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There is No Such Thing as "Authentic"

As a history teacher and anthropology buff, I find reading threads on authenticity extremely interesting. However, I have yet to find someone to point out the obvious. Authenticity, with rare exceptions, does not exist!
How can I come to this conclusion? People have been migrating since paleolithic times (at least 40-50 thousand years ago by boat, and probably up to 100,000 years or more by foot). When people migrate, they create cultural diffusion through trade and exchange of ideas. Obviously, this movement of people has only dramatically increased in the last few centuries.
Take "Italian" food for example. Can you imagine pizza sans tomatoes? Tomatoes were introduced from the New World, and most Europeans were afraid to use them for a long time due to fear they were poisonous. Even the ancient Romans imported spices and exotic ingredients from all over the known world, making an "authentic" ancient Roman recipe hard to find.
Indian food? It has been hugely influenced by the colonizing British.
Ok, how about West African food. Surely they have dishes that are more "authentically" African, without a big European influence. Actually, that would be hard to prove since all of Africa save for Ethiopia was colonized by Europeans in the 19th century (and then Ethiopia was invaded by the Italians who brought spaghetti in WWII). Even if you can find dishes that seem "authentic" , you foget that West Africa has had a LONG history of trade! Maili, Songhai and other Empires ruled the area, trading all over Africa and even to the Middle East!
Any thoughts?

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  1. Based on the supporting evidence that you propose, I think your point and title might be better phrased as: There is no such thing as "Native."

    1 Reply
    1. re: limster

      Agreed, Limster. As said elsewhere (ad nauseam), the argument made above only applies if the definition of authentictiy that is being espoused is place-bound. Mine isn't, and I think that goes for a lot of Chowhounds. I disagree that the OP's point is rarely made; many of us are perfectly familiar with the notion that political boundaries aren't culinary boundaries and that cuisines are living things that evolve over time with demographic and other shifts.

      Authenticity in that case, rather than being nonexistent, tends to be synonymous with tradition, but while the latter term is neutral, the former term is a convenient value judgment.

    2. Depends on under what circumstances you want to talk about "authentic". Usually on this board, it is a discussion about whether "foreign" food eaten where we are is "authentic". I suspect it never is under those circumstances, but I really don't care one way or the other.

      However, if you're saying that food develops over time pretty almost everywhere, then I agree. Trade has always brought new food ingredients that become incorporated into local cuisine. Countries have immigration which brings new dishes, new styles of cooking, etc. Populations are influenced by their near neighbours - it's no surprise that we Britons often use French terms in cooking, or that geography and climate means that British & Irish cuisines are pretty much identical.

      1. I was trying to word it, and the best I can do is: "authentic" is really just how someone remembered a dish from some place in time at one point.

        Not a great try, but it is more memory-based than say, anything written in stone. If someone tells me they want an "authentic" fried rice dish, I'm going to make them a fried rice that I have been making, that is derived from what my parents made, which is derived from one of their favorite Chinese restaurants, etc, etc, etc.

        1. As others have said, it would help if you defined what you mean by "authentic". Do you mean "the way it's always been done"? "the way it's been done for centuries"? If the paleolithic era is your starting point, sure, nothing could possibly be authentic.

          However, I think most people use the word "authentic" to mean "the way things are usually done by X people in X region". You could argue that this doesn't exist either, because there's no single correct pad thai or bouillabaisse or whatever. The problem with that is, I think a lot of people would say there is definitely a non-authentic version of those things.

          If your point is that it's silly to get hung up on getting the most authentic whatever at the expense of a good time - I definitely agree with you.

          8 Replies
          1. re: LiaM

            You bring up good points. The problem with the term "authentic" is very similar to the word "pornography". Many of us have a hard time defining it, yet we all seem to know what it is when we see it (or taste it). From a personal standpoint, I understand the feelings behind authenticity. I grew up with what I thought was "authentic" eastern European Jewish food. However, from an historical perspective, I've learned that this was largely a myth. The very essence of Jewish food in Eastern Europe was due to its proximity to German, Austrian and Russian influence. Then, once in NY, of all things, Chinese influence! (How else can you explain lo-mein at Ben's Deli?) I should amend my original post however, to include the exceptions I mentioned. There have been populations almost completely cut off from outside cultural influence for centuries. While I still would argue that "authentic" is still a vague term even for these situations, I can see an argument for an "authentic" Icelandic fermented shark recipe, if it has largely remained unchanged for centuries.
            Finally, I definitely agree that focusing too much on whether something is authentic or not, unless you are an historian or anthropologist, seems pretty silly!

            1. re: NicoleFriedman


              How about just defining authentic relatively?? "Yiddish Food" is food that my bubbie would eat and say, "my, this is good yiddish food!" [maybe mid20th cen american/polish yiddish food, but...]
              Likewise, baba ghanoush is authentic if someone from the culture/timeperiod would consider it to be "proper" and not "weird".

              1. re: Chowrin

                Yes, because I have friends of Central and Eastern European Jewish origin (some Yiddishers, some Yekkes) brought up in France, and in Argentina. There are definitely points in common but also significant differences in what they see as "authentic" food of their backgrounds.

                That would tend to prove Nicole's point. I agree with her to that extent, but I do see an interest in authenticity as opposed to some rather woeful corporate versions, or versions prepared by people from afar who don't really grasp the food culture the dishes hail from. Authenticity doesn't mean stagnation. As historians we do know about change and periodisation.

                1. re: lagatta

                  Which side of the 'gefilte fish line' did their families grow up on?


              2. re: NicoleFriedman

                On the Chinese food-Jewish connection that is because immigrant European Jews in NYC in the 20th century found an immediate affinity with the Chinese: here was another "outsider" immigrant group who avoided dairy products and loved onions and celery among other food items. Well explained in Andrew Coe's "Chop Suey" book.

                1. re: scoopG

                  Have not read that; will do.

                  As mentioned downthread, I'm finally reading Save the Deli and another fascinating connection is that between Jewish- and African-American foodways. Pork notwithstanding, it's noted that a lot of urban neighborhoods were once Jewish enclaves and are now largely black—but their delis remain because, to put it (as the book does) glibly, neither group is afraid of cholesterol. More important, there's the diaspora angle...

                  1. re: tatamagouche

                    Fascinating! Coe explains that there is a tradition in Judaism of inventing loopholes to bypass the laws of kashrut - or kosher practices. "Safe treyf - unclean food but deemed OK - was created. So while pork chops were forbidden, pork chop suey was not because the meat was sliced into small pieces and "hidden under a mound of sauce-drenched vegetables."

                    1. re: scoopG

                      Too funny. I'm buying that book now.

            2. I remember my father going on a quest (more like a crusade) to duplicate his mother's pasta sauce, to be as authentic as possible, true to the ingredients and preparation. This went on FOR YEARS without any success. My grandmother was from southern Italy (my father was born on this side of the pond, but only by a few months) but she spent all of her adult life stateside, short lived by the Spanish influenza epidemic. We as a family benefited greatly from this quest as all the sauces came out great and it was always terrific eating at home (attested to by all the weight I lost after leaving home). Anyway, he was never satisfied with the results and I'm sure it added to his ( and the human condition) remorse in the style of "you can never go home". So I guess that's my round about way of agreeing with Nicole that there is no real "authentic". Everything is of the moment, as in "you can never step in the same river twice". What time and place doesn't change, faulty memory and point of view does. BTW - I remember my first trip to Europe and how fresh and alive everything tasted, smelled and seemed to be, and how subsequent visits always lost a notch or two each time. ç'est la vie

              1. I think the OP is stretching the concept of 'authentic' a little too thin.

                While I concede the point about things being affecting by the movement of people and goods, I also have a hard time believing that a crawfish etoufee in some little town in a Louisiana bayou, a barbecue in the Carolina hills, a cassoulet amongst the yellow stone of southwest France, etc, etc., etc. are NOT authentic.

                They're made (as alluded above) in the way that people have been making that dish for generations, with ingredients (usually) produced in that region for generations...as far as food goes, THAT is the definition of authentic.

                (by that manner of thinking, by the way - everything we put in museums to learn about past cultures and our own history is also not authentic...and I'm really not certain that's a can of worms anyone is ready to open)

                19 Replies
                1. re: sunshine842

                  A reasonable point, sunshine. And I'm sure the French people living in south west France can spot what they consider to be an "authentic" cassoulet. And I reckon if I ate a few cassoulet dishes there I'd spot consistent themes that might indicate what is, and what is not, "authentic".

                  That is not the difficulty for the "authentic" discussion. The difficulty comes when you havnt eaten those dishes and then you eat one in Paris, Manchester, Rome or Los Angeles. You have no real reference point for it - other than what you might have read, of course.

                  1. re: Harters

                    But at some point the alternative version in a land faraway itself becomes an authentic
                    representation of that place and time. How much time passes might be the question.
                    Is Italian-American a cuisine unto itself or is it forever a stepchild of "real" Italian?
                    Is deep dish pizza authentic? Is deep dish pizza not made in Chicago authentic?
                    Are BBQ styles place specific or can the unique allure be transferred?
                    Can of worms, I tell you. :)

                    1. re: bbqboy

                      indeed. morroccan cuisine is more "authentic" to biblical middle eastern than contemp. middle eastern, judging by historical remains.

                      and collard greens are authentic enough to make roman cuisine.

                      my cornbread is authentic "ranch" or "cherokee" style. yours may be "eastern" or "southern" style.

                      If you can't have authentic, then you rob your cooking of time and place.

                      1. re: Chowrin

                        chowrin, I'd like to know more about the info you have on this statement:

                        "morroccan cuisine is more "authentic" to biblical middle eastern than contemp. middle eastern, judging by historical remains."

                        If you'd be so kind as to start a separate thread to start the discussion because I don't want to hijack this thread.

                        I always thought Moroccan food was as is because of it's geographical location, history, the Berber population, more recently the colonial history, etc. In Levantine countries (whose cuisine is what most Americans think of as 'Middle Eastern,' like shwarma and baba ganouj and all that) I see rustic Bedouin dishes versus the "refined" dishes that became important dishes in these cuisines since the Ottoman occupation. I know there is more to it from reading Claudia Roden's books, obviously the urban cuisine in older cultural centers in the Middle East were very developed (she mentions dishes being from Baghdadi cookbooks and so forth) and not simply Bedouin dishes, but I don't really know much more than that…and I would like to know more. Please do tell, expand, tell where you get this info on older Middle Eastern food. What did people eat, what were the staples? What makes you say it was like modern Moroccan cuisine?

                      2. re: bbqboy

                        I tread carefully here, bbqboy, noting your username and, as a Briton visiting American shores knowing the sensitivity over BBQ would never want to be the cause of WW3 breaking out. :-0

                        However, as it illustrates my point nicely, I'm going to risk it. On our last trip to the States, we were passing through the Carolinas which I know is one of the centres for BBQ. There was only going to be one shot at eating in its native land and, of course, it was going to have to be near to where we were sleeping that night. So I found somewhere - partly an general internet search, partly Chowhound comments. Went; ate; thought it excellent - a faultless meal to my taste. Of course, I'd gone somewhere generally dissed by most of the local Chowhound posters (Ah, no, that wasnt authentic - you shoulda gone to the place 50 miles away, Harters). The point being what did I know? What do I know now?

                        Well, I know I had a great meal - and one I'm still talking about to you three years on

                        1. re: Harters

                          and to make it a bit more confusing, Harters, had you been in Georgia or Texas or Memphis or St Louis (just to name the more well-known variations on the barbecue theme) THEN throw in dry or wet! -- you'd have had four very different dishes (different meats, different sauces, and more subtle differences in preparation)...but each one authentic to its own region, and all of them well and truly authentic barbecue.

                          1. re: sunshine842

                            I can give you a very similar and on-topic reference from here, sunshine - here being north west England.

                            The iconic dish from the immediate region is Lancashire Hotpot. To put it simply, it's a long cooked lamb stew. But so is Lobscouse - which comes from around the city of Liverpool, 35 miles away from home. And so is Skows, from North Wales - 50 miles away. And 100 miles to the west is Ireland and its Irish stew.

                            All are the same. All are different. All or none are authentic, if you see what I mean. If I was to cook them for you, you would probably not know which you were eating. Indeed, I doubt whether I would know which I was eating if someone cooked it for me - although I'd recognise if someone cooked hotpot in the same presentation style as my mother did.

                            1. re: Harters

                              (but I'd delight in trying all of them and seeing if I could tell a difference!) :D

                              and I'll add pot au feu, New English boiled dinner, beef stew, and pot roast to your list...all start with the same list of ingredients, but you'd cause bloodshed (likely your own) if you dared to say any of them were the same.

                        2. re: bbqboy

                          Absolutely. Which I think is why some people are turning to the word "traditional" to avoid the worms altogether. You certainly can talk about traditional Italian-American cuisine, which I do think, at its best, is "authentic" to its time and place. It's a question of expectations: walking into an Italian-American restaurant, I expect--if I expect it to be good--lots of red sauce; sausage and peppers; linguine alle vongole (especially on the coasts), etc. It's based on but not interchangeable with Southern Italian and Sicilian cooking (Italian immigrants primarily hailing from the southern part of the country).

                          But the times and places change, and accordingly, so do the definitions of traditional and "authentic." I take Harters's point that the terms need to be used with caution, bearing in mind reference points. And they need to be heard with the same caution.

                          1. re: tatamagouche

                            Ah, yes. I'm much, much happier with "traditional". I think it conveys a better and more accurate story - and , as you say, it is also something of a moveable feast.

                            Take pizza for an example and how "traditional" can reflect a food made in its native region. My defining pizza (and pizza restaurant) is one I ate at a place in Bardolino. There was a good range of toppings but nothing that wasnt obviously local to the region. So, no pineapple; no chicken tikka massala, etc. It was entirely within its rightful place in the world.

                            Yet "traditional" can also come to mean something relatively new. For example, "Indian" food is popular in the UK but it's a cuisine that's developed here with sauces and preparations very different to the sub-continent. And because it has a life of its own, I would be very happy to say I had eaten a "traditional high street curry" .

                            1. re: Harters

                              I would be very happy to say I had eaten a traditional high street curry too. Sadly it would be very expensive with the plane ticket and all. Sigh.

                              But exactly, hyphenated cuisines (Italian-American, Indian-British, etc.) can be authentic in the sense that they are based on and made with intimate knowledge of, respect for and love for the homeland foodways; both in the homeland and in the new country, those foodways are necessarily a product of history, which is a process of change.

                              Been reading Save the Deli, which points out that what we in the US call Jewish cuisine, primarily Ashkenazi, is absolutely a reflection of the diaspora. Given that Jews spend centuries, er, wandering, they—along with Africans and other diaspora groups—have nonetheless created cuisines that speak honestly to who they are and where they come from.

                              Seems to me the one aspect of modern global culture that we can all agree is unauthentic, untraditional, is corporatization. It's when changes are instituted in the name of profit rather than personal necessity that we can begin to make distinctions between the two sides.

                              1. re: tatamagouche

                                The Jewish cuisine thing always interests me. Very many Jews leaving eastern Europe in the late19th/early 20th century passed through northern England on their way to America. Quite a number stayed - mainly in Manchester (which is my metro centre) as there was already a small but not insignificant community here and they found work , mainly in the city's textile trades. It is no doubt a matter of relative numbers but there has been minimum impact on the local British cuisine. Research suggests that, whilst retaining religious identity, there was quite a swift move towards integrating themselves into "normal" British life. So, there's now no real evidence here, of what I would also think of Ashkenazi Jewish food when I visit America. There are a handful of kosher restaurants in the metro area but the food is almost entirely from a middle eastern/ Sephardic tradition

                                1. re: Harters

                                  That's indeed interesting, because much is made in the book of the fact that Jews' tendency toward assimilation here rather than isolation has been at once what made deli food accessible to non-Jews and what's brought about its treyf elements.

                                  I think the US has far fewer Jews from the Sephardic or of course Falasha traditions.

                                2. re: tatamagouche

                                  Corporatization resulting in homogenization. Exactly

                                  1. re: tatamagouche

                                    breakfast cereals must die? harumph. or does that not count because the corporatization reduced ability to make breakfasts?

                              2. re: bbqboy

                                Yes, Italian-American is a cuisine unto itself. And deep-dish pizza is a micro-regional subset. I think specificity would help clear up many arguments on Chowhound.

                                So an inauthentic Cantonese restaurant can easily turn into an authentic Cantonese-American restaurant. Right before your very eyes.


                                1. re: Steve

                                  "So an inauthentic Cantonese restaurant can easily turn into an authentic Cantonese-American restaurant. Right before your very eyes."

                                  Very well said.

                                2. re: bbqboy

                                  Yep that's why many folks use authentic not by it self, but with specific details (either explicit or implied) e.g. authentic deep dish pizza or authentic neapolitan pizza.

                              3. re: sunshine842

                                A very interesting counter-argument! Ironically, I have an MA in museum anthropology and have debated this issue quite a bit. Make no bones about it; I love museums. However, at least as far as historical or cultural museums go, they are absolutely not authentic. Why? Because cultures are dynamic; they are constantly changing. Museums can only capture a snippet or snapshot of a culture in time. Case in point; the Museum of Natural History in NYC. The Northwest Native American exhibit put together by Franz Boas largely captured relics of the past of those tribes (like the kwakiutl) even when the exhibit was installed. Meaning; Boas and his colleagues were trying to recreate the "authentic past" of the Natives they were studying, when they already had been exposed to Western cultures.

                              4. the hardest part to authenticity is that old food pretty much sucked. weevils, half rotten, dessicated.

                                the second hardest is scarcity. Can't properly appreciate a good honeycake these days, except if you go off sugar, completely.

                                28 Replies
                                1. re: Chowrin

                                  I would say that a 17th century honeycake is very scarce, plus it would be stale by now.

                                  1. re: Steve

                                    If we had a 17th century honeycake, we could establish authenticity so that any future creation could be compared against the known specification for honeycake. This is how we would establish authenticity. Using a liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry device we could easily detect and identify the composition of the dish. Using carbon dating we could verify the age of the honeycake. Using ancient drawings we can compare the style of construction of the honeycake. Thereafter we could reproduce an authentic honeycake that meets the specifications for honeycake.

                                    When buying an old wine that may have improved with age, you hope it's provenance is well-documented. Yet the wine is changing, sometimes not for the better. So in this case, authentication has nothing to do with authentic taste.

                                    1. re: GraydonCarter

                                      Interesting enough, Chowrin has stumbled indirectly onto a point - we can duplicate a 17th century honeycake but we can't duplicate the 17th century taste buds. I'm sure that people in those days would have had a very different reaction to the flavors of the honeycake than we would today with an entirely different diet.

                                      Think of all the 1920s-1960s American cookbooks featuring essentially endless recipes for food that now appear bland to us. Minimal spicing, virtually no garlic, none of the Asian ingredients, life was one perpetual pre-gourmet Thanksgiving dinner. One might feel sorry for them, but I imagine if we could bring someone fro, 1930s America to the present, he/she would probably dislike most of the spicier, sweeter, comparatively more exoctic foods we eat today as his tastebuds would be as evolved as ours and he would have completely different cravings.

                                      1. re: Roland Parker

                                        per that -- a few weeks ago I was reading that they had recovered some Champagne that had gone down with a shipwreck in the Baltic Sea. The bubbly dates to the early 1800s

                                        They did open one bottle to taste how it had survived its long rest in the icy depths -- and it was true to the cuvees used at the time, which were considerably sweeter than today's cuvees.

                                        What's authentic? The early 1800s cuvee? The 1825 vintage that Perrier-Jouet claims to be the oldest vintage champagne in existence? The stars that the good Dom himself first drank? Or the crisp, dry blends of today? They all followed the Champenois process...does the blend of fruit make it any more or less authentic?

                                        1. re: sunshine842

                                          Your last questions are easy to answer. If they were all indeed produced by Perrier-Jouet, they are all authentic. Just like a Rolex watch. It's the brand, not a knockoff.

                                          1. re: Steve

                                            The point being that the makeup of the Champagne was drastically different than it is now...and there was another brand as well that has since gone out of business.

                                            But which is authentic Champagne? The blend then, or the blend now?

                                            And under your logic, fizzy grape juice with a P-J label is authentic...but I think not.

                                            1. re: sunshine842

                                              Nonsense. Champagne isn't monolithic. P-J is no less authentic than Tattinger or Mumm. A vintage Grand Dame has no greater claim to authenticity than a moderately-priced NV Brut. And Piper-Heidsieck's Sauvage is as authentic as its Extra Dry, regardless of how different the styles are. So long as it's made in the Champagne region in accordance with Comité Interprofessionel du Vin de Champagne regulations, it's Champagne.

                                              1. re: alanbarnes

                                                ah, but the shipwreck bubblies were produced over 100 years before the Comite was founded, as are the bottles that P-J claims to be the oldest known cuvees...

                                                So are they still authentic?

                                                (My point is that 'authentic' is an incredibly subjective term, as has been bandied about on this thread....so for every "authentic" thing you can mention, there's some way to redirect the "authentic" label in such a manner that no, that thing cannot *possibly* be authentic, especially if you use Nicole's assertation that the influx of people and goods bastardizes things.)

                                                1. re: sunshine842

                                                  >>"for every "authentic" thing you can mention, there's some way to redirect the "authentic" label in such a manner that no, that thing cannot *possibly* be authentic"<<

                                                  Sorry, you're wrong. While I'm generally opposed to the use of the word "authentic" do describe comestibles, it is extremely effective in describing a few things, one of which is champagne. Sparkling wine produced in Epernay by Perrier-Jouet using the methode champenoise is indisputably authentic. It doesn't matter that the official rules describing that method hadn't been written at the time the wine was made.

                                                  1. re: alanbarnes

                                                    Even though the ratio of sugar in those old bottles is vastly different than today's blendings, and the old cuvee wouldn't receive the approval of the Comite under today's written standards?

                                                    What about the other brand? Is it authentic even though they went out of business before the rules were written?

                                                    What about all of the other brands? How about cheap-ass Charles Cazenove, produced for the budget-level holiday mass market and barely drinkable, even though it carries the AOC mark?

                                                    This entire discussion hinges on the definition of the word "authentic" -- which is as easy to define within the food arena as hanging Jell-o on a nail, whether it's beef stew, barbecue, or Champagne.

                                                    1. re: sunshine842

                                                      For what it's worth, the bottles were identified as "Veuve Clicquot by the branding of the corks, which featured a comet . . . ." See, http://www.masslive.com/entertainment...

                                                  2. re: sunshine842

                                                    II understand authentic is not a subjective and relative, not an absolutely term. "A 12 inch pizza" is an objective and absolute term. "An authentic Itallian pizza" is more subjective and relative. That being said, most of the adjective we used are subjective and relative. Being subjective and relative does not mean these terms are useless. You can also argue there is no such things like tasty foods, or traditional foods, or refined foods....

                                                    Maybe that is what you are saying afterall. I think we all agree that "authentic" is not an absolute description, like 1 pound of beef or 12" long sub-sandwich.

                                                    1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                      speaking for myself - it isn;t that term conveys nothing, it's just what it does convey tells me little about if i want to eat it or not.....

                                                      1. re: thew

                                                        But don't you ever just have a craving for a certain food prepared a a way you're used to and not some variation? Not that the variation can't be good but sometimes I want it the way I'm used to having it. I recently ordered a panzanella and got a salad with croutons. It would be far easier for me to ask CHers for a place that has an authentic panzanella rather than going through a description.

                                                        1. re: chowser

                                                          but the way i'm used to or craving might not be "authentic"

                                                          1. re: thew

                                                            Therefore, in that situation, if you knew which was authentic, you could rule them out.

                                                            1. re: thew

                                                              Right so then you could ask for something that's not authentic. I see it asked on the Home Cooking board--"I want an eggplant parm recipe and I don't care if it's authentic." People can then recommend whatever they enjoy, whether it's battered and deep fried or whatever.

                                                            2. re: chowser

                                                              > I recently ordered a panzanella and got a salad with croutons.
                                                              > It would be far easier for me to ask CHers for a place that has
                                                              > an authentic panzanella rather than going through a description.

                                                              If Panzanella was based on onions, not tomatoes, until the 20th century, did you want the modern version or the Authentic version?

                                                              1. re: GraydonCarter

                                                                I wanted bread, not a sprinkling of croutons on top.

                                                                1. re: GraydonCarter

                                                                  Newer doesn't always mean less authentic or not authentic. If it's a different enough dish, but generally accepted by the relevant culture, it would be an authentic version of a new dish. e.g. an 1998 Domaine de la Janasse "Chaupin" Chateauneuf de Pape might be different from the 1990 version, but the 1998 is an authentic 1998.

                                                                  The more commonly accepted version of panzanella is the one with tomatoes these days, and a description of authentic would obviously refer to that version. If one wanted the authentic 19th century version, one could ask for that. Your question should therefore be more correctly phrased as the modern authentic version or the older authentic version.

                                                                  1. re: GraydonCarter

                                                                    It's easy: in the absence of further explanation, I assume authentic means to the present day. So if someone on Thorn Tree asks the admittedly generic question: "Where can I find authentic French food in Paris?", I will assume they are not talking about a previous century.

                                                                    So far, this assumption has worked well. I have yet to hear the response: "Oh no, I was talking about French food from the 1800s."

                                                                    1. re: Steve

                                                                      It seems some people who don't like the term "authentic" try to come up with extreme examples, of champagne being shipwrecked and submerged for centuries or comparison of different centuries to prove that it has no value. It's a subjective term, but if it helps in communication, even if further questions are needed, it helps in communication. It never occurred to me to have to define how long my champagne was submerged under water to see if it's truly champagne, or what century panzanella I want, if I ask for champagne or panzanella. "Is it an authentic diamond?"; "It could be if you sit on it long enough."

                                                                      1. re: chowser

                                                                        wasn't me, chowser - I was working off of the affirmation from another post about the influx of non-native peoples and non-native ingredients somehow makes it less authentic...

                                                                        ...my first post on this rather longwinded thread (on Dec 05, 2010 10:09PM )was that the definition of authentic as posted in the original query doesn't apply all that well to food in particular.

                                                                        1. re: sunshine842

                                                                          While it might not make sense100% of the time, I assert it works well enough to get the point across. As an example that has come up in the past, if I want a matzo ball soup and someone recommends one that is fish curry matzoh ball, I can further clarify that I want something more authentic. It is easier than my saying I want chicken soup, made simply with chicken, salt, not curry, with matzoh balls that are made with matzo meal, eggs, seltzer. Saying "authentic" takes away any responses that might give me chocolate matzo balls, chicken soup made with ham stock, cheese, etc (not that I'm saying a chocolate matzo ball can't be good just because it's not authentic but it's not what I'm craving at the time. I'm not putting a judgement on whether authentic is better or not, just that it helps define what I want more). It's a good starting point. If someone is still confused on whether I want 21st century matzo ball soup or 18th century, then he can ask.

                                                                          It's like asking someone where their family is from. Yes, you can say Mexico but then, what about before then? And, before then? How far back do you want to go? But, when we ask people that, we don't expect them to go back to the origins of the big bang theory.

                                                                        2. re: chowser

                                                                          Extreme or not, those examples do not illustrate why the word authentic doesn't have meaning. Just because there are multiple variants doesn't imply that there is no authenticity.

                                                                          Using the wine example, wines are authentic to the extent that they were a particular vintage made by a particular wine maker, along with any important details in the production.

                                                                          Just because during the ageing process a given wine change over time has no bearing on whether it is authentic or not. If one wants the full experience of a given wine (producer/vintage), then try the same wine at multiple ages.

                                                                          And just because one choose to use the term authentic doesn't mean one leaves out important details about the object in question -- authentic "what" as mentioned in one of the posts above. An authentic 1990 Salon is an authentic 1990 Salon, while an authentic 1826 Pierre-Jouet is an authentic 1826 Pierre-Jouet. If they both tasted the same, one or both of them wouldn't be authentic.

                                                                          Different items are going to have different criteria for being authentic, and may be authentic at different levels. As with all things, one needs to consider them critically and on case-by-case basis.

                                                                          1. re: limster

                                                                            I completely agree. There shouldn't be a broadbrushed approach and it's subjective which has been one of the arguments. My only point is that it's a starting point, different ones for different items, and then further information can be requested/provided. Asking for an "authentic" NY pizza doesn't narrow down exactly what the poster wants but it does help eliminate many possibilities.

                                                                  2. re: thew

                                                                    Agree. I don't disagree that the term "authentic" may not be an important attribute for some people, but remember I was originally responding to the original poster and sunshine about "There is no such thing as 'Authentic'".

                                                            3. re: sunshine842

                                                              Fizzy grape juice with the P-J label would be authentic fizzy grape juice.

                                                              Why do you make up stuff when there are so many real world examples? Or give some kind of odd story about shipwreked champagne? I can give you an example I come across everyday:

                                                              Somebody on Chowhound asks for an authentic example of a cuisine they are looking for. If I have a good recommendation, I give it to them. See how simple it is? Even easier than I want 'tasty' Chinese food. In fact, this gives me an idea for a new thread.... There is No such Thing as Tasty!

                                                2. I think "authenticity" is often overrated. But I think in this case it's the OP is trying to pin it down as a precise or empirical term, and when it's used with food at least, its usage is highly subjective. It means different things to different people. We don't talk about an "authentic" Roman artifact in the same sense that we talk about "authentic" tamales or something. With the former, "authentic" conveys a sort of absoluteness or purity - it is an actual item that came from Ancient Rome. With the latter, it indicates that the food was made by someone who either is from the place where the dish originated or has privileged knowledge that would only be available to a person who had studied the dish's origins and the methods of making it very thoroughly. At least that's my interpretation.

                                                  3 Replies
                                                  1. re: Heatherb

                                                    ah, yes, that item came from ancient Rome, but was it produced by a native-born Roman taught by a native-born Roman, or might it have been made by a Greek slave taught by a north African slave, and painted with dyes imported from Phoenicia....therefore not really authentic at all?

                                                    1. re: sunshine842

                                                      Then perhaps "authentic" is a purely subjective adjective all around?

                                                      1. re: Heatherb

                                                        I don't know that I'd use the word "subjective" so much as "relative."

                                                  2. "Authentic" is all well and good, but it begs the question - authentic **what**?

                                                    "Authentic Italian food" is so ambiguous as to be meaningless. Never mind that it doesn't address the issue of time. As you noted, tomatoes were introduced a few hundred years ago, but never mind centuries - most modern Italians have diets that are different than their great-grandparents'.

                                                    Even more significant is the failure to address place and culture. Even in present-day Italy, Northern food is different than Southern food. Urban food is different than rural food. People who live on the coast dine differently than those who live in the mountains. And rich people eat different things than poor people. But even then, I think "traditional" would be a more precise word to use.

                                                    So there is such a thing as "authentic." But you need more adjectives. "Authentic 19th century Umbrian peasant food" at least encompasses a relatively discreet set of ingredients and preparations.

                                                    1 Reply
                                                    1. re: alanbarnes

                                                      A gesture, comment, or personality can be authentic, meaning honest or uncontrived. Something like food can be created by a person and be an authentic expression of that person or authentic to the moment, appetite, and environment. In this way, when I try to cook an established traditional dish from an unfamiliar cuisine, it will be inevitably inauthentic, wheras the most authentic food I've eaten have been new whimsical creations!

                                                      This idea is relavant to the way chowhounders usually use the word, "authentic." What made that authentic korma so unbelievable when you visited your friends aunt in Kerala? It was the unstrained manner in which it was made. It was tailored to the needs of the moment.

                                                      Authentic Gerneral Tso's chicken exists, and suddenly I want some.

                                                    2. I think alanbarnes’s point about authenticity having a temporal requirement, beyond just the geographic one typically contemplated, is quite an important one to keep in mind. Without such a notion, the OP’s original point could easily be extended from “there are no authentic cuisines” to “there are no authentic cultures.” In a way, the concept being wrestled with is not “authentic,” but, in a sense, “indigenous.” In that way, one not only acknowledges the temporal concept, one also accounts for the submission that ingredients from the area are relevant.

                                                      In light of the foregoing, could we accept certain Mayan or Incan foods as “authentic?” I will not try to identify any in particular as my knowledge of the cuisines is limited compared to some of yours. Nevertheless, given the isolation of the cultures, use of the regional products, limited importation of other cultural influences, etc., I suggest that these are the most likely examples of “authentic” or “indigenous” cuisines available. Clearly, we must dismiss those “dishes” that were developed after, and influenced by, the Spanish invasion, but haven’t some survived?

                                                      7 Replies
                                                      1. re: MGZ

                                                        Yes, these points were also made above by Limster ("native" vs. your "indigenous") and bbqboy re the question of time.

                                                        1. re: tatamagouche

                                                          I saw, and consequently, tried to offer a synthesis and use that to base a suggestion that there may in fact be at least one or two cuisines that are within the "scope."

                                                          1. re: MGZ

                                                            I think you're right that by the narrow definition of "authentic," the only cuisines that would qualify are those of people who have remained untouched by other cultures...which means those we can only read about in history books, or, if they still exist, we by definition wouldn't know about them!

                                                            Which is why I think that a definition of the word that's contingent on historical change is key.

                                                            1. re: tatamagouche

                                                              Fair. I do think it important that we have some notion of authenticity, if only in order to permit exploration of "Forms."

                                                              1. re: tatamagouche

                                                                Good point! As I pointed out earlier, Iceland has went out of its way, even despite its rise in tourism, to remain "authentic". The few people who become citizens even have to take on Icelandic names. Therefore, one could argue that eating Icelandic smoked puffin is "authentic", but what would you make of their hotdogs? (Though they are made from lamb)

                                                                1. re: NicoleFriedman

                                                                  a closeminded culture is by no means more "authentic" than one that absorbs it's neighbors -- though it may be easier to define what "authentic" cooking is, if it doesn't change moment to moment (see harissa in moroccan cooking)

                                                                  1. re: Chowrin

                                                                    I wasn't arguing whether I agree with their ethnocentrism or not, simply that Iceland at least has a leg to stand on for arguing "authenticity" unlike most other areas of the world due to their isolation and closed door policy to new citizenship. However, going back to my original post, it really doesn't matter as even the vikings hundreds of years ago had contact with other cultures; Russians, Irish, even inuit! (eskimo)

                                                        2. i disagree that no one has pointed this out. this is a common topic of conversation, and many think the word is worse than meaningless, and have said so many times in many ways

                                                          1 Reply
                                                          1. re: thew

                                                            You're right, but I think a number (not all) of those posts have been deleted....

                                                          2. Is there no such thing as love?

                                                            Interestingly enough (to me at least) at the beginning of the 17th century Spanish play, The Mayor of Zalamea, idle characters debate if love exists. Then the play spends the next couple of hours telling a story about love. Anyway, it's a pretty interesting exercise in trying to come up with a way to define something that is complex. The play determines that love does indeed exist.

                                                            I think Calderon de la Barca was as right about love as I am about authentic.

                                                            My definition is: generally accepted as being representative of a certain culture.

                                                            I think of your post as a News Flash: 'Tomatoes Came From the New World. Details at 11.' It is interesting to read about, I appreciate and admire your love of history and anthropolgy, yet at the same time I think it doesn't prevent something being considered as a true representation of a culture.

                                                            Or to put it another way, if Hunanese chefs prepare a hotpot of preserved pork smothered in chili peppers, are they consciously thinking that peppers came from the New World and that they are preparing a foreign dish? If the chefs go to a KFC, do they consciously believe that they are indulging in part of their culture? The answer to these questions are telling.

                                                            Anyway, I would appreciate to hear your thought on the questions of love, art, justice, or faith. Do they exist? Or are they also corrupted by other influences?

                                                            4 Replies
                                                            1. re: Steve

                                                              "I would appreciate to hear your thought on the questions of love, art, justice, or faith"

                                                              I suspect the moderators would quickly rule such a discussion off-topic.

                                                              1. re: Steve

                                                                as I understand chinese cooking (not well!), one can very easily have authentic chinese using carrots and other non-native vegetables, because chinese cooking runs on "styles" and is less about which ingredients get used. less particular?

                                                                1. re: Chowrin

                                                                  I don't know much about carrots, but I read somewhere that China is now the #1 producer of potatoes, which I have had in Chinese cooking.

                                                                  1. re: Steve

                                                                    and also as an empire China has widely shared their foods and absorbed the food of others, so requiring authentic Chinese food to only use ingredients native to China is sort of a pointless request.

                                                              2. Sure there is! You just have to define what you're authenticating. When I logged in to CH I had to use a username and password. They were authentic and now I get to make silly posts. There was a certain kind of pizza being made in Naples in the 1880's. If I research I could discover what kind of ingredients they were made from and how they were cooked and I could try to replicate that pizza. Is my pizza Authentic? Depends on the definition of the pizza I'm trying to make and how faithfully I am able to replicate it. With the username and password I have to be 100% accurate. With the pizza? That's up for debate. What if I get it 92.5% correct?

                                                                If not, there is not much point in using the term. In the end I think the only point of using it or striving for authenticity is for the enjoyment and learning about a period and it's food.


                                                                1. A colonel sanders christmas cake is about as authentically japanese as the Curse of Colonel Sanders. it isn't found anywhere else, and is instantly recognizable.

                                                                  Just because a tradition isn't OLD doesn't make it inauthentic (that may have to do with how pervasive the tradition is... kinda like spaghetti night in america)

                                                                  1 Reply
                                                                  1. re: Chowrin

                                                                    KFC Christmas cake, what on earth is THAT?

                                                                  2. When i get down to snifffin'
                                                                    A full-done rendition
                                                                    of a fully smoked rack of good pork ribs

                                                                    I worry anought
                                                                    and give nary a thought
                                                                    to them ain't gived sniff to the bless of the hardwood.

                                                                    Just as the ribs roll
                                                                    and oak logs as the fuel;

                                                                    I give Snort and Full Vival
                                                                    to them that think that aint' ate an" Authentic Hardwooode 'Que':

                                                                    1. What you described as authnetic is too ideal or too extreme. Of course, if you take any idea into a very strict definition, then it is easy to topple the case. Now, would it be correct to say there is no such thing as the "Ideal Gas Law" because it breaks down under certain circumstances. I would argue no. Just because a certain theory or ideal breaks down in some situations, it does not mean the theory or ideal is completely nonexistence. Does a marriage become broken after the husband and wife got into a single argument? I say no. Now, do West African countries trade with Middle Eastern or European countries make their foods unauthnetic? I also say no.

                                                                      Like you said, tomato is a New World Crop, but that does not make pizza with tomatoe unauthentic. It may not be as old as some people think, but it is not unauthentic. Authentic foods do not mean the cuisines are untouched by outside cultures. Outside influences are acceptable.

                                                                      35 Replies
                                                                      1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                                        "Authentic foods do not mean the cuisines are untouched by outside cultures. Outside influences are acceptable." But where do you draw the line? Tomatoes being acceptable, I can how one can argue that for Italian cuisine. However, if you were to go back in time, at what point would you say that tomatoes became an "authentic" ingredient in Italian cuisine? After 1/2 a generation? Two generations? My entire point in this whole debate is that the term "authentic" is extremely subjective, much like the word "art". Bottom line is that it really doesn't matter! For the life of me, I will never understand how splatters of paint a la Jackson Pollack constitute "art", but millions of people do. Who is right? Same goes for what is authentic when it comes to cooking. The reason I started this thread by the way, is because I was getting frustrated with people who acted like authenticity can be proven like science, when in general it is not scientific, but very much subjective.

                                                                        1. re: NicoleFriedman

                                                                          exactly - at what point does stop being authentic? by that logic , putting cream cheese in sushi is then authentic, because it is done.

                                                                          1. re: NicoleFriedman

                                                                            Hard to define and doesn't matter are two different things. If you can't accept splatters of paint as being art, clearly you have a definition of art that excludes abstraction. Which is fine for you, except that most classical music, modern dance, and a lot of modern art is lost on you. No problem for me, though.

                                                                            Many times on Chowhound I have proffered a definition of authentic which I took from a dictionary. Works for me!

                                                                            Authentic: Generally accepted as being representative of a culture. There, nothing scientific about it.

                                                                            "I was getting frustrated with people who acted like authenticity can be proven like a science" Any examples of this?

                                                                            1. re: Steve

                                                                              That definition made me recall that science is similarly reliant upon "generally accepted" notions. At bottom, they are subjective.

                                                                              1. re: MGZ

                                                                                For something to be scientifically proven, it has to be tested over and over again with the same results every time. "Generally accepted notions" reminds me of the Church in the Middle Ages that refused to accept the scientific findings that the Earth rotates around the Sun.

                                                                                1. re: NicoleFriedman

                                                                                  Experiments must be capable of replication to ensure that the observations so derived are accurate. All that is actually proven, however, is the accuracy of the resultant observations. Conclusions are then drawn from those observations. At this stage, the development of the “laws” of science relies upon general acceptance; hence, notions like “peer review.”

                                                                                  As to your example, please remember that prior to Copernicus the "scientists" of the day had complicated, tested models upon which they could support their notions of the Earth as the center of the universe. Similarly, although the apple will fall from the tree “over and over again,” it is generally accepted that Einstein’s notions of relativity have superseded Newton’s “Law.”

                                                                                  As to the instant discussion, it may be impossible to establish an absolute notion of authenticity but that that doesn’t mean the notion doesn’t exist. General acceptance, based upon shared observations, still permits understanding; whether we are discussing authenticity, science, or art.

                                                                            2. re: NicoleFriedman


                                                                              "My entire point in this whole debate is that the term "authentic" is extremely subjective"

                                                                              Yes, it is subjective. I agree. On the other hand, unlike a presidential election, some people's vote means more than others. :) For example, I think the current Italians opinions on authnetic Italian foods mean more than mine. If majority of Italians think and accept tomatoes as authnetic Italians ingredient, then that is a good cut off line.

                                                                              Let's forget foods for a second, take literature or language for example. Considering current Japanese language is heavily influenced ancient Chinese and Roman language. Is there an authnetic Japanese language? I would still say so. How do we draw a line between classic Japanese vs modern Japanese? I think same can be say about the English language. Is there such a thing as Old English and modern English? I think so. Where to cut the line and is it scientific? Probably not scientific.

                                                                              I think I agree with Steve. Sometime there are things which are difficult to draw the line, but it does not mean the difference is nonexistence. Is there a thing such as a tall person vs a short person. I think so. Where do you draw the line? That can be tougher, but again, just because it is tough to draw the line, it does not mean the terms like "tall vs short" and "old vs young" .... are meaningless.

                                                                              I think you are correct that authnetic vs unauthnetic can be difficult to draw the line especially at the gray area, but I think it is to define in other areas. I think a 7 feet tall person is tall and a 5 feet person is short. A 80 years person is old a 10 year person is young. Is a 40 years person consider old or young. That is tougher to say, right? Still, the adjectives "old" and "young" are meaningful.

                                                                              1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                                                CK -- try extending the definition of short/tall to other cultures, where different physical statures exist.

                                                                                It all depends on who's offering the opinion.

                                                                                1. re: sunshine842

                                                                                  Right. I think these terms can vary from people to people and culture to culture, as they are relative term. Tall/short, big/small, old/young, fast/slow, authnetic/unauthnetic.... Nevertheless, it is not the same as saying there is no such thing as a tall person or a slow car.

                                                                                  Relative terms exist, they simply have to exist with the respective opposite term. The idea of tall exists because of the concept of short. Same goes for authnetic vs unauthnetic.

                                                                                2. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                                                  all that is true. and exactly why saying something is or is not authentic tells you close to nothing about whether it is good or not. which has always been my point

                                                                                  1. re: thew

                                                                                    I won't go as far as "tell me close to nothing". I would in fact argue that relativet terms very important.

                                                                                    Now, authentic foods do not actually mean good foods, nor does unauthentic foods mean bad foods. We have other adjectives for them. Namely they are: good and bad.

                                                                                    Now, tall and short also do not tell me if a person is a good person or a bad person, but that is not to say the adjectives tall and short are not important.

                                                                                    The description: authnetic foods vs unauthnetic foods tell you excatly what they meant to tell you, just like tall and short do.

                                                                                    Now, my original post was to Nicole which was really about if the word "authentic" has its place. I said it does, just like tall and short, old and young.

                                                                                    1. re: thew

                                                                                      In the DC area if a restaurant is authentic Hunanese, I would guess it is better than 98% of the all Chinese restaurants in the area, and I know 100% that I would be interested in trying it. It tells me a great deal.

                                                                                      1. re: Steve

                                                                                        >>"if a restaurant is authentic Hunanese, I would guess it is better than 98% of the all Chinese restaurants in the area"<<

                                                                                        I'm not disagreeing with you, but IMO this is a prime example of authenticity and deliciousness having a casual, but not causal, relationship.

                                                                                        Anybody who's going to open up a restaurant thousands of miles away from home serving food that's unfamiliar to most local folks is likely to care deeply for and have significant knowledge of that cuisine. If you ate traditional Hunanese food growing up and thought it was disgusting, you'd be an unlikely evangelist for the stuff. And since there's not an already-established mass market for it (as opposed to, say, mediocre Americanized Cantonese food), odds are you're not going to risk your money on a venture that is dependent on other people liking something you loathe.

                                                                                        So the food at the first "authentic" Hunanese (Kyrgyz, Ghanaian, Ecuadoran, etc.) restaurant in a town is probably going to be pretty good. That, or the restaurant will be out of business right quick.

                                                                                        But one of my college friends moved to Changsha to teach English after graduation and pronounced the food he was served on campus absolutely terrible. It's not that he disliked Xiang cuisine, and he found plenty of great (and cheap) dishes at restaurants around the city. But the stuff served at the school was just vile.

                                                                                        I don't know about you, but I'd be hard-pressed to come up with an example of food that's much more "authentically" Hunanese than what's being served to large numbers of people smack in the middle of the capitol of Hunan province. And some of that food is very good. But there's plenty of authentic crap, too.

                                                                                        1. re: alanbarnes

                                                                                          I ate in the cafeteria while hiking Huanglong. I could get more authentic food by defrosting a package of La Choy Chinese Food - that (according to the old jingle) "Swings American!"


                                                                                          Note how there are no noodles in the chow mein! Why bother with a useless ingredient?

                                                                                          1. re: Steve

                                                                                            But therein lies the rub - I'd argue that local food being served by local people to other local people is authentic by definition. But that doesn't mean it's any good.

                                                                                            There was a chowhound thread a while back about takeout "chow mein" in NYC - it apparently doesn't have noodles there, either.

                                                                                            1. re: alanbarnes

                                                                                              >>>"....local food being served by local people to other local people is authentic by definition...."

                                                                                              That's not always true. I've encountered dishes in native locale where shortcuts were made and certain ingredients left out. This was a change beyond the normal range of variation that one would encounter, and among locals there was no controversy in terms of that departure from well established standards. So even in the native context, some renditions of a dish may be more authentic than others.

                                                                                              1. re: alanbarnes

                                                                                                We have already established that not everything authentic is going to be good. It's reason for being can be convenience, as in the cafeteria example.

                                                                                                The real important information we are concerned with is: can you recommend a place just on the adjective authentic?

                                                                                                Really, it isn't that complicated. I do it all the time, plus I have benefited from the advice of others.

                                                                                                A) person on the internet asks for authentic Soul Food food in DC
                                                                                                B) I recommend a place where they will find locals eating Soul Food that I have been to before and it's good. (excellent if they follow my specific rec).
                                                                                                C) Everyone is happy.

                                                                                                Really, it's not hard. If they want to be more specific in their questioning (e.g., looking for Alabama Soul Food) I won't stop them. Some people are looking for anything good that qualifies, the more suggestions the merrier.

                                                                                                1. re: Steve

                                                                                                  I completely agree that getting recommendations from other Chowhounds is a great way to find some of the best food a place has to offer. Matter of fact, I think it was you that steered me toward Ethiopian in DC - thanks again!

                                                                                                  What I'm wondering is what the word "authentic" adds to the discussion. Would your recommendation be any different if somebody just asked where to find soul food?

                                                                                                  1. re: alanbarnes

                                                                                                    No. Which doesn't mean there are no other contexts in which it might make a difference—but still, your point's a salient one (and trouble-saving)!

                                                                                                    1. re: alanbarnes

                                                                                                      "What I'm wondering is what the word "authentic" adds to the discussion."

                                                                                                      It's a fine word that does add to the discussion if what it adds means "generally accepted as representative of ______ food by members of ______ culture." That has value in and of itself, just as a reference point. That is my biggest argument against the anti-"authentic" people - reference points, even subjective ones, are a fine and useful thing.

                                                                                                      The problem is when "authentic" is used to convey a value judgment or qualities not related to "authentic"'s actual meaning.

                                                                                                      1. re: alanbarnes

                                                                                                        In my case, you're right! There wouldn't be a difference. I recommend only one place.

                                                                                                        But if someone does use the word authentic, I'm not going to interrogate them either. I have an idea what they mean. If I have misunderstood, it's not going to kill them.

                                                                                                        1. re: alanbarnes

                                                                                                          Depends on the cuisine and the level of connoisseurship of the person asking. Some cuisines have inspired offshoots or "faux" varietals. Mexican is an excellent example. When I talk to people locally about Mexican restaurants, I use "authentic" as a quick and dirty way to separate the ground beef and cheese school from the tripe and tongue taco, birria, caldo de res school. While they both call themselves "Mexican", they serve very different food and appeal to different tastes, by dint of the food, the atmosphere, and even the location.

                                                                                                          1. re: Naco

                                                                                                            But Mexican food is one of the contexts in which the word "authentic" is most often misused. People so often talk about "authentic" Mexican food to distinguish it from Tex-Mex. But Tejano cuisine has a long and respectable history (much of which developed while Texas was part of Mexico) and is no less authentic than food from Nayarit or Oaxaca.

                                                                                                            Even within Mexico's current borders, there aren't just one or two schools of cooking. Birria isn't a pan-Mexican dish, it's Jalisqueno, just as cochinita pibil is Yucatecan and cabrito al pastor is typical of Tamaulipas and Nuevo Leon.

                                                                                                            That's not to say that there aren't plenty of restaurants in the US serving questionable imitations or derivations of Mexican food. But drawing the line between authentic and inauthentic seems like an exercise in futility. For example, if you're going to exclude accessible food sold from a quick-service chain, then you're going to have to rule out El Pollo Loco, which is popular among "authentic" Mexicans throughout the northern part of the country.

                                                                                                            I'm not saying that the word is completely without utility. But its usefulness is extremely limited. If you tell me that a restaurant serves "authentic Mexican food," I'll assume we aren't talking about Taco Bell, but otherwise have no idea what to expect. If you elaborate and say that it serves authentic Mexican seafood, now we've narrowed it down a little. And if you comment that it's a good place to find authentic Veracruzano mariscos, I'll know exactly what to expect there. But by that point, the word "authentic" has become superfluous.

                                                                                                            1. re: alanbarnes

                                                                                                              "And if you comment that it's a good place to find authentic Veracruzano mariscos, I'll know exactly what to expect there. But by that point, the word "authentic" has become superfluous."
                                                                                                              Interesting point about the word becoming superfluous as we get more and more specific. I would think then that "authentic" is still useful in describing any dish where the name of its origin gets incorporated to the name of the dish. I see all sorts of cheesesteaks called a "philly cheesesteak" while bearing little resemblance to what a philly native would recognize as his hometown sandwich. And likewise, there are recipes for dishes like Bucatini all'Amatriciana that may not be exactly what they would agree upon in Amatrice.

                                                                                                              But even more so, you seem to forget that "authentic" is often not used so much in signifying Veracruzano mariscos as in arguing whether the Veracruzano mariscos you/I/we just ate were actually as they are made in Veracruz. Distasteful as those conversations sometimes get, we cannot ignore their existence. "Authentic" gets brought up and thrown around so much because it is fairly subjective (heck just ask a few of us Philly natives about authentic cheesesteaks and whiz).

                                                                                                              1. re: cowboyardee

                                                                                                                and, more to the point, if you say authentic mariscos -- which I have never heard of before... I can google a recipe -- or three, and say whether it is safe to eat.

                                                                                                                Very helpful for those allergic to substantial types of food.

                                                                                                                1. re: Chowrin

                                                                                                                  Actually, "mariscos" just means "seafood." But it at least points you in the right direction.

                                                                                                                  1. re: alanbarnes

                                                                                                                    in that case, definitely verboten.

                                                                                                                    1. re: alanbarnes

                                                                                                                      Technically, just shellfish. Although colloquially, usually just shrimp.

                                                                                                                      1. re: Naco

                                                                                                                        Mmmmm, not so sure about that. The term definitely encompasses non-shellfish things like octopus, and sometimes even includes fin fish. For example, ceviche de mariscos mixto will typically include shrimp, ocotopus, white fish, and maybe some other stuff.

                                                                                                                        On the other hand, "pescados y mariscos" is pretty commonly used, which would imply that the latter excludes the former. But then again, you see "fish and seafood" on English-language menus, too.

                                                                                                                        IMO "mariscos" is a term that's very close too - and just as ambiguous as - the English "seafood."

                                                                                                                        1. re: alanbarnes

                                                                                                                          I checked the RAE definition and got this:

                                                                                                                          "Animal marino invertebrado, y especialmente los crustáceos y moluscos comestibles"

                                                                                                                          So octopus would qualify; I hadn't thought of that. But I have never really seen "mariscos" include fish, as the English "seafood" does.

                                                                                                                          My big ceviche experience was in Ecuador in the 90s. You had three principal types- ceviche de pescado, ceviche de camarón, and ceviche de mariscos(mixed mollusks, usually shrimp and clams).

                                                                                                                          If I see "mariscos" on a place's sign, I'd say it's a fair bet that they have fish, if for no other reason than places that have shrimp and such tend to have fish also. But it would seem very odd to call a fish a "marisco", even colloquially.

                                                                                                                          1. re: Naco

                                                                                                                            You had me at shivering cleft of crescendo
                                                                                                                            as the menu was composed of invertebrates..

                                                                                                                  2. re: cowboyardee

                                                                                                                    Once we get to the point of discussing whether a particular salpicon de camarones deviates from what's served in Veracruz, maybe the concept of authenticity should start creeping back into the discussion. My objection is that it tends to be used so lazily - people who can't be bothered to learn about a cuisine use it to identify a place where they order cuts of meat they don't cook at home from somebody who doesn't speak English as a first language. In that context, it's of limited usefulness.

                                                                                                                    1. re: alanbarnes

                                                                                                                      Oh, it's definitely used lazily. Just not always.

                                                                                                                      1. re: alanbarnes

                                                                                                                        I don't think this is laziness- just imprecision, which is sometimes a good thing.

                                                                                                                    2. re: alanbarnes

                                                                                                                      I wasn't impugning Tex-Mex/Tejano as a cuisine, or even talking about it at all, as what is served in most Mexican restaurants outside the home region is a pale imitation of the original at best, from what I gather. Tex-Mex is centered on a region that isn't part of Mexico proper, though.

                                                                                                                      In general, you miss my point. I know that there are regional styles of cooking in Mexico. But in my area, there are two very distinct types of restaurant, both branding themselves as "Mexican": the psuedo Tex-Mex variety, and the kind which cater to Latinos and offer a pan-Mexican menu usually consisting of several of the dishes you name above- and often with some Central American items thrown in, too.

                                                                                                                      So, I need a way to distinguish the two types, especially for people who don't know what Veracruzano mariscos are. "Authentic" is about the best I can come up with. I have successfully used it on numerous occasions to convey a general sense that a given place offers a different sort of menu. With someone who has a higher level of knowledge, yes, the names of certain dishes are probably more revelatory. But not everyone possesses that level of knowledge.

                                                                                              2. I promised myself I wouldn't write anything, and look at where that got me.

                                                                                                Anyway, I sympathise with and understand (I think) what Nicole is trying to say. The word 'authentic' despite the many individual definitions, is that it actually has meaning. This meaning, whether in terms of 'genuine', 'traditional' or even 'true to an internal quality not touched by external forces' suggests a fantasy of something unchanging. Or perhaps, more notably, it carries a distinctly temporal quality with it" It is genuine according to a set of standards that once existed. True, these standards may change, but this is where the debates come in and the confusion begins to reign: At what point is there agreement? Because based on chowhound threads, my answer would be: never.

                                                                                                Even the attempt to bring the word 'authentication' into the mix cannot sidestep this temporal component. Why? Because we authenticate our virtual existence through a reference to a point determined earlier. The password we set. the purchase we made, etc.

                                                                                                And it is this temporal component, which cannot be divorced from the term, that renders it so fraught as someone, somewhere, is expected to have stayed pure-- shielded from external forces and the test of time.

                                                                                                The idea that there is no such thing as 'authentic' is not to say that this is not a term that doesn't have meaning for many hounds out there. Clearly it does. But it is a term so loaded, so slippery, and so relative as to have no useful function in describing or qualifying a food. More useful is a longer phrase "That food there? The way they made it is like how my grandmother made it; how it was at the roadside diner I loved; how that foodcourt in Taiwan had it..." This tells the listener far more than 'authentic'. The beautiful thing about the internet today is that we are not charged by the character. It is worth taking the extra moment to explain and communicate what we mean to others.

                                                                                                Meanwhile, what I (a person who has also been involved in Museum and Tourism Studies) like is this: 'Authentic' if anything, has distinct meaning as the thing the tourist always seeks in the hope to escape the vagaries and tribulations of modern life. I find this pleasurably ironic because the hounds who most uphold and insist upon the word 'authentic' (forget the numerous personal meanings heaped on this poor, overburdened word) are the hounds who use it to signal that they are not tourists. That is, this is how the tourist knows he has truly escaped his ('Americanised', 'westernised' 'Modern') world is through contact with this other, this temporal past when everything was good and pure and not bastardised. When it was true, and not damaged by consumer culture and simulacra. When it was authentic.

                                                                                                13 Replies
                                                                                                1. re: Lizard

                                                                                                  "This meaning, whether in terms of 'genuine', 'traditional' or even 'true to an internal quality not touched by external forces' suggests a fantasy of something unchanging."

                                                                                                  Perhaps in some other threads, but no one in this thread has applied this "magical" meaning to the word Authentic.


                                                                                                  1. re: JuniorBalloon

                                                                                                    I actually think it is a little like magic. In engineering we're familiar with the idea of something being magic, like in that quote, "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic," and when we do something that we don't want to have to explain we call it FM (Fricken Magic).

                                                                                                    Today a group of guys went out to an Indian restaurant called Masala Art and one of the members of our group said "I thought Marsala was Italian." I thought, oh boy.., I wonder if he's going to like this. And he did. He said it Authentic. He used that word. Even though he's obviously not an expert on Indian food. So, remembering this thread, I asked him if Authenticity was more important than Taste? He said it "felt" authentic. He related the story of a chinese restaurant in Oregon that "had Asian decor, not American furniture" which made it feel more authentic.

                                                                                                    So maybe authenticity is as much a feeling as a fact?

                                                                                                    1. re: JuniorBalloon

                                                                                                      "magic"? These are the definitions given in dictionaries and scholarship on the subject. But I guess it's time to declare we can make up the meanings of the words we use and disregard the definitions given...

                                                                                                      1. re: Lizard

                                                                                                        If you adhere to the strictest meaning of many words they lose their utility. Truth? Beauty? Love? Does that mean we shouldn't use them? We should certainly be aware of their limitations and use them in that regard. Saying that a restaurant serves authentic Italian food is not very useful. Italy is a big place and has many different cuisines and the dishes in each area have undergone changes over the years. Yet I htink it's still possible to talk about an authentic Bolognese. Even though there are regional differences to making a ragu their are certain things that are constant enough that they can be used to define the authentic version. Even then it's only a jumping off point. You don't like using beef stock, or garlic or you would rather have more tomato sauce. And here you begin to create your own version and so it goes.


                                                                                                        1. re: JuniorBalloon

                                                                                                          and whose version of authentic -- your grandmother's, her next-door neighbor's, or the lady down the street? All three ladies might be native to Bologna, but their mothers taught them to make Bolognese in different ways...all use similar ingredients, all use a recipe handed down from mother to daughter to granddaughter...are YOU gonna tell one of them that her recipe isn't authentic? ('cause I'm afraid to.)

                                                                                                          1. re: sunshine842

                                                                                                            if it's recognizable to the next bloke as bolognese, then it's still bolognese, as a cultural construct. All close to equally authentic.

                                                                                                            1. re: sunshine842

                                                                                                              I am sorry, but I have never understood this point. Who said there can only be one authentic recipe? I do not know of anyone on Chowhound who has ever claimed this, but if you can link to the origin of this belief, then I'll be glad to read it.

                                                                                                            2. re: JuniorBalloon

                                                                                                              Yes, I do adhere to given dictionary definitions (and the definitions that arise in scholarly debates) because words continue to have meaning. There are points at which one can stretch and test the meaning. But stretching definitions to the degree where everyone gets to provide their own definition for a term is to render matters of word choice and communication utterly pointless. There are many good words out there that can function to communicate what so many chowhounds WISHED 'authentic' means, why not use one of those? Why continue to use a word that is hopelessly fraught and overburdened, and, as so many others note here, inefficient as a point of reference? You are welcome to do what you want when you choose to communicate. But try not to fault those who cannot decode the message as you have encoded it.

                                                                                                              1. re: Lizard

                                                                                                                " But try not to fault those who cannot decode the message as you have encoded it."
                                                                                                                Thank you Lizard! I've been watching this discussion like a train wreck which I can't take my eyes off of, but it's making my head hurt

                                                                                                                1. re: Lizard

                                                                                                                  I'm curious where you think I've over stretched the meaning of authentic? I do not mean this in an argumentative way. I am truly curious.


                                                                                                          2. re: Lizard


                                                                                                            I agree with Junior Balloon too. I don't know anyone has suggested that authentic as being untouched by external force or unchanging. In fact, if you read above, I said exactly the opposite. I wrote "Authentic foods do not mean the cuisines are untouched by outside cultures. Outside influences are acceptable."

                                                                                                            Who or where did you read something to make you think people suggest this idea?

                                                                                                              1. re: Lizard

                                                                                                                "The beautiful thing about the internet today is that we are not charged by the character. It is worth taking the extra moment to explain and communicate what we mean to others."

                                                                                                                Words to live by, yes. I rarely give blanket recommendations. I always explain as much as I can and give specific menu item recs. I am sure the folks on the DC Board are sick of hearing my lengthy explanations. It's a wonder I don't use macros.

                                                                                                                But I don't expect everyone out there will be as thorough as I am. On Chowhound or Thorn Tree, when people are looking for authentic xxxx, I will point them to a locals-only place that caters to those specialties.

                                                                                                                Most folks on the internet who insist on further and further clarification from the OP get into long-winded arguments and interrogation, then wind up giving no suggestion at all.

                                                                                                                For most practical appplications, I accept the shorthand of authentic. If people want to specify, they are free to do so.

                                                                                                              2. I would think that an artist who was named Jackson Pollack
                                                                                                                would argue for authenticity of krab meat called Surimi.

                                                                                                                1. I think the comparison to languages and words is appropriate. Are there "authentic" English words, or words of any country/culture? Yes, and, yet, we have dictionaries and definitions of words, even though they are constantly evolving. No one would say we need to get rid of definitions. So, while words might evolve to become an "authentic" part of a culture, that doesn't mean we can haphazardly make up sounds and meanings and call them words. It's not until it's reached a point of acceptance in the general culture (and who gets to decide?) that becomes "authentic." As said above, just because there are shades of gray doesn't mean we don't need dictionaries and can use any word any way we want and call it a real "word." Of course, some can and apparently "refudiate" is now considered a word by some. Language is about communicating, it's not a hard mathematical equation that has to be well defined and as long as people, most people, understand what you're saying, that's what counts and when most people say "authentic", others know what they mean. Isn't that what's important, rather than drawing a line down the shades of gray?

                                                                                                                  1. If you substitute Traditional for Authentic would that make people happier? Because really this is what most people on this site mean when they say authentic.

                                                                                                                    2 Replies
                                                                                                                      1. re: GraydonCarter

                                                                                                                        Yes, people seem upset when they see the word authentic. Seems kind of trivial to me especially when those who are upset generally know what most people mean when they use the term.

                                                                                                                    1. Is there way to just simplify, and also give amplify,
                                                                                                                      to debate that there really ain't no authentic food.?

                                                                                                                      Folks cookin' in kitchens with their sets of delusions
                                                                                                                      Have morphed both the broth and the ancestral mantra
                                                                                                                      that was once embodied in the notion of "ancestral" cuisine.

                                                                                                                      Let's save and let's savor everyone of Grandma's orally passed down and offered recipes.
                                                                                                                      Because that just might be the best that we get.

                                                                                                                      2 Replies
                                                                                                                      1. re: FoodFuser

                                                                                                                        Let's just say there are certain styles, certain condiments and spices, certain available resources that a particular place would use in a particular way.