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What is "Real" Chinese Food

http://nypost.com/2013/12/03/the-part...

I've read yet another review of a Chinese restaurant in New York where the writer tries to circumscribe Chinese cuisine within the parameters of his or her own limited understanding.

What is "real" Chinese food? Why is this writer even using the term "real" Chinese food as opposed to evaluating the merits of the food in the context of modern Chinese cooking, good vs. bad food. I don't read about "real" Italian food vs. "proudly inauthentic Italian food". I find this type of behavior and tone is almost always, exclusively applied when talking about Chinese food, and especially in NYC. As if Chinese food is some monolithic, fossilized cuisine where 1.2 billion people eat the same thing as opposed to having a huge range of diversity, ingredients and tastes.

There are thousands of restaurants, millions of cooking households in China, using different techniques and ingredients. Not to mention the diaspora of millions of Chinese emigrants who have established new traditions and cooking in their adopted countries.

This is contrasted with the almost never mentioned lack of "authenticity" of other cuisines. Many common ingredients in French and Italian restaurants are not even native to their respective countries. In NY, many preparations of European foods have little resemblance to how the foods are prepared in their native countries. Foods are judged good or bad, not authentic, in-authentic.

Chinese cuisine is not limited to a wok. Nor do inferior products/produce denote "authenticity" in Chinese food. There is no "textbook" to Chinese cuisine. Innards are not the marker of an "authentic" Chinese experience. And the reviewer's coup de grace of cultural tone deafness, randomly referring to salmon roe as akura, to what purpose?

The number of offensive and blithely ignorant statements in this review make me question how a professional restaurant critic in a professional publication, could publish such drivel.

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  1. I read this review completely differently than you did. My takes is that he was taking shots at people who are seeking "real" chinese food as that's not what is served at the new Red Farm. I read a review about a restaurant that revels in its ability to provide tasty food that originates in chinese cooking but isn't bound by any rule of what is authentic chinese or chinese-american food. If you want good asian (whatever that may mean to the reader) influenced food, try Red Farm. If you are in search of the dish that matches your memory of what you had in some hovel on a riverbank outside Shanghai, keep looking is the message I get. The article makes no claim to whatever real chinese food is. At least that's how I read it.

    15 Replies
    1. re: Bkeats

      I might not be clear enough in my point. There is no real Chinese food anymore than there is real Italian food or real French food, etc. in NY. Why is he bringing up this term "real/authentic"? And in offensive ways. Food in a hovel in Shanghai is no more real or authentic than food at a 4 star restaurant in Shanghai. Chinese food is not limited to one narrow spectrum to be "authentic".

      If I'm not eating squid guts, or chicken feet, it's still authentic. He's painting this provincial, fetishist picture of Chinese food, while having little to no knowledge of the breadth of Chinese food.

      What was especially insulting was the remark about how high quality the ingredients are at RedFarm vs. a "real" Chinese restaurant. WTH.

      1. re: Pookipichu

        I read it the same as Bkeats. The "real" chinese food remark seems to tweak those who think you can only get authentic food in grimey places with all of the organ meat. Cuozzo clearly likes the food here and the review clearly implies that it doesn't follow the rules.

        By the way you certainly read about real Italian vs Inauthentic Italian in the context of Italian American food, it is a common troupe. The reason this is applied to Chinese food as well is that most people here in the states were introduced to Chinese American food well before they could get more authentic dishes.

        1. re: MVNYC

          Cuozzo is saying Redfarm, serves good food, because it is not "authentic", defies textbook Chinese cooking, uses better ingredients than "real" Chinese places... this offends me, it's simply ignorant.

          I read the boards throughly along with food reviews/articles, I see this authentic/inauthentic motif more so than with any other cuisine. I have NEVER seen a professional food review, where the reviewer talks about whether an Italian restaurant in NY is authentic or not and contrasting how the ingredients in a non-traditional Italian restaurant are higher quality than a "real" Italian restaurant.

          1. re: Pookipichu

            I took the quotes around real to be directed towards those people who only want "authentic" intestines and what not at some dive in Chinatown. He's implying that there is good food to be had if you break yourself away from that mentality and embrace that Red Farm is a good restaurant regardless of labels.

            1. re: Pookipichu

              I read it as his saying Redfarm was good DESPITE not being authentic, not because it was not authentic. While you might find millions of variations of food in China, you will never find what Redfarm serves, which is why it's not authentic.

              As Italian food being "authentic" or traditional or Italian American, it comes up often here on the boards. Just a quick NYT search:

              http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/23/nyr...

              http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/06/din...

              http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/20/din... (Mr. Cipollone, an Italian-American, loves to play with pasta, but he is not chained to the traditions of Italy.

              )

              http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/05/din... (This is supposed to be the Italian restaurant where you celebrated your birthday before anyone told you that chicken scarpariello isn’t Italian)

              1. re: chowser

                The OP was commenting on the fact that the author showed a strange, somewhat amateurish disdain of "authentic" Chinese food as well as chefs that aspire to bring authenticity to their cuisine.

                He makes a dig at people who like to eat gelatinous innards, as if they are the only weird group of people who wouldn't enjoy this wonderful restaurant.

                He makes a vague reference towards "real" Chinese restaurants, with their only noted characteristic being that they poorly source raw ingredients.

                He makes a comment implying that "rules" of textbook Chinese cooking are singularly characterized as constricting.

                The OP is right. I got the sense the author either didn't like Chinese food or didn't like Chinese culture.

                1. re: calumin

                  I read it differently that he's poking fun at people who only consider eating Chinese food that are the innards. Not at the food itself. He's making fun of "foodies" who think that the only thing to Chinese food is the gelatinous innards.

                  1. re: chowser

                    That's just not how I read it, I've explained myself multiple times now. If other's don't see it, agree or understand it, I have nothing more to say on it. I don't agree with this alternative reading being proposed, there's an ignorant and condescending tone that is perhaps confusing people because Cuozzo is sending mixed messages.

                    I'm so glad I ate at an inauthentic Mexican restaurant today, because the ingredients are much fresher and higher quality than a "real" Mexican restaurant. (Sarcasm intended.)

                    1. re: Pookipichu

                      We will just have to agree to disagree. I understand how you read it however I had the same reaction as Chowser. The use of quotes and the declaration that its not for the peopel that seek out organ meats in grimey restaurants seem to address a certain type of "foodie". There are those people (including those on the NY boards) that view anything less than a hole in the wall with bowls of awful to be beneath them. Cuozzo is saying hey this is good food whether you want to label it authentic or not.

                      As to it being Chinese specific, Chowser linked to some good articles.

                      1. re: MVNYC

                        With respect, the reviews listed by Chowser miss the point completely. That you think they support your point means that you do not understand where I am coming from. It's saddening,especially given that there is an undercurrent of anti-Chinese sentiment in this country. Just because some people don't see it, doesn't mean it's not there.

                        1. re: Pookipichu

                          No I understand that you have been calling Cuozzo a racist this entire time. Again I don't agree and have explained why he made quotes around the "real" part. Even if he doesn't understand the cuisine it doesn't make him "anti-Chinese" as you put it.

                        2. re: MVNYC

                          I think the issue is that the stereotype that Cuozzo formulates is amateurish. I wouldn't say it's offensive, but it shows an immature understanding of Chinese cuisine -- which would be understandable if he didn't write about food for a living!

                          Although looking at his past articles it looks like he's not actually a food critic. Which probably explains a lot.

                          1. re: calumin

                            Like I said, the sterotype Cuozzo seems to be getting at is "the foodie" who scoffs at all Chinese that isn't filled with offal in a dingy Chinatown restaurant.

                            Also he writes for the New York Post which is one of the worst most xenophobic publications in America. Their Sports and Entertainment are less ridiculous than their editorials and "news" but not by much. The Post is pretty much a joke so it is hard to get offended by anything they print.

                            1. re: MVNYC

                              Well at this point it sounds like we agree. But I also agree with pookapichu in that Cuozzo's attempt to address the "foodie" stereotype actually says more about his own limited understanding of Chinese cuisine. Maybe if he's primarily writing to people who share that limited view, then it all makes sense.

                      2. re: chowser

                        If you re-read the passages I pulled from the article, you'll see he makes a dig at "authentic" Chinese food, restaurants that serve it, and people that eat it.

                        I don't know of any people that only eat gelatinous innards to the exclusion of everything else, but there are lots of people who enjoy traditional Chinese food of all types, who may also eat gelatinous innards, who got caught up in his amateurish remark.

          2. Without bothering to read the review, my personal understanding of "real Chinese" food is simply its separation from more typical "American" Chinese food. Regardless of cuisine (Cantonese, Sichaun, etc) the few restaurants (fewer than ever with the closing of Shunju) in my neighborhood that are/were more "authentic" would have a separate menu section for "American Chinese".

            1. I would disagree with your premise that chinese cuisines are the only ones subjected to this behavior.

                1. All cuisines are malleable. The idea that they can be shoe-horned into a box of a reviewer's personal dimensions is foolish. As if anyone can determine what is Chinese enough, or Spanish enough.

                  If you have the flavors of Mexico, but put them into a risotto, is that an invalid dish?

                  Who cares what meets some schmuck's definition of what is "real"?

                  1. Maybe real Chinese food is for the loners and/or recluses.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: ipsedixit

                      You mean over one billion Chinese people may actually be loners and recluses?

                      1. re: ipsedixit

                        What about 1 and 2 Michelin star Cantonese restaurants at the high end hotels in Hong Kong? The loners and recluses (also called food bloggers) must all dine and take pictures together and write the same boring reviews just to sample the best dishes!

                      2. I think "real" Chinese vs "not real" Chinese food is really a way to distinguish Chinese food which most Chinese eat vs Chinese food created for non-Chinese (rest of Americans) to eat. I don't believe this is unique to Chinese food description, and I have heard of this mentioned for other cuisines. The problem may not be nearly as problematic.

                        For example, many will tell you that spicy tuna sushi is not authentic Japanese sushi. Chicken tikka masala is not authentic Indian food. Hand pulled pork noodle is not authentic Lanzhou cuisine. Fortune cookies are not authentic Chinese food....etc.

                        Chinese themselves actually love to use the term "authenticity (正宗)" all the time in describing their foods. I won't get into the why, but it is an important theme. Just look at how many times the Chinese word authenticity (正宗) has appeared.

                        http://static1.orstatic.com/UserPhoto...

                        http://iphoto.ipeen.com.tw/photo/comm...

                        http://l.yimg.com/qk/noble_yahoo3-137...

                        http://my.openrice.com/UserPhoto/phot...

                        16 Replies
                        1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                          The issue I see is that you've split Chinese food into two categories ("real" vs "not real") but that's not really correct. Americans don't own the idea of fusion, or of modernizing or reinventing cuisine. "Real" Chinese cuisine doesn't have to be limited to traditional, generations-old recipes -- or even the kind of food that Cuozzo stereotypes in his review. This was the OP's original point.

                          If you go to Japan, you night not find much spicy tuna sushi but you will find lots of food and sushi preparations that are decidedly not stereotypically "authentic," but still very Japanese.

                          1. re: calumin

                            <The issue I see is that you've split Chinese food into two categories ("real" vs "not real")>

                            It isn't just me, is it? I don't think we will be talking about this if this is just me. If you read and listen closely, I am sure that you will hear these terms are often used among Chinese and non-Chinese to describe foods and restaurants, like: "This is the real Lanzhou hand drawn noodle" or "This is not what real Cantonese wonton should taste like"....etc.

                            <Americans don't own the idea of fusion, or of modernizing or reinventing cuisine. >

                            No, no one group own the idea of fusion, but I don't believe I said that is the case.

                            1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                              No it is not just you, but I think the characterization is still problematic.

                              "Authentic" is a selling point for some people, just like "fresh" or "homemade." Some Americans might want "authentic" Chinese food because they've been barraged with Chinese-American cuisine. So they go down this path which leads them to two extremes -- either the place at the mall selling chop suey, or a "real" Chinese place selling things like gelatinous innards. But there's a lot more available even in America than those two extremes, and the "authentic" tag isn't the same as "real."

                              I think the only reason this thread exists is not because of any issue with "authentic" food, but because the author the OP referenced clumsily derided an entire swath of Chinese cuisine in his review.

                              1. re: calumin

                                I feel that a similar article can be written by a Chinese writer from a Chinese new sources -- using the terms like real vs not real, authentic vs inauthentic. I have read tons of articles like these in the past.

                                Would people start flipping out when a Chinese article talks about "real wonton (真正雲吞)"?

                                http://foodie-smashingpumkins.blogspo...

                                http://blog.sina.com.cn/s/blog_9c7fe8...

                                Or do people only start to flip out because a non-Chinese was using these terms?

                                I read the article. Maybe it is just me, but I think some people are overreacting/overthinking to a simple food article with the word "real". :

                                )

                                I bet you that if you invite 100 Chinese from China to eat at this RedFarm, 90 of them would also tell you that this is not real Chinese food. The only difference is that they will say it in Chinese, not English.

                                1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                  The difference is that the author is using the term "real" derisively, as if the proclamation that they desire "real" Chinese food is illegitimate. In your example, those 90 people would just be coming from their own legitimate knowledge of "real" Chinese cuisine.

                                  I don't think the article was offensive. There was just a point the OP made about a clumsy, derisive reference to "real" Chinese food which I think was right.

                                  1. re: calumin

                                    I think we will just have to respectively disagree. For one, the original poster has repeatedly said that there is no real vs not real Chinese food, and that foods are judge good or bad, not authentic vs unauthentic. I can promised you that Chinese from Asia do heavily judge their food very much in light of "authentic (正宗)" vs "unauthentic". It is an important judging criteria. Just look at the Chinese restaurant signs, just listen to how average Chinese speak toward Chinese cuisine, and you will know I am correct.

                                    In short, I simply didn't see the author in the same light as you do.

                                    I do want to throw a made-up (not real event) analogy, and you may have the last words.

                                    Someone wrote:
                                    "I went and did an internship in psychology in my college junior year. I found it to be fun and entertaining. For those who dedicate their life and prefer real science (hard science) of Special Relativity, they may find much to criticize the soft science of psychology. The way how we approach psychology may even tick off those physics mavens....."

                                    That is pretty much how I saw Steve Cuozzo's writing -- if you are creative in substituting a few words here and there like "science" to "Chinese food", and "Special Relativity" to "gelatinous innards"

                                    Then, I read that some people were offended because they asked (1) What is "real" science? (b) Why is this writer even using the term "real" science as oppose to evaluating the merits of the psychology? (c) As if science is a monolithic discipline fossilized approach.... (d) If I don't study Special Relativity, it can still be science. (e) Special Relatively does not represent all science, and certainly it is not the only real science. (f) The writer is painting this provincial fetishist picture of science, while having little to no knowledge of the breadth of science..... (g)...etc....etc.

                                    As promised, you may have the last words if it pleases you.

                                    1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                      Well we might not have read the article the same way, but I agree with you on your point about "authentic" food.

                                      I think I must have represented (f) in your writeup. To be clear, I was never offended by the article but I did think he was somewhat provincial in tone. Fetishist? I wouldn't go that far :)

                                      1. re: calumin

                                        You may take a more moderate stance, but I'm reading this article against the backdrop of anti-Chinese sentiment in the US. I am bombarded with articles/media where Chinese products and culture are inferior, etc. Not to mention my own personal experiences living in NYC where I've encountered much anti-Chinese discrimination and even "pro-Asian" non-Asian people or Asian people thinking it's a compliment to say "you seem more Japanese (or Korean) than Chinese". Unfortunately, most Chinese in this country follow my parents' viewpoint on discrimination which is, to quietly "take it" and ignore it.

                                        It's a matter of tone and the reviewer's tone is subtly offensive.

                                        1. re: calumin

                                          :) I know I said that you may have the last words, and you can, but I just want to clear one important thing.

                                          <I think I must have represented (f) in your writeup. >

                                          No, I wasn't quoting about you. I was quoting from another passage:

                                          "....He's painting this provincial, fetishist picture of Chinese food, while having little to no knowledge of the breadth of Chinese food. "

                                          paraphrased into:

                                          " (f) The writer is painting this provincial fetishist picture of science, while having little to no knowledge of the breadth of science"

                                          Everything from my (a) to (f) were paraphrased from other passages -- None from you.

                                        2. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                          You are misquoting me. Not only are you misquoting me, you are missing the point of my posting. I never said there's no "real" vs. "not real" Chinese food because I'm not debating that in absolute terms. I said this reviewer specifically does not know "real" vs. "inauthentic" so why even mention it in the review.

                                          Why is the reviewer talking about real vs. in-authentic Chinese food in this review vs. simply stating he likes the food. Why is he saying that "real" Chinese restaurants use inferior products vs. this "inauthentic" restaurant.

                                          If you want to "prove" whatever point you are trying to prove. You can have the "last words if it pleases you".

                                          1. re: Pookipichu

                                            <I never said there's no "real" vs. "not real" Chinese food>

                                            "What is "real" Chinese food?"

                                            "Why is this writer even using the term "real" Chinese food"

                                            <Why is the reviewer talking about real vs. in-authentic Chinese food in this review...>

                                            Maybe because RedFarm is not an authentic Chinese restaurant? You can bring your parents there, and ask them if RedFarm makes authentic Chinese food. If your parents tell you that RedFarm does not make authentic Chinese food, then maybe you can give them the same lecture.

                                            <Why is he saying that "real" Chinese restaurants use inferior products vs. this "inauthentic" restaurant. >

                                            I think he did say "obscure, gelatinous innards", but that does not make them inferior. It is a cultural preference. For example, most Chinese cuisines value chicken thighs, drumsticks and even chicken feet more so than chicken breast. Chicken breast meat is considered a lower quality of meat in Chinese cuisine. Gelatinous and organ meats are considered as delicacies in Chinese cuisines, NOT inferior. Beef tendon is considered a delicacy:

                                            http://i71.photobucket.com/albums/i14...

                                            In Chinese cuisine, beef filet mignon is not considered the most priced cut.

                                            <but I'm reading this article against the backdrop of anti-Chinese sentiment in the US. >

                                            Maybe this is the problem? You were reading too much into it?

                                            <Unfortunately, most Chinese in this country follow my parents' viewpoint on discrimination which is>

                                            Accusing someone being a racist or a prejudice is a very big accusation.

                                            <You can have the "last words if it pleases you".>

                                            Thanks. It will please me. I will take you up on your offer.

                                            1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                              What are you talking about? I eat chicken feet and squid? Why are you suggesting I'm ashamed of Chinese "delicacies"? Linking a photo of beef tendon and explaining beef tendon... a dish I recently recommended at Spicy Tasty, one of the dishes I cooked on Thanksgiving. Have you confused me with someone else or are you just in the habit of misreading?

                                              You speak of Chinese cuisine with such confidence in your knowledge, an abundance of self-confidence that is inspiring. I wish I had such confidence as yours, then I would never question myself or the extent of my knowledge.

                                              I voiced that I have personally experienced discrimination against Chinese, if you haven't, you may express your personal experience. Your views do not negate what I have experienced nor am I cowed by them.

                                              1. re: Pookipichu

                                                <What are you talking about?>

                                                You did say "If I'm not eating squid guts, or chicken feet, it's still authentic. He's painting this provincial, fetishist picture of Chinese food". I am sorry that I read it wrong, but it did sound like you were equating chicken feet with provincial fetishist picture of Chinese food. Nevertheless, I do take it back and should not have accused you of being ashamed, but you do seem very much offended that the writer wrote about "obscure, gelatinous innards". I just don't see anything to be offended about.

                                                <You speak of Chinese cuisine with such confidence in your knowledge>

                                                Actually you have been more confident than I. Have you considered that some of your descriptions of Chinese cuisine are incorrect? You were talking about how come people are talking about authentic Chinese vs unauthentic Chinese food in NYC, and how "Foods are judged good or bad, not authentic, in-authentic."

                                                Do you know this happens everywhere, not just in NYC? It happens a lot in China, probably more so. Like I wrote earlier, I can easily see a similar article like this written in Chinese by a Chinese author. Would that make that Chinese writer a racist? If you bring your parents or your relatives to RedFarm, they may very well tell you that RedFarm is not an authentic Chinese restaurant. Are you then going to lecture them about their "inappropriate" behavior and attitude? You are very confident that how Chinese food should be judged.

                                                <I voiced that I have personally experienced discrimination against Chinese, if you haven't,>

                                                Of course, I have been discriminated. It is exactly because I have that I take it very serious. I also know it is a very serious accusation to call upon, so I am extremely careful about this sort of accusation.

                                                Until I know more, I don't want to accuse Steve Cuozzo and call his writing as "provincial, fetishist", and paint him into a racist or something.

                                                <You can have the "last words if it pleases you".>

                                                Am I going to have the last words?

                                                1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                  I made a generalization, that I stand behind, that more often than not, cuisines other than Chinese, are judged in NYC as good vs. bad, not authentic vs. inauthentic with some attached meaning as to authentic being good/bad, inauthentic being good/bad. Commentary also that does not suggest that an inauthentic restaurant of XYZ cuisine uses higher quality produce and ingredients than an authentic restaurant of XYZ cuisine.

                                                  I was not commenting about food review in China, BUT if Cuozzo was Chinese, living in Shanghai, posting the same review, I would have been offended as well, ignorance is universal and no one people have a monopoly.

                                                  I stated that Cuozzo should not be stating what is authentic vs. inauthentic and that it bears very little relevance to his review. If you take that as confidence, then so be it. I find it much more a show of confidence to state the views of over a billion Chinese people on chicken meat. To do so exudes confidence in knowledge and abilities.

                                                  I do not know whether Cuozzo is racist, but I have encountered enough racism against me for simply being Chinese, in my professional life, in my personal life, verbal and physical to take issue with someone when he/she is a public figure, given a voice and chooses to use that voice in a tone that is derisive or derogatory to Chinese people. As I stated, my parents believe that racism should be endured quietly, I do not.

                                                  <You can have the "last words if it pleases you".>

                                                  Am I going to have the last words or not?

                                                  I've learned on Chowhound that some view silence as an admission of guilt or capitulation. After misquoting me, twisting my meanings, and generally suggesting I'm ignorant and uninformed, I capitulate, but do not agree with you. Last words are yours, I'll exercise self-restraint even if you continue with the above.

                                                  1. re: Pookipichu

                                                    <Commentary also that does not suggest that an inauthentic restaurant of XYZ cuisine uses higher quality produce and ingredients than an authentic restaurant of XYZ cuisine. >

                                                    It was RedFarm owner/chef who said that. Steve Cuozzo repeated what he was told.

                                                    Quote: "That’s strange because RedFarm prides itself on raw materials better than what typically make their way into “real” Chinese restaurants."

                                                    Either Schoenfeld or Ng repeatedly told Steve Cuozzo that RedFarm uses better raw materials than average real/authentic Chinese restaurants - thus Cuozzo wrote "RedFarm (Schoenfeld or Ng) PRIDES itself on raw materials....etc."

                                                    Maybe your issue should be with Schoenfeld and Ng (owner and chef), not Cuozzo (the writer)

                                                    <I would have been offended as well, ignorance is universal and no one people have a monopoly.>

                                                    What did Cuozzo write is so ignorance? Either I missed something or you read into something that I did not see. This is ok. You don't have to tell me.

                                                    <I stated that Cuozzo should not be stating what is authentic vs. inauthentic and that it bears very little relevance to his review. >

                                                    I don't see a problem here. Like I said, take your parents to RedFarm and if they said it is not authentic, then you can lecture them about the irrelevance of authenticity, and how this behavior exudes confidence in knowledge and abilities...etc.

                                                    <After misquoting me, twisting my meanings, and generally suggesting I'm ignorant and uninformed,>

                                                    No, I did not misquote you. I always quoted you words for words with <> signs.

                                                    1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                      This back-and-forth is getting pretty personal and also repetitive, and we're going to ask that you both let it go now. Thanks.

                            2. I believe you to be incorrect if you insist that there is not a 'real' Chinese food and a 'not real' Chinese food. There are several cuisines that I have tried, including 'Korean Chinese' and 'Cuban Chinese' and 'American Chinese' which are not 'Chinese food,' but are the foods that other nations have labelled 'Chinese,' sometimes with the assistance of helpful Chinese restaurant owners. I have heard the same dialogue about authentic Italian vs American Italian. Less so about French, but a bit, and German too.

                              Now, you may reasonably argue that there are many Chinese cuisines, in the homeland and in the diaspora, including Cantonese and Hunan and so on, but I have heard this kind of argument applied to French and Italian as well, it is not a unique argument about authenticity or regionalism.

                              I think it is not helpful to be so angry...

                              1. I have been reading the orioginal review,a nd the posts below, and i have to say....I am more amused than anything.

                                The idea you can buttonhole anything in nice neat packages is a myth. Authentic can mean LOTS of things.

                                My very taiwanese wife loves chinese food and fruit in particular (go lichees!), but, what i often see is that she'll take an idea that started with one thing (lichees), change it to adapt to local produce (apples/gigs) and use that instead. Authentic..well if any one thing typifies chinese cooking, it would be frugality (no sense shipping lichees), freshness (hence her love of the not overly Asian farmer's market). We end up with dry-fried local (Kentucky wonder) green beans instead of long beans. Authentic ingredient? Nope. Technique and sentiment? Yup!
                                My in-laws eat Pomfret fish almost daily. My wife took that idea and technique, and switched it to local flatfish. Again - is it what you'd see in a local Shanghai/Taipei market? no. But if those cooks had these ingredients, it is what we would end up with.
                                As far as "only dingy" restaurants. That soul needs to get out more often. Ming Tsai's Blue Ginger, Boston's Salamander are both phenomonal (or at least, they were some time back). I don't recall anyone saying food/.cuisine needed to be put in a museum or time capsule to retain "authenticity."
                                My favorite restaurant in Taiwan: http://haochr.blogspot.com/2007/11/pe...

                                1. -Cuisines evolve based on available products and tastes. It is a dubious goal to try to eat exactly as a native of one region would. Even if you could, what's the point?

                                  - The authenticity fetish does indeed seem greatest with non-Asians for Asian cuisines. Something to ponder since, at least in the US, the requisite ingredients for authentic Asian cooking are not always available.

                                  -For me, I care more that the food doesn't suck than whether it is authentic.

                                  10 Replies
                                  1. re: sal_acid

                                    I think the "authenticity" challenge exists in different cultures, not just Asian. I don't hear people talk about authentic Korean or Filipino cuisine as much as Italian. I hear of authentic Italian vs American Italian cuisine far more than authentic French. I wonder if it's more a function of how common you see those americanized restaurants in the US, more than racism. My FIL was in the Chinese restaurant business and he scoffed that a couple of his restaurants weren't really Chinese, but American. His flagship was, in his eyes, Chinese.

                                    1. re: chowser

                                      <My FIL was in the Chinese restaurant business and he scoffed that a couple of his restaurants weren't really Chinese, but American. His flagship was, in his eyes, Chinese.>

                                      It has a lot to do with Chinese cuisine. In Chinese (as well as Japanese and others), being authentic (正宗) is a very important theme as I have mentioned. It can be used as a huge marketing slogan.

                                      http://l.yimg.com/qk/6348f71b029c3bc7...

                                      https://encrypted-tbn0.gstatic.com/im...

                                      Why? Because most Chinese in Asia do care for this.

                                      This is not to say that Chinese do not eat fusion or blended or modernized food. They do. However, they do want to be very clear about what they are eating. Either this is a restaurant dedicates itself to traditional authentic regional cuisine or this is a restaurant which is trying to create and to blend new idea.

                                      1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                        I would take it a step further w/ my FIL that he considers American Chinese food to be inferior. I'm not sure how he'd feel about RedFarm and he might (probably would) enjoy it. But, he wouldn't consider it Chinese food. However, he's one view and we obviously all have different ones. I wonder--I saw Richard Blais make a pizza w/ caviar mozzarella and fried basil. If compared on an authenticity scale, how would that fall and more importantly, did anyone care? If someone wrote an article that it wasn't your typical fresh Italian fair, would that be considered anti-italian?

                                        1. re: chowser

                                          <he considers American Chinese food to be inferior>

                                          This is probably how most Chinese (from China) feel. There was a previous thread, and it was about "Americanized" and how the word become to associate inferiority. Of course, it mentioned American Chinese food, but it also discussed Americanized Japanese food (think Philly roll as sushi) and Americanized Indian food....etc. I don't think this is uniquely to Chinese food.

                                          <But, he wouldn't consider it Chinese food.>

                                          Based on what I read about RedFarm, it will be difficult for me to considered RedFarm food to be authentic Chinese food as well. It won't fit within the Chinese 4 or 8 cuisines system, and I don't think its owner or chef will disagree. It does not mean it is bad food. It just means that it is different.

                                          Here is the thing which I think has not been mentioned thus far. Different cuisines have different cultural background and therefore different judging criteria. Let's just take two Chinese regional cuisines: the Cantonese 粵菜 and the Szechuan 川菜. If you take a Szechuan dish and judge it based on the Cantonese criteria, then it will likely fail. If you take a Texan barbecue sauce and judge it using the South Caroline barbecue criteria, then it will fail as well.

                                          RedFarm et. al. needed to be evaluated outside of the traditional Chinese theme.

                                          <I saw Richard Blais make a pizza w/ caviar mozzarella and fried basil. If someone wrote an article that it wasn't your typical fresh Italian fair, would that be considered anti-italian?>

                                          I think you are spot on, and bring up some very good points.

                                          I was admiring a Japanese pizza earlier. I think I will love it, but it should not be viewed as authentic Japanese or authentic Italian. This mayo pizza looks so appealing to me:

                                          http://www.delish.com/cm/delish/image...

                                          Hopefully, this won't be considered as anti-Japanese or anti-Italian or anti-American.

                                          1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                            On the other hand when you talk about Japanese cuisine (and maybe Chinese too) -- the Japanese are among the most experimental people in the world when it comes to food.

                                            If you ask a Japanese person what "real" Japanese food is, he might have some idea of a meal that you served to his grandmother, but it's probably not something he eats that much.

                                            Obviously many things persevere across generations. But is modern Japanese food "authentic"? Is the same pizza that Richard Blais made suddenly "real" if a Japanese chef makes it? Or do you think that would be out of the range of "authentic" Japanese cuisine? In which case - what distinction are you really making? I guess you could argue that Japanese people eat a lot of "inauthentic" Japanese cuisine, but what would be the point of that?

                                            The point being, this idea of a "real" cuisine based on authenticity can lead to a stereotype which isn't quite right.

                                            1. re: calumin

                                              < the Japanese are among the most experimental people in the world when it comes to food.>

                                              True. Very true. In fact, Chinese and Japanese are very experimental when it comes to food. It is exactly because these people are very experimental, they also are very clear about what is traditional and what is not traditional. These are not mutually exclusive traits. For example, Chinese-Style Western bakery (中式西餅) and Hong Kong Style Cafe Restaurant (港式茶餐廳) are not traditional Chinese food.

                                              http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cha_chaa...

                                              A Chinese will never confused traditional Chinese bakery (中式糕點) with Chinese style Western bakery (中式西餅), and will never confuse a traditional Chinese restaurant with a Hong Kong cafe. One restaurant will not advertized to be a different kind:

                                              http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia...

                                              http://iphoto.ipeen.com.tw/photo/comm...

                                              For example, if you are to ask people about the above two restaurants, then they will tell you that these are Hong Kong style Cafe restaurant, and they do not serve traditional Chinese dishes (maybe some). I don't see this as being offensive or create a stereotype which isn't quiet right.

                                              <In which case - what distinction are you really making?>

                                              I think you are trying to make it about me. The point I was, and still making is that Chinese do use the word "authenticity" very much. As far as I am concern, this is a fact. This, in no way, means that Chinese do not accept foreign foods and new idea. They do. I never said that they don't. My point is that Chinese use this term "authenticity" in describing their cuisines. You can either believe this or not. In the case that you don't believe this, then I don't think I can add anything more than I have already said. In the case that you do believe this, then your protest of "what would be the point of that?" should not be toward me but toward the rest of the Chinese in Asia.

                                              <The point being, this idea of a "real" cuisine based on authenticity can lead to a stereotype which isn't quite right.>

                                              Like I said, if you have a concern or problem with this. I am not the person who you need to address to.

                                              You may ask, then what are my points.

                                              My points are very simple.
                                              1) Chinese in Asia have been using the term "authenticity" or "real" or "traditional" to describe and to distinguish their restaurants and their foods -- for ages.

                                              2) I don't see the point of bashing Steve Cuozzo for using the terms that Chinese themselves have been using.

                                              1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                I hope I'm not coming off as confrontational because I'm just trying to further the conversation and we actually agree on about 90% of the points.

                                                This is a minor point now, but the (relatively minor) issue I had with Cuozzo's article was he was using "real" in a derisive tone, as if it were inferior, relative to this new restaurant he found. That may in fact be a legitimate argument but his handling of the issue was amateurish because he stereotyped "real" and then put it down.

                                                I agree with you that "authenticity" is a selling point. My point is that it's not the same thing as "real." It's a fact that Japanese people eat "real" Japanese food. From your definition, I think it's also a fact that Japanese people also eat a lot of "inauthentic" Japanese cuisine. The irony being, the food which now characterizes the way modern Japanese society eats is not largely what non-Japanese would characterize as "authentic."

                                                But it still must be "real" Japanese food, since that's what they eat. And I think that is what led the OP to post in the first place (given the title of the thread).

                                                1. re: calumin

                                                  <I hope I'm not coming off as confrontational>

                                                  Absolutely not. It has been a pleasure talking to you.

                                                  <I agree with you that "authenticity" is a selling point. My point is that it's not the same thing as "real.">

                                                  Yeah, I can see that. Real is a very confusing term. I t is too unspecific. I agree with you. Japanese eat plenty non-traditional foods. In fact, Japanese ramen is still often advertized as "Chinese noodle" in Japan. See the photo below. They brag about their Chinese root:

                                                  http://image1.shopserve.jp/e-yaohide....

                                                  http://ikemen.c.blog.so-net.ne.jp/_im...

                                                  "Until the 1950s, ramen was called shina soba (支那そば, literally "Chinese soba") but today chūka soba (中華そば, also meaning "Chinese soba") or just Ramen"

                                                  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ramen

                                                  <But it still must be "real" Japanese food, since that's what they eat.>

                                                  I think I understand where you are coming from with the examples of non-traditional Japanese and how many Japanese are now eating non-traditional food. True, the example of ramen supports your point.

                                                  I can understand that you say: well, ramen is not super traditional Japanese food, but most Japanese eat ramen, thus ramen is a real Japanese. I get that. I also can understand if you say that Chinese Western bakery is not authentic Chinese food, but many Chinese eat Chinese Western bakery like egg tart, so that it is real Chinese food.

                                                  http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia...

                                                  I get that too.

                                                  However, you may notice that the foods from RedFarm actually cannot be supported by this line of arguments. Not only RedFarm foods are not traditional and not authentic. RedFarm foods are not eaten by regular Chinese neither. It is really a "none of the above" case. You probably have more Chinese eating McDonald than the type of foods served in RedFarm, so I guess I am not ready to call McDonald as a Chinese cuisine yet. :)

                                                  1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                    That's true, but the author wasn't comparing RedFarm against the entire spectrum of cuisines that could be considered Chinese. His use of the term "real" was more - using your term - provincial.

                                                    The thing I am taking away for this thread is that in some cases, the idea of food being "authentic" or "real" is very positive, because it associates the food with deeper aspects of a culture. At other times it is a negative, because it reinforces a stereotype which minimizes the breadth or diversity that the cuisine actually offers.

                                                    1. re: calumin

                                                      "The thing I am taking away for this thread is that in some cases, the idea of food being "authentic" or "real" is very positive, because it associates the food with deeper aspects of a culture. At other times it is a negative, because it reinforces a stereotype which minimizes the breadth or diversity that the cuisine actually offers."

                                                      This is an excellent synopsis of what's been discussed here.

                                  2. I've followed this thread but stayed out of commenting because I don't want to have to read a NY Post article, but from the comments this comes to mind:

                                    When I was a kid in Springfield MO there was this stuff called cashew chicken. Everyone loved it. There were joints everywhere. It was invented in Springfield in a restaurant of David Leong, an immigrant from China who was having a hard time finding any favor with his traditional dishes. Once they learned to replicate the American dish of meat, mashed potatoes and gravy (breaded chicken, brown gravy and rice) they had a hit.

                                    Was it authentic Chinese food? Well it had no real predecessor in China, if that's what that means. It was invented by authentic Chinese people, though.

                                    If a Thai family moves to Arizona and makes their family recipes with hatch or jalapeno peppers, or a Mexican family moves to St Louis and makes fish tacos with catfish, are these not still authentic dishes? And who is going to tell these folks they are not?

                                    Meanwhile, we Springfield Cashew Chicken folks know the real deal when we see it, even if it's harder to find than it once was. There are lots of pretenders out there, especially the fluffy overtempura'd "Springfield-style" offerings outside the city.

                                    It makes me think that authenticity is something we can only judge from our own long-term experience, and not something we can seek out from the experiences of others, at least not easily. Surely we all have one childhood dish that can't be duplicated by outsiders no matter how much they want to. Surely that's really what we're dealing with here.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: ennuisans

                                      Thank you so much for making much more clear what i was trying to get across:

                                      "If a Thai family moves to Arizona and makes their family recipes with hatch or jalapeno peppers, or a Mexican family moves to St Louis and makes fish tacos with catfish, are these not still authentic dishes?"

                                      Perfectly stated.