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where to draw the line on "authentic"?

  • j

I recently was served mussels, chicken shrimp and kielbasa in italian red sauce over some butter rice. I had order jambalaya.

As ridiculous as the meal sounds, it wasn't half bad. I was expecting the kielbasa because this wasn't even trying to be a cajun or creole restaurant and its a much easier to find in this area, but man they didn't even try to make jambalaya.

I know chili is another thing that isn't really a standardized recipe, but I think it goes without saying that chocolate, penne, italian sausage, snake meat, corn, coconuts etc don't belong in chili. If you have ever been to an amateur chili cookoff, you would know this isn't common knowledge apparently.

So how strict are you? I am semi strict with chili. anything aside from beans is too many extraneous ingredients. I would be especially interested in hearing northerners ordering bagels, philly cheese steak, chowder etc in the south and what they got.

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  1. I am not strict at all. I regard "authentic" as a marketing term only. For me, food either tastes good or it does not.

    6 Replies
    1. re: Harters

      but if you were ordering one thing and got something that was completely different from what you expected, this wouldn't bother you?

      1. re: j8715

        No, not really. I never know what is meant to be "authentic" so I'd assume that this was the chef's interpretation of a dish.

        Of course if I ordered, say, pasta with a puttanesca sauce - and got a chicken and cream based sauce then I'd be likely to conclude a line in the sand had been crossed.

        1. re: j8715

          if you aren't going to be close to the standard takeon a dish, label what you're serving. other than that, I don't mind. No fish dish should be served instead with chicken without telling people. or the other way round.

          1. re: Chowrin

            I agree. The key is in the labeling.

            1. re: Chowrin

              Agreed. I had red snapper Veracruzana at a high end Dallas mexican restaurant Saturday and although their interpretation with sauteed sweet peppers and a few other ingredients was good, it completely lacked the savory saltiness of a sauce with capers and olives I craved and expected. Bummer.

              1. re: Veggo

                my condolences- I would have been disppointed, too.

        2. I think it depends on the dish. I love a good, spicy chili, but I don't care if the meat used is pork or beef. I don't mind some beans. I don't care if you threw in a bottle of Corona or some tequila. (Well, who can be unhappy with Corona or tequila?) I just want a hearty, smoky flavor explosion that'll make my tongue burn a bit.

          But if I order something like chicken picatta, where the end result is supposed to be a bit more specific, I'm more prone to disappointment if it's not done right. A chicken picatta without capers is NOT worth eating, and some restaurants won't do enough lemon. However, my favorite was at this little place called Alfredo's that's no longer in business: a lightly breaded chicken cutlet bursting with bright tanginess and spring vegetables tossed into the pasta. Probably not 100% traditional, but so good.

          I guess the point is if you're not going to do traditional, whatever you serve me better be amazing enough for me to overlook it.

          1. Sometimes 'authentic' isn't all it's cracked up to be. For example, the authentic Caesar Salad as made by Caesar Cardini, didn't contain anchovies and who wants to eat a CC without those salty wonders?? An authentic Salade Niçoise (and this is a minefield of debate) does not contain cooked vegges such as green beans or potatoes which in my opinion add a lot to the dish. Is 'authentic' the same as 'traditional', perhaps it depends on how one defines 'authentic'.

            1. authentic (whatever that means) depends or where you are from or how it's developed in the country your ancestors moved to. For example in the UK you would never get lasagne with ricotta cheese - I had never heard of it until trying it in the US. I personally don't like the ricotta in lasagne but prefer a white sauce which is how Italians in the UK make it. You would also not get deep fried eggplant in an eggplant parm, nor have I heard of chicken parmegiano in Italian restaurants in the UK.
              Either immigrants came from a different part of Italy when they went to England or they developed the dishes differently from those who emigrated to the USA.
              As another example, British Jews make fried gefilte fish (yes there is also boiled but fried is very normal there) but that seems to be unknown in the USA. Never heard of bialys nor whitefish salad in the UK, corned beef does not exist either (it is salt beef and different). So I conclude that authentic is an odd word to use.

              2 Replies
              1. re: smartie

                I suppose there are a lot of odd words in the English language when you try to define them. Justice, love, faith, freedom. So many odd things in life..... if only we could just simplify things and get rid of all those hackneyed ideals.

                Getting back to the OP, what passes for kielbasa most places in the US is fairly atrocious, so I doubt I would enjoy that jambalaya. If I were to visit Southwestern Louisiana, and I had the choice of tasting a home cooked jambalaya compared to one of those Bobby Flay throwdown concoctions, then I'd go for the home cooked jambalaya 10 out of 10 times. I can always get the bastardized stuff when Burger King introduces the BKJ Broiler. And I don't even have to leave the 'hood.

                1. re: Steve

                  i know what you mean about kielbasa. why do so many brands seem to taste like they have butter in them??

              2. there is a little place here in town that serves a "hot brown"
                it isnt even close to a "authentic" kentucky hot brown"
                but i still like it and have been eating it for 10 years...

                so no...its not as important to be authentic if it tastes good...

                1. I'm not strict for the most part....

                  But it is interesting that you mention cheesesteak. I grew up in Philadelphia. And while I don't mind seeing 'cheesesteaks' elsewhere that aren't made as they are in Philly (though most cheesesteaks in other cities aren't very good - that's a different issue), what drives me nuts is when these sandwiches are sold specifically as "Philadelphia cheesesteaks."

                  Why? It's not like anyone is gonna confuse them with the legendary Sacremento cheesesteak. If you're not gonna make an honest effort to make one in the Philly style (which isn't even hard), drop the "Philly" and just call it a damn cheesesteak, plain and simple without qualifiers.

                  12 Replies
                  1. re: cowboyardee

                    yes this is what i am getting at. when something is labeled in a way that has a specific meaning.

                    that cheese steak might taste fine, but if it has lettuce and tomatoes it is certainly not a philly cheese steak and shouldn't be labeled as such

                    1. re: j8715

                      Right, lettuce and tomato make it a cheesesteak hoagie.

                      1. re: j8715

                        Yeah, I was down in the DC area and ordered a "philly cheesesteak". I was asked what I wanted on it. I said just the cheese, thanks. "No lettuce and tomato?" HUH? Who puts lettuce and tomato on a philly cheesesteak? And no, it wasn't very good anyway.

                        1. re: DGresh

                          As others already mentioned, lettuce and tomatoes on a cheesesteak = a cheesesteak hoagie (or steak hoagie) in Philadelphia. Many people in Philly and the surrounding area eat it that way. Sounds like you just had a bad cheesesteak.

                          See for example:

                      2. re: cowboyardee

                        Yabut...is it "authentic" wit Cheeze Whiz or sliced cheese? Even that is a hot debate in the City of Brotherly Love. So how can it be "unauthentic" outside of Philly when they can't even decide what "authentic" means in the city?

                        1. re: al b. darned

                          either are acceptable. I say the line on cheese steaks is the right kind of roll and absolutely no lettuce/ tomatoes. to me, its all in that roll.

                          1. re: j8715

                            i agree completely. No mayo too, but does it really need to be said?

                            1. re: Steve

                              I am from PA and I get my steak with onions and either wiz, american or if I'm really feeling spunky, provolone but I also always get mayo.

                          2. re: al b. darned

                            There's no debate about cheesesteaks in Philly. Everyone knows what's standard and what's not. The term is used outside of the city, and that's fine *if* you make it correctly.
                            Agree with no LTM, but interestingly, that's standard in the MD/DC/VA region and it can be found anywhere in Philly, and it's called a cheesesteak hoagie, which I love.

                            1. re: monavano

                              Have you checked the Philly board lately? There is still great debate. Seeded roll or not? Whiz, American or provolone? Chopped meat or whole? It seems the debate flares every few weeks.

                              Of course, once you add mayo, tomatoes and lettuce it is clearly a cheesesteak hoagie. (Sorry, but it made me cringe to make these when I worked in a Philly Pizza place in high school.)

                              1. re: gaffk

                                The basics are the same. Good bread (seeded? no way!), ribeye steak, cheese, onions mushrooms.
                                Whether whiz is official probably does remain debatable, depending what joints you haunted as a kid.

                                1. re: gaffk

                                  I think the threads on the Philly board are about preferences. Not about authenticity.

                          3. The best chili Ive ever eaten had a little mexican chocolate in it, so I guess Im not very strict ><

                            9 Replies
                            1. re: twyst

                              Chocolate in chili (or vice versa) isn't all that unusual. Think of it as a cousin to a mole sauce.

                              1. re: BobB

                                And Mexican chocolate has cinnamon in it and I really like that in beef dishes incl. chili.

                                1. re: c oliver

                                  but Cincinnati Chili also has cinnamon and can have chocolate.
                                  My brain hurts. :).

                                  1. re: bbqboy

                                    And non-CHs think being a CH is easy? Pshaw, I say :)

                                    1. re: bbqboy

                                      Sure, add cinnamon, add chocolate but if you start adding beans, you'll get a CH war. Seriously.

                                      1. re: chowser

                                        Oh man- I don't even mind beans in chili but gods above, do NOT put either sweetened chocolate or especially cinnamon in my chili! A little cocoa powder is fine.

                                        1. re: EWSflash

                                          Served over pasta? You have to have cinnamon if you're serving over pasta with cheddar cheese (actually, I've never had that but have seen it on TV).

                                          1. re: chowser

                                            Born in Cincinnati: don't knock the 5-way till you've eaten a few hundred pounds of it. (Doesn't 5-way sound just a bit porn??) The big Cincinnati fight is what chili parlor has the best 5-way. I say eat at 'em all and make up your own mind. While I'm now in CA, I have seasoning pkts sent to me from Cincinnati.

                                    2. re: c oliver

                                      ...and cinnamon - usually as whole sticks - is often added to braised beef/pork dishes in E/SE Asian cuisines (amongst others) as well; whereas many (not all) folks in the West seem to recoil at the very notion of doing so.

                                2. How could you have fusion cooking or any creative modifications or ingredient combinations if you remain "authentic"? I serve good old southern candied sweet potatoes with spicy tandoori chicken---a delicious combination probably not well-known in India.

                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: Querencia

                                    Creative modifications is one thing... but a chef that just doesn't understand the dish, is too cheap to buy genuine ingredients, or who imposes his own food phobias upon the recipe?

                                    1. re: GraydonCarter


                                      In addition, if you call your fusion-ized or heavily modified dish by the original or traditional name without any other description of it you are also misleading the diner, as others have pointed out in this thread.

                                  2. Like the terms "Home-Made" (right), "Nutritious," "All Natural" and "Healthy," Authentic is pretty much a marketing ploy that is impossible to apply. I've enjoyed 20 different "authentic" paellas -- and all were great.

                                    3 Replies
                                    1. re: beevod

                                      Impossible to apply? I think it's pretty east to say that the OP's jambalaya was inauthentic, the opposite.

                                      That reminds me of the conversation in Man's Fate by Malreaux. When the political prisoner says he is fighting for dignity, his interrogator responds "there is no such thing."

                                      "Where I come from, my people know all about humiliation. Dignity is the opposite."

                                      1. re: Steve

                                        Malreaux, I am told, made an enviable jambalaya.

                                      2. i say draw the line right across the center of the word "authentic", as it is pretty meaningless

                                        50 Replies
                                        1. re: thew

                                          Since I am reading a book on linguistics right now (plus I stayed at a Holiday Inn)..... I realise there is locution (what is said), illocution (what is intended) , and perlocution (the effect). Since people have used the word on me and I have understood and acted to their accordance and intention, I know that your blanket statement is just plain wrong.

                                          1. re: Steve

                                            I'm adding a comment just so I don't forget to check this part of the thread, b/c this is the start of something good.

                                            This thread as a whole has appeared in various guises countless times, and it never fails to interest me. I think I've finally arrived at the simple conclusion that you have to know the rules before you break them. I'm all for inventiveness and irreverence; I'm against ignorance and fraud.

                                            1. re: tatamagouche

                                              Excellent point, and one with which I agree. You have to know about lasagne, say, before popping off some mess called "deconstructed" lasagne. I'm starting to think that the better binaries would be tradition (what most actual people and cultures mostly ate or did, wjhatever anyone else says about it) and innovation (a practice) --takes the discussion away from abstraction to pragmatics.. But whoever is in the kitchen, a solid grounding in the rules (and the traditions) is basic-- if you want to claim that the worth of your creation is in proportion to to the distance from those rules.

                                              1. re: Steve

                                                My blanket statement was clearly hyperbole, as the word clearly does have a meaning. But if it actually conveys anything useful to the discussion of food is a debatable point.

                                                1. re: thew

                                                  You're right, it is debatable.... that's why we're here! I don't use the word a whole lot because of my own ignorance.

                                                  However, if somebody uses the 'A Word' on me, I probably have a clue as to what they are getting at, and I will try to steer them in the best way I know how.

                                                  1. re: Steve

                                                    knowing it's authentic does not tell you if it's tasty. i've had authentic food that's not good. authentic does not speak to quality in any way shape or form.

                                                    1. re: thew

                                                      You seem to have no qualm with the word tasty, as if that doesn't mean different things to different people.

                                                      The proof is in the pudding. People have directed me towards wonderful food and experiences by using the word, and I have done the same for others. Success!

                                                      Sorry if it doesn't work for you.

                                                      1. re: thew

                                                        Knowing whether something is chicken doesn't tell you whether it's tasty, but it gives you an idea of what the dish is. I've had chicken that's good and chicken that is not good. Chicken doesn't speak to quality in any way shape or form, but it's useful information to know that one is ordering chicken or not.

                                                        1. re: limster

                                                          yes - chicken is useful. knowing that my bibimbop is prepared in an authentic manner would only make sense if i knew that authentic recipe used is a good one.

                                                          my mother was a doctor. she wasn't a good cook. yet i assure you she made authentic eastern european jewish food. but it wasnt always good. her sisters also made authentic eastern european jewish food. but some of the dishes were completely different from my mother's versions. even more different were the versions from my fathers side of the family. some were tastier. some were worse. all were authentic. if you tell me i'm getting authentic kapushniak, or authentic kasha varnishkes, or matzoh ball soup it will not really tell me if it's more like my mother's or my tante mania's, or if i'm more or less likely to enjoy it.

                                                          1. re: thew

                                                            If someone is looking for authentic Sichuan in the Washington, DC area, that pretty much tells me all I need to know on how to guide them. I will recommend places I like that fit. No need for further clarification.

                                                            Remarkable on how simple it is.

                                                            1. re: Steve

                                                              fair enough, though i think you know i was using that as a concrete example of how the word falls short for me that applies equally well to your dinner in DC as my mother's table. a fact a made explicit when i wrote "if you tell me i'm getting authentic...."

                                                              having traveled a lot i know that there are good and bad examples of every food. and the difference between the 2 is not a matter of authenticity. That matters more, to me.

                                                              1. re: thew

                                                                I know I should just link the old stuff, but here goes my ever-standard argument:

                                                                If all that matters in your personal growth is what you like or dislike, you cannot grow - you cannot understand what others consider good or bad, what entire cultures liked or disliked. By understanding that a version is "authentic" (I do put in quotes for a lot of reasons that have been discussed to death), you may decide you don't like it as well as a less "authentic" version, but you know it's not been made to meet your tastes as an American. It gives you the chance to learn, to understand that other culture.

                                                                So, so many foods have been bastardized to sell better to people that refuse to use any other yardstick than their own, uneducated, taste buds. I think it's sad, and not at all Chowish to follow that crowd. But then again, I'll probably go broke not selling authentic food to people that don't know any better - that think that crispy tacos filled with hamburger and rice and bean stuffed burritos are better than real Mexican street food lengua tacos.

                                                                I know, I know... this is ancient shit... I should just shut up.

                                                                1. re: applehome

                                                                  No please don't shut up. It needs to be said.

                                                                  The fact is that as I travel around the world I see the internet cafe has popped up in so many places touting the burgers, pizza, and 'authentic' local food. Even in remote places it is harder to get away from it. Sure it's easier to eat at these places, stay at these places, and you don't have to learn any of the language! That is the way things are going, and it's going to go heavier in that direction - not lighter. The reality is that I almost never have the stark choice of eating good food vs bad food - I won't know until I try it. But I didn't travel half way around the world for the inauthentic. That's served just down the street from where I live. I want the real deal!!!

                                                                  1. re: applehome

                                                                    Nah, don't shut up. You are you and thew is thew :) I understand what each of you is saying.

                                                                    1. re: applehome

                                                                      You describe it as ancient, but it's important to clear up a similarly ancient misconception. More information and knowledge can be very helpful when deciding what to eat, and we shouldn't undervalue that.

                                                                      1. re: applehome

                                                                        i was not speaking of "americanized" versions (another word i loathe) - i was speaking of actual authentic versions of a food that are not well made. that's my point. we all know that there are good and bad restaurants.

                                                                        if we think of the hamburger as an american food, for the sake of argument - then both the great burger at your corner pub, the one at macdonalds, and the 50 gourmet burger are all authentic. If you ask me for an authentic burger, you might end up at macdonalds.

                                                                        ive spent a lot of time in india. i love indian food. a lot of food in the suncontinent is subpar. undeniably authentic. undeniably poor quality ingredients badly prepared. if i go to india and ask for authentic food, i might easily end up with inedible crap, or with something brilliant. asking for authentic does not guarantee either.

                                                                        1. re: thew

                                                                          If I asked you to recommend an authentic American burger, would you recommend McDonalds? Is that the best you can do?

                                                                          1. re: Steve

                                                                            i would not, but it IS an authentic american burger. That is my point - i don;t want an authentic burger, i want a good one

                                                                            1. re: thew

                                                                              The entire point of Chowhound is discourse. If nobody here gives McDo as a personal rec, then I am safe from your hypothesis.

                                                                              I still don't understand your derision of the word authentc, when words you use like tasty, quality, and good are so highly subjective they tell me little. At least with authentic, I am certain to avoid traveling out of my way for chicken chow mien without noodles, chaat papri topped with vanilla yogurt, or coq au vin made without wine. All of these things have happened to me at inauthentic restaurants.

                                                                              It works, it communicates so much, and it gives me a fighting chance of getting what I actually ordered. Hopefully, Chowhounds are giving recs only for food they think is good. My experiences have been wonderfully positive in that regard.

                                                                              1. re: Steve

                                                                                i've pretty much explained my derision in great detail. words like tasty at least tell me you enjoyed the food. authentic does not tell me if you found it enjoyable, or if it was well prepared, or much of anything about the food at all, except perhaps the ingredient list. perhaps.

                                                                                1. re: thew

                                                                                  Luckily, people are able to use more than just one word to describe a restaurant. Otherwise restaurant reviews would be rather boring.

                                                                                  Uncle Mike's Chengdu Palace is an authentic Sichun restaurant with tasty food.

                                                                                  Not sure what weird issue you have with the word "authentic" since it's never the only word used to describe restaurants on this or any other site.

                                                                                  1. re: thew

                                                                                    Why on Earth would I recommend a restaurant if I didn't like it?

                                                                                    Well-prepared is another subjective term. Authentic is as useful a word as any you've come up with. All I have to do is click on the profile of the Chowhound using it, and I'll know if they are serious or not.

                                                                                    1. re: thew

                                                                                      How do you feel about terms like 'rustic' when applied to food? That would be in the same category of a vaguely subjective term that tells you nothing about the food's quality, but is still descriptive.

                                                                                      IMO, the problem is when 'authentic' is used to imply more than the term is capable of - some kind of value or quality judgement, when really it should just indicate the food's preparation has not diverged greatly from its origins. Nothing wrong with using it correctly though - similar to calling food 'rustic' or 'complex' or 'golden brown.' They're all just adjectives that used alone don't tell me how good the food is. They have other types of information to add. To be fair 'authentic' is admittedly more often abused as a term than these other descriptors.

                                                                                      1. re: cowboyardee

                                                                                        thats it in a nutshell. people say authentic to mean somehow better - which i do not find in the word anywhere.

                                                                                        1. re: thew

                                                                                          Well, you know what they say about they-sayers.

                                                                                          Nobody on this thread said it was better. But it is more rare. Of hundreds of Chinese restaurants where I live, only a tiny handful are anywhere near authentic. Plenty of Chinese-American, but not Chinese. Plus it doesn't make a whole lot of sense to travel half way around the world and eat the same stuff you can get down the block when there are new horizons right in front of you. For the folks who say they came back from China and didn't find a difference between Chinese food over there and in the US, then all I can say is that it is very sad.

                                                                                          For people on this board who are super-interested in food, checking out authentic foods is a way to preserve something that might otherwise die out. The phony stuff will always be with us. People eat it every day without the benefit of internet sites like Chowhound. They are a dime a dozen. Do you really have to go online and discuss fake indian food?

                                                                                          But sure, you might like the phony stuff better. I just don't see what the discussion is all about. You go, it's around the corner, and you eat it. But a real Chowhound find, maybe the one place in your entire city that strives to be more authentic, yes, that's worth talking about. It doesn't make it better, but it does make it more interesting.

                                                                                          1. re: Steve

                                                                                            With respect to food, 'phony' should not be the assumed alternative to 'authentic.'

                                                                                            When I make, say, enchiladas, I knowingly substitute some ingredients and techniques from traditional Mexican preparations. But I use perfectly good techniques and ingredients, and the end result is delicious. There's nothing phony about it, as I would never claim that my enchiladas are an authentic Mexican eating experience.

                                                                                            'Phony' implies either deception or quality that can't stand up to the original, neither of which necessarily apply to food that isn't prepared in the 'authentic' manner.

                                                                                            1. re: cowboyardee

                                                                                              ***clears throat***
                                                                                              Uh, I would call something like, e.g., American Chow Mein - that concoction of bean sprouts and slivered carrots and what-not veggies in a gooey white sauce served with those crispy thingies (but no actual mein), no matter how well prepared using excellent technique or how tasty it may be to some Americans ---> to be phony Chinese food.

                                                                                              1. re: huiray

                                                                                                I never said inauthentic food is can't be phony or crappy. Just that it doesn't have to be. If you always assume authentic = good and honest, and inauthentic = bad and phony, you're fooling yourself. That's not what the word means.

                                                                                                1. re: cowboyardee

                                                                                                  Ah. OK. Well, your post seemed to imply a much more sweeping generalization regarding inauthentic not being the same as phony.

                                                                                                  By the same token, neither did I say in a general sense that "authentic = good and honest, and inauthentic = bad and phony". Methinks you yourself are extrapolating in the same way you are accusing me of doing.


                                                                                                  1. re: cowboyardee

                                                                                                    I grew up in NY eating some very good Chinese-American food, but all that was clearly without the benefit of Chowhound.

                                                                                                    The point of my mini-tirade is that authentic is an excellent descriptor - one of the best we have. It eliminates 95% of what is out there right off the bat. If that's what you are looking for.

                                                                                                    If someone is looking to splurge on an elaborate tasting menu and spend three hours drinking wine and eating foie gras, I don't recommend they go to Joe's Noodle House. If someone posts they want to eat egg rolls and egg drop soup like they had in NY in the 60s, then likewise I won't recommend a more authentic Chinese restaurant.

                                                                                                    It all depends on what you are looking for. But if someone is looking for authentic, then that is the best word to use so as not to waste time with the vast majority of possibilities. It's a quick and easy way to cut through the noise.

                                                                                                    1. re: Steve

                                                                                                      I agree with your post completely. But your previous post made it seem like you thought non-authentic food was phony, as though one word was the antonym of the other. 'Phony' conveys value or quality implications that 'authentic' does not.

                                                                                                      1. re: Steve

                                                                                                        Exactly--and if I want a good mu shu pork, I'd ask for a good Chinese American restaurant and specify I didn't want a place that was authentic. It helps narrow down what the requester wants. It's not a qualifier for what's good or not. There was that huge thread about what Italian American food is. It may not be what you'd find in Italy but it can still be good. No one here has put the judgement on authentic=good but it's being thrown around as if it has. I assume, since this is CH, that wanting good food is understood.

                                                                                                    2. re: huiray

                                                                                                      But chop suey is AUTHENTIC American-Chinese food.

                                                                                                  2. re: Steve

                                                                                                    i didn't say i prefer "phoney", nor that i want the same foods in asia i can get around my corner. That's a lot of assumptions based on nothing i said.

                                                                                                    I'm glad you mention Indian food. I've spent a great deal of time in India over the years. I think you would have to agree that authentic indian food in India is not rare, yes? But a great great great great deal of food in India is just not that well made. poor quality ingredients, poor techniques, etcetc. There is also some brilliant food in India. All of it authentic. Then I've eaten india food in London. Some of the best Indian food i've ever had, even with years in India, is in London. Some of that delicious Indian food was extremely authentic. Some was clearly anglo-indian food - what you would label as inauthentic (i'd say it was authentic anglo-indian). Now which would you rather eat - a sublime london style curry that sings, or an authentic plate of chicken dupiaza, in Hyderabad, that is unevenly cooked, by a substandard chef?

                                                                                                    you are setting up a false dichotomy, and misstating my position into one easier to argue against.

                                                                                                    1. re: thew

                                                                                                      If I were in India, I would prefer to have the food I couldn't get in London. When I'm in London, then I'll get that stuff. After all, I might never get a chance to go back to India, so it will be my one shot to try certain dishes that are not replicated elsewhere.

                                                                                                      However, if you prefer to order the foods you can get in London while you're in India, then that is certainly your right.

                                                                                                      Authentic is still one of the best descriptors I know. And I agree that it does not equal better.

                                                                                                      1. re: Steve

                                                                                                        what? that is nothing like what i said. not even remotely like what i said.

                                                                                                        I didn't say to eat the same thing in india as in london. i reread my post 3 times just now to see how it can be interpreted like that at all, and i don't see it.

                                                                                                2. re: cowboyardee

                                                                                                  Yes--good point of clarification. Authentic food--whatever definition holds, be it by consensus, tradition, etc--can be nasty to locals as well as to outsiders. There can also be well made and poorly made authentic food. I'

                                                                                        1. re: applehome

                                                                                          Whatever gave you the idea that Mexican-american food was any less authentic than Mexican food?
                                                                                          Your preference is your preference, sure... but don't snoot at something for not being authentic, when it's a valid part of a cultural heritage.

                                                                                          1. re: Chowrin

                                                                                            Unfortunately, many of us know Mexican-American food from bad chains or the many margarita-soaked 'chips and salsa factories' which are little more than a Taco Bell with a liquor license.

                                                                                            I very much look forward to touring around Texas and New Mexico for some authentic Mexican-American food.

                                                                                            1. re: Steve

                                                                                              Of course, New Mexican food is often (not always) Southwestern food—meaning that it's a really a hybrid of not only Mexican and gringo traditions but also Native American.

                                                                                              1. re: tatamagouche

                                                                                                In what ways have the local Native American traditions affected New Mexican/Southwestern foods? I'm thinking of something beyond blue corn chips and the token fry bread and mutton stew on a restaurant menu.

                                                                                                  1. re: tatamagouche

                                                                                                    While interesting the bioneers article does not address the flow of traditions from the local Native Americans (e.g. Pueblo, Navajo) to the Spanish and English speaking immigrants. The Spanish speakers would have brought American ingredients and methods with them from (Old) Mexico, but I am not finding much information about what they picked up after the move.

                                                                                                    1. re: paulj

                                                                                                      My understanding is that the pueblo-dwelling Anasazi were cultivating crops before the arrival of the Spanish-speaking peoples, which would mean the Three Sisters are as much native as they are transplants, though I grant you that the techniques that dominate in New Mexican cooking are largely Mexican. So I could be overstating the culinary influence, though the larger cultural blend of traditions is clear.

                                                                                    2. re: thew

                                                                                      >>>"knowing that my bibimbop is prepared in an authentic manner would only make sense if i knew that authentic recipe used is a good one."

                                                                                      Knowing whether it was prepared with an authentic recipe would narrow down what the dish actually is. Encompasses more variables but conceptually identical from ordering chicken and expecting chicken. And if you don't know whether an authentic recipe is good or not, it's worth trying to figure it out. That gives you some information about a dish, which can then influence your future decisions about seeking it out or not.

                                                                                      If I tell you you're getting an authentic matzoh ball soup, you'll know that you're not getting fish ball soup. It won't tell you whether you'll like it or not, but neither will telling you that you're getting chicken.

                                                                                      1. re: limster

                                                                                        i disagree that it is conceptually identical to ordering and expecting chicken. chicken is chicken, not fish. my mother's matzoh balls are NOT my tante mania's matzoh balls. they have a different texture, a different taste, but both are matzoh balls

                                                                                        1. re: thew

                                                                                          Different types of chicken and different parts of the chicken have different tastes and textures, but they're all chicken. Authentic is authentic, not inauthentic.

                                                                                          No one is implying that they provide a complete description of a dish, but all of that is a piece of information that adds to the description of the dish; in that way it's conceptually the same.

                                                                                          1. re: thew

                                                                                            Could I possibly suggest that OP is not talking about "authentic" versus "tasty" but rather would Sherri's description of a Cobb salad be "authentic" whether it tasted good or not?

                                                                          2. i would take "authentic" to mean the generally accepted way to prepare a dish...
                                                                            but i dont think that means that its set it stone that its the only way a dish will be prepared...

                                                                            given that u will probably have variations in even the place of origin of a dish

                                                                            3 Replies
                                                                            1. re: srsone

                                                                              I like to think of it as "accepted as being representative of a culture." So no matter how many Japanese people are eating at the Kentucky Fried Chicken, I doubt the Japanese people think of it as Japanese food.

                                                                              1. re: Steve

                                                                                and yet KFC Christmas cake is uniquely japanese. I'd call that authentic japanese food. because you find it NOWHERE ELSE. even with the log cabin on top.

                                                                                1. re: Chowrin

                                                                                  I missed that, but I was visiting in August. Maybe not worth a special trip ;-}

                                                                            2. I ordered chicken marsala at a restaurant once. The sauce clearly had *no* wine in it. It was more of a cream sauce, almost alfredo-like. I called the waiter, who insisted it was marsala, and continued on to say that the restaurant is trying to be unique and make a special version. Well, as far as I am concerned, it is not marsala without the marsala wine.

                                                                              Other than obvious things like that, I'm pretty laid back regarding authentic food.

                                                                              11 Replies
                                                                              1. re: GlobalTable

                                                                                Yeah - there are variations, and then there are "variations" that are so different from the standard (where there is a standard) that they no longer deserve to carry the name. What you were served certainly falls into that category, as do things like "panna cotta" made with no cream (I've seen this out here on Home Cooking!)

                                                                                I make no judgement on whether they're tasty or not - they may well be delicious and I'd be happy to eat them, just don't call them something they're not!

                                                                                1. re: BobB

                                                                                  BobB - "Yeah - there are variations, and then there are "variations" that are so different from the standard (where there is a standard) that they no longer deserve to carry the name."

                                                                                  Bingo! Succinctly stated. When I order a Cobb salad, I have expectations that bacon, chicken, avocado, tomato, hardcooked egg et al will appear and not, as I was recently served, cauliflower, broccoli, carrot, corn and cucumbers because "That's our chef's rendition of a Cobb salad". What arrived could have been called "Mixed vegetable salad" but it bore zero resemblance to an - dare I say - authentic Cobb salad. Fer crying out loud, just give these dishes an honest new name and don't try to trade on the well-known moniker. Chicken Marsala minus the Marsala could be delicious but it is NOT Chicken Marsala.

                                                                                  1. re: Sherri

                                                                                    Sherri, that salad has to be the poster child for this thread. How ridiculous.

                                                                                    1. re: Sherri

                                                                                      Gosh, I would have been upset about that salad, too. It's like their trying too hard to be creative, and they're simply missing the point.

                                                                                      1. re: Sherri

                                                                                        One of my favorite sandwiches is the Turkey Reuben... it really brings to mind a Reuben sandwich without so many calories. Calling it a Reuben is appropriate, but they don't try to hide the differences... "Mesquite-smoked turkey, Thousand Island dressing, coleslaw and Swiss cheese between extra thick slices of grilled light rye bread. Served with cranberry relish. "

                                                                                        1. re: GraydonCarter

                                                                                          "Mesquite-smoked turkey, Thousand Island dressing, coleslaw and Swiss cheese between extra thick slices of grilled light rye bread..."
                                                                                          That's not a Reuben, that's a Rachel.

                                                                                          1. re: GraydonCarter

                                                                                            Speaking of healthy substitutions - did you see where Jamie Oliver made a "milkshake" with no ice cream for health reasons and the fast food guy was like "no way" - that was an interesting debate... I liked Jamie's intentions, but I do think the name "smoothie" would be more appropriate if there's no ice cream.

                                                                                            1. re: GlobalTable

                                                                                              That can also be regional. When I was growing up (in Boston), a milkshake was a blender drink made with milk, flavoring, and sometimes raw egg, but no ice cream. The concoction made with ice cream that most people now call a milkshake we called a frappe (pronounced frap).

                                                                                              You still sometimes see that name, but mostly it's been wiped out by the linguistically homogenizing influence of fast food chains (just as the tonics of my youth are now almost universally called sodas).

                                                                                              1. re: BobB

                                                                                                that sounds like an egg cream...
                                                                                                a shake was ice cream and milk and flavoring in the silver cup under the little blender...or a shake from the fast food chains....

                                                                                                a frappe to me was similar to a shake...but was more ice cream and more of an "upscale shake"

                                                                                      2. re: GlobalTable

                                                                                        Does that beat out coq au vin with no wine? Yep, that's been served to me. It was indeed tasty. And if I had ordered chicken fricassee, I might have even been amused.

                                                                                        1. re: Steve

                                                                                          Ha ha, I'm not sure - I think they're equally ridiculous. Perhaps I should have just splashed some wine from my glass over the chicken, to make myself feel better. haha.

                                                                                      3. I'm fairly strict when it comes to calling a dish what it is, because it's essential information when it comes to ordering and trying to compare the same or related dishes in multiple places. But I'm happy to try all versions so that I can associate what I like with which version, provided the restaurant isn't trying to pass off one thing as another. For an extreme example of inauthentic stuff, see: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/03/14/din...

                                                                                        1. On my recent visit to Per Se they served me a "Deviled Egg" that wasn't a deviled egg at all. How dare they! I sent it back.

                                                                                          17 Replies
                                                                                          1. re: joonjoon

                                                                                            What was it?

                                                                                            I wonder how often dishes get sent back at Per Se.

                                                                                            1. re: tatamagouche

                                                                                              I was being facetious. :) Trying to point out the fact that "drawing the line" on inauthentic food is silly if it's delicious. Places like Per Se are always taking something "authentic" and putting a twist on it, yet no one would ever call this inauthentic and "draw the line."

                                                                                              As for the deviled egg, it's hard to describe but on a recent trip to per se it was my favorite course of the night. Egg, vegetables, and some kind of truffle sauce. I know the description isn't doing it any justice but it was mind blowing. :)

                                                                                              1. re: joonjoon

                                                                                                Nobody here is drawing the line on inauthentic food. We're here for deliciousness. But some of us are also here in search of the authentic, if only to educate ourselves on the classics before branching out into the experimental. Authentic is orthogonal to delicious.

                                                                                                To me the point of this discussion is that some dishes - SOME dishes, mind you, by no means all - have something that intrinsically makes them what they are, and if you leave out everything that makes a classic dish what it is, then you may well have invented a delicious NEW dish but it's just downright deceptive to call it what it's not.

                                                                                                A creative take on a deviled egg - go for it. And you did say that what you had at Per Se was, in fact, a savory egg dish, not a strawberry tart being marketed as a deviled egg (and for the record, it was obvious to me that you were joking).

                                                                                                But the "Cobb salad" Sherri received, sans egg, bacon, chicken, and avocado does not to my mind represent creativity so much as a flat-out ignorant cook who simply has no idea what the term Cobb salad means.

                                                                                                1. re: BobB

                                                                                                  The fact that a cobb salad interpretation didn't have any of its usual ingredients itself isn't an issue. If the chef had created a wonderful interpretation using appropriate substitutions (just off the top of my head...pancetta, hominy, pork, liver pate?) that came out tasting GREAT, Sherri would be raving about the great cobb salad interpretation she had. Just because the chef failed to create a good reinterpretation in this instance does not mean that there should be some arbitrary line drawn that chefs cannot cross when reinterpreting classics. Or perhaps the line is crossed when the new creation no longer tastes good.

                                                                                                  1. re: joonjoon

                                                                                                    I think there is a line between a reinterpretation or play off of a classic and an ignorant mangling of the same dish, and that line doesn't necessarily have anything to do with taste (though clever reinterpretations have a tendency to taste better than ignorant manglings, mostly because the cook reinterpreting is more skillful than the one ignorantly mangling). The important distinction is intent, and it's usually clear to me as a diner which one I'm getting.

                                                                                                    How, exactly? That's harder to answer. Context, for one. Or maybe, like pornography, I just know it when i see it.

                                                                                                    1. re: joonjoon

                                                                                                      At Per Se and some restaurants, you expect derivations. I ordered a panzanella salad at a restaurant. It came as a salad with croutons. I wanted a panzanella and it didn't matter how great a salad I was served. It wasn't what I wanted. This kind of reminds me of Top Chef Masters when the Biggest Loser contestant wanted a bacon cheeseburger and was served some kind of vegetarian burger on pita. Suvir was sent home because he interpreted it poorly. They thought it tasted good but it wasn't what was asked.

                                                                                                      Are you saying you're happy with a dish, even if it's not what you ordered, as long as it tastes good?

                                                                                                      1. re: joonjoon

                                                                                                        "The fact that a cobb salad interpretation didn't have any of its usual ingredients itself isn't an issue."

                                                                                                        Any of its usual ingredients? ANY? That is indeed an issue, and a huge one. At some point a dish stops being an interpretation, a reinvention, a deconstruction, or any other variation, and becomes something else entirely. And I think it's fair to say that although exactly where that point lies is highly subjective, a dish that doesn't include ANY of the elements (or even approximations of the elements) that are the very dictionary definition of it has crossed that line.

                                                                                                        You yourself write that a "wonderful interpretation" should include "appropriate substitutions" like pancetta for bacon. No argument there. But including no meat of any kind, no egg, no poultry, AND no avocado is not an interpretation, it's just mislabeling.

                                                                                                        1. re: BobB

                                                                                                          @ BobB: Agreed.
                                                                                                          I would also say it's more than mislabeling, it's fraud.

                                                                                                        2. re: joonjoon

                                                                                                          "The fact that a cobb salad interpretation didn't have any of its usual ingredients itself isn't an issue. "
                                                                                                          Wow. Just wow. Not sure which alternate universe that statement was taken from...

                                                                                                          1. re: huiray

                                                                                                            "Any of its usual ingredients? ANY? That is indeed an issue, and a huge one. At some point a dish stops being an interpretation, a reinvention, a deconstruction, or any other variation, and becomes something else entirely"
                                                                                                            Et al

                                                                                                            Here you guys go.

                                                                                                            A fried egg that is neither fried nor an egg. No ingredients common to the original dish. Perfectly good interpretation, if you ask me. Context is everything.

                                                                                                            In the case of the cobb salad, the problem wasn't that there were no ingredients in common. Rather the problems were:
                                                                                                            a) Sherri was expecting a real, normal cobb salad when she ordered - she wasn't at the type of place that is known for that type of reinterpreting.
                                                                                                            b) even if she had been, apparently the substitution didn't evoke a cobb salad in any way, so calling it a 'cobb salad' was silly and pointless

                                                                                                            1. re: cowboyardee

                                                                                                              Well said cowboyardee, I have nothing to add. :)

                                                                                                              1. re: cowboyardee

                                                                                                                "Here you guys go.

                                                                                                                Go where? That's clever, inventive, and probably quite tasty, but if I were in the mood for some nice runny eggs and were served that without warning I'd be justifiably pissed. But of course, this was not offered at a diner, it was presented at that temple to molecular gastronomy wd50, where anyone showing up should be quite prepared for exactly this sort of trompe l'oeil.

                                                                                                                Don't get me wrong - I have no objection whatsoever to this kind of culinary creativity, as long as the purveyors are clear about what they're offering - which this sort of place absolutely is. In a more normal restaurant I would not expect to see that - except perhaps on April 1st.

                                                                                                            2. re: joonjoon

                                                                                                              Sherri here. joonjoon, I respectfully disagree with your statement: "The fact that a cobb salad interpretation didn't have any of its usual ingredients itself isn't an issue"

                                                                                                              Without the traditional ingredients, it isn't a Cobb Salad. It may be delicious, it may be whimsical, it may be a lot of things but it is not a Cobb Salad.

                                                                                                              We're not talking about substituting pancetta for bacon or a soft boiled egg for a hard cooked egg, we are talking about subbing broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, cucumbers etc for the traditional ingredients. If you're going to "reinterpret" a recognized dish, at least be honest and say so. List the ingredients and describe the reinterpretation. Don't hide behind a name and make a different dish.

                                                                                                              You are incorrect when you state "......... came out tasting GREAT, Sherri would be raving about the great cobb salad interpretation she had."

                                                                                                              100% incorrect. You've put words in my mouth that do not belong there. I absolutely would NOT be raving about this as a Cobb Salad interpretation. If the salad was tasty, I would appreciate a great mixed vegetable salad but it, in no way, is a Cobb Salad.

                                                                                                              If I decide to call my dog a cat, it is not an interpretation nor is it true. The dog remains a canine and does not become a feline because i want to reinterpret four legs, a tail and head in some different fashion. Ditto for the Cobb Salad.

                                                                                                          2. re: joonjoon

                                                                                                            Oh. I thought it'd be pretty funny if you sent back a dish there!

                                                                                                            1. re: tatamagouche

                                                                                                              That would be pretty funny! I had a funny experience like that with my GF who is an extremely picky eater, and really can't eat much. We went to Le Bernardin for my birthday a couple years back and she barely touched any of her food. The waitress looked at her like she was an alien - and kept asking her if everything was ok with the food as she left large portions of her courses uneaten. Luckily I brought some of it home to enjoy the next day!

                                                                                                        3. re: joonjoon

                                                                                                          Yes, here in DC Michel Richard at Citronelle is always playing with his food, including mushroom cigars and a dessert called Breakfast at Citronelle. 100 percent of the customers are hoping for an upscale and creative take on a visual pun.

                                                                                                          The more common puffery is when a place like Taco Bell claims itself as authentic Mexican. Think of it as the bizarro Per Se.

                                                                                                        4. Getting back to the OP, I probably draw the line at how difficult it is to get to the food in question. If it's around the corner from my house, or cheap enough, maybe I'll try something that is a departure. But If I am going to make a serious effort, I'll probalby want it to be as close as possible to the source of inspiration for that dish.

                                                                                                          I guess my drop-dead cannot experiment is mayo on a hot pastrami sandwich. That's my line in the sand.

                                                                                                          1 Reply
                                                                                                          1. re: Steve

                                                                                                            I just had mayo on a gyro. No thanks. Not authentic, not good. Double whammy.

                                                                                                          2. how is a hard shell taco with hamburger, lettuce, refried beans and shredded cheddar less authentic?
                                                                                                            It is an American icon.
                                                                                                            Inauthentic in Mexico, I guess.
                                                                                                            and chili.Don't get me started. :)

                                                                                                            33 Replies
                                                                                                            1. re: bbqboy

                                                                                                              Re hardshell tacos, are you talking about Mexican, Mexican-American, Tex-Mex, etc? Not simple question.

                                                                                                              1. re: c oliver

                                                                                                                I would consider that an American Taco...no?

                                                                                                                1. re: sedimental

                                                                                                                  Ah, I should have included American also. Since I'm an "American" and never make hardshell tacos, then is there another choice? :)

                                                                                                                  1. re: c oliver

                                                                                                                    Well, it's a good question! To me, what bbqboy described would be an "American" taco...if it had avocado chunks...then maybe a California-Mexican taco? and so on. It gets tricky when we morph things and create "standard" alternatives to the original.

                                                                                                                    When does something *become* an "authentic" something? It must start with standardization somewhere, I would think.

                                                                                                                    1. re: sedimental

                                                                                                                      "American" taco....In other words, it's as meaningless as calling something an "Asian Wrap".

                                                                                                                      1. re: huiray

                                                                                                                        Really? You don't think it is descriptive? You wouldn't know what I meant if I said I had an American Taco last night for dinner?

                                                                                                                        Edit: I would probably come close to describing an Asian Wrap....

                                                                                                                        1. re: sedimental

                                                                                                                          @sedimental and @chowser:
                                                                                                                          So, let's see...a "Turkish wrap" (whatever that is), a "Japanese wrap", a "Cantonese wrap", a "Bengali wrap", a "Singaporean wrap", a "Tibetan wrap", a "Novosibirski wrap" are all possible "Asian wraps"...which one do you have in mind?

                                                                                                                          1. re: huiray

                                                                                                                            What if you deep fry an Asian wrap? Uh Oh....

                                                                                                                            1. re: bbqboy

                                                                                                                              I think that becomes an Asian Chimichanga....LOL

                                                                                                                              1. re: sedimental

                                                                                                                                I think I've actually HAD one of those. Given it's diameter, crust etc. I'd classify the Peking Duck Roll at N.Y. Noodletown (in Manhattans Chinatown) as an Asian Chimichanga (a tasty one though)

                                                                                                                            2. re: huiray

                                                                                                                              But it wouldn't matter. If you just said "wrap" - without a qualifier, I wouldn't know if it were vegetarian, chicken, tofu, spicy...etc. The "wrap" would need a qualifier. Like many other things ..hamburger, cheeseburger, veggie burger, etc. But the term of "wrap" still tells me something...so does the term "Asian". It just doesn't tell me everything.

                                                                                                                              1. re: sedimental

                                                                                                                                Yet you claim you "would probably come close to describing an Asian Wrap...." (your words). So, which is it? Even if one specified it was a vegetarian, chicken, whatnot etc...?

                                                                                                                                "Asian" is a term that covers the entire continent of Asia. Some US of A denizens have a specific notion about the term "Asian" but that is not shared by people in other parts of the world. Some folks from Argentina, Brazil, and so on have an issue with "American" referring JUST to the US of A. Etc etc.
                                                                                                                                p.s. For that matter CH comprises communities more than just folks from the US of A.

                                                                                                                                1. re: huiray

                                                                                                                                  "Asian" in terms of something like a wrap can mean a number of things but it's more what it doesn't include that, IMO, doesn't make it meaningless. I wouldn't expect an blue cheese sauce on anything called "Asian" but, some generic sesame sauce that is never seen in Asian? Sure. Shades of gray.

                                                                                                                                  1. re: huiray

                                                                                                                                    You seem to be going off into some personal tangent that I am not interested in.

                                                                                                                                    I was initially referring to the term of "taco" something that might become morphed enough to be standardized in America (USA) and was asking if anyone thought it could become "authentic" on it's own, in that same country. It is an interesting concept to me. Especially to me, since I am an American but was not primarily raised in America. My particular cooking interests are varied across many cultures and I especially love combining cultural influences, techniques or flavor profiles in my food. I think it helps to have some common language or some common acknowledgment of flavor profiles for different parts of the globe. It is a base to build on....not a limitation. Likewise, there could be a standardized "taco" in Australia, Singapore, etc. but I don't know about that. I was speaking of the "Americanized Taco" in the USA and it's variations. Don't read more into it that what is there, huiray, sometimes a taco is just a taco :)

                                                                                                                                    1. re: huiray

                                                                                                                                      If someone mentioned an "Americanized taco" to me, even though I hadn't heard the term before, I would immediately think hard shell and ground beef, maybe some variance after that. I suspect others would do the same, but I can't say for sure.

                                                                                                                                      Are you saying that people in other parts of the US would likely make different associations to the term "Americanized taco"? Or making some other point? IMO, a term is good and useful to the extent that people understand what it means. Even if it's a bit of a misnomer.

                                                                                                                                      1. re: cowboyardee

                                                                                                                                        What you say MIGHT be true but only within the context of certain types of folks living in the US of A. A misnoner, as you call it, ought not to stand and its propagation by the reluctance of folks to correct it is not admirable.

                                                                                                                                        There is a whole lotta real estate out there beyond that space between the Rio Grande and the Great Lakes of the North American subcontinent, and even to some folks living within those demarcations.

                                                                                                                                        If you folks would just use "USA taco" that would be much less objectionable even though that glosses over ALL those regional differences - TexMex, Cal, NE-Mex (if there is such a thing), etc etc etc. even besides "Mex in US"...

                                                                                                                                        I'm done with this sub-topic. Proceed as you wish with your definition of "American" as referring only to "US of A". Ditto your definition of "Asian" as referring narrowly to East Asians of the Mongoloid race and related progeny in SE Asia as stubbornly held to by certain folks in the US of A.

                                                                                                                                        1. re: huiray

                                                                                                                                          I'm not trying to offend anybody. But it seems to me that "Americanized' has come to refer to the US specifically rather than anywhere on the American continents, and it's not only people from the US I've heard use 'America' that way. That may be unfair, technically incorrect, or whathaveyou. But such is life and linguistics. At any rate, it was clear to me what Sedimental meant, and it seems to have been clear to you - I wouldn't hold him/her personally responsible for the term 'Americanized' being used in a way you don't like.

                                                                                                                                          Anyway, I have no problems with more specific terms as well that wouldn't gloss over regional differences - the TexMex taco, Cal Taco (NorCal or SoCal even), etc.

                                                                                                                                          1. re: cowboyardee

                                                                                                                                            Actually I agree with you about "American" which I did use in quotes when referring to myself. I used to work with a fair number of Canadians, Australians and New Zealanders. They all called us Americans. Since then I've traveled a decent amount in Central and South American and THEY call us "Americans" also. I always thought it was terribly arrogant of us. But over 20 years of experiencing this I've bowed to the use of the term.

                                                                                                                                            And though I live in NorCal with a healthy Latino population (thank heavens for some good food!), if someone used the term "American taco" yes, I'd think ground beef with one of those taco flavoring packets and hard shells. Oh, yeah, and mild jarred salsa and grated Cheddar.

                                                                                                                                            1. re: c oliver

                                                                                                                                              Thanks. It's not even necessarily a sinister or self-centered or arrogant thing. The difference between the US and other American-continent nations (Canada, Mexico, Nicaragua, etc) is that those countries have names that are easily adjusted to refer to someone from said country (Canadian, Mexican, Nicaraguan, etc) whereas the USA does not, and 'person from the USA' is too long and clunky to be practical in many cases.

                                                                                                                                              1. re: cowboyardee

                                                                                                                                                there's also just historical accident

                                                                                                                                                  1. re: cowboyardee

                                                                                                                                                    Yes, and to think I was still talking about food. I am silly that way :)

                                                                                                                                                1. re: cowboyardee

                                                                                                                                                  This is true in English, but not in Spanish, which has "estadounidense". Although I found, in Andean South America, that "norteamericano"(itself not precise) was more common.

                                                                                                                                                  1. re: Naco

                                                                                                                                                    I'm lucky. We're in Rio now and, when asked where I live, I say "California." :) When I lived in Oregon, I still said "California."

                                                                                                                              2. re: huiray

                                                                                                                                I think of that like Korean sushi. There is such a thing, people know what it is and it's not Japanese sushi.

                                                                                                                                1. re: chowser

                                                                                                                                  Right. I don't consider them "meaningless" but certainly you would not be able to be exact in knowing all the ingredients. I am not sure when something becomes standardized and authentic by itself. I originally thought maybe it just took time but maybe not. "Wraps" are pretty new but most American's would know in general-what a wrap was. So, can a wrap be authentic?

                                                                                                                                  1. re: sedimental

                                                                                                                                    Sure, if you start using calamari to wrap it, look out. I think it's all fuzzy shades of gray at some point.

                                                                                                                                    1. re: chowser

                                                                                                                                      actually, that sounds really tasty.
                                                                                                                                      especially if we deep fried it. :)

                                                                                                                                        1. re: bbqboy

                                                                                                                                          Yeah, that does sound good. If we deep fried it and added cheese, we could call it chile relleno.

                                                                                                                        2. re: bbqboy

                                                                                                                          Yep, Taco Bell, Kentucky Fried Chicken, and Arby's Roast Beef. There you have it, authentic crap.

                                                                                                                          I would say it is inauthentic if the flavor is not close to the source of inspiration.

                                                                                                                          So what is the source, and where do you go for a good example? I want names!

                                                                                                                          1. re: Steve

                                                                                                                            Crap? I take offense to that. Those are some of my favorite places to eat. :)

                                                                                                                            1. re: Steve

                                                                                                                              What those represent are the standardization/franchising of "once" authentic regional specialties.
                                                                                                                              Can one still find the real thing? Sure. It may be harder now as those places become the
                                                                                                                              version that predominates, but that is what the CH quest is about, isn't it?

                                                                                                                          2. Going back to the earlier days of being a Chowhound, and some of the values of the original manifesto, there was always a value in finding new and unique foods. This site was set up to share information about discoveries - new restaurants, foods, spices, textures. Chains and boxes of Kraft Macn'Cheese were less important - not because they were necessarily bad, but because they weren't special. They were everywhere, and they were the same everywhere.

                                                                                                                            That didn't mean that unique was always good, or that ubiquitous was always bad. But it did mean that if you were the type of person to value familiarity over new, you probably got less out of the site than a person that valued new, exciting and different over consistency and comfortable.

                                                                                                                            How "authenticity" got into that picture was simply due to the fact that we are Americans, and so we Americanize everything. Through chains and just by the nature of popular demand, the majority of stuff that's out there is going to be made for the average person, the largest part of the market that represents the most bucks - "Americanized" to sell to the majority. So stuff that's brought into this country that isn't made for the average taste becomes the stuff that is unique, new (to us), worthy of being discovered. And very often, (certainly, not always), this less tarnished, less changed-for-the-masses food is more "authentic".

                                                                                                                            Does that mean that authentic food always tastes better? Well... first of all, taste is purely subjective. Good and bad are relative terms - meaningless on their own. What's needed is a common language, a framework, to describe what we are tasting, so that we can communicate with each other. Simply saying that something is yummy or good is only meaningful if you already know what yummy and good means to the person saying it. That's why we search so long for people that seem to share our tastes, here and other places. Once we have that framework, we can communicate. Tasty means something, and so does authentic.

                                                                                                                            In another post about authenticity years ago, I tried to explain the difference in saying that something is authentic with my Japanese foodie relatives, and my American in-laws. When taking the in-laws to a Chinese-run burb sushi place and ordering Americanized maki rolls, I would generally not bother to use the word authentic - it would be meaningless to them. But if I did, it might be in explanation of some minor aspect of the restaurant or food - perhaps a banner, or why I'm not creating a Yoda mud bath. But if i tell my brother that a new local place was authentic, I've communicated something much more meaningful. In one word, I've passed judgement on the Itamae, his ingredients, his ability to understand my needs - his overall training.

                                                                                                                            But there is some validity in a general understanding that while crispy shell hamburger tacos may be authentic Tex-Mex, or Stuffed Flour (Mission) burritos may be authentic Cal-Mex, there is indeed an authentic Mexican food that is actually harder to find here in the US - especially here in the NorthEast. If some people then associate that level of authenticity as desirable, and worthy of reporting on a site like Chowhound, then those folks can effectively communicate with each other using the term, authentic. Are all authentic tacos better than less-authentic versions? Probably not. But I, personally, wouldn't be talking about them here if I didn't think that they were. Are all recommendations of something being authentic always going to pan out? No, not even from those we trust. But in my opinion, the odds are certainly improved.

                                                                                                                            Authentic is indeed only one descriptor. But in the right circumstance, with the right person, it can be a very useful descriptor. Not every Japanese Curry is the same, so saying that it was an authentic Japanese Curry may seem meaningless. But even at its broadest interpretation, you would at least know that it wasn't an Indian Curry. If the person saying this had grown up going to curry houses in Tokyo or Hokkaido, you'd have an even deeper understanding of what they meant.

                                                                                                                            Of course, the term can be mis-used, just like any other. If a restaurant advertises authentic Mexican and serves crispy hamburger tacos, they're mis-using the term. But it's probably a good piece of advice to ignore half of what any business claims.

                                                                                                                            I was just in Oklahoma City for a few months and found a Gyro place that is so much more authentic than 90% of the Greek-run places around here (Boston) that serve Gyros. Around here, it's so ubiquitous that every sub shop carries it, but nobody bothers with the spits - they just use the pre-sliced frozen meat strips and throw them on the grill. There may have been only one place in Oklahoma City that had Gyros, but they had multiple spits going with lamb and beef, and they sliced it as ordered. The texture is totally different. So I'll describe that Oklahoma City Gyro as being much more authentic than those around here, even though I know that there are many more Greek people and businesses in this area.

                                                                                                                            There are so many sub shops around here - all run by middle-easterners. All sell steak and cheese subs, Italian subs, Veal Parm (the ground, pre-made stuff). I just can't help bringing up to each of them - hey - sell shawarmas, kabobs, real gyros. DO SOMETHING AUTHENTIC!!!

                                                                                                                            7 Replies
                                                                                                                              1. re: Naco

                                                                                                                                Authenticity to me applies in educational format as far as standards are concerned. I want to know the "original" and I would like it to be preserved because to me it is a part of history and culture. It's beautiful. I would like to know the significance, the climate, the technique, the how's and why's. On my plate I am happy with whatever is decicious.

                                                                                                                                1. re: oana

                                                                                                                                  Delicious is no more or less a descriptor than authentic or yummy or anything else. You're happy when something satisfies you, and that may be all that matters for the moment. But as you (the generic you) grow intellectually, so does your palate - you associate the facts of history, geography and culture with the flavors and textures presented on the plate. Real techniques versus shortcuts matter - and at some point these things can enter into your satisfaction. I see no reason why someone has to be consistent. I grew up in Japan, so my bar for Japanese food is going to be much higher than other ethnic foods.

                                                                                                                                  But I do see the position of saying, it's delicious to me, and that's all that matters, as being limiting, in the long run. One needs to be able to analyze and learn, and one needs to be able to associate and integrate the intellectual with the palate. I see no pride, growth or actualization in saying that I still have the same palate, the same likes and dislikes, I had as a kid.

                                                                                                                                  1. re: applehome

                                                                                                                                    Very well said. Especially the last point.

                                                                                                                              2. re: applehome

                                                                                                                                Being from Norman (near OKC), I'd love to know the name of that place; do you remember by chance?

                                                                                                                                And having lived in Boston for 10 years, I believe I recall that Shawarma King in Brookline had a spit, no? (I definitely recall their creamy, lemony, garlicky hummus topped with fried ground lamb. Still the hummus I judge all others by.)

                                                                                                                                1. re: tatamagouche

                                                                                                                                  It was the Gyro City Cafe on the Northwest Expressway.


                                                                                                                                  Next time your driving up NW OKC way, it's definitely worth a stop.

                                                                                                                                  I didn't mean to imply that there were no places here in Boston that had authentic Gyros and Shawarmas. There is a large Greek population - well integrated into the mainstream - and maybe that's the problem. All the burb sub shops carry Gyros on the menu because of its popularity, but they've evolved this pre-made meat short-cut. American prosperity and popularity = doom for authentic foods!

                                                                                                                                  1. re: tatamagouche

                                                                                                                                    Hey tata - I was just down in OKC again, probably for the last time. I had generally poor eating experiences while there, especially at this local Thai place in Bethany. But on our very last day, I had a great Indian meal at Khazana on North May. I have a hard time recommending buffets, but this one was exceptional - tasty Tandoori, Goat Curry. I had them make me a garlic naan and it was very good - better than the stuff out on the steam table.

                                                                                                                                2. Great thread. One sees threads like this on the beer boards all the time, often with poster commenting about the authenticity of a beer type that emerged 150 or more years ago. And the debates about the Philly cheese steak are even more hilarious.
                                                                                                                                  "Authentic" is often a matter of interpretation, and in the end, not really an important consideration in most cases.
                                                                                                                                  As long as dish or beverage is good, I could care less about whether the take on it is "authentic" or not.
                                                                                                                                  "Authentic" is very often improved upon. In essence, I agree with the first reply in the thread...it's more of a marketing term than anything really meaningful.

                                                                                                                                  3 Replies
                                                                                                                                  1. re: The Professor

                                                                                                                                    Even using the becoming infamous Cobb Salad experience of Sherri's?

                                                                                                                                    1. re: The Professor

                                                                                                                                      If you ordered a beer and someone gave you a wheat drink, would you agree that wasn't authentic beer, even if it tasted good?

                                                                                                                                      1. re: The Professor

                                                                                                                                        The fact that it is used in marketing so much is an indicator of just how motivating an idea it is.

                                                                                                                                        Still, if someone knew quite a bit about Chinese food felt a particular restaurant in the US was authentic, that would put it in rare company most places, so to say it is not meaningful is odd.

                                                                                                                                        Any descriptor which could do that is very meaningful.

                                                                                                                                        "Authentic" is very often improved upon? Ok, so tell me about how French restaurants are better in the US. Or British Spanish restaurants slay those in Spain. Or point to me to all those threads of how easy it is to find great Japanese food in Europe. Ask a Kenyan about a Kenyan restaurant in the US, or how about all those great Mexican restaurants in Canada? (there's a pretty good one in Ottawa, but I digress).

                                                                                                                                        Take a cuisine out of its milieu, and it is, in almost all cases, a cartoon version of that food meant to satisfy an immature idea of what it must be like.

                                                                                                                                      2. I love this thread, especially the original post- very thought-provoking. I have friends from various places that make "authentic" food from where they come from and it isn't necessarily good or what I was expecting. Maybe they're shitty cooks, even- but it's sure authentic to them.

                                                                                                                                        Aside from previously thinking I knew what the word meant, I'm beginning to realize that with food it's not as easy as, say, an authentic sari or authentic leiderhosen, which you would usually recognize as being what they are.

                                                                                                                                        12 Replies
                                                                                                                                        1. re: EWSflash

                                                                                                                                          Mostly it seems to me the more you know about a cuisine, the less likely you are to be pleased with iterations of it away from the source of inspiration. I am often at a loss to enjoy French food in the US because I know a great deal about the subject, but I might very well be pleased with an Italian meal in at a similar restaurant. I would say that works pretty consistently across the board on Chowhound and elsewhere. The threads entitled "Where can I get Chinese food like I had on my trip to Cleveland," or "Searching for a Floridian Cheeseteak in Denver" are few and far between.

                                                                                                                                          1. re: Steve

                                                                                                                                            again i disagree. but then i love places that play with food conceptually, and welcome innovation and deviation

                                                                                                                                            1. re: thew

                                                                                                                                              At the same time, to use your argument about authentic, innovation and deviation also don't mean good eats. Good is good, innovation and deviation are along the lines of authentic.

                                                                                                                                              1. re: chowser

                                                                                                                                                agreed. 100%.

                                                                                                                                                for teh same reasons, i also like improvisational music, like jazz, or the grateful dead. these guys step off a cliff - sometimes they plummet, once in a while they soar.

                                                                                                                                                i like people who step off the cliff, just in case, this time, they can fly

                                                                                                                                                1. re: thew

                                                                                                                                                  If this isn't already part of a poem, it should be.

                                                                                                                                              2. re: thew

                                                                                                                                                Its not a question of what you prefer; its a question of discourse. You said the word 'authentic' was meaningless. But I don't see any greater meaning in the words you choose.

                                                                                                                                                If someone is asking for authentic French food in DC, I will give them a rec if I have one. I don't see that it's any easier to reply to someone asking for innovative French food.

                                                                                                                                                1. re: Steve

                                                                                                                                                  authentic has a meaning. i just do not find it a useful one, personally, to determine if i want to eat at a place or not

                                                                                                                                                  1. re: thew

                                                                                                                                                    I assume that the words 'right' and 'wrong' are also similarly meaningless to you, or at best merely relativistic notions that have no line between them.

                                                                                                                                                    1. re: huiray

                                                                                                                                                      not at all. I have a very strong sense of right and wrong. but i do understand that you and i might not agree on what is or is not right.

                                                                                                                                                    2. re: thew

                                                                                                                                                      I find authentic as helpful as innovative. If you don't have one, you don't have the other.

                                                                                                                                                2. re: Steve

                                                                                                                                                  im always amused by the threads that ask for chicago deep dish pizza in manhattan.....or vice versa...

                                                                                                                                                  1. re: srsone

                                                                                                                                                    I am if it's from a tourist but if someone moved from the midwest and had a craving for something from back home, I can see wanting to get the "best" in the area. I've never had poutine but do want to try it--I'm not planning on traveling to Canada any time soon so I might ask for the closest version in my area. At the same time, it can be fun to see what the regional version of your home town/country foods are like. My cousin had to try McDonald's in China to see what it was like. And, she said it was different.

                                                                                                                                              3. I pretty much ignore the word, but maybe it's because of the cuisine I'm most familiar with (Filipino.)

                                                                                                                                                From my time as a kid, I recall going to many a pot luck style party and seeing and eating many versions of adobo, lumpia, pancit, bibingka, etc. Almost all were different tasting from my parents' editions, with sometimes wide-ranging ingredient differences, appearances, etc., and I'm guessing all were more or less "authentic".

                                                                                                                                                But like most takes on a dish, all those versions tasted anywhere from meh to "hmm, I wonder if anyone will notice that I'm going for fourths on this one."

                                                                                                                                                Not to say I wouldn't mind knowing that something was made in a traditional manner, especially for a cuisine outside my general familiarity - that's a whole 'nother matter.

                                                                                                                                                3 Replies
                                                                                                                                                1. re: josquared

                                                                                                                                                  Too many of you who've replied have confused the intent of my post with their personal preferences.
                                                                                                                                                  Sure, if you want to put Fois Gras, Kim Chee, Whale Blubber or whatever between Corn Tortillas, it's
                                                                                                                                                  still a Taco. But not an authentic one. The Taco I described has been in most parts of Mexico for a long, long time with few regional variations. It will continue to be made this way long after foodies
                                                                                                                                                  and their rat bastard fusion-of-month inventions fade into well deserved obscurity.


                                                                                                                                                  1. re: ChefRoux

                                                                                                                                                    but, as in your other thread, you are talking traditional, not authentic.
                                                                                                                                                    It is a romantic notion for us to assume that other cultures remain static even as we evolve.

                                                                                                                                                    1. re: bbqboy

                                                                                                                                                      That's true. One only need look at the evolution of Italian and Chinese food. Much of what is considered "authentic" to those cuisines by us as we know them are really pretty well removed from their original traditions.
                                                                                                                                                      Cuisines evolve, people adapt, and nothing is static. Fortunately, there is plenty of information out there regarding cuisine origins and traditions, and restaurants that cater to those traditions.
                                                                                                                                                      I'll agree with ChefRoux that sometimes the fusion combos are suspect (even downright laughable), but you never know until you check it out. In any cuisine, there are as many ways to make a "traditional" dish as there are families. Really, there are no rules.
                                                                                                                                                      Personally, because of an interest in history and other cultures I _am_ more interested in traditional "authentic" preparations myself (in quotes because I don't believe the term is indicative of the last word on how something is prepared...there is no last word)...but am always open to trying something new. And in many cases, I've been surprised (or even amazed) at the results of some fusion dishes.

                                                                                                                                                2. My take on this is pretty much the same as applehome's.
                                                                                                                                                  When something is described as "authentic" it fixes that food into a known category in the same way that botanical names allow people from all over the world to share knowledge on plants and flowers which have different names depending on what country, and often in which area of that country they live.

                                                                                                                                                  What shocks me is the insistence which other people have when they take that name and apply it to their own inventions loudly claiming that this variant is just as valid as the authentic variety from which it derives. Whether it is 'tastier' than the original is really a moot point. Generations of tradition will go into an authentic dish and there are usually defining characteristics of that dish well known to those from the area where it comes from. Those characteristics may allow for a lot of variation but there are limits - for instance you know when a shirt is a shirt despite the infinite ways in which it can vary.
                                                                                                                                                  What usually happens when someone unversed in these 'rules' comes along is that the boundaries are crossed and what emerges is something different from the dish being copied.
                                                                                                                                                  The example that applies here is someone who thinks they have made a shirt but have manufactured a blouse.
                                                                                                                                                  The next person is told that the 'blouse' is a shirt and they also elaborate on the idea and come up with a gilet, the next person thinks the gilet is a shirt and elaborates their own take on this and comes up with a minidress, and so on and so on.
                                                                                                                                                  I'm all for innovation, but deluding oneself into thinking that all these are related to "authentic" dishes serves little purpose. I believe that if you are going to make your own interpretation of a "shirt" you should study shirts and look at the patterns of "shirts" not blindly turn to blouses, gilets and minidresses for guidance.
                                                                                                                                                  It could be that you prefer a blouse to a shirt, but by knowing what a shirt actually is, at least you'll know this for sure.

                                                                                                                                                  2 Replies
                                                                                                                                                  1. re: MoGa

                                                                                                                                                    I'm surprised you didn't use the robe/kimono analogy.....

                                                                                                                                                    1. re: Steve

                                                                                                                                                      I was assuming everyone reading this knows what a shirt is (yet it's something that would be extremely difficult to describe to an alien visitor)

                                                                                                                                                      Even 'kimono' would be difficult to pin down as it just means 'things that are worn' and then you'd need to specify haori, houmongi, furisode, etc... (yawn!)