HOME > Chowhound > General Topics >
Mar 23, 2010 04:23 AM

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?

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  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.