipe - more of this, less of that, etc. It becomes less "authentic" (from what the recipe writer intended) but more delicious. I'm more than content with that and would expect restaurants to do the same (although more so - their livelihood depends on customers).

          2. re: Harters

            I think I'm with Harters in this one. If something tastes good to me, I immediately turn off the "but is it authentic" button and enjoy my meal. It tastes good. Why would I ruin that by obsessing about whether what I am eating is exactly what the Sherpas are enjoying with their butter tea? Why look for reasons to be unhappy? Eat, be happy.

            But to address Steve's question about expanding tastes, just because I enjoy a meal that has been dumbed down, it doesn't mean I can't continue to try to search for authentic. These two goals need not be mutually exclusive. If I feel like dumbed-down Chinese one night because I've found a really delicious American-Chinese place, then so be it. That doesn't stop you from enjoying the hard-core Sichuan resto next door the next night.

            As well, when I am introduced to a cuisine for the first time, and I am told it is very authentic, I will never write it off, even if it is challenging the first time. I'll always be willing to try it again, because you never know. I might not like this version of authentic whatever it is, but it might be that I like the item when it is done authentically in the style of the province next door. Still authentic, just different. And you can certainly learn to love a new cuisine with time. For me it took a while to get used to the herbs in Vietnamese cuisine, and cilantro in Mexican cuisine and Thai cuisine, and now of course I love them.

            And sometimes, I just don't like the authentic version of whatever it is. I see no shame in this. For example, I was brought up eating Korean food in North America. I am very familiar with Korean food. Yet, when I went back to Korea, and had some authentic versions of Korean dishes I had grown up with, I was shocked that I didn't really like them at all, and I couldn't see me getting a taste for it. It wasn't that they weren't familiar to me, I just preferred the dumbed-down version. For example, Ssam bap involves wrapping bits of meat into various leaves/greens/lettuces. I love this dish. In North America, I only ever had this with North American lettuces, which tend to be mild in flavour. In Korea, the authentic versions also offer a wide selection of wild mountain herbs, which are prized for their medicinal qualities. But some of these herbs are super hard-core, extremely bitter and medicinal in taste. I couldn't eat a bunch of them, and even though I am someone who enjoys bitter, I can't see me getting past these extremely strong flavours. I had a similar experience with Hwe jang ( i think that's the name), which is raw crab pieces in a chili (kochujang) sauce. I love it when I've had it here in North America. But in Korea, the authentic way to eat this stuff is to let it get nice and rotten before you serve it, and aficionados say, the more rotten, the better. Oh dear. This was very hard to eat. I'm sticking with the dumbed-down version, thank you.

            Authenticity for me does not trump deliciousness. I'm not going to pretend I like something just because it happens to be authentic. If it doesn't taste good, then why would I eat it?

            I think the stigma of "dumbed-down food" really comes from the fact that there is a lot of really bad dumbed-down food. I have no issues with you tampering with the food, but if it tastes bad, well there's the crime.

            If I know and love a food item in its original authentic form, and all I can find is dumbed-down versions of it, then the dumbed-down version can't hope to replace the original item. . For example, if I love Japanese ramen, and know it well, and I feel like eating real Japanese ramen, then no dumbed-down version is going to replicate the experience for me, no matter how tasty. Then I'll join in on the whining about the food not being authentic and look for reasons to book the next flight to Japan. I get it, sometimes you want the real thing (or whatever you think is the real thing).

            1. re: moh

              I like your approach in general. you seem to have an open mind.

              But you ask "if it doesn't taste good, why would I eat it." Well, I guess the answer is faith. If someone you trust thinks something is great, if there are tons of people saying something is amazing, if over many years an entire people have developed a way of cooking something, then maybe a bit of perseverance can pay off handsomely. You may already know the empowering feeling of discovering something wonderful that previously turned you off.

              1. re: Steve

                Well, faith is OK for some folk. Returning to the example of my local Sichuans. They are mentioned extensively on my home egullet board. Everyone mentions a certain dish that has to be eaten. They mention that it is VERY hot and they enjoy this. I do not enjoy VERY hot and have never tried it and have no intention of trying it. It would be be silly and pointless for me to try to eat something I know from experience that I do not like.

                1. re: Harters

                  I come from a family whose intransigence regarding food was formidable. I also did not eat spicy foods, seafood, dark meat chicken, oily foods..... well, the list is fairly impressive. Seafood in particular I found repulsive.

                  So it is with a wry smile that I read from your post "'I do not enjoy VERY hot and have never tried it."

                  I'll add just one more tiny bit of information, just in case someday you decide to take the plunge at your local Sichuan. Go with friends for positive reinforcement. Order a dish that is 'numbing.' Ask about that. The Sichuan peppercorn produces a numbing effect on your mouth which makes the VERY hot dish seem barely tolerable. Also make sure you have a LOT of napkins available.

                  1. re: Steve

                    As someone who used to HATE spicy foods (like, why would you eat something so hot you can't taste anything else????), and now is ADDICTED to the heat, I think sometimes all it takes is that one point of no return. Where you work your way up to liking it a bit hot, then hotter, until the food just isn't "right" without that heat.

                    I am so, so very grateful to my Thai friend for converting me to a chile head.

                2. re: Steve

                  Steve, I do understand your point, and i agree with it. Indeed, it took me a while to warm to all the herbs in Vietnamese cooking, but now I am hooked. It did take perseverance. But I think the difference is that when I tried Vietnamese cuisine for the first time, I didn't hate it right off, there were dishes and flavours I liked, I just found some of the herbs overpowering. I wasn't used to the strength of these exotic herbs, they were unlike anything I had ever eaten. When I had a chance to try it again, I was prepared, and ready to try to enjoy the new flavour palate. I stuck with it because I saw hope that in fact, I might really enjoy this cuisine, and it worked out. I'm actually quite lucky, I have a very broad palate, and I love lots of different textures and flavours, and I love tasting new things, so there are very few foods or cuisines that I truly can't enjoy or eat. It is easy for me to find something to like about most food, from bad junk food to haute cuisine to obscure ethnic cuisines. I can also continue to eat something that I don't absolutely love, so I have ample opportunity to try to get to like something. I'm a very easy-going eating partner, as long as it is tasty, I'll eat it with you :)

                  But there are things that even I can't get past. I've tried to eat green onions for four decades now, and still hate them. If you give me a beautiful plate of authentically prepared green onion prepared in the <blank> style, I will politely take a bite, try not to bite into the green onion, swallow the green onion whole, and look for the next plate. No amount of perseverance is going to make me like it. So why would I eat it? There are so many other delicious things to eat, why waste my time?

                  Another example, balut. Loved by an entire culture, tons of people say it is amazing, very popular and profitable food item. Someone can give me the best balut possible, but if I don't enjoy it, there is no way I am going to persevere. I'll try it, I'll even try to finish it out of politeness, but I'm not going to force myself to learn to like it. Eating is supposed to be enjoyable, not a test.

                  I have actually tried durian several times, and have grown to appreciate it, even if I don't really love it. But again, the key thing is that I saw a glimmer of hope the first time I tried it. I thought, "hmm, nice creamy texture, the base fruit flavour is quite interesting" just before the garlic sewer stench hit my taste buds. If I see hope, I'll eat it again, and will make the effort to find authentic versions of the dish or food item.

                  Deliciousness always trumps authenticity. If I can find authentic, and have a chance to experience it, I get very excited. I enjoy new experiences, and I love the thrill of the chase, looking for authentic in various cuisines. But it has to be enjoyable, and it has to taste good in some way. I would never refuse to eat something or refuse to go to a certain restaurant because it wasn't authentic. I will, however, refuse to eat something that doesn't taste good.

                  1. re: moh

                    "Deliciousness always trumps authenticity. If I can find authentic, and have a chance to experience it, I get very excited. I enjoy new experiences, and I love the thrill of the chase, looking for authentic in various cuisines. But it has to be enjoyable, and it has to taste good in some way. I would never refuse to eat something or refuse to go to a certain restaurant because it wasn't authentic. I will, however, refuse to eat something that doesn't taste good."

                    That pretty much sums up the way I think about it. I love travelling and trying new-to-me foods in authentic locations. But deliciousness is the overriding factor.

                    Back to the OP: As peoples migrated throughout history they took their cuisines with them. Local ingredients often caused the dishes to be adapted. Sometimes both are good. Sometimes the original is better and sometimes the adapted dish is better. An adapted dish is not necessarily a "dumbed down" dish. Whether or not it is authentic is not the most important thing to me. Taste is.

                    1. re: decolady

                      For all those people going on and on about taste, I am still wondering how anyone develops their taste.

                      Of course I want things to taste good. That's like saying 'I want to be healthy.' But I have to say almost all the things I think taste best are things I didn't like at first.

                      This is not a personal attack. I'm just trying to figure out how the plattitude of 'taste trumps all' jives with expanding the boundaries of food as a source of extraordinary pleasure.

                      1. re: Steve

                        "For all those people going on and on about taste, I am still wondering how anyone develops their taste."

                        By continuing to try things. I am not going to continue to try to force myself to like something if I have had it (sometimes once, sometimes upon several occasions) and just don't like it. There are too many more wonderful foods out there to explore.

                        But developing my taste is not dependent on whether or not the dish is authentic.

                        1. re: Steve

                          The "problem" with any sort of relativistic judgment is that you can make that statement about any sort of food. Say, for example a well done steak. You may think the dryness is unpleasant, but I'm sure I can find thousands of people out there who will sing the virtues of it. Unfortunately I don't think I'll be able to appreciate those virtues in my lifetime.

                          1. re: Blueicus

                            True, but I don't see anyone going on an internet food board and extolling the virtues of well done steak.

                          2. re: Steve

                            I think the problem arises when one assumes that looking for things that taste good inevitably means staying within a limited range of options, and refusing to learn about or try new things. This may be due to your family upbringing (detailed above). Meanwhile some of us have come from families who enjoyed eating and trying a wide range of foods and delighting in the variations of taste and deliciousness. Your decision to break free from your family's limitations is great, but it may be that in your zeal to move on, you ascribe these tendencies to the search for delicious,

                            This becomes particularly problematic in the upholding of 'authentic' as the barometer for expanding taste. In response to that, I turn to the rather lively Alexandre Cammas cited in Adam Gopnik's piece on 'Le Fooding':

                            "French cuisine was caught in a museum culture: the dictatorship of a fossilized idea of gastronomy. And this dictatorship has been enforced by tourism: you have tourists packing in to experience gastronomy in a kind of perpetual museum of edification. We wanted to be outside that, sur le pont, on the bridge, in front, defining everything that is new. We wanted to escape—foie gras, volaille de bresse, all the clichés.”

                            Ultimately, there is something problematic about assuming change is bad, 'dumbing down' or somehow contrary to learning about food and expanding taste. I would say this goes not only for French cuisine, but the many cuisines that are held thrall to the dictatorship of authenticity and the edification that this encounter grants.

                            1. re: Lizard

                              I'll be happy to eat at that guy's restaurant. But I'd also be thrilled to eat food in it's home region which is poorly replicated elsewhere. Whether that is Memphis bbq or Thai or anything in between. In the absence of travel, I'd like to seek out what is available to me near my home and encourage those folks to prepare the food as they would back home. If there are quite a few people on Chowhound offering me wisdom and guidance, then I'd be a fool not to take it. And if it's taste is foriegn to me at first, I'll see if I can find a version I like better.

                              1. re: Steve

                                "if its taste is foriegn to me"

                                So to speak, LOL

                              2. re: Lizard

                                I'd say Japanese cuisine falls under the "fossilized" category that are, as you said, "held thrall to the dictatorship of authenticity." The North Americanized brand of sushi (California rolls and its myriad variations) is well liked by the masses here but is universally hated by food-snobs/purists who only want omakase like they'd get in Tokyo, and dismiss the American stuff as "McSushi".

                                1. re: TexSquared

                                  How do you feel about food-snobs/purists who put down Orange Chicken and only like Chinese food that resemble what you might find in HK or Shanghai?

                      2. re: moh

                        Having read through this thread, I think that moh's comments are particularly insightful. Delicousness is the key. I don't care how unauthentic a food is if it tastes good. This post rambles a bit. Bear with me, please.

                        Here in Florida we have lots of Mom and Pop hole in the wall Mexican places. Most of the people who own these places weren't restaurateurs before they came to the United States. Their food is certainly authentic. It is what they cook at home. Unfortunately, they're not very good cooks and the food is not very good. (Yeah, once in a while you find a terrific place, the holy grail of chowhounds, but most little Mexican places here are below average.)

                        Having lived and studied in Mexico, I think I know what (good) authentic Mexican food should taste like, but I must confess to having a weakness for the very unauthentic Taco Bell hard taco supremes, about as far as your can get from genuine tacos, and yet, I like them! Good is what tastes good, whereever you find it.

                        I've also traveled in Italy and I must confess that it seems to me that Americans make more flavorful, more satisfying pizzas than I ever had there.

                        Dumbing down food, to me, is using cheap ingredients solely because they cost less, like using surimi instead of real crab meat.

                        Although this is less true than it was in the past, I think, in general, Americans like their food sweet and bland. That, to me, is dumbing down food, but, hey, if a person likes it, he/she should go for it. Authenticity be damned!

                        1. re: gfr1111

                          The next time I'm in the mood for a Hard Taco Supreme, please remind me I just had a mild stroke.

                          1. re: gfr1111

                            Taco bell??? HERETIC!

                            just kidding sort of

                            Except for that part, I agree with you. And your point about the American palate preferring the sweet and bland, and I believe you're right about that getting to be less so. But when I like something that's really sour or hot or strong-tasting, I still get thought of as a freak in some circles.
                            My beloved mother in law will never understand why I like green tea ice cream better than, say, peppermint stick, or that I'd choose prime rib over dessert just about any time. But that's what makes us individuals, right?

                            1. re: gfr1111

                              "I've also traveled in Italy and I must confess that it seems to me that Americans make more flavorful, more satisfying pizzas than I ever had there."

                              The best Pizza Margherita (my favourite pizza) I have had to date was made by an Italian in York, England. I have no idea whether the ingredients were imported from Italy or whether they local or a combination. But that was the most delightful pizza.

                        2. As a Texan, I wish everyone who opines about "real" Mexican (which could be interior, New Mexican or Californian) versus Tex-Mex would read Robb Walsh's book on the subject. As you mentioned, the evolution of food is an ongoing process. And because cheddar melts well and is readily available does not make it dumbed-down, it makes it quite smart, really. (I also wish more people would recognize that Tex-Mex is a legit regional cuisine, such as Cajun, rather than just a dumbed down bastardized version of whatever is preferred as "real."

                          9 Replies
                          1. re: shanagain

                            There used to be a guy on Chowhound, I think his name is Scott, that talked a lot about how there was no such thing as Tex-Mex, that it was simply a border cuisine practiced on both sides of the border, nothing inauthentic about it. That was simply how the Mexican families from that region prepared their food.

                            I think Scott now has his own blog, the Dallas Food Blog, and it makes for some interesting reading.

                            I have never been to Texas, so I can't say if the Tex-Mex or Mexican (or whatever you want to call it) is any good there. What passes for Tex-Mex in places out east, or anywhere else I've been, is just awful.

                            1. re: Steve

                              I love Scott's blog - dallasfood.org - even though I'm considerably west.

                              I have no idea why Tex-Mex suffers so much the further you move from Texas, but having lived in VA, NY & CT for years (South FL had the good graces not to even try when we lived there in the 80's) and really wanting to believe you could find good Tex-Mex there... I can report that it just never happened. From reconstituted onions to american cheese "nachos" - it just never happened for us. The one exception was a taco truck at the "end" of the Metro line at the time. I was 12 in 1982 and allowed to come to work with Mom during summers on the Hill and just spent hours riding the metro (!!! can you even imagine???). I discovered a taco & burrito stand that I raved about so much (Miguel's? it's been a few years) Mom finally came out with me - and soon displaced west Texans from her office were there every day.

                              I keep thinking things *must* have changed. But doesn't the Homesick Texan say that when ppl ask her where to get good Tex-Mex in NYC, she answers "my kitchen"?

                              1. re: shanagain

                                It really isn't happenin' here in the DC area. Oh well, one more reason to get myself to Texas.

                                1. re: shanagain

                                  Oh gosh. In answer to your last statement: YES. I grew up in Louisiana, but my grandparents had spent many winters in the Rio Grande valley and my Papa's family was from Texas. Tex-Mex food was incorporated in our family cuisine. When we moved to Alabama I was appalled at what was labelled as Mexican food in the restaurants here. So, imo, the best Tex-Mex around here came from my kitchen!

                              2. re: shanagain

                                This also brings up a question of time. How long before the "_-American" fare is a
                                regional cuisine itself?
                                20 years? 50? 100? Never?

                                1. re: bbqboy

                                  Never, I think. For reasons unbeknownst to me, we treat anything "American" (save for Creole & Cajun - which always get a pass) as inauthentic and simply indicative of the immigrants who adapted to their new homes. But the Cajuns & Creoles did the exact same thing - and we accept their respective riffs unequivocally as unique American cuisine and culture.

                                  In particular as "foodieism" rises to religious devotion, and we are able to order once "exotic" spices and ingredients with the click of a mouse at worst, or a trip to a local ethnic market at best, we revere the "authentic" to the point of utter disdain for the "bastardized."

                                  1. re: bbqboy

                                    "How long before the "_-American" fare is a
                                    regional cuisine itself?"

                                    Already regarded as such by we non-Americans. I would suggest that most of the world has a sense of "American food" in a very distinct way (even if inaccurate and inauthentic).

                                    1. re: Harters

                                      How politic you are! You must not be a Tory....;)
                                      I sometimes leave the US for no other reason than to eat.

                                      1. re: Harters

                                        Now that's interesting. While Tex-Mex is met with disdain among some here in the US, it is what the World thinks of as Ameri- Mexican? Let me grasp that for a while.

                                  2. Personally I think "authentic" is a bogus concept when discussing food. With the exception of rubber chickens and plastic grapes, all food is authentic. Presumably people who use the word are asking whether certain food is traditional.

                                    But "traditional" by itself is meaningless. You have to be pretty specific about which tradition you're talking about. Only the truly uninformed talk about "traditional" Mexican food; the food traditions of Sonora are significantly different than those of Tamaulipas or Puebla or the Yucatan. And that's without discussing the southwestern US, which used to be part of Mexico and has many long-term residents of Mexican ancestry with a variety of culinary traditions.

                                    Even within a fairly small geographic region, "authentic" food served in one restaurant or home may be completely different than what's served across town or across the street. Seriously, does anybody believe that all the cooks in Hong Kong slavishly follow the same recipe book? Sure there are common ingredients, techniques, and aesthetic values in traditional Cantonese cuisine, but the notion that innovation is bad or that there's some unchanging gold standard of "authenticity" strikes me as the opposite of chowhoundishness.

                                    That's not to say that dumbing-down doesn't happen. NY pizza isn't a "dumbed-down" version of Pizza Napoletano, but a culinary tradition in its own right. Domino's, on the other hand, with its cardboard crust, bland sauce, and artificial cheese, is as dumb as it gets.

                                    I agree with others have that the first and foremost question is whether food tastes good. And when I'm exploring new horizons, it's nice to know the origins of a dish, so it's good to know whether what I'm getting is substantially similar to what would be traditionally served in Hanoi or Hyderabad or Puebla or Pittsburgh. But whether it's "authentic" isn't even a question that can be answered; for me at least the very use of the word that sets off alarm bells of culinary imperialism and general cluelessness.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: alanbarnes

                                      A curious example of reverse "culinary imperialism" is the irony that food in the Little Havana section of Miami is so much better than anything on the island. That has to do of course with cuban prosperity here, the handing down of traditions and recipes, and that cubans here can own a fishing boat.

                                    2. As other have said and I have said in the past, taste (specifically, if you like the taste) trumps all. It's not for me to decide what you enjoy and not for you to judge me on my taste preferences. My version of Huevos Rancheros isn't all that "Authentic" but I'm here to tell you it's damned tasty.

                                      To me, the idea of dumbing down is sorta like the old music bugaboo, "Selling out." Hard to define but I think it has it roots in it being more about the money than the product. For instance, jalepenos are spicy. Engineering them to not be spicy so they can be mass marketed is "Dumbing down." On the other hand, as has been pointed out, staying true to ones self doesn't always pay the bills so I can understand.

                                      Two words that are tossed about on these boards that I think people miss the boat on are "Authentic" and "Traditional." Using the example of the Korean dish wrapped in leafy greens. To say that it isn't authentic because it's not using a harsh mountain green from Korea is probably true. To say it's not traditional is false since it's meat wrapped in a leaf. Does that mean that given the choice of greens the Koreans would've taken theirs over the N.A. variety?? Maybe, maybe not. The problem is, dishes used to be made from what was fresh and available. People would go to the market, forage or hunt and make a dish from what they came home with. We now reverse engineer and decide what to make and then go get it. The world is full of dishes like gumbo, burgoo, paella and such which were meals made from whatever meat was available. If I make (here in very urban Canada) a burgoo using chicken and pork instead of rabbit and squirrel I run the risk of a Kentuckian telling me it's not "Authentic" even though I am following the tradition of using the meat available to me.

                                      We tend to think of the evolution of dishes as something that HAS happened. Not something that IS happening. It will continue to happen. We're humans, we have it in us to experiment and "Improve" things.
                                      I feel as long as you stay true to the core ingredients and the spirit (hard to define) of the dish then if people find a certain seasoning or flavouring ingredient a non starter then go ahead tinker with it. However, if a recipe ventures too far from home, you should probably start to call it something else. I can somewhat agree with Hartes saying "There is no single recipe for a dish - my way of cooking an "authentic" dish is different from what my mother's was which is different to what my neighbour's is which is different to the restaurant saying they cook authentic dishes." However, there are certain guidelines you need to follow or you're making a different dish. For instance, there is no olives in Jerk Chicken anymore than salsa belongs on a plate of Bangers and Mash.


                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: Davwud

                                        I think you're right about the "spirit" of a dish. If I'm cooking something "traditional", a good test is would my mother recognise this for what it is. She learned her cooking during the 40s and 50s when many modern ingredients were unheard of - and many pre-war items were unavailable or subject to food rationing. Taking your example, she will have cooked bangers, mash and onion gravy - it's traditional. If I cook it with a fancier sausage than plain pork, is it still the same? Or if my mash is sweet potato or ordinary potato & turnip? Or if I add wine to the gravy or, indeed, serve it wil onion marmalade instead? I think Mum would still see it as bangers and mash (at least, I hope she would).

                                      2. Since deliciousness is a separate issue, quite a bit of the answer will have to depend on the intent of the cooks/chefs when they changed the dish.

                                        I stop making an issue about authenticity when the derived dish tastes just as good or better to me or when the new dish is given a new name to distinguish it from the dish that it was derived from (an issue with labelling rather than taste).

                                        A common misconception is that authentic refers to one monolithic prototype. Typically there are a range of variations that would all be considered authentic, and how authentic a dish was would depend on how much it departed from that range.

                                        1. I really enjoyed reading this thread. Thank you to all who contributed.
                                          I agree that Domino's is dumb, but I also agree that there are many "authentic" pizzas. I get a big kick out of people who are stunned because in So Cal we like salad ON our pizza.

                                          Or Thai chicken pizza.

                                          They say (ahem) "really"

                                          If it tastes good, it is good.
                                          Could never and would never try to convince those who live in Texas and love Tex-Mex that Cal-Mex is better. I like it better because it is what I'm used to.

                                          I don't always care for all real autentico mexicana food, even though it is readily available.
                                          I recently had a chile relleno in an "authentic" style and did not enjoy it at all. What was the good of that???

                                          Again, thanks for this topic.

                                          4 Replies
                                          1. re: laliz

                                            "If it tastes good, it is good"

                                            but can't tastes change? Or be developed?

                                            A man who had not seen Mr. K. for a long time greeted him with the words: “You haven’t changed a bit.” “Oh!” said Mr. K. and turned pale.

                                            1. re: Steve

                                              Certainly tastes change. If it didn’t, we’d still be eating raw meat in a cave.

                                              1. re: monkeyrotica

                                                A Cave? That might have been my best chance for a granite countertop, about a million years ago. And don't knock raw meat until you have had Alan Barnes' steak tartare!

                                                1. re: Veggo

                                                  Not knocking raw meat at all, but there's a world of difference between freshly killed unseasoned mastadon and Raw Meat Lucullus. The eggs, capers, and sardines provide the sort of richness you just can't find in a cave.

                                          2. I will come right out and say not only for myself but a lot of the people I know like me who haven't traveled the world and would most likely not know most versions of authentic cuisine if it bit us on the collective leg.

                                            I do have a friend who's traveled the world extensively and dined in nearly every country more than once, yet with all her self-imposed dietary restrictions, nobody in the world but herself and her husband would consider her a foodie (because he "can't eat" even more things than she "can't").

                                            Monkey, your question is a great one, forcing me, at least, to admit that I like what I like without knowing a lot (okay, most) of the time if it's authentic, other than that it resembles what I've read about.

                                            I suppose a subsequent thread could be something like "If you live in Tucson or Topeka and don't travel very much, can you even be a legitimate chowhound?"

                                            I think if you're like me you eat around, find out what you enjoy, study the cuisines, and decide which ones you like, but is that valid?

                                            Is it possible i've become such a snob I don't have any faith in my own palate?

                                            I may just implode- thanks a lot, Monkeyerotica! (jk)

                                            2 Replies
                                            1. re: EWSflash

                                              Getting back to my original reply to this thread, I think you can live in a lot of places and read up on what the possibilities are. Don't be a passive consumer. Engage in dialogue. Ask about ingrediants, specials, what people would cook for themselves. If you show an interest, I think you can live in any city and have the opportunity for a more interesting experience.

                                              1. re: EWSflash

                                                Except, Tucson and Topeka do have distinct dining cultures.
                                                Not sure they hit the
                                                "cool" quotient among most on here.
                                                Sonoran hot dogs have made a splash, maybe there's hope for my Bierock revolution yet. :)

                                              2. Suggest you visit Japan and Korea to see what they've done to pizza and southern fried chicken. We all play with our food, and it's all good.

                                                2 Replies
                                                1. re: pikawicca

                                                  8^) I like your post- it sums a lot of stuff up.

                                                  1. re: pikawicca

                                                    So true. My sister lives in Japan and wanted to take a series of classes on baking bread, but she didn't want to have to do the first item in the course- corn and mayo bread. The book Tokyo Underworld has some interesting history on pizza in Japan.

                                                    As for Japanese curry, I wasn't aware that it was supposed to be an interpretation of Indian curries. Indian restaurants are fairly popular there and they don't serve anything like the Japanese curry.

                                                  2. We're having a bit of a similar discussion in a thread over on the DC-Baltimore forum: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/6930...

                                                    While you can read through the post, I'll highlight what I just wrote (and I'm sure the thread will be cut off an moved to this board anyway):

                                                    The operative question in your post is this: "What did the original version taste like? "

                                                    What "original" version? Is there some book in the Hunan Province that says that all chicken dishes should be made and taste a certain way? Who ever decided what was "original" and what wasn't? What if one chef makes it with chicken thighs and the other makes it with chicken breasts, which is the "original" one?

                                                    Even in Vietnam, there are disagreements as to which is the "true" pho bo. The north doesn't like the version in the south, and the south dislikes the version in the north. Looking at this in historical perspective, some people say that pho was only invented during the era of French, when the Vietnamese colonial overlords left bones behind from their meals. So, is pho, even of the sort you get in Vietnam, "authentic?" And, I've had pho that I've found better in the US than I have in Hanoi. So, are my tastebuds off, or are dishes mutable?

                                                    And, I've been in Chinese restaurants with people who forged ahead and ordered dishes despite the server's disapproving glances. And, there have been times that I've really disliked those "Not for American people" dishes, and wished I had ordered the chicken chow mein instead.

                                                    BTW, this is hardly unique to the U.S. As Jason1 mentioned, Indo-Chinese food, i.e., the food in, say, a restaurant in Mumbai's Chinatown is highly different than food found in say, Hong Kong, but I doubt there's a bunch of people sitting around scratching their heads and wondering, why is this Chinese food so "dumbed down" for the Indian palate.

                                                    In Peru, a beloved dish, lomo saltato, also definitely with roots in the Chinese immigrants there. The Peruvians embrace this, and don't sit around moaning about how this is not the "real" thing.

                                                    BTW, I've had a discussion with Chef Li about the "origins" of the much beloved fish noodles. He told me that they use a different fish in Hong Kong, and that the noodles are even a different color. Does knowing that make you enjoy them less? Does it make you think that Chef Li's fish noodles are dumbed down and not authentic? It's a slippery slope, isn't it?

                                                    A few years ago I read this great book: Why We Eat What We Eat: How Columbus Changed the Way the World Eats: http://www.amazon.com/Why-We-Eat-What...

                                                    And, the author makes great points about the notion of "authenticity." For instance, since tomatoes are from Central America originally, is Neopolitian pizza inauthentic since it's not made with ingredients indigenous to Naples? Peppers were exported from, again, Central America, to Asia, so is "spicy" Thai food some "dumbed down" version? And, is an "authentic" dish written down and agreed on by some cuisine committee?

                                                    And, yes, there's some weird chowhoundish fetish about "authencity" and I wonder what the origins of *that* are?

                                                    14 Replies
                                                    1. re: baltoellen

                                                      "A few years ago I read this great book: Why We Eat What We Eat: How Columbus Changed the Way the World Eats.

                                                      And, the author makes great points about the notion of "authenticity." For instance, since tomatoes are from Central America originally, is Neopolitian pizza inauthentic since it's not made with ingredients indigenous to Naples? Peppers were exported from, again, Central America, to Asia, so is "spicy" Thai food some "dumbed down" version? And, is an "authentic" dish written down and agreed on by some cuisine committee?"

                                                      I enjoyed that book too. The history of food and cuisines have been fascinating to me and I've read a number of books on the subject. Food evolves as people and civilization advance. The whole "authentic" thing can't be quantified, imo. In Louisiana there are as many different recipes for gumbo as there are cooks. Each of them can be totally authentic, but there are hundreds, if not thousands of differences.

                                                      1. re: decolady

                                                        Can you recommend some of the other books you've enjoyed on the subject? It's a fascinating topic. Thanks.

                                                        1. re: baltoellen

                                                          1. Nathaniel's Nutmeg, by Giles Milton. Story of how a spice trader changed the course of history.
                                                          2. China and Glass in America 1880-1980 - From Tabletop to TV Tray, by Charles Venable. This one is mainly about dinnerware as it was published in conjunction with an exhibit at the art museum in Dallas.
                                                          3. Fashionable Foods, Seven Decades of Food Fads, by Sylvia Lovegren.
                                                          4. Salt, A World History, by Mark Kurlansky. I just started this one.
                                                          5. Several of paperback books by Carolyn Wyman about processed foods in the US. A couple of them are SPAM and Better Than Homemade.
                                                          6. Something From the Oven, Reinventing Dinner in the 1950s, by Laura Shapiro. Her first book is Perfection Salad, but I haven't read that one yet.
                                                          7. The United States of Arugula, How We Became a Gourmet Nation, by David Camp.

                                                          There are lots of others. These were just easy to see on my bookshelf. And though many of these type books purport to tell the whole story, remember they are only telling part of the story as seen from the author's lens. That doesn't keep them from being interesting, though.

                                                        2. re: decolady

                                                          Authentic doesn't equal using indigenous ingredients. It's often used as a way to label a particular dish; e.g. steamed or sauteed chicken are both not authentic fried chicken.

                                                          Whether a dish is authentic or not will vary with its source. In some cases, the canonical version may be the creation of a single person, in others it might refer to variants that are related.

                                                          Food definitely evolves. The thing with evolution is that some of these changes will improve the dish, while others reduce its appeal, to a certain set of people. Many of the dishes that have been around for a longer period of time are likely to have ensured their existence because they have had a certain amount of appeal. OTOH, dishes that contain more recent changes may not have been selected for, or are in the process of being selected against. When we enjoy a dish which has been around for a while, we don't necessarily have a chance to compare it with all the competing variants that were not successful, and therefore do not presently exist.

                                                          Sure, there could be hundreds and thousands of variants for a single dish, and they could all be authentic. Authenticity doesn't always refer to a single prototype. Nor is it a YES/NO issue -- it's a graded process. Changing the sauce and the starch is a bigger change than just changing the sauce. And there are some variants that shouldn't be labeled as authentic -- If someone gave you a bowl of chicken soup with rice noodles, it would be very inauthentic to call it gumbo. The examples I give may sound trivial, but sometimes we see changes of these extents made to dishes (why they retain the original names is a mystery). I don't mind these changes, but would be grateful if they were labeled properly, so that we know what we are ordering.

                                                          The important thing, of course, is to taste and judge for oneself. Which means not accepting every change as being an improvement or rejecting every departure from the commonly accepted variants as being negative. Authenticity is a useful concept, especially in labeling, but let's not confuse that with deliciousness. Critical thinking and eating is essential.

                                                          1. re: limster

                                                            I agree it is a convenient label and should be used as such. Certainly many "authentic" dishes are variants on a a theme ad they are all fine. The key for me is the key or core element(s) of a dish that make it authentic if these are absent and it is labelled "authentic" then I feel I am right to feel aggrieved i.e. a Vindaloo must be hot and have vinegar without these two attributes it can't be authentic and should be called something else.

                                                            I am all for variation and food evolution. I agree with many that the one and only test is the taste. But, if "authentic" is used as a label then it needs some meaning as it is a signpost that signals what sort of dish/cuisine I am getting.

                                                            Back to the OP's question: what point do you stop fetishizing authenticity and start enjoying your meal for what it is. I believe it depends on your experience because its sets your expectations. If you have had the real deal, the authentic cuisine, and the place you are in delivers different food that lacks the core elements that make it authentic then you are most likely to be disappointed because it doesn't meet your expectations. However, if you don't have the experience of the true authentic food then if it is good, it is good.

                                                            A good example: we loved a dim sum restaurant in Sydney and ate there regularly, to us it was authentic. We moved to Hong Kong, and at first were underwhelmed by the food. On our return to Sydney we revisited our favourite dim sum restaurant and were disappointed. The food was the same, but what had changed was our experience. We understood that authentic Cantonese dim sum is light and subtle, made with a lot of delicacy. As a result of getting to understand the core elements that made the food authentic our appreciation of what is good was changed forever.

                                                            Maybe an analogy will help: nylon lingerie is perfectly fine if that is all you have experienced, but once you have experienced authentic silk lingerie there is no going back.

                                                            1. re: PhilD

                                                              When I travel, and get to try food at "the source," I generally find myself comparing and contrasting. Sometimes I have no preference, and think about how interesting the variations on it are. Sometimes I prefer the dish at "the source." And, there are times, pho bo is a notable example, that I prefer the version I'm familiar with. I assume that's because we have much, much better beef. I mean, have you ever seen SE Asian cattle?

                                                              1. re: baltoellen

                                                                I agree quite often access to better raw ingredients will improve the dish and thus a dish from an impoverished region be far better when made in an affluent place.

                                                                That is why I focussed on the trying to identify the "core elements" of the dish. With Pho this is the beef stock and here long slow careful cooking is essential to extract the flavour from even the poorest quality cattle, if you then improve the quality of raw ingredients it is likely to get better.

                                                                But without the careful preparation (lengthy) even the best ingredients won't shine. So take away the core element i.e. the care in the preparation of the stock and you don't have an authentic Pho.

                                                                1. re: PhilD

                                                                  "a dish from an impoverished region be far better when made in an affluent place."

                                                                  Such as?

                                                                  1. re: Steve

                                                                    Well, as discussed, Pho would be one.

                                                                    Other dishes which depend on the quality and freshness of ingredients would be others. That assumes high quality "authentic" ingredients are available i.e. you can't make a lot of Mexican food without the correct fresh chillies. In Australia we grow lots of Asian vegetables and herbs, add in a modern (fast/chilled) supply chain, and then the many great chefs from the region, plus a highly discerning local population of Asian descent and the result is that some of the food we can get here in Sydney does beat the same from the home country.

                                                                    However, this concept breaks down with the "core element" of the dish is a "lower quality" ingredient which is made delicious by the cooking technique/recipe so a goat curry isn't going to be better made with spring lamb (far easier to find than goat in an average US/UK supermarket), or a coq-au-vin isn't going to be as good with a chicken rather than an old cockerel (rooster).

                                                                    Interestingly on the point about the supply chain and ingredient quality. I assume in the past this wasn't an issue as people grew/produced what they needed so no supply chain and fresh produce (but seasonal), so as a result the dishes were at their peak. Now as countries industrialise and populations migrate to the cities the local supply chains in many of them have not matured, so as a result produce quality has dropped, which impacts the quality of food.

                                                                    1. re: Steve

                                                                      Someone upthread mentioned the deliciousness found in Little Havana versus the meh food on the island. (Although it wasn't stated quiet that way.)

                                                          2. re: baltoellen

                                                            "since tomatoes are from Central America originally, is Neopolitian pizza inauthentic since it's not made with ingredients indigenous to Naples? Peppers were exported from, again, Central America, to Asia, so is "spicy" Thai food some "dumbed down" version?"

                                                            Interesting point. Leaving aside the question of what word we really want when we use "authentic" or "traditional" instead, I would consider these to be clear examples of food being smartened up. Dumbed down is what American cookbooks used to tell you to do with garlic--cut a clove in half, rub the cut surface on the inside of your salad bowl, and discard (the clove, not the bowl.)

                                                            1. re: KWagle

                                                              Not sure whether that's dumbing down if you just want a hint of garlic. After all, the 'traditional' way of making bruschetta is to rub half a clove on the bread and discard, not mix it in with the tomato. Same with Caesar salad.

                                                              1. re: linguafood

                                                                Similar with the Mallorcan pa amb oli. The garlic gets rubbed on the bread then a tomato gets rubbed (hard so some of the pulp is left). Drizzle of oil finishes it

                                                                1. re: Harters

                                                                  Ah, the pleasures of summer. Can't WAIT for good tomatoes again!!!

                                                          3. Hey wasn't Indian curry invented in England and not India becuase of the spice wars way back when?

                                                            14 Replies
                                                              1. re: flylice2x

                                                                Flylice2x: you may be thinking of the word not the food.

                                                                The word "curry" was an English word probably derived from the Tamil word 'Kari" meaning sauce. It was used to describe a whole range of Indian dishes which had their own specific names. Indian food goes back many thousands of years to pre-history (4000 BC), and with the new religions like Jainism and Buddism in 500BC , and the Arab influences around 1100AD there was a thriving food culture long before the British arrived.

                                                                The British did export curry from India to many parts of the world, they used low cost Indian labour in Hong Kong, Burma, Malaysia, South Africa and eventually the Caribbean. The introduction of curry like dishes to these countries can be traced back to those days, and these dishes and influences are now an integral part of these cuisines. Arab and Indian traders also moved "curry" around and it is thought some Thai style curry come via this route. Japanese curry's where probably a direct (and conscious) import into Japan from Shanghai in the 1800s as Shanghai had a large Indian workforce in those days, one theory was it was a way to introduce more red meats into the Japanese diet to help make the population taller and stronger.

                                                                1. re: PhilD

                                                                  There's another example of what I'm talking about: British curry houses. The flavor profile is going to differ from the curry you'd find in Delhi (or Gujurati or Pashtun or Japan), and can be just as flavorful, yet if someone from Indonesia came in expecting the style of curry they had growing up, they'd be disappointed.

                                                                  I saw a picture from the 1930s of a restaurant in Shanghai. The neon sign said, "AUTHENTIC AMERICAN CHOP SUEY." I imagine if a Connecticut expatriate came in expecting macaroni and beef in tomato sauce, he'd be disappointed.

                                                                  1. re: monkeyrotica

                                                                    Not certain I follow the point about the Indonesian. Certainly Indonesian dishes that were influenced by India migration exist but the interchange took place hundreds of years ago, thus Indonesian food as evolved with one of the many inputs being Indian. But I can't see an Indonesian ever expecting Indonesian style food in an Indian restaurant.

                                                                    British curry houses, cover a multitude os sins, some great but many are poor. The good ones have chefs trained in India and deliver Indian standard food that is similar to food you can get in India, some even push the boundaries and evolve the food, but even here I think there is a good interchange with what is happening in India.

                                                                    Lots though deliver very average cheap curry for mass consumption, I am not certain anyone would argue these are authentic though. The fact that curry houses are moving "upmarket" by becoming more Indian is evidence I think that people want the real deal (authentic) food rather than the cheap ersatz version of the past. India is a big tourist destination for many Brits and so they come home expecting better food causing local restaurants to lift their game.

                                                                    1. re: PhilD

                                                                      At least in Indonesia the locals eat a dish (or, rather, a variety of dishes) they call "curry." Not sure that's true in most of India.

                                                                      1. re: alanbarnes

                                                                        "Not sure that's true in most of India."

                                                                        I'm sure that's the case. Leaving aside the multiplicity of languages in Bangladesh/India/Pakistan/Sri Lanka, as Phil mentions, "curry" is an anglicised word usually assumed to be adapted from the word in one of those languages for "sauce". It's just not a word that you'd use to descibe the multiplicity of dishes that might be available with a sauce. However, for me, if I say I'm "going for a curry tonight", other Brits will understand that to mean I'm going an asian restaurant - much in the same way that if I said my Hoover was broken, they'd understand I meant the vacuum cleaner not a particular brand.

                                                                      2. re: PhilD

                                                                        <I>Lots though deliver very average cheap curry for mass consumption, I am not certain anyone would argue these are authentic though. </i>

                                                                        Well it’s authentic in the sense that it’s an authentic British curry house; as you said, delivering the cheap ersatz version in the same way American-Chinese carryouts deliver moogoo gaipan, General Tso’s, etc. In the same way, both can be tasty and exactly what you want after drinking too much, but is it even trying to be authentic Indian/Chinese cuisine? I don’t really think that’s what most of their customers go there for.

                                                                        1. re: monkeyrotica

                                                                          My metro centre (Manchester) has an area known as the "Curry Mile" - about 50 "curry houses" along one road over about half a mile (we don't do distances very well). I'm always fascinated to read the local boards when one poster will claim X is "the best" along the strip while someone else will declare it to be the restaurant from hell and that anyone who has any taste knows that Y is the best. But, of course, the fact is that they all have virtually the same menu and the food tastes just the same whichever you go in. And, of course, Z is obviously the best - cos that's the one I go to most times!

                                                                          1. re: monkeyrotica

                                                                            I wouldn't disagree, the British "high street" curry has become an authentic category over the years, you could then add in the "Birmingham balti" as another "authentic" sub category. But, I would argue against supermarket pre-prepped versions of high street curry house dishes being labelled authentic, they aren't even authentic high street.

                                                                            However, if you look at that statement in the context it was written I meant something slightly different. I was thinking about how our perception of authentic changes and it will be interesting to see how this changes people view of high street curry. The high street is a crowded market and restaurants seek to differentiate themselves. Many do this by getting more authentic and more regional. With lots of Brits travelling to India they get to know how great real Indian food can be and thus seek out the better more real/authentic places. Will we eventually see the traditional British high street curry disappear as this trend continues? Maybe not at the bottom end of the market but probably at the top; lots of my friends don't simply look for a "good curry house" they are now looking for something more authentic, more Indian (or Pakistani etc), less adapted for the masses.

                                                                            Travel (and all the writing and articles that go with it) really does stimulate this type of change. The ubiquitous Cantonese style Chinese restaurant of old is being challenged by regional styles with Sichuan, Hunan and Shanghai specialist becoming more common. I even wonder if the old high street ones still serve much lemon chicken and sweet and sour pork. Are these standard dishes in decline? I also think the same is true in the UK for Spanish food, Tapas bars have become a lot more sophisticated with more authentic food. The same could be said for Vietnamese and Thai food. In fact in the UK there is even a push for authentic US burgers as travellers return with the knowledge that the "authentic" UK version just doesn't stack up against the real deal.

                                                                            I wonder if the US is different to other countries in this regard? Proportionally quite a small percentage of the population travel internationally, only 28% of Americans have passports compared to 70% of the UK population, and thus the demand for "authenticity" is less, and thus less of a competitive pressure. I also wonder if the predominance of chains in the US slows this drift towards authenticity? IIRC stability and standardisation are keys to profitable growth for the "PF Chang's" of this world, not innovation and creative cooking.

                                                                            1. re: PhilD

                                                                              I think you're sort of right, Phil. Certainly, the "Curry Mile" that I mentioned upthread is not the area that it used to be in terms of popularity. Restaurants there are half empty while the comparitively few more upmarket/more "authentic" places around the metro area are packed. The shift is pushed on by the award of Michelin stars to a number of asian restaurants. The trend is bound to continue (I only know of Lasan in Birmingham but I know you've eaten there and my guess is that you wouldnt be surprised to see it gain a star in the future).

                                                                              Whether the move is to genuine "authentic" cooking I'm not sure (as several points upthread, I don't knwo what authentic is). I am sure there's a move in Britain to "better" food whether that's asian, Chinese or Spanish or, indeed, British. Dumbing up - if such a phrase exists.

                                                                              1. re: Harters

                                                                                I think you just invented it. I like it. :)

                                                                                1. re: Harters

                                                                                  There is also another interesting spin on the journey to authenticity". French restaurant culture is long established and it has a strong pedigree ad history, so even though it evolves and develops there is a strong enough ethos running through it to be able to lock in "authenticity". But lots of other food cultures are at different stages of their developments, again India is a good example, I understand restaurant culture didn't really take off until after 1947, and then it was driven by Punjabis. As a result Indian restaurant culture is skewed, it doesn't reflect the breadth of home cooking, not has it had a chance to start to evolve (although this is happening). So there is a big gap between "authentic" home cooking and restaurant coking even in India.

                                                                                  Many other countries have similar culinary histories with a big gulf between food served in royal households an that served at home. Like France, the restaurant scene in a lot of these countries seems to have developed as the monarchies faded and chefs/cooks opened up restaurants. Even countries like China, who have long and deep culinary heritages suffered from political interference in food with Mao closing elitist restaurants and cooking schools and sending the skilled cooks to the fields. As a result China having to slowly recover the great food heritage.

                                                                                  What does this mean for authenticity. My guess is that the cuisines will initially diverge. Emigrants are usually move against their free will and cooking is a trade that requires few qualifications. They set up in the new countries and quickly establish a new food trend/fashion (the Bangladeshis and East African Asians in the UK, or Vietnamese in the US) . This now becomes "authentic" food in their new country, but it isn't static. The old country stabilises, the emigrants travel home, links are established, and the food cultures mature and reintegrate. The food of the now established communities gets better as this happens. Thus our perception of "authenticity" changes as the food improves and our tastes adapt.

                                                                                2. re: PhilD

                                                                                  The rise and fall in popularity of certain ethnic dishes is another example of the public’s evolving taste. American “chop suey houses” of the 1920s eventually broadened their menus to include the standards that are on every Chinese carryout menu today. And considering that there are more Chinese restaurants in America than McDonalds, Wendys, and Burger King combined, someone must be ordering this stuff. And those that have the “secret menu” of items are the ones chowhounders are always on the lookout for.

                                                                                  Curious thing is that, at least the Chinese carrouts in the downtown DC area, some excel at items on their non-Chinese menu. The downtown locations also serve sandwiches, subs, fried chicken, seafood, and the like, and a few make a really tasty steak & cheese sub (a DC specific regional variation on the cheesesteak, or what you’d call a “cheesesteak hoagie” in Philadelphia: thin sliced ribeye, onions, lettuce, tomato, provo, mayonnaise). And one of the few signature DC dishes are chicken wings and “mambo sauce,” a neon red sweet syrup that nobody quite knows the recipe for. Neither of these dishes are Chinese, yet there they are, on many of the Chinese carrout menus, and some of the ones I’ve had have been better than the ones I’ve eaten in Philly or in some of the upscale soul food eateries. Again, they’re not even adapting a Chinese cuisine to local taste, so much as serving something the locals are willing to pay for and doing quite well at it.

                                                                          2. re: PhilD

                                                                            Following from Phil's point, Madhur Jaffrey's book "The Curry Bible" presents curry recipes from around the world which demonstrate this movement of Indian people around the British Empire and how dishes adapted to local ingredients and tastes over time. Book worth having on your shelf if you want to cook asian food.