Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > General Topics >
Sep 19, 2010 11:42 PM

Authenticity vs. Taste [split from Boston]

[Note: We split this thread from the Boston board at: -- The Chowhound Team]

"Authenticity" and "tasty" are two different things. I can't speak about Chinese food, not having the necessary experience (just the enthusiasm), but "authentic" Indian food in the U.S. is a complicated proposition. Just getting the food to be more spicy does not make it more authentic. It simply means the staff have identified you as one of those Internet crazies who want more chillies in everything. Much genuine Indian food requires long, slow cooking. The kitchen cannot make you authentic food on demand. They can ratchet up the spice level, and it may make the food more tasty, but it does not make it authentic.

Consider the biryani. More specifically, consider mine. I made one yesterday that required four hours of the meat cooking at the gentlest possible heat, then 20 minutes of layering of rice, meat, caramelized onions, and saffron-infused milk, then 45 minutes of the layers and flavors coming together in a tightly sealed dish in an oven at 275F. No restaurant can do this authentically on demand -- especially if they have shrimp, lamb, chicken, and vegetarian biryanis all on the menu. They might produce a tasty combination of meat/seafood/vegetables and rice, but it won't be authentic.

And don't get me started on vindaloo. What's served in restaurants in the U.S. has no relationship with the authentic original Goan dish. (The only places I've had true(ish) vindaloo here, outside my kitchen, have been at Spice Market in NYC and, bizarrely, for a while at the Oxford Spa in Cambridge whose owners at the time had stumbled upon a good recipe. Neither version was vinegary enough or fatty-porky enough to be 100% true, but they were closer than conventional restaurant versions.) You may like the way "chicken vindaloo" tastes at some Indian restaurant, and that's totally legit., but the dish won't be authentic.

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. Authentic home cooking and authentic restaurant cooking are often quite different. I'd be surprised if the typical restaurant in India spent as much time as you do on biryani, and I'd be surprised if they weren't also doing things that you can't easily do at home.

    Consider pizza. (Now the moderators are going to move my post to some unrelated discussion.) To cook it right you need a hot oven, by which I mean between 750dF and 900dF. You can do that fairly easily in a commercial setting; at home it takes a lot of work, either hacking your oven so you can cook using the self-clean cycle, or building or buying an apparatus to let you use your gas grill for that--and you might not be inclined to do that in the middle of a new England winter. To dry-age beef or make air-dried sausages you need a refrigerator dedicated to that. Do you have space for a second refrigerator? I could go on, but you probably get the idea.

    However, I'm fairly confident that more *spicy* [not *merely* hotter, but well-balanced, and in the case of Chinese, *much* less sweet] is in fact more authentic, based both on the cooking I grew up with (which I didn't eat much of and don't like) and on the comments from various restaurateurs who say things like "the kitchen manager is asking who those crazy people are... they like their food the same way he likes it."

    By "authentic" in a restaurant context, I mean "the food eaten by the owners/cooks and the majority of regular customers from the country of origin of the owners/cooks." In other words, the food they *care* about. I find that food to be generally better than what they serve to random American strangers.

    16 Replies
    1. re: KWagle

      In a home oven it is QUITE easy to make world class Pizza and it does not need to be 800F. I do it all the time at 475 and my Pizza stands up to any I've ever eaten and my Italian (from Italy) SO will concur...

      1. re: StriperGuy

        You use a pizza stone? (I've had good results with mine.)

        Eta: although I can't quite get the slightly charred blisters on the crust that I like, nor is it possible to get the smoky taste of wood- or coal-fired ovens.

        1. re: FoodDabbler

          I should've been more clear about what I mean by pizza--I mean Sally's or Pepe's, and Patsy's in East Harlem (my current favorite, because I can walk in and leave with a pie three minutes later.) Presumably Italy has as many regional variations in pizza as in anything else, and I suppose the thicker/doughier ones do require lower cooking temperatures. But this was just meant as an example of the kind of thing you can't easily do at home.

          A pizza stone can't make up for an insufficiently hot oven. How hot does it need to be? Well, the real test is cooking time. In my experience (which was cooking 1-4 pies every night for several years) a pie that spends more than about five minutes in the oven is going to have a crust that has a noticeable amount of toughness. Two minutes is optimum; at home, three to five minutes is a reasonable target. Maybe you can cook a pizza in five minutes or less at 475dF, but I was never able to. Jeff Varasano has a lot more to say about this, as I'm sure you know, but here's the URL for reference.

          1. re: FoodDabbler

            Stone, or nice, bought in italy pans, I use both depending on what I'm in the mood for.

            The dough is really the key using a mix of bread flour and durum semolina. Blisters and singed bits, no, but then some of my favorite pizza here and in Italy is not cooked that way.

            Let's just say the we whip up some nice pizza.

            Sabatino's in Arlington does a VERY respectable rendition of the kind of pizza I like.

            Sabatino's Restaurant
            735 Broadway, Malden, MA 02148

            1. re: StriperGuy

              I think Kiran's point on temperatures is quite valid. I get terrific results myself with my pizza stone, but I can't compare (or come close to) the best out of high temp coal or wood ovens. And I can't get the smoke. (Meanwhile the mods keep deleting posts of mine on how offtrack posts get deleted. We seem to have a singularly humorless, trigger-happy, immoderate mod at work here.)

        2. re: KWagle

          The question of home vs restaurant food and the problem of authenticity are both interesting, but I'll have to come back to them at another time on a thread dedicated to these questions. I've seen what happens to people who go off-track around here. They disappear.

          1. re: KWagle

            You can dry age beef without a dedicated refrig. The key is using a lot of ice and it is time consuming to keep replacing it. Here's an article that explains it. Your's truly contributed..:) My max is 2 weeks; not the 28days+ that pros can do.


            My only miscue was this summer when I failed to keep the roast cold enough...All was not lost. The roast served as the "last supper" for several lobsters...:)

            1. re: 9lives

              It's unclear to me why they suggest you fill a refrigerator with ice instead of just plugging it in.

              As for the rest of that article, IMO they spend far too much time fearmongering. My friend Carolina's been dry aging beef in her home refrigerator for a couple of years now, and has never had any problem other than the 'fridge being full all the time. That's what makes it hard for the home cook--they want to fill their 'fridge with all kinds of other crud. That, and their abject fear.

              I believe she ages her beef as long as 58 days, not sure about that though.

              1. re: KWagle

                You don't need to fill the fridge with ice...just keep some under the meat..but not in direct contact..

                If you have a high end fridge with multiple temp selections for different drawers, you could probably get away without ice; but a regular fridge won't stay cold enough without ice; as i just learned and ended up with lobster bait.

                eta upon rereading the article I could see how you'd think it meant filling with ice. You need a lot of ice because it melts every few days and needs to be replaced. As to all the bleaching, Katy asked me if I kept my fridge clean? I said of course (what would you expect me to say to a WSJ reporter?..:) I gave her my aging methods and she tried it with success. The battery operated fan was not my idea.

                Same with fish. If I buy or catch fish that I won't be eating that day, but in the next few days I store it in a fridge drawer on top of a bag of ice..or a cooler full of a plastic bag. That's why fish markets store their fish on ice and not just in a refrigerator. It keeps it colder/fresher without freezing.

                58 days days! hats off to your friend..:)

                1. re: 9lives

                  My friend's been doing it in a regular 'fridge, on a bunch of wire racks. Every 'fridge I've used has been able to maintain 40dF or less. Is that not cold enough?

                  It might be interesting to require government agencies and journalists to provide documentation that the thing they claim is unsafe actually *is* unsafe. Otherwise, they just say, well, bacteria are everywhere and some of them are harmful, so you better just play it safe. Sticking a slab of beef in your 'fridge for a couple of months should be *known* to be dangerous instead of just believed to be, especially if you're making that claim in public.

                  1. re: KWagle

                    I think we're disagreeing over nothing.

                    This "beef"/side thread (pun intended) started with you saying you need a dedicated fridge to age steaks and me saying you don't. It is much easier with a dedicated fridge.

                    I've seen sites that say 40f should be fine for aging. I've also seen sites that say a little colder ..35f is ideal. If like me, you don't have a dedicated fridge, you're opening the door and varying the temp, so the ice makes the process more effective. I could turn the fridge temp way down, but then otherthings would freeze. The other unknown is that your friend may be aging much larger pieces than I can practically do. That would allow for her to use slightly higher temps than me.

                    The journalist quotes a number of "experts" who advise against dry aging because of risk and several people who do dry age at home. She even did it herself with success.

                    Even on CH, there's a thread on Home Cooking (where we'll probably get moved)where roughly 1/2 the people say you can dry age at home and 1/2 say you can't or they wouldn't. go figure.

                    The USDA is more concerned with food safety than taste x their Prime/Choice, etc ratings. I doubt most of us cook beef, poultry, pork to USDA recod temps. I know I don't. The meat is completely dry.

                    Every menu in the US that serves undercooked or raw food carries a warning and some states won't cook ground beef below a certain temp/per state law.

                    I ignore those warnings and I'd guess most of us do..sashimi anyone?

                    More importantly, did you get to taste that 58 day aged? How was it?

                    1. re: 9lives

                      I was mostly thinking of dry sausages when I wrote that. To do that, I think you need a 'fridge in the 60s. To dry-age, I think all you need is a mostly empty 'fridge. But everyone I know who cooks has a full 'fridge; even Carolina's was full--she was doing a no-carb diet for a while, so it was full of meat. And no, I didn't get to taste the 58 day beef. I had some of the less aged stuff and it was much better than typical non-aged beef.

                      1. re: KWagle

                        dry sausages can be done in a cool basement. like ham. . . no fridge needed. pork charcuterie and dry aging beef are very different procedures.

          2. if i have to choose between the 2, give me tasty every time

            18 Replies
            1. re: thew

              Me too on the tasty, I care not a jot for "authentic" as I would have no idea what that is - dishes from my own region and background have no single recipe. They vary from cook to cook and from season to season. That's what makes them good. If I wanted something "authentic" that tasted the same every time, I would go to a chain restaurant.

              1. re: thew

                Every time? I'm not sure I believe you. Then how do you expand your tastes?

                1. re: Steve

                  how do i expand my tastes? by trying new things

                  but lets say you ask me out to dinner. if you ask me do you want to go to a ethiopian/thai/italian/burger/whatever place - and ask if i want to go to the one that is more authentic, or the one with better tasting food, i would choose the latter every time. yes. every time.

                  having traveled alot over many years i know authentic does not equate with most delicious as a rule, just as the color of a sweater tells you nothing of it's comfort level.

                  macdonalds is an authentic american burger. so is in and out, and shake shake. none are very tasty, to me.

                  1. re: thew

                    Of course you have to try new things to expand your taste. But what if you don't like something. Is it one and done for you?

                    1. re: Steve

                      not at all. i'm not even sure how that question relates to what we are discussing, honestly.

                      1. re: thew

                        I am wondering how you expand your horizons..... and what motivates you to do so.

                        If you are not 'one and done' then evidently something other than taste motivates you.

                        For some people, like myself, the search for food that is generally accepted to be indicative of a culture is a powerful motivating source to try things more than once.

                        Overall, I have to say it takes a lot of faith to believe that you can eventually adore something and even crave it, if your first attempts prove distateful.

                        1. re: Steve

                          Hmmmm. So if you eat certain food enough time, you'll gain command over a certain culture?
                          May I recommend to you the lovely film, 'Como Era Gostoso o Meu Francês'?

                          1. re: Lizard

                            I can't make any predictions, but I can tell you that the world of food is much more interesting the more different things you can eat. It makes traveling to difficult locales a heck of a lot easier, and it makes the food choices that are in my immediate area more diverse and full of discovery. It can also spark a lot of interesting dialogues with people that you would otherwise not have. Exploration is key. It gets you out of your comfort zone.

                            How Tasty is My Little Frenchman? Sorry, but I'm trying to cut back.

                            1. re: Steve

                              Thanks, Steve, but could you please avoid the 'you' formulation? It comes off as condescending. As much as I'm sure you wish you did, you do not know me.

                              1. re: Lizard

                                Understood... I very much have the impression from your posts that you are a complex and extremely intelligent person. I wasn't meaning to imply that I was educating 'you', far from it. I was using the wrong formulation, a trap that is easy to fall into.

                2. re: thew

                  if i have to choose between the 2, give me tasty every time


                  Same here. I'd take a tasty plate of Panda Express Mongolian Beef over a poor "authentic" version of the same dish from a Chinese restaurant any day of the week.

                  1. re: ipsedixit

                    Tricky how you insert the word 'poor' in there.... nobody wants to eat bad food, of course, but sometimes you have to kiss a few frogs.

                    Let's put it this way: I live in Washington, DC. if I go all the way to China to experience the food there, 100% of the time I would prefer to go to a place recommended by someone I trust as authentic *with the idea that I might not like the food* over a place that serves exactly what I can get back home where I know I'll enjoy it.

                    Furthermore, I would choose an anonymous restaurant that appears to be catering only to locals over a recommended fusion restaurant that appears to be catering to foreigners.

                    So tell, me, which place would you select?

                    1. re: Steve

                      Let's put it this way: I live in Washington, DC. if I go all the way to China to experience the food there, 100% of the time I would prefer to go to a place recommended by someone I trust as authentic *with the idea that I might not like the food* over a place that serves exactly what I can get back home where I know I'll enjoy it.

                      Furthermore, I would choose an anonymous restaurant that appears to be catering only to locals over a recommended fusion restaurant that appears to be catering to foreigners.

                      So tell, me, which place would you select?


                      Your question and the question of whether one prefers taste or authenticity, are really two different questions.

                      Your question is about exploration, and figuring out your intrepid Chowhound quotient.

                      The latter question -- i.e. taste versus authenticity -- is about preferences.

                      To answer your question, yes, I would obviously prefer to go to a local joint recommended by the natives (regardless of whether I might like the food or not).

                      But that does not mean that *if* I did go to that local joint and find that I did not like the food there that I would still prefer the local joint (to use your words) "over a place that serves exactly what I can get back home where I know I'll enjoy it.

                      Like you, I want to explore the full panoply of food choices out there, but if you were to ask me which choice I like better -- after trying the available choices -- I'm going to stick with what I like (e.g. taste) over what I may not like but is otherwise authentic.

                      1. re: ipsedixit

                        I atill think the 'authentic vs tasty' question is a straw man argument. Of course, everyone wants tasty food!

                        But there are legions of people from all over the world where I live that find great fault with the way their cuisine is presented here. They seek out the rare place or rare dish that is 'authentic' to them. So I could argue with them.... but I'd rather pursue a course of action that will get me to the point of the aha! moment at which I come to the conclusion that they were right all along.

                        1. re: Steve

                          I atill [sic] think the 'authentic vs tasty' question is a straw man argument. Of course, everyone wants tasty food!

                          I don't think so.

                          I have a friend who prefers to have his Chicago-style hot dog with ketchup, but he resists adding it to his Chicago dog because he knows it would deviate from the original, genuine article. Go figure.

                  2. re: thew

                    Tasty over authentic for me as well. I'll try "authentic" sure, doesn't mean I'll try overly hard to like it. I have no shame in saying that I prefer General Tsao's chicken to "real" Chinese cuisine that I experienced in China. Now I have not been to every part of China so maybe I will find something I like someday, after all it's a huge country and regional cuisines differ quite a bit. I also love French pastries and Italian food in Japanese style, totally not authentic but I really don't care, they taste good.

                    1. re: uwsister

                      I have heard great things about the Italian food in Tokyo, mostly about the generally high standards of the pasta. Though I didn't indulge myself since I was focused on finding Japanese food. They say it's very tasty.

                      Wow, nothing better in China than General Tso's chicken? I sure am glad I had a much better culinary experience than you did.

                    2. re: thew

                      That's a false dichotomy in many cases. Often it's not an issue of tasty versus authentic, but when someone finds something not tasty, inauthentic is the diagnosis that they provide.

                    3. Maybe I'm missing something, but in your second paragraph you talk about the time it took you to make something and how no restaurant can make this authentically on demand. Do you think that the cooks get there when you walk in? What about BBQ joints where they start preparing the food the night before. Most restaurants that serve lunch have their line cooks prepping at 6-7am. I'm very confused by your statement. When you order duck confit, they aren't making it from scratch right then and there. I'm just a little confused about time and authenticity. I can't speak for Vindaloo's authenticity, but I've had lamb phall and the owner came out to tell me that I'm the first American to finish it and told me "at home" people can barely eat it, because it's so hot. I assume he knows authentic from not.

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: jhopp217

                        Vindaloo is pretty much an anglicised dish based on Goan interpretations of original Portuguese stews using vinegar and wine. I wouldnt like to try and sort out "authenticity" from that history

                        I think the phall, as a sauced dish, was developed in the UK and has no particular allegiance to the sub-continent. It was quite popular here until recently as a sort of macho dish to try and finish.

                        1. re: Harters

                          vindaloo is an dish that exists in goa. yes the flavors of vindaloo are influenced by the portuguese, who controlled goa . i'm not sure how it is anglicized.

                          1. re: thew

                            Many dishes that have emigrated westwards from the sub-continent in the last 60 years were anglicised during the colonial period.

                            I would not normally reference Wikipedia as a source, but it seems to give a reasonably decent history of the development of the dish.

                      2. I'll throw my hat in with those who say taste.

                        As others have pointed out, "authenticity" is a pretty nebulous term. I consider myself a VERY enthusiastic and adventurous eater - there is pretty much nothing I can think of off the top of my head that I would not at least try - but striving to find the Platonic Form of a dish is not on my to-do list. I don't even think it is possible.

                        This does not mean I won't try to find the tastiest version, and like ipse and others I will always look for the restaurant locals prefer and recommend versus the one serving foreigners -- that being said, just like here in the US, in any region or country there will be many restaurants catering to locals that just plain suck. And what enjoyment (strictly from a food standpoint) would I get if I repeatedly forsook tastiness in favor of some ephemeral notion of authenticity?

                        41 Replies
                        1. re: a213b

                          Oy vey, talking about putting words in people's mouths. Who said anything about Platonic Form?

                          And somehow 'authentic' is a nebulous term, but tasty isn't? Haven't you ever liked something and then changed your mind about it? I know a lot of people who have grown into certain foods, and there is a recent long thread about it on Chowhound. In fact, there is nothing more nebulous than taste.

                          But, sure I adore tasty food, who doesn't?

                          1. re: Steve

                            Steve, I wasn't trying to put words in your mouth. Apologies if that's how it came across.

                            As far as taste, I can't imagine anyone would argue other than it is an entirely subjective experience. It necessarily varies by individual because it is, like beauty, entirely "in the [tongue] of the beholder". It's sensory.

                            Meanwhile "authentic" implies definitiveness.

                            But how do you define an authentic dish? Who's to say my wife's Gumbo is any more authentic than my mother's, or Jane Doe's in Lincoln, Nebraska? Or Zhi Zhi Yuan's in Shenzhen? That's why I referenced that Platonic Form, which I highly doubt exists for any dish.

                            I guess you could argue that there are characteristics, or fundamental components of a dish, but does that mean any that adhere to those is therefore "authentic"? And what about the case that, like language, food/cuisine is something that evolves?

                            In the end, there are probably numerous "authentic" dishes I have eaten that were not enjoyable at all. Contrast that with the fact that I've enjoyed every one of the things I've eaten that's been "tasty", and that's why I choose "Tasty" over "Authenticity" every time.

                            Or are you trying to argue that, ceteris paribus, it is always preferable to seek authentic cuisine?

                            1. re: a213b

                              But how do you define an authentic dish?

                              You can't.

                              You can define authentic "qualities" only. That is nice to know, but won't fulfill the soul like a really orgasmically tasty dish can. I think it is a difference of "head vs heart". It is great to know time tested ancient procedures passed down through generations...but most people will follow their heart and taste buds if given a choice.

                              1. re: a213b

                                Now, I'm pretty sure Lincoln, Nebraska is a real place, but I have a sneaking suspicion you're just making up that Jane Doe stuff.....

                                Authentic: generally considered as being representative of certain culture by people familiar with that culture.

                                "there are probably numerous "authentic" dishes I have eaten that were not enjoyable at all"

                                Oh yes, pray tell....... I mean, let's dispense with all the Jane Does from Lincoln, Nebraska. Spill the refried beans! Cough up a real example! Give me the name of the place and the dish you ate and tell me why you prefer a less authentic version and where I can get that version.

                                I will always seek out the authentic, because the bastardized stuff will always be with us. The real deal is a rarity, and should be encouraged, cultivated, and appreciated for its unique qualities.

                                1. re: Steve

                                  I can see why the Chowhound team frequently locks these threads. Some people can't accept that others might not share the same opinion. Is it that hard to accept that some foodies might not value authenticity over taste? Is it that inconceivable that some people might seek out authenticity above other things? I left these boards months ago because of this....nothing has changed. Why can't the threads be entertaining because of these differences without being bitchy? Cripes.

                                  1. re: sedimental

                                    I am unaware of a single 'authenticity' thread that has been locked by Chowhound. I just did a quick search, found at least fifteen long and involved threads, and none of them have been locked.

                                    I hear the same arguments over and over: authentic vs tasty (false dichotomy), authentic is hard to define (no more so than many words in the dictionary), and then people throw out odd hypothetical situations (gumbo in Nebraska) that are impossible to comment on.

                                    Meanwhile, in the real world, where I live, small mom n' pop restaurants mustering as much fidelity as they can to their culture, are struggling to make it in the canyon and onslaught of bland, franchised food with prime locations and huge, blaring signs.

                                    1. re: Steve

                                      "I hear the same arguments over and over:"

                                      That is because they are valid arguments, held by many of us, worthy of repeating everytime others, like yourself, present the other view. Is that not what a discussion board is about? Discussing?

                                      I am sure that you hold your views as sincerely as I hold mine (although I choose not to use the aggressive and patronising tone of post towards you as your response to me, dated 2/12 above). And that you are about to be as moved to change your views by my comments, as I am by yours.

                                      1. re: Harters

                                        Dichotomy argument:
                                        Why can't something be authentic AND tasty? Why can't people's tastes change? Pursue the authentic, and maybe the stuff you used to think was tasty is now hugely inferior. Happens all the time. If I hear the same 'authenticity vs taste' repeated, why don't you address this basic flaw?

                                        Hard to define argument:
                                        The Authentic Police: some people get up in arms that authentic is hard to define: so is art, justice, love, and faith. Do these things not exist? Please address this, instead of repeating the mantra over and over of 'I don't know what authentic is."

                                        You're not going to change my mind argument:
                                        My reason for posting is not to change you mind. I assume like many threads on Chowhound, there are more readers than posters. I want there to be a record that at least one person highly prizes the search for authenticity even if I personally don't always know myself. But like GBS's definition of Utopia, I see it off in the distance, and I set sail.

                                        1. re: Steve

                                          1. Of course, things can be authentic and tasty. To suggest otherwise would be silly, which is why I dont do it. One is not "better" than the other - to suggest otherwise would be silly, which is why I don't do it. With regard to my views about spotting "authentic" food, please see previous, otherwise the conversation becomes tedious if I have to keep repeating myself.

                                          2. "Authentic" may be hard to define. Or may not be. I guess much depends on your point of view. I have never tried to define it in any serious way - it is not relevent to my food choices. I hope it never becomes relevent to my food choices.

                                          3. I am pleased for you that you highly prize a search for "authenticity". I read Chowhound regularly and know that you are not alone in this quest. It is good to have goals in life. Obviously your own personal definition of "authenticity" will detemine if you are successful in your quest or not. Best wishes in this.

                                          1. re: Harters

                                            The more authentic version IS better than the other: the less authentic version will always be there for you as bastardization is prevalent, and it will never move you to develop your tastes. If everyone reading Chowhound eschews the authentic version, it will easily dry up. The other way around, the inauthentic will still be on offer just about everywhere.

                                            I use the example of bhel puri below. A large number of Indian restaurants that offer this dish will make two versions. One with mostly potato and sweetened yogurt added to the puffed rice for their Euro customers, and another with chili sauce, tamarind, unsweetened yougurt, green mango.... well, there are many variations and possibilities, but one will taste like dessert and the other will be be a combination of many powerful flavors. The first will be less crunchy, less sour, less spicy, and have generally have fewer ingredients.

                                            I am happy to encourage anyone reading this to ask the restaurant for the version they would serve their Indian customers, rather than just ordering from the menu and taking what you get. Strike up a conversation with the proprietor. Do not treat the waitstaff at a restaurant like they are intelligent vacuum cleaners. Consult with them. And even if you don't like it at first, I encourage everyone not to easily give up.

                                            1. re: Steve

                                              "The more authentic version IS better than the other"

                                              I respect your subjective view of this matter. We'll just have to disagree about the absolutist nature of your assertions. May I wish you enjoyable eating.

                                              By the by, I've never been served bhel puri that didnt have unsweetened yoghurt, tamarind and chilli sauce. A dish such as you describe - mainly potato and sweetened yoghurt - sounds vile. Restaurants here simply wouldnt get away with serving it - even to Anglos like me.

                                  2. re: Steve


                                    Perhaps it is just in my reading, but there is no need for snark. Additionally, I don't see where I wrote that I "prefer a less authentic version".

                                    I think this is, at its core, an "apples vs oranges" argument -- interesting as an intellectual exercise, but pragmatically worthless. I think my general hesitancy comes down to, as I mentioned before, the spectral notion of "authenticity". I know you defined it in your post, so at least I now see from where you are coming.

                                    That being said, let's take the case mentioned upthread of Pizza.

                                    How would you define authentic pizza? Is it only Napoletana style, where it (in it's modern incarnation) is said to have originated? What does that mean for Chicago style(s), NYC coal-oven style, etc etc?

                                    And to use NYC pizza as an example, I've eaten my way through most of the temples there, and can absolutely assure that in some cases I've had less "authentic" pizza that I have enjoyed FAR more at small Mom 'n Pop pizzerias scattered throughout the US.

                                    You want names ... how about Lombardis? I found it pedestrian but enjoyed the what can only be described as '60s Americana style pizza at Eagle Rock, CA's Casa Bianca far more.

                                    To be clear, I am not saying the pursuit of authentic food is worthless, or even trivial. I find great value in eating a dish indigenous to a particular region or people that truly encapsulates the je ne sais quoi of said region/people. This pursuit is worthwhile in, at the very least, expanding ones culinary horizons.

                                    If it makes you feel better, I am sure there are times where culinary curiosity outweighs "taste" and I would much rather have the chilled monkey brains placed before Indiana Jones than Peter Luger's hamburger, simply because I've never had the chilled monkey brains before.

                                    I'm betting our "Utility Curves" are much more aligned than our posts might indicate at first glance.

                                    1. re: a213b

                                      Please, let's dispense with the "chilled monkey brains" as an example of authentic food. How about a bhel puri made with green mango?

                                      In terms of pizza, a truly international food, there are many variations. But in my example of bhel puri, I don't want it molded to make for a prettier presentation that gets the crackers damp, I'd like it not sweet or bland, and I'd like to have a healthy dose of spicy and sour elements. So if they use green mango instead of or in addition to potato, I will be much happpier.

                                      Practically speaking, if everyone takes the attitude - especially on Chowhound- that authenticity takes a back seat, then places will go out of business and we will be left with little option. Tastes and practices need to be developed.

                                      1. re: Steve

                                        Feel free to substitute bhel puri, if you'd like.

                                        I do find it amusing, though, that you choose a dish with more than a couple variations. So are they all authentic? Only one? Which is the "most authentic", and shouldn't that be the one we are all scrambling to try?

                                        Sigh ... apparently you keep missing the spots where I post that culinary curiosity is a good thing. We should all, as intrepid 'hounds, strive to try new things, experience new tastes, and support those individuals/couples/families who tirelessly endeavor to put out lovingly prepared and flavorful food.

                                        1. re: a213b

                                          Yes, I am positive we all have one common goal.

                                          Of course, I realize there are as many bhel puri as there are chefs*, simply that if I got one with some green mango, chili sauce, and tamarind added to the pufffed rice, chickpeas and yogurt, I would prefer that to a potato and sweetened yogurt bhel puri which is pretty bland and tastes like dessert.

                                          *There are more bhel puri than chefs, because each chef seems to have a version for folks from the subcontinent, and a different version for North Americans.

                                    2. re: Steve

                                      "Give me the name of the place and the dish you ate and tell me why you prefer a less authentic version and where I can get that version."

                                      Easy peasy

                                      Lancashire Hotpot - perhaps "the" emblematic dish from my immediate home region. Chef's version - Michelin 1* Northcote - dish featured on TV in the "Great British Menu". Absolutely delicious but it was more lamb stew than hotpot in its presentation and ingredient choice.

                                      Hotpot is a homely dish using cheap ingredients, not a Michelin dish however well crafted. Unfortunately, I can't offer you the most "authentic" version I've ever eaten - Mum died in 1980.

                                      1. re: Harters

                                        Well, it's kind of hard for me to comment on your mom's Lancashire hotpot, but I am pretty sure I would have been honored to be invited for supper.

                                        1. re: Steve

                                          Reading through these posts and being familiar with Steve's crusade for 'authenticity' I've noticed some repeated themes that I could choose to read favourably and unfavourably.

                                          Starting with the worst, I have seen a tendency to view any change as bastardisation-- or more notably, any change related to a meeting with 'The West' as bastardisation, contamination, and an inevitable decline. This kind of view of authenticity holds to a fantasy of an unchanging other, a museum piece to be preserved. It reeks of imperial nostalgia. This sense seems supported by claims to having consumption=knowledge and near conquer of a culture.

                                          In the more favourable perspective, I see Steve as desperately trying to advocate eating food even if it doesn't seem familiar or immediately pleasurable. He feels there is something to be gained in this exploration. And there is. Goodness knows I spend enough time suggesting to people that they prepare themselves for a different kind of viewing experience when encountering something other than Hollywood (which I will not demonise, so don't worry!) But the problem is that this kind of advocacy is problematic when given to those one doesn't know at all, and when it comes with the demand that one national cinema/food stay eternally unchanging, or when one vilifies the popular. Ultimately, when authenticity becomes a mode of connoisseurship and means of ranking foods or people in relation to food, the entire endeavour becomes distasteful.

                                          So I see where Steve is coming from, and I understand his passion, but there are some issues.

                                          1. re: Lizard

                                            Thanks for your thoughtful post. I am really just trying to be practical by supporting with my restaurant dollars a wider array of experiences than would otherwise be possible. In my quest, I have stumbled over some stupefyingly fantastic food that I would equate with eating that of a master chef. but it does take some delving.

                                            Just the other day, I was in a Thai restaurant where the waitstaff is very aloof. I know they have a Thai language menu, and I know there are items on it that do not appear on the English menu. They will look at me straight faced and insist that everything is on the English menu. Then come some Thai business people and they start bringing out this fantastic array of gorgeous-looking dishes that are not on the English menu, and some (like fried egg) are not even on the Thai menu.

                                            I look at my quest as one big gigantic "I'll have what they're having."

                                            Your film analogy is a good one, so I will take that to heart.

                                            1. re: Steve

                                              if i may interject, as gently as i am capable, lightly tiptoing in my sloshing galoshes:

                                              the problem with monolithic food systems (besides the fact they don't really exist, since cuisine, like language, constantly evolves)-- when you transplant people out of the terroir of their homeland and home region, the exact ingredients available to them at home to make a great ___ are not going to be available in the new place. i don't care how cosmopolitan the area they move to, or how wonderful the agricultural land is outside the small urban area. . . the cook will suddenly find him/herself not having access to fresh raw cream, or (the same varieties of) wild foraged foods, or that small open street-stall hyderabadi spice vendor who would roast the seeds right in front of you before crushing them by hand for that day's meal preparation, or whatever.

                                              in those situations, good cooks adapt-- a provencal cook with access to only sad, withered old leeks (at $7 a pound, lordy!) will use the good local farmers market table onions instead, the vietnamese cook stranded in nebraska may make her/his own spice blends from an indian or japanese grocery store, the scottish immigrant to southern california may find him/herself suddenly baking with unfamiliar fruits-- could've used expensive dried currants, or trucked in apples-- but the guavas were cheap, beautifully ripe, and fresh right off of the tree, so why not bake a pie and scones with them?

                                              you seem to think that if a cook uses any ingredient that may be local and fresh, rather than the ingredient that was originally available to her/him back in the motherland (regardless of poor quality shipped goods, availability, etc). . . that the cook is guilty of the "crime" of fusion, and should be stropped. but i would disagree. i think it's much worse to try to cling to a culinary identity that is halfway around the world, when you just can't obtain the stuff to make a dish identically. i think it can sometimes be a much bigger crime to say: "i can't use this local ingredient in my cooking, since i'm ethiopian/vietnamese/french canadian/whatever, and it isn't "authentic" to who i am/original recipe hallowed by the fingers of illiterate cook who never measured a damn thing anyway frozen in time in the colonial period 215 years ago." that's nuts. and it's bad cooking, for someone to eschew good quality local ingredients in favor of stale, limp, dehydrated, or poorly preserved-shipped at great expense, ingredients (but they're from the motherland!). better cooks adapt to what's on hand, and often make truly wonderful and arguably very "authentic" new regional variations of well known national dishes, that become part of the evolution of food. it can also be argued that the "set in stone" cooks still relying on trucked in ingredients from the motherland to faithfully reproduce the same dish for decades, unchanged-- rather than participating in the vibrancy of their local foodshed, are the ones producing stale, stodgy, unexciting museum pieces-- food for people's nostalgia for bygone days (which may never have really existed in the first place)--not real food for real people who inhabit the changing & diverse landscape of *any* region's food scene.

                                              1. re: soupkitten

                                                You posted something similar in the Italian-American thread I believe. I am copying both and saving for future discussions with food-loving friends. If you aren't a professional writer soupkitten, you should be:)

                                                1. re: BubblyOne

                                                  oh yeah, right. but thank you very much! :)

                                                  right after i hit "post my reply" on the post above, though, i reflected that it was i, soupkitten, who was among the first in line to rip our dear departed Sam F. a new one for his habit of boiling his "bbq'ed" ribs-- "not authentic," i'd shriek! and also in recent memory i came under fire for turning my nose up at the menu of a socal indian restaurant, because they offered tofu as an option in many dishes. "not authentic," sniffed soupkitten: "too 'fusion-y,' too 'chin-dian,' smacking more of wok-cookery than handi-men&women. . ." so in reality i may be more likely to pull up a stool next to Steve (both of us looking for the 'real deal' whatever-it-is dish on the menu) than be at the new place, where a very talented and worldly chef is drawing on culinary influences from around the globe. . . after all, the fusion-y stuff sometimes doesn't work as well as we'd like. and i'm *constantly* tracking down, poring over, and cooking from old cookbooks, as if i've lost something and i'm just trying to taste it again. . .

                                                  yours, soupkitten the hypocrite :D

                                                    1. re: soupkitten

                                                      Wait what? What do you mean dear departed Sam Fujisaka? You mean no longer coming here? Please stop my heart from sinking.

                                                      "and i'm *constantly* tracking down, poring over, and cooking from old cookbooks, as if i've lost something and i'm just trying to taste it again. . ."

                                                      Just know there is a girl out there somewhere doing the same fruitless hunt.

                                                      Someone please find me my kibbe and elusive sauce!

                                                      1. re: Sal Vanilla

                                                        oh! oh no!

                                                        i don't think i've ever had to break sad news over this type of medium, to anybody, SV. . . i'm sorry to say Sam passed away earlier this year

                                                        & i wanted to direct you to the outrageously long (& heartwarming, funny) thread about Sam (Jfood was the op, site talk board), it contained many reminiscences, quotes, tributes. but i remember the thing just got so long, and folks were distressed that it kept popping up *new* at the top of their list, so eventually the mods locked it (they gave fair warning and explained reasoning why) and now it appears to be gone permanently. perhaps there is somebody who can search-wrangle better than i and find the thread, if it is still out there.

                                                        1. re: soupkitten

                                                          The thread about Sam's passing

                                                          As for the topic at hand. I will try authentic. I will come back and have it again if it's tasty, and try it's imitators too-so long as they're delicious. :)

                                                          1. re: soupkitten

                                                            Gulp. It had been a while since I had been hanging around on this corner. I read the thread. I hope he knew how much he was loved. Strange to have such affinity and camaraderie for someone you have never laid eyes on. Bless him. Thank you Soupkitten and Maplesugar for the thread link.

                                                    2. re: soupkitten

                                                      Spot on, soupy one.

                                                      The French will refer to "cuisine de terroir". It means more than just a local style of cooking - it's about the whole range of things - the local dish, the local ingredient, the land, the method of farming and so on. It doesnt export - not even to other regions of France. You're unlikely to see a "pot jevleesh" outside of Flanders or "ficelle picarde" outside of Picardy, for example (two of my favourite French dishes, by the way). Try and cook it and you'll get a poor imitation of pot jevleesh - although they may be still very tasty.

                                                      1. re: soupkitten

                                                        The issue is multifaceted, and you've raised one important aspect, the thoughtful adaptation of dishes with the intent of making the most delicious thing possible, either due to resource limitations or innovation. That's a good scenario.

                                                        But that's not the only possible scenario. Some changes are great, some changes are horrible. Cooks or chefs may make changes because they want to cut corners, to avoid a technically difficult part of a recipe, substitute an ingredient that doesn't work, or name a dish after completely different because it might sound appealing to those who might not know otherwise.

                                                        I think some some people are referring to "inauthentic" with reference to the second scenario -- cooks/chefs with the intent to misrepresent or provide falsehood. And perhaps that's why people disagree about the role of authenticity on this thread, because different people are referring to different scenarios.

                                                        1. re: limster

                                                          i think you're completely right, Limster.

                                                          dh worked at a bar/grill where the kitchen manager worked the brunch shift. he was a man who was always willing to cut a corner rather than rousing himself to try to put out a good product. one busy brunch shift, he ran out of hollandaise sauce. the establishment served eggs benedict for several hours, topped with beer cheese soup!

                                                          as chowhounds everywhere shudder and snort their beverages in disbelief.

                                                          so yes, the corner-cutters, the lazy-butts, the "nobody will be able to tell the difference" bee-ess-ers are out there. and they should be mocked until the end of time, as this guy is *still* mocked, years after the place went out of biz, using the above anecdote to sum up his attitude toward his product and his customers. i am so with you on that. i just don't think it's wrong for a french pastry chef to bake with a fruit that doesn't grow in france, for example, or for the italian-american population as a whole to embrace veal in the 1900's and adapt it to regional italian recipes--because at the time it was a very inexpensive and accessible protein, or for a chef of any stripe to play with seasonings or sauces that didn't originate within 10 miles of her/his birth.

                                                          there is a lot of room between the "inauthentic" cook in ex #1 and the "inauthentic" cooks in ex #2. there are also cooks who may make very self-consciously "inauthentic" foods (ex: chinese-american restaurant) but who make a product that is very high quality, and take a great deal of pride in it, although it is not what they would prepare for their own family.

                                                          1. re: soupkitten

                                                            Absolutely -- it's not wrong if a french pastry chef to bakes with a fruit that doesn't grow in france etc. No one should automatically love or hate a modified dish -- we've got to try them, compare them with original dish that inspired them, and see what we prefer. Critical, empirical tasting is essential.

                                                          2. re: limster

                                                            "I think some some people are referring to "inauthentic" with reference to the second scenario"

                                                            Unfortunately, limster, the fact is that most folk will have absolutely no idea whether they are eating the first, second, or whatever, scenario. I can think of a goodly number of "foreign" restaurants in my metro area which claim to serve "authentic" food. As someone who has never travelled to those countries and had several experiences of eating dishes there, I have no way to validate their claims. So, for instance, when the Malaysian restaurant menu offers "Kuey Teow Goreng", I have no idea what it should taste like and, therefore, whether their claim to serve "authentic" food is valid. As I've said before, I really don't care about "authentic" - but I read the description and decide to try it and see if it's delicious

                                                            1. re: Harters

                                                              It's refreshing to read critical and detailed analyses from people who are trying a particular dish/cuisine for the first time. However, that doesn't mean that folks who do know something about a cuisine and how the dishes tastes like don't have anything to contribute. Many people care about what everyone has to say about particular dishes, because often we can learn from others.

                                                              Some people are knowledgable enough to know what they're eating and can find out whether the kitchen is dumbing down the food or improving it. Even if they're in the minority, I don't want to dismiss them nor discourage them from sharing their knowledge and opinion.

                                                              It's great if I encounter something delicious, but if people with broader experience can point me to a better version somewhere else, I'd want to find an opportunity to try it.

                                                          3. re: soupkitten

                                                            "you seem to think that if a cook uses any ingredient that may be local and fresh, rather than the ingredient that was originally available to her/him back in the motherland (regardless of poor quality shipped goods, availability, etc). . . that the cook is guilty of the crime of fusion"

                                                            Huh? Did I say that?

                                                            1. re: soupkitten

                                                              You left out the most likely scenario: A restaurant makes more than one version of the same dish: simply leaving out ingredients that are more savory and spicy for customers they fear will not like it. Or substituting a more familiar ingredient. Using Italian basil instead of Thai basil for certain customers and not others.

                                                              I am simply trying to encourage restaurants to do the best they can and other customers to open their eyes to some of the amazing possibilities out there.

                                                              1. re: Steve

                                                                Steve, my compliments and appreciation for fighting the good fight!

                                                                1. re: huiray

                                                                  Thanks for chiming in. I was hoping that more than three people were reading this.

                                                                  I also would like to add that I appreciate lizard's ideas about innovation, whether it be in food, art, or anything else. Mostly, though I see 'dumbing down' instead of creativity.

                                                                  1. re: Steve

                                                                    Steve, I can DEFINITELY agree with you on the "dumbing down" of, well shoot, seems like not just food but most everything these days.

                                                                    It's frustrating, but that's why I and most everyone else on CH are always on the hunt for places that cook with love, pride, and care.

                                                                    Happy Eating!

                                                                    1. re: a213b

                                                                      Look like I may have to take a contrary view again on the "dumbing down" issue.

                                                                      Taking, say, food from the Indian sub-continent, I've seen years of westernised food - the "any protein with any sauce" offerings where you cannot discern a difference between one high street curry house and another. But, now, in recent years, places are emerging that have "proper" menus with emphasis on regional cuisine - so instead of somewhere advertising itself simply as "Indian", it'll be "Kashmiri", "Gujarati" or whatever. And, long overdue, a similar development in Chinese food away from the standard Cantonese offerings into Sichuan and Hunanese restaurants. Generally, a much greater diversity in restaurants and restaurant styles than even five years ago - probably reflects changing patterns of immigration.

                                                                2. re: Steve

                                                                  > A restaurant makes more than one version of the same dish

                                                                  Isn't this the standard for Chinese restaurants? My chinese friends order off-menu items.

                                                                  1. re: GraydonCarter

                                                                    Absolutely, you're right. The idea of consultation rather than ordering simply from a pre-printed list is very common practice in many cultures. And you don't have to be Chinese/Viet/Thai et al. I order off menu frequently.

                                                                    It's just that, in the US, many people don't realize you can ask and inquire.

                                              2. A couple thoughts. When I was a child I did a LOT of traveling and often ordered a hamburger in restaurants (Paris, Abu Dhabi, Jakarta - you can find them) and ya know what - they each produced a hamburger (a pretty American thing esp. in the 70's), some did not look terribly hamburgerish (and I was a burger connoisseur), but they were all called that and had their own merits. Some were downright tasty. Did I say "Oh no Monsieur, this is not authentic so you cannot call it a hamburger?" No. I ate it and stowed it in the memory banks as a nice variation.

                                                The "you cannot call it that" and "I am ashamed to admit I like... version" perplex me. Why the panty twisting?

                                                I saw a post on another site this morning attempting to rip the ability of the article writer to call her version of pesto (Broccoli walnut) "Pesto". And with such huffypuffer and white glove spankiness!

                                                Sometimes the "authentic" is great and really brings on the memories and sometimes - shocker - the riff kicks its butt. What is the use of saying "Nothing but the authentic for me" if it is not the best? How about I like how they do it in " ... " but I also enjoy " ... "?

                                                We go around once.

                                                2 Replies
                                                1. re: Sal Vanilla

                                                  "And with such huffypuffer and white glove spankiness!"

                                                  I snorted so loud I scared the dog.

                                                  1. re: Sal Vanilla

                                                    Really well-said. Both you and Soupkitten above encapsulated in single posts what I only partially succeeded in stating with multiple posts.