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Authenticy of Food?

I hear the term "authentic" and "Americanized" being thrown around so much, but I really have to ponder on what they mean. I believe authentic means that it tastes like food that has the same distinct flavors as one would discover in the nation the restaurant is representing; however, this means people should not be throwing around the term so lightly, as most have probably never visited the place. How can they know whether it is "Authentic" or not? Furthermore, what is Americanized food? I see that being used a lot for Indian food, and as I am very much familiar with homemade Indian food and restaurants in India, I see no difference, except the food here is maybe toned down in spice and the Butter Chicken is a bit more sweeter. Much of the Indian-Chinese cuisine is missing, and the food is usually crappy, but that fault lies with the cook. If food is not authentic, does that mean it is Americanized? If it is Americanized, is it unauthentic? I'm going to take a wild shot and guess Americanized means dimmed down to reflect American taste, but once again, unless they've dumped a bunch of sugar into it, how can someone who has not eaten real Indian food determine whether it is "Americanized" or not? Overall, it just seems like a term thrown around to slander or praise restaurants.

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  1. Ha! Do a little search on this and the NAF board, and you'll have reading fodder for the next couple months.

    1 Reply
    1. re: linguafood

      Yup - not going to touch this one. It's a wildfire waiting to happen.

    2. Any term used to slander or praise restaurants should be taken with massive chunks of authentic sea salt. However, when a term is used to describe food, you need to assess whether it has meaning to you or not, at a personal level. After all, if it's a recommendation you're looking for, it's only meaningful if the food is described to you in a way you will understand. Does "delicious" mean anything?

      Ultimately, for me, words only have meaning in their context. Who says them is as important as what they say. Hearing my gaijin in-laws tell me of an "authentic" sushi place leaves me with no desire to try the place. But hearing that same term from my Japanese mother would have left me with much more hope. OTOH, my in-laws in Oklahoma CIty could tell me of a steak place in town that does steak "authentically", and I'd be interested. Presumably, that would mean not sous-vided to death and then thrown under the salamander for a minute, but perhaps, thrown on a burning hot wood fired grill.

      applehome - http://applegigo.blogspot.com

      1. Last week The Splendid Table had a segment about regional or typical foods for various parts of the US, The guest, John T Edge talked specifically about teriyaki in Seattle.
        http://splendidtable.publicradio.org/...
        He describes both the typical version, and its permutations, and the fact that shop owner could well be any of 'new' immigrants, Korean, Somali, Mexican, etc. Is a Japanese dish, prepared by an African cook for a Korean-American college kid authentic or Americanized?

        Or how about a Mandarin Chinese noodle dish with a side of kimchee in the food court of a New Jersey based Korean grocery chain?

        1 Reply
        1. re: paulj

          Frickin' regulars on these boards know better than to get started on this subject again... ;^) Must - Fight - Urge - To - Bite! Silverjay's noble gesture to preempt everyone to side with reason wasn't enough for me - I'm too weak, but will keep as brief as possible (hee hee).

          Our country is a land of immigrants. Immigrants bring their cultures to this land. Some parts of the cultures - in our case, food - becomes well accepted into the mainstream. Those examples will then become subject to interpretation for many reasons. Depending on the culture from which these particular foods originate from, some from the old school will hold fast to its original accepted form for a variety of reasons, while others will take it like a piece of clay and shape it into whatever they see fit. A simple glazed bowl will remain a bowl in the hands of some, but others will transform that piece of clay into anything from another simple bowl to a roof shingle or ceramic knife and everything in between. Some examples of the bowl will be mass-produced, while others will be formed in the hands of true artisans - some, true artists. Some worthy of art galleries, others will be had at Neiman Marcus, some at Target, and some will be found at the local five & dime (is there such a thing anymore?).

          Consider where the UN resides. I think this is for a good reason. Where else in the world could representatives of so many nations be accepted into the fold of one nation without that nation's public even batting an eye? And where else in the world could just about everyone of those countries' representatives get a meal that at least resembles something back home? Authentic and Americanized have their places. Paulj's reference to an African cook preparing a Japanese dish for Korean-American students is apt. The permutations that influence the concepts of authenticity versus Americanized are endless. Whatever fits the market is acceptable. For those who want authentic, seek it out. For those who want Americanized, it will fall in your lap.

          1. So basically; screw this topic, it either tastes good or not. That sounds like a fine answer to leave with for me. You can't really trust people who say whether it's "authentic" or not, unless they've actually tasted food from that homeland. Americanized is just a pointless term that means it's been changed around, so basically non-"authentic." And even then, I can't really criticize Indian restaurants. Are they really non-authentic for cutting down on the spice? That's just a personal preference... Now, if they coated honey on their chicken tikka, I'd understand.

            22 Replies
            1. re: Undeadsteak

              Take it as you will. The key (to me) is to understand that authentic has nothing at all to do with good. It's just a descriptor and its very relative. If, for some, its not authentic without spice, then that's what they mean when they say its not authentic. But even you have a point where you'll buy into something not being authentic. When I see one of your posts saying it's not authentic, I'll think the tikka must have honey!

              1. re: applehome

                Applehome,

                Agree: authentic has nothing at all to do with good

                1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                  Yeah, I agree but the lust for authentic food is a desire to try all available iterations of a type of food and to have the ability to compare and contrast. Above anything else, we are foodies, are we not?

              2. re: Undeadsteak

                The way I understand it is: anything good = authnetic, anything bad = Americanized. Why? Because we are a self-hating nation.

                1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                  Damn, you are so spot-on about that. I have a friend who has traveled the world multiple times, and she spends her whole time trying not to be labeled an American, which she thinks will get her killed in most countries. She hates where she made her home in Tucson. She hates where she came from (Massacusetts), and she and DH made up a whole scenario a bout retiring to Vancouver, complete with what kind of car they they'd have, only to be hit with inferior construction on several of the condo settlements they'd looked at. '

                  To some people, authentic is anything but what they came from, Sad but true.

                  1. re: EWSflash

                    EWflash,

                    Yes, sometime, it can be sad. In their case, there is nothing authentic about it.

                  2. re: Chemicalkinetics

                    To the rest of the world, that sounds like a bad joke.

                    1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                      The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.

                      1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                        Most Americans - even Chowhounds- don't have much regard for British food, Eastern European food, African food, or most foods from Central or South America.

                        Meanwhile, bbq, cajun, southern food in general, crabcakes, lobster rolls, NY deli or pizza drive people into passionate frenzy.

                        Watch the Food Network. All those DIners, Dives, and Drive-Ins are serving classic American food.

                        1. re: Steve

                          "Most Americans - even Chowhounds- don't have much regard for British food"

                          Whereas many of we Brits are in love with what we perceive to be American food - burgers and other "fast food". The rise of Subway has been astonishing.

                          1. re: Harters

                            Hartes,

                            Don't be silly. We like British foods. Well, I do anyway, I like Fish and Chip (I were just asking Soop for his recipe on his unqiue Fish and Chip) and I like chicken tikka masala, which your Secretary Robin Cook has declared as the number one British national dish.

                            1. re: Harters

                              Eh, I don't see where the American argument that British food is bland comes from, given the only thing we tend to put on our food is sweet sugary stuff, which is worse. As for Eastern European food, I wish there were more restaurants that catered to the taste. Their food is awesome.

                              1. re: Undeadsteak

                                Reading many of the posts on, say, the home cooking board, I think I understand how Americans might have that perception of blandness of British (and some other European) cuisines. It is a matter of what folk are used to. I think there are some very significant differences between how a keen American homecook might prepare a meal and how a keen British one might. Looking at those posts, I'd say that, almost invariably, the American meal will be far more complex - with something "interesting" done to the sides as well as the protein. In the UK, the nature of our cuisine is to prepare food in a very simple way. Americans might therefore describe that as "bland", whereas I would say the principal ingredients have been left alone to taste of themselves.

                                1. re: Undeadsteak

                                  That's because you weren't there in the 70's. It's come a long ways quite quickly, as have we. I remember dried, tasteless pasties, more mutton than lamb (and often very unseasoned). Even the blood sausage there was bland compared to the continent. I would get these hockey pucks with breakfast and wonder how they were supposed to be eaten. The mushrooms and tomatoes were ok, but the bread-filled sausages made me wish I'd gotten the "continental" breakfast. I enjoyed the fish - even the salty dried herrings, but the food I had then was most definitely bland.

                                  1. re: applehome

                                    Hey, applehome, I'm not sure who you're directing the "not here in the 70s" to - but I've been here since the 50s - I've always been here.

                                    I suspect, from your post that you're referring to downmarket hotel or cafe breakfasts - black pudding is a sausage shape - the sliced things only appear in cheap places (by and large). The pasty, of course, also depends on where you buy it - it's usually beef. Mutton would be great as its much tastier than lamb - neither are traditonal.

                                    1. re: Harters

                                      I was responding to Undeadsteak saying that he/she doesn't "see where the American argument that British food is bland comes from..." In 1976, while stationed in Germany, we took a 30 day trip around the UK - camping out of the back of our little Toyota pickup truck with a tent. My son (see my icon) was 2 years old. While there were some highlights, especially in Wales, I came away thinking that British food was pretty much horrid and tasteless.

                                      Back for several business trips in the 90's and 00's, I totally changed my mind. The food I ran into then was as good as I remember of Germany and France, generally better than ours. I'm talking about mom and pop places we'd see on the road - some far off the road, not about chains or on the other hand, fancier downtown places.

                                      This is generalizing, of course, but back to the 76 trip, to take a 30 day trip mostly around the south, midlands, Wales and the London area, and feel that you've been exposed to a lot of different foods and feel like it was almost universally bland - you definitely feel that it's a national character. And btw, a lot of mutton at the open air markets in Cardiff and Aberystwyth (sp?) - the chops I bought at the markets and cooked at camp were better than any we had in the restaurants. I used garlic and salt!

                                      I had some of the same breakfasts later - the fine curd scrambled eggs, sliced cherry tomatoes, fried mushrooms, blood sausages - all delicious and tasty. I was very apprehensive because of my previous experience, but the smell alone, and then the first few bites, proved it. I stand by my claim that Brits learned how to season their food between 1976 and the 1990's. ;-)

                                      1. re: applehome

                                        And then they forgot soon after :)

                                        If meat can be stuffed with oats or grains to make it go further along with whatever root veg accompany it, so be it. (That said, I actually enjoy haggis, neeps and tatties, so go know. But the blood sausage here I can't enjoy remotely, because the boudin I eat in Belgium are so much better.)

                                        But Arbroath smokies are lovely-- sorry, glmpse of 'open air markets' reminded me...

                                        Meanwhile, I'd like to take this moment to let Harters know that American food and 'fast food' are not synonyms. Indeed, the British love of convenient ready meals and prepared sandwiches suggest fast is a feature of here as well. Subway may be growing in popularity as everyone panics over health matters and Subway offers at least some option for fresh veg in convenience-- and no sandwiches automatically slathered in butter and mayo before the fillings come. It becomes a more healthful alternative to Greggs, I suppose. Or, there could just be some miserable other alternative for its proliferation (which is insane).

                                        1. re: Lizard

                                          "I'd like to take this moment to let Harters know that American food and 'fast food' are not synonyms."

                                          Agreed - but I'd still wager that, if asked to define American food, that's how a very large proportion of Brits would respond. I base that on the premise that the vast majority of Brits have not visited America and therefore draw their conclusion from what they see on their high street and on TV and film. I've yet to see anyone setting up here offering a "low country boil" for example.

                                        2. re: applehome

                                          Hi, applehome.

                                          Yep, I understand the background now. There's definitely been an upswing in restaurant quality in the last 40 years with many places now concentrating on British classics. In the earlier years, "good" restaurants thought they had put a French or Italian spin to their food. It is now, often, much simpler with dishes offered that are more akin to home cooking.

                                          It also took many years for some parts of the food industry to recover from rationing in WW2. The war all but destroyed cheese making on a small scale and it's only ion comparitively recent years that a new generation of farmhouse makers are starting in business.

                                          And, yes, as for the home cooking, I also understand what you might mean. My mother was a lousy cook - particularly related to the different standards of today. She learned her cooking as a young wife in the immediate aftermath of the war when food remained hard to get. There were also few wider influences on our cuisine until the 70s - first it's really only from then that we started to travel abroad for holidays and, secondly, this is when the influences of immigration started to impact on the cuisine. Previous generations of immigrants had not had major impacts on the food.

                                          But, also , you are absolutely correct that modern British food is generally not highly seasoned, spiced or particularly complex (as it was centuries ago). Which is why I said in an earlier post why I understand that some foreigners, and especially many Americans, will think it bland.

                                2. re: Steve

                                  >>Most Americans - even Chowhounds- don't have much regard for British food, Eastern European food, African food, or most foods from Central or South America.<<

                                  I don't know about that - at least on the LA Board. A lot of LA Hounds seek out various "non-conventional cuisines." If not for a change-up, it's practically an obsession. However, I feel LA isn't well-represented in the categories of British and African food. East European is a little better. This might have to do with immigration patterns of those from the mentioned areas. Central and South American is pretty well-represented. And of course, Mexican and various Asian cuisines at all levels are considered "normal" food around these parts.

                            2. Given that many Indians are vegetarians and Hindu, some Indian-beef dish seems very much Americanized. For example, one do not have to ever been to China or Chinese area to know Kung Pao chicken pizza is an Americanized dish or that pork Tabbouleh is not really an Iraqi dish.

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                Is this Chinese beef curry Americanized?
                                http://chinesefood.about.com/od/beef/...

                                How about Vermont Curry Sauce 'with a touch of apple and honey'?

                                How about this pizza?
                                Chicken Tikka Makhani: Tandoori chicken, onion, tomato, green chillies & cheese with tandoori sauce.
                                or
                                Kadai chicken, onion, capsicum, red capsicum, green chillies, corainder & cheese.
                                or for vegitarians:
                                Paneer, capsicum, onion, red paprika and cheese with tandoori sauce.

                                These are from the menu for Pizzahut.co.in Americanized or Indianized?

                                1. re: paulj

                                  Paulj,

                                  I don't get your point. What are you trying to me about Chinese beef curry?

                              2. Well, let's see if this has bought up. Why is "Americanized" a derogatory term?

                                Similar terms are not negative. The so called Chinese bakery (popular in Chinatown) are based on Western bakery with a Chinese twist to them. Basically, they are less sweet, milder and usually spongy. Yet, these Chinese stores have signs like Chinese bakery or Hong Kong bakery. They do not treat these hyper-terms as negative. Conversely, you don’t see any restaurant put up a sign like “Americanized Geek cuisine”. There are Chinese restaurants in India, and those restaurants serve Chinese cuisine with very heavy Indian influences. They are certainly Indiani-ized Chinese cuisine, but again it is not considered less of.

                                Yet, here, the term American-ized often is used as a decrogatory term in culinary.

                                There are several potential reasons for this.

                                One is that Americans have low self-esteem (in foods), so they associate a negative quality to the word "Americanized". Yet, the more I think about it, the more I don't think that is true. Especially, the facts that many Americans are very proud of their foods like barbecue, soul food, Cajan cuisine....

                                The other reason is that the term is used for one group of Americans to make fun of another group of Americans. The more educated or more worldy-wise Americans use that term to make fun of other Americans. Currently, I am leaning to believe this is the origin.

                                I am sure there are other reasons for the come about for this term.

                                6 Replies
                                1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                  Harold McGee said that Barbeque is the only indigenous form of American food - everything else is a derivative of some other place. Makes great sense, seeing as we're immigrants.

                                  If you go to Germany, do you think you'll see signs for German foods? I never did in my three years. I lived on top of a German Bakerei and across from a Metzgerei - they said just Bakerei and Metzgerei.

                                  Given that we are all immigrants, we have food memories of where we came from. The closer you are to the first generation, the stronger those memories. The more you stayed in a group - in enclaves of your own people - the longer you kept your food memories. As you get away from these enclaves, the food becomes less available and more diluted - more mixed in, into the melting pot. So in Oklahoma CIty, you don't expect a good Jewish deli. And if someone were to open up a bagel shop or a deli, it would better suite the local tastes and be far removed from the enclaves of, say, New York City or Montreal. White bread bagels - meh... but there you go. Those folks wouldn't know what to do with a Zeppy's. So it's natural for the New Yorkers and Montrealers to make fun of the bagels in OKC. And it's just as natural for the OKC folks to make fun of some of the stuff that passes for steaks in the East.

                                  It's interesting to see what comes from distance (both in miles and time). Fusion and creativity and different ingredients and new methods are all part of the change process. But what isn't a legitimate part of that process (IMHO) is shortcuts - shortcuts for mass-production and simply to save time and costs - at the real cost of significantly changing the product because it's thought that you're so far away from the original that no one there would know the difference. If you don't boil it and then bake it, it's not a bagel. It's just a friggin' shame.

                                  America deserves its bad reputation in one sense, and that's what Pollan and Co. have been speaking to. We've turned our food production from farm to factory, from sun to petroleum. We've made food cheap, and in the process made a lot of it into crap. Tasteless crap. Anyone who's had stone ground hominy grits will tell you that Quaker quick grits is just not the same thing at all. Anyone that's had a real sushi experience will tell you that the Chinese Restaurant pre-sliced, robot nigiri is comparatively abysmal. Insofar as we are willing to settle for crap, we will be served crap, and we will deserve to be known as the land of crappy food. Unfortunately, that's what's really known as Americanized - making crappy food. It's going to take a real reawakening to change that - which I believe we're on the road towards, like right here on CH.

                                  Applehome - http://applegigo.blogspot.com

                                  1. re: applehome

                                    >>Given that we are all immigrants, we have food memories of where we came from. The closer you are to the first generation, the stronger those memories. The more you stayed in a group - in enclaves of your own people - the longer you kept your food memories. As you get away from these enclaves, the food becomes less available and more diluted - more mixed in, into the melting pot.<<

                                    I was reading an article in the LA Times this morning about a gentleman who surname had been somewhat of a mystery to him, and to all of his extended family for that matter. This curiosity became an obsession of sorts that he had revisited time and again:

                                    http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-...

                                    It seems that so many are now searching for their past in an attempt to define who we really are and what made us what we are today. While the article is not about food, I think it speaks of how many of us are interested in our roots - our basis for our own individual culture - and how this may lead us full circle, back to where we will appreciate our cultural past, and a great part of that is told in what we eat and how we celebrate life with it.

                                    Thank you for posting your blog's address. I visited for the first time the other day (been peeking in on it with some frequency now) and I laugh when I originally thought that you were a rambunctious Asian gal. I remember you responding once to clarify when I mistakenly referred to you in some way as being female. Now that I've seen your photo, dude - could I be more wrong?! :) Anyway, your multi-cultural heritage mixed with the added dimension from your marriage is a blessing. When taking in the heart of that article I posted above and thinking about the stories that your successive generations will engage in is really a precious thing. I can only guess at the permutations that would be possible from the blending of all those cultures if they decide to go Americanized in a good sense (pastrami musubi with a light schmeer of bbq sauce laced with fresh wasabi?). And I don't think there will be a table large enough to display all the foods that would represent each of the cultures to which your family is tied to - that's such a wonderful problem.

                                    1. re: bulavinaka

                                      Thanks, BV. Interesting piece - I can see why he was curious about his name (Mozingo) - sounds almost Japanese!

                                    2. re: applehome

                                      Applehome,

                                      I know we are a country full of immigrants and I also understand that you will rarely see signs like German restaurants in Germany or Indian restaurants in India. It is also natural that Indians will make fun of the Chinese version of Indian food, and Chinese will make less of the Indian version of Chinese food -- same as American look down on steakhouses in the Far East. Those make sense, but my point is different that those.

                                      My point is American perception of the word "American". I am not talking about people from other countries. Every countries bend their own foods with foreigners' foods to some extend. That is normal. Yet, people from other countries do not have a negative association toward their respective countries names on foods. People from Hong Kong do not think of "Hong Kong Style Pastry" as something horrible. Vietnamese people do not think of "French Vietnamese cuisine" as a derogatory term. Indians seek out to eat Indian style Chinese cuisine.

                                      http://www.lecolonialchicago.com/
                                      http://www.cakeok.cn/uploadfile/2010/...

                                      However, in US, American-anything food almost always is a derogatory term. No restaurant will put up a sign like "American-Chinese cuisine" or "American-Indian cuisine"....

                                      1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                        Thanks for the clarification. I do think that the corporatization of our food, even before WWII, but at a tremendous pace since, is at the root of the bad quality of our food and the resulting loathing - even self-loathing. We love our blue box macn'cheese and our TV dinners, and while I have no problem with that on a personal level, we all joke about how bad the stuff really is. That's certainly got to contribute to our anti-American food attitude. As far as eating out goes, ditto, corporate America. If Olive Garden is the main Italian restaurant in America, don't we deserve our self-loathing? Corporate food certainly exists in the rest of the world. But we had a heck of a head start. And what we've grown to today with the standing beef stockyards bleeding tons of hormones into our water supply - we really are good at this factory food stuff. (But we do get USDA Prime at Costco for $8.99/lb! Yay us!)

                                    3. I don't use the word very much myself because I don't have the experience that others do. I live in a very international city (Washington, DC) where people from all over the world ask me how to get authentic food from their own country. Why do they ask me? Because I strike up conversations with strangers.

                                      I assume they know what they are talking about... and I try to give them the best answer I know, usually cobbled together from my own experiences and from the experience of other Chowhounds I trust - and who definitely know what they are talking about!

                                      That's it. It's so simple. The plainest definition of authentic is something like: recognizable as being representative of a particular group/region/whatever. They ask, I respond.

                                      Chinese food is an interesting example. The Chinese seem to be everywhere in Europe, the US, Korea, Japan, South America. Not sure about Africa. For the most part, the cuisine changes dramatically from one place to another as they adapted. I would say those adaptations are no longer representative of Chinese food and form a hyphenated food which is unique.

                                      For chinese food, typical adaptations that happen in the US are: elimination of animal 'parts', using only white meat chicken, meat and fish served mostly off the bone, poorer selection of seafood, adding sugar, eliminating spices, saucing everything heavily, noodles are overcooked, dough for dumplings is thick and gummy, meat and veggies combined in most dishes, serve rice with everything, use of Province names in names of dishes completely meaningless, lousy and limited selection of tofu, substitution for Chinese vegetables, everything simplified.

                                      5 Replies
                                      1. re: Steve

                                        "dough for dumplings is thick and gummy"

                                        So for you, bad cooking is 'inauthentic'? This is the only case as I can assure you, treated to a dish of dumplings by a friend from Hong Kong, thick and gummy is exactly how I'd describe the dough she made.

                                        Also: None of this happened in the states. Although she has visited the US. Do you suppose that is what de-authentified her dumplings? I don't recall rating the noodles she has made either...

                                        1. re: Lizard

                                          Bad cooking can and does occur everywhere. Mediocre food is what the average person will confront if they choose blindly. Not really bad, not really good.

                                          And I have had terrific Chinese dumplings in the US with thick skins, but the percentages are not encouraging.

                                          1. re: Steve

                                            Does it take much more skill to make dumplings with thin skins? If so, the US labor market might have a lot more to do with thick skins, than customer preference.

                                            With rising standards of living, laborious traditional cooking methods disappear, with the possible exception of a few high-end restaurants which can afford to hire large cooking staffs.

                                            1. re: paulj

                                              I think so.

                                              I think it is the combination of the labor involved and the low / no expectations of the customers. In places like the San Gabriel Valley near LA, there is more competition for good dumpling making skills.

                                              Also, most places that are famous for their dumplings specialize in it. So you have to have enough customers who are interested in that one product.

                                              1. re: paulj

                                                Paul,

                                                It has to do with regional preference too. Take dumplings, for example, the preference for skin thickness is different depeneding on the region. Far northeast dumplings have a slgihtly thicker and chewy skin, while Southern ones are thinner. Japanese take on Chinese dumplings (ギョーザ) have a thin skin. Many consider that northern Shandong (山东饺子) dumplings as the standard.

                                        2. I really try to avoid these threads as the concept of authenticity is actually quite involved and interesting-- the subject of many studies:
                                          http://tou.sagepub.com/cgi/content/sh...
                                          http://www.angelfire.com/ks/andriotis...

                                          I've linked to tourist studies because this is where the intersection with food (and authenticity) becomes for productive-- especially given the chowhound disdain for tourists spots and often tourists themselves.

                                          Authentic becomes a way of organising space and information, ultimately determining difference from those with false/lesser consciousness (tourists) and even the site of this much vaunted authentic (any site that suggests an eternal unchanging spot, untouched by modernity or participation in any of the other cultural/financial/material flows). The use of the term becomes a way to claim insiderness and superior knowledge/taste. And, as some of you has also noted, it plays into the negative narcissism of many Americans who somehow identify Americans as the sole source of all food badness (a specious claim but more notably, one that continues to establish Americans at the centre of the conversation despite that this site could well invite those of us not living in the US.)

                                          That's not to say that we can't also use the term where it may be useful in specific instances that identify where someone has diverged from traditional preparation.The addition of yoghurt to a particular blend of Indian spices (one of the more tart chutneys whose name eludes me, sorry) is a British development. But again, one need not say 'authentic' to point this out. And the questions then arises: how helpful is it? Learning foodways is a good thing; becoming familiar with the different preparations from everywhere is useful. The problem with 'authentic' is that is presumes something untouched by change, almost delighting in assuring that all 'foreigners' become museum pieces rather than participants in something that has always been dynamic and changing: food and cooking.

                                          end of ramble.

                                          34 Replies
                                          1. re: Lizard

                                            I went on a trip in NW China in which I didn't eat at a single place for eight days where they spoke English or there was English on the menu. But I had to do this on purpose as even in remote places English is everywhere. Pizza, Burgers, French Toast, Ice Cream Sundaes, alongside simple Chinese dishes. It's all there. The smaller the town you go, the more likely it is filled with US and European backpackers at internet cafes where the menu is 'international' food and rice stir fries. Most people are eating only the cheapest dishes on the menu, which are still several times the price at a place for locals. There is almost nothing you wouldn't recognize from the description on the menu.

                                            Did I eat better? I have no idea, since I didn't eat at the places I avoided. Was it more interesting for me? Did I eat things I couldn't get at home? DId I walk down streets or see places I might not normally go? Cheaper? Oh yeah!

                                            Was it authentic? Well, I had nobody to ask......

                                            I suspect that most travelers who show an interest in 'authentic' food are trying to play the percentages. They might not know what 'authentic' food is or how to get it, but they are trying the best they can. They already have a notion that a place in a popular tourist destination on a busy street packed with foreigners probalby has a business model not conducive to experiencing the local culture.

                                            I can tell you in France, as you walk from the car park to the Bayeux tapestry, there are many convenient places to eat on route. But if you only have one meal and you'd like to experience the cuisine of Normandy, asking on Chowhound where to eat 'authentic' can be effective shorthand for getting a meal more representative of the local population.

                                            1. re: Lizard

                                              Yes Lizard. I do agree with you that it is a way for a group to claim superior knowledge or taste or worldy-wise. As in "you people don't know anything, but I do". This mentality is probably true for many countries as well, but it manifest itself in an usual way in American, where the word "Americanized" is often viewed as a negative adjective.

                                              1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                I think it is perfectly natural for those seeking out 'authentic' food to feel superior, and there's nothing wrong with it.

                                                For example, I already live in a city where I can eat at a French bistro where most of the customers are Americans speaking English. I can easily recognize all the menu offerings because they are made for a clientele who have limited knowledge of the cuisine.

                                                So if I travel to Paris, I would like to get as far away from that as possible. All things being equal, I will probably taste and learn things I didn't already know.

                                                Take the example of the independent traveler vs the tour bus.

                                                I think the independent traveler will inherently feel superior to the tour bus traveler. They will feel they can go places the bus can't, experience things the bus won't, and eat at places the bus doesn't stop. They are more likely to buy fresh or packaged food at local markets. I am not sure if I have ever met the independent traveler who doesn't feel better about their style of travel.

                                                Same goes for the person seeking authentic food. They feel less limited and more in touch with the local population and new experiences. All things being equal, they probably go to more neighborhoods, walk down different streets, and wind up learning more.

                                                And that is something to feel good about.

                                                I was in Erie PA staying with my family at a motel with all the usual trappings. In looking for the authentic cuisine of Erie, I wound up going to an Italian-American restaurant in a working class neighborhood that featured a couple of dishes unique to Erie. Pepperoni Rolls and Hamburgers with Greek Sauce. Yes, there are pepperoni rolls in Joisey, but these had a unique style to them. And I have never seen a hamburger with Greek sauce anywhere else. While I was there, I realized something interesting. When we arrived, at a normal dinner time for us, the place was empty. I thought they were getting ready to close. Then about 10pm, the place filled up. most of the latecomers were single parents with young kids. I don't usually see kids out this late. The parents were getting off their shift, and they grabbed their kids to get something to eat.

                                                So do I feel superior to those folks who ate at the nearby Denny's? Or even the folks who decided to eat at a more upscale place in order to eat 'better?' Yeah, I feel like I learned more.

                                                1. re: Steve

                                                  Good points, well said, Steve.

                                                  I think, as to the term Americanization, and including what I was referring to as corporatization, the real issue is standardization. When it's all the same, when it's all meant to cheaply satisfy the largest number of people, it sucks. And Americanization has, for too long, meant that very process.

                                                  One of the values Chowhound originally purported, one of Jim Leff's founding principles, was that Chowhounds discovered delicious foods - we went off the beaten path to find deliciousness. We tried new and different things and we encouraged mom & pops that sprung up, rather than always eat at the "safe" corporate place. This value gave way, over time, to simple deliciousness - everything was delicious, hence everything was great. There was nothing wrong with going to the corporate place.

                                                  Using terms like Americanization in a derogatory manner is a way of pointing to the dangers of corporatization and standardization of what we eat. Authentic is a way of pointing to the less standardized, the more unusual and often undiscovered (by the Zagat masses) stuff that's out there.

                                                  Deliciousness is deliciousness. Yummy, delish, mmmm... I suppose they're all good descriptors for some. But differentiation requires real vocabulary and some knowledge of food history and lore. More to the point, it requires some desire to get more information, to learn. That's not going to happen in an "Americanized" restaurant.

                                                  1. re: applehome

                                                    >>One of the values Chowhound originally purported, one of Jim Leff's founding principles, was that Chowhounds discovered delicious foods - we went off the beaten path to find deliciousness <<

                                                    Oh yeah; how times have changed since I first started hanging out at CH. Best example? The most ironic place on Chowhound (and I always wonder what The Big Dog thinks of it): the Chains board.

                                                    1. re: Striver

                                                      >>The most ironic place on Chowhound (and I always wonder what The Big Dog thinks of it): the Chains board.<<

                                                      Maybe I'm reading too much into your statement, but to me, the inference is, chains = crap. I don't think going off the beaten path necessarily means good food will be had there. I think finding good food, or in many cases, finding and sourcing things that lead to the creation of good food, might involve going off the beaten path, or it could mean dropping by the local big-box store, and anything in between. Good food finds can be found in so many places.

                                                      Here's a thread on a xiao long bao chain:

                                                      http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/703073

                                                      Here's a thread on artisan products found at Costco:

                                                      http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/699146

                                                      Here's a thread about a Japanese grocery chain with food counter chains inside the Japanese grocery chain's food court:

                                                      http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/698589

                                                      Each of these are examples of chains that Hounds would find very acceptable. I don't think chains are inherently bad. Like all other categories, there are some real gems, and then there are the rest.

                                                      1. re: Striver

                                                        I just looked at the Chains board. Practically every day in the past 2 weeks has a thread about Trader Joes. That is a chain, but one where many of us have been introduced to out of the ordinary products. Some are also available at Whole Foods (another chain) or some high-end deli in NYC, but out of reach to ordinary chow hounds. Costco is also a regular topic on Chains. Many of the threads deal with finding hidden gems at chains, or the best thing to order if your in-laws insist on treating you to Olive Garden.

                                                        I'd also guess that Chains is no where as busy as city specific boards like Boston, Manhattan, or San Francisco.

                                                        1. re: Striver

                                                          Honestly, I don't mind chains as long as they taste good; that's what I'm there for, after all. Good tasting food. I've been to the small hole in the wall Chinese restaurants and the such; sometimes they shine, sometimes they are terrible. However, now and then, I end up drifting towards PF Chang's simply because I know it's reliable in quality, though not the best. One of the best Chinese I've tasted was some random shop in Sacramento in a small town that was six bucks for a bowl of rice and meat. I somehow doubt the possibility of finding something like that, at least for the price, in a suburban area filled with Outbacks and Cheesecake Factories, however.

                                                          1. re: Striver

                                                            Striver,

                                                            You are correct on many of your points. There are some inheriting features of chains which discourage them from being great. Chains are great in quality control and they have to, but this also means they lean toward the lowest denominator. They also tend to be less flexible because they belong to a bigger machine. That being said, many chains are succesful because they are (or were) good. If they are horrible, they would have never made it in the first place. You can call Pizzeria Uno and Pizzeria Due as part of a very small chain, but they are considered very good in Chicago pizza.

                                                            When chains get extremely large, then their quality became too "lowest denominator" and too set in stone, but small chains can be incredibly good.

                                                            1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                              And even large chains can be very good. The common thread for me seems to be purveyors that know good sources and good products. Whole Foods is probably the most known and geographically accessible (although finding parking and justifying their prices is not morally accessible ;)). Costco to a much lesser extent falls in this category, Bristol Farms and many ethnic supermarkets qualify as well.

                                                              1. re: bulavinaka

                                                                :) They are not restaurants. You are talking about supermarkets.

                                                                I may say that barbecue made by a tiny joint from a beat-up old gas stations can be just as good and better than those from big name restaurants like Famous Dave's or Smokey Bones.

                                                                I am not going to say a cardio medicines made from a back alley beat-up store are as effective as those from big pharmaceutical companies like Pfizer, J&J, Merck, Amgen....

                                                                1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                                  Yes, supers are not restaurants, but supers are often chains. And some supers have good to great food - prepared by themselves or more likely to offer various components of what hopefully leads to great food that the consumer purchases? Mitsuwa, a Japanese supermarket chain, has a killer spicy tuna bowl but also sells items like kurobuta pork, jidori chicken, premium sake, and has a killer food court that consists of - more chains! Santouka and Sanuki no Sando are the two most common ones. And as you point out, I'll trust my meds to the "chains" - no artisan hole-in-the wall stuff in this category, please. :)

                                                                  1. re: bulavinaka

                                                                    Excellent points, Bulavinaka. Thanks.

                                                                    P.S.: Just read Striver newest post (see below). He has a very good point.

                                                              2. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                                Thanks, Chemicalkinetics (that's a mouthful!).

                                                                My main point was that CH was originally started (and I go way back) in large part to seek out the unknown and/or unusual, to find the small local purveyor who didn't have a zillion dollar advertising budget or 200 locations or get reviewed in the NYT or have a chef with his own TV show, etc. Much of this still goes on, with the taco trucks, the halal meat guys in NYC, the couple doing great things with pork somewhere in Iowa, etc. - and CH is still the best place to find out this kind of thing from people who care.

                                                                But the fact is that no one needs to tout a place like Trader Joe's: it gets plenty of coverage in plenty of places - and anyone who doesn't know about its existence or what it purveys is simply not interested in food. Good, bad, or indifferent, the idea of a Chains thread has nothing to do with the original intent (in my book) of CH.

                                                                I'm not saying that this is an unmixed bad: it's good to know what the best places are in various parts of the country and get the information from people who have a particular interest in good eating, even if the Babbos and French Laundries and EMPs of the world hardly require much seeking out or represent a "find" that you want to share with a group that will be surprised and excited to hear about it, and will go and try it - and maybe help it succeed. Whole Foods or the Cheesecake Factory hardly need that kind of attention.

                                                                It's just a change from what I consider Jim Leff's oriiginal conception - which is what drew me here in the first place - and it's not (as I noted) without its ironies.

                                                                1. re: Striver

                                                                  A very good point, Striver. It is true that the original intention for CHOWHOUND is to promote lesser known yet high quality restaurants. I cannot argue that.

                                                                  1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                                    >>Whole Foods or the Cheesecake Factory hardly need that kind of attention.<<

                                                                    IMHO, these two are totally different animals in the species, "Chains." Most Hounds would probably not prefer to hit up Cheesecake Factory, as their salads taste like their pasta dishes which taste like their soups. They're a chain that gives chains the stereotyping. Whole Foods is in a totally different phylum. They offer a very deep and broad inventory of organic, gourmet, artisan and ethnic products - mostly food - that most Hounds would appreciate. I think the problem that most have with WF is not their offerings for the most part - it's their prices and dizzyingly inconsistent service and application of policies. And for many, places like WF and Trader Joe's (same phylum, different class) might be one of a few if not only avenue to cheeses beyond plastic-wrapped processed yellow stuff, Oscar Meyer "charcuterie," and "Wonder why I keep eating this" bread.

                                                                    I'm a relative newbie - I think it was 2005-2006. But as much as the intent might have been to seek out those little hole-in-the-wall-mom&pop-strong-laser-sharp-focus-hidden-gem places, I think this applies more to metros/urban places. When I go on vacation to the rural areas of Marin, Sonoma and Napa, everyone knows everyone else's business, including what's good, what's not so good and what IS coming down the pipe that shows a lot of promise. Urban areas are harder by nature - their density of populations that are disconnected by differences in culture as well as indifference to their neighbors. The density of offerings plays a huge part as well. It's all noise until folks start communicating what is good versus what isn't. Sites like Chowhound bridge that potential communication gap by offering a platform for foodcentric dialogue. Together, we somehow or another piece together the random music notes that have been in hiding throughout the boroughs, townships, districts, and urban sprawl to create a chord here, a rift there, and sooner or later, we make great music together.

                                                                    And to discount a place like TJ's as a place for folks who really aren't interested in food is plain-jane wrong. For many, this is their introduction to Different. And Different often gets the mind and palate heading in lots of directions for those who get that food buzz. "Wow - hummus - and I hate garbanzo beans, or at least I used to. Wonder if that mom&pop Middle East store-looking place down the block that I've always driven by but never stopped in has anything like this?" In this case, I offer you a pairing of one of Trader Joe's common food items that was not so common until recent years at the big corp supers paired with that spark of interest that will urge one's palate to go further and finally stop by a place like Hayat's Kitchen in North Hollywood, CA.

                                                                    http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/653337

                                                                    Again, I know and understand the intent, but to snub all chains, whether a two-unit gourmet sausage shop run by two brothers, or a national Greenpeace flag-waving politically-correct retail monster monster like Whole Foods, is profiling at its worst.

                                                                    1. re: bulavinaka

                                                                      Striver didn't discount TJ's. rather:

                                                                      "But the fact is that no one needs to tout a place like Trader Joe's: it gets plenty of coverage in plenty of places - and anyone who doesn't know about its existence or what it purveys is simply not interested in food."

                                                                      1. re: linguafood

                                                                        Yes, linguafood - that was precisely my point.

                                                                        I'm not opposed to all chains - heck, I do my regular shopping at Fairway, which has definitely become a relatively small but multi-state chain in the last few years, and I'm happy to do so. I was simply pointing out that CH has evolved far from its original (again, IMO) intent: to find the chow where few had found it before, and the Chains thread is - to me - the clearest example of this change.

                                                                        1. re: Striver

                                                                          I apologize to both of you - sorry for my haste. I hold a few of these chain-y places dear to my heart as I think the search for good little finds had lead me here and there often, which have then led me to other fine things.

                                                                          >>... to find the chow where few had found it before, and the Chains thread is - to me - the clearest example of this change.<<

                                                                          And Costco was the first place that came to mind. Most folks go here for bulk paper products, prescriptions, and wide-screen LCDs. I'm no different in that sense, but I'm always on the lookout for great little finds that do pop up with some frequency. And I think that is why the "Chains" board is so vital to many like me.

                                                                          I don't know if any of you ever watch the TV series, "Modern Family," which is basically a mockumentary on an extended family in LA. There's an episode where one of the families, a gay couple who has just recently adopted a baby from Vietnam, is headed to Costco for "just a diaper run:

                                                                          http://www.hulu.com/watch/100866/mode...

                                                                        2. re: linguafood

                                                                          Of course most of the posts about TJ aren't touting it Sure there are individuals who discover it without reading about elsewhere, but there are also posts that ask 'whats the big deal? I get better stuff as such-n-such coop.' Others complain that the current stores are nothing like the original quirky convenience shop in California.

                                                                          1. re: paulj

                                                                            I just want to say that I have been to Trade Joe's may once or twice and I completely DON"T get it. Many of my friends love it, but I am like "what the heck"? There is not many fresh produces. I do admit there are a lot of cool canned foods, but I don't eat a lot of canned food. Every time I got there and I come out with like 3 items.

                                                                            1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                                              I'm a Wegmans gal myself, but I realize that's only in the Northeast. They saved my culinary sanity out in the boonies...

                                                                              1. re: linguafood

                                                                                Lingua,

                                                                                I didn't know Wegman until I moved in the Northeast. I didn't like it at first but now I like it just fine. It is a bit out of my way, so I don't go there as much. Wegman to me is an upperscale supermarket. Whole Foods is a bit of a hippie version of normal supermarket. Trade Joe's is something else.

                                                                                1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                                                  Ah, see - I've never been to a Trader Joe's, so I have no idea what it is. I thought it was a large supermarket with other stuff, kinda like Target but with more focus on food. Clearly, I am clueless.

                                                                                  There are many things about Wegmans that I like, one example is the recent inclusion of HUMANELY raised pork in their deli section (as opposed to 'just' organic or their 'grass-fed' beef which I'm sure is still finished off in factories I mean feedlots).

                                                                                  I also go there pretty much every day, and am on a first name basis with most folks who work there.

                                                                                  1. re: linguafood

                                                                                    I have been to two Trade Joe's. One in California and one in New Jesery. To me, they are specialized stores. They are almost like typical supermarkets, but have a very small fresh produce section. They sell lesser known brands of cookies, chocolate, chips, canned foods. I do find their canned food selection very nice.

                                                                                    My friends who love Trade Joe's said that they really like the frozen foods and read-to-go food selection, but I don't do a lot of frozen foods, ready-to-go and canned foods enough to appreciate it.

                                                                                    1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                                                      If we continue this conversation, we'll probably get deleted... we're getting slightly off topic.

                                                                                      But one thing I like about Wegmans is the international section. And the fish and meat counters are pretty fantastic. Sometimes we splurge and get one of their patisserie items. It's never cheap when we go, but they have pretty much everything I want in a supermarket, save for locally raised meats and eggs n stuff.

                                                                                      But there are local butchers one can go to, and a CSA that provides superfresh happy eggs. And a dairy where the skim milk is actually creamy and flavorful.

                                                                                      OK, life in the boondocks isn't all that bad '-)

                                                                                  2. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                                                    Bread and Circus, and Fresh Fields were the hippie version of a supermarket. Whole Foods that ate them up is more the capitalized sanitized corporate version of those. I really miss both of them.:(

                                                                                    1. re: chowser

                                                                                      Whole Food is hippie to me. I was shocked when I walked into my first Whole Food in Berkeely for the first time. It has a huge selection for massage oil and candles. Really? What the heck are these oils doing in a supermarket. The smell.... I choked as worse than someone smoke cigarette in the room.

                                                                                      1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                                                        Oh...WF in Berkeley is different from WF in most of suburbia US. But, I went to the Berkeley Bowl when I was there and rarely went to WF. Yeah, I don't like any of those aromatic aisles, whether they're organic or chemical.

                                                                                        1. re: chowser

                                                                                          Totally! There's so much non-food in Whole Foods. Berkeley Bowl is amazing for fresh produce. Also, I met a producer of locally made honey stocking his own product on the shelves there. It was really cool to be able to talk to him about his product and the care he and the bees put into every jar. Good place to shop.

                                                                                2. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                                                  I usually combine my TJ run with a stop at a produce stand. My TJ regular purchases are things like olive oil, chocolate, eggs, tortillas and other bread, chocolate, breakfast cereals, nuts, chocolate, some frozen vegetables, etc.

                                                                                  While the produce stand is locally owned (Vietnamese I believe), I also shop a couple of Asian-American grocery chains (99Ranch and HMart). With those I can make my Asian style cooking as 'authentic' as I dare.

                                                                                  TJs is my best bet for 'authentic' European items such as Spanish chiles, French mustard and cheese that does not break the bank.

                                                                                  1. re: paulj

                                                                                    That is what one of friends said. It offers nice European snacks like chocolates and stuffs.

                                                            2. I think authentic is a very loaded word. Food changes - it changes with time, and with location, and the availability of ingredients.

                                                              Adapting foreign foods to local tastes and ingredients is not soley an American habit. I live in Asia, and I've had lots of Asianized versions of American or European foods. If I go to a pasta restaurant, what I get might be tasty (but often mediocre), but it's a far cry from Italian or even Italian American. They have three sauces, cream, tomato and pesto, which are then mixed with various seafood, meat or vegetables and tossed with spaghetti noodles.

                                                              I've had things like takoyaki pizza, and kimchi beef pizza, and the ubiquitous corn on pizza - not as novelties, but as standard menu items. I've had octopus burgers, and hamburgers where the bun is made of sticky rice rather than bread (and that's at McDonalds!). Then there's Japanese Curry, which is what you get if you take Indian curry, filter it through the US and send it to Japan, and bears zero resemblance to anything I've eating in India.

                                                              There is a strong incentive for adapting food to local tastes and ingredients, because if the local people don't like it, your restaurant will fail. Even within a given ethnic community, food is adapted to local ingredients and cooking styles.

                                                              1 Reply
                                                              1. I think with Indian food the Americanized label comes from the fact that most Indian food in Indian restaurants is stuff that Indian people rarely eat at home. Tandoori chicken, naan, meat curries are all parts of Indian food but in my experience are only eaten at special occasions and then only by people whose religion allows the eating of meat, and most Indian homes do not have tandoor ovens. Meat is hard to get in India due to religious stigma against it and lack of proper refrigeration so most people don't eat it on a daily basis. It would be like going to an American restaurant in another country and being treated to a full Thanksgiving dinner. American, sure, but not what we eat here everyday.
                                                                But ethnic restaurants do tone down the food to make it more palatable for persons not of the particular ethnicity of the restaurant. Take Korean food for example. If you are not Korean, the restaurant will serve you much milder food. I have had this experience where I ordered the same thing as a Korean dining partner and was given a much milder soup. Now, I just show up to the same restaurant over and over again with Korean friends until the wait staff recognizes me and starts giving me the spicy stuff. Chinese food is another example. Chinese people don't order off the same menu that non-Chinese order from. In fact, there's often not a menu for Chinese in a Chinese restaurant. They just order what they want and the cook whips it up. I also know this is true for Mexican food as well. In a way it's nice that the restaurant is looking out for your best interest and trying to offer you food that they think you will enjoy.

                                                                7 Replies
                                                                1. re: kishoripapa

                                                                  What you get in some restaurants isn't what regulars or people of that ethnicity get. We were on vacation and tried a Chinese restaurant. My husband overheard the person call back, "Make it the real way, not the way the white people like!" in Chinese. I wonder how often that happens in restaurants.

                                                                  1. re: chowser

                                                                    >>"Make it the real way, not the way the white people like!" in Chinese. I wonder how often that happens in restaurants.<<

                                                                    From my experience, it depends a lot on where the restaurant is located and what their profile is of their average customer. LA has so many major enclaves: Mexican, African-American, Central American, Israeli, Vietnamese, Thai, Armenian, Ethiopian, Persian, Korean, Japanese, Cambodian, and a major enclave for the Chinese populations. We frequent the San Gabriel Valley which is a vast area that is highly populated by ethnic Chinese from just about everywhere. Most of the business signage is in Chinese characters. Here, the standard is pretty much like "back home." If a gwai lo walks into a Szechwan place and orders some crazy-hot dish, the place typically will size them up and give the inquisitive warning,"Are you sure you want that?"

                                                                    1. re: bulavinaka

                                                                      That's a good point. This was in the middle of nowhere, almost (don't ask why we decided to try a chinese place in the middle of nowhere). But, in an area that is more cultural, there is less of that.

                                                                      1. re: chowser

                                                                        And on your point, you never know what the potential of that little ethnic restaurant in the middle of nowhere might have. They could be biting a the bit for someone like you.

                                                                        I used to be an avid SCUBA diver and would go to some places well off he beaten path. On a trip to the Solomon Islands, I was diving the Roviana Lagoon off the island of New Georgia. This place is pretty remote - mostly known for some pretty heated battles during WWII (also the area where JFK was stranded after his PT boat was rammed), and after that, it fell off the face of the earth. If you click on the link and put your curser on the island of New Georgia and click, you'll see that there are no cities or towns on the island - only small villages and settlements:

                                                                        http://mappery.com/New-Georgia-Island...

                                                                        We had heard that there was a little Chinese restaurant on a small island off the coast - about a 10-minute ride on a skiff. A youngish couple - a Japanese expat husband married to a local young lady whose father had some custom rights to use the island. To have A restaurant in the middle of no where was odd enough. But to have something as "exotic" as this was really strange. How this conspired is a long story, but anyway, the expat was pretty deft at basic Chinese cuisine. He had almost an endless supply of extremely fresh seafood from the surrounding lagoon. The problem was that he was used to having diving tourists ask for the basic sweet & sour this, or gloppy brown gravy that.

                                                                        Our good fortune that night was that the dive shop operator and his wife were adventurous foodie-types from all their travels around the world that led them to here. They knew this guy could cook, and so they had arranged a really fine truly Chinese meal for six of us. The cost was a whopping $75 US for the lot of us (about 3X that in Solomon $). The husband who cooked for us was so overjoyed to be able to express his talents that he was almost in tears, thanking us not so much for coming, but thanking us for allowing him the joy of spreading his wings.

                                                                          1. re: bulavinaka

                                                                            That's a great story. It's one reason we do stop by some of these places--because you never know. LOL, though this place we stopped by wasn't one of those places. My favorite place to get a quick bite of Korean food in my area is a mediocre, at best, chinese american restaurant (does buffet mostly). We got to know the owner and now when she has time, she'll pop back and make things for us. It's not restaurant food but it's good home cooking. Her cook, OTOH, spent 17 years in Thailand and he can come up w/ great Thai food, if they're not busy.

                                                                            1. re: chowser

                                                                              Wow - that "Chinese-American" restaurant sounds like a closet pan-Asian dynamo. I'd be ordering off-menu all the time if they allowed me to. :) Great find...