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Mar 13, 2014 04:13 AM

Giving recommendations on "ethnic" foods

When someone asks for a recommendation on ethnic food restaurants/cooking (I use ethnic meaning something that originally came from another country and one that has an Americanized version, too), do you assume they want the authentic version, or the Americanized one? Or either as long as the food is good? I've always assumed the authentic one but am rethinking this. For the record, I'm not looking at the Americanized one as inferior but if someone is looking for General Tsao's chicken or chicken parm, it would be good to help narrow down the search to the right type of restaurant/recipe. If you ask, do you assume they know what's authentic or Americanized?

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  1. When giving advice to anyone about anything, the old writers' adage about "knowing your audience" really comes into play. Ask questions, gently interview if you must. It never hurts to ask something along the lines of, "What kind of sushi do you usually order?"

    Engage in conversation, pay attention to the way they phrase things and experiences they relate. If someone asks you where to find "authentic Vietnamese cuisine" it should guide your answer just as much as if they inquire, "I know you love food. So tell me, is there any place to get that Phoey soup around here?" If they relate to you they haven't tasted a decent piece of green papaya since they taught English in Thailand, then, . . .

    Moreover, if you still don't feel as though you have much to go on, offer explanations and not merely directions. By way of examples:

    "Well, you know, I'm one of those goofy guys who keeps eight kinds of hot sauces in his fridge, but my favorite Indian place in the County is 'Dosa's'. I love all of their curries, but even I certainly don't drink the sauce left on the plate afterwards."

    "Sometimes, my wife want to go to this fancy Italian place that serves this decadent boar ragu I cherish, but all I can think about is that I just want the comfort of that old-fashioned, over-cheesed, Veal parm on the giant, oval, white plate with a carafe of wine at 'Tony Bagga's'. You know what I mean?"

    "Funny you should mention Chinese food. I love 'Szechuan Star', best place in the County, if you want my opinion. But, I really enjoy trying to learn about foods I don't know that much about and I have never left hungry, that's for sure. If you go though, you may not want to start with the chicken feet . . .
    "Then again, my Brother's favorite place is '
    Chinese Food For You To Take Out'. It reminds me of the joint we used to order from where we grew up. He's right about a couple things though, they make the BEST pork fried rice I know of and their General Tao's is money!"

    1. I prioritize deliciousness over authenticity, but I do tend to recommend more authentic rather than less authentic options if they are available.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Jacquilynne

        I agree but I will typically mention if it is not authentic.

        "It isn't very authentic but I like...."

        If it is authentic I only mention that if I think it will be a turn off for the audience.

        "Well, it's pretty authentic/traditional..."

      2. Since any of us may/will have a much, much wider audience for our reply than just the OP over time, I say give whatever advice/recipe you find delicious, and let the garlic chips and fish sauce fall where they may.

        1. What I've been noticing is that people tend to give what they would like, eg posters who want the more authentic experience give that. I love to cook and I give recipes/techniques that I enjoy but have also been told that the recipe is too complex (and not by the original poster). At the same time, when we don't find out what the OP wants, posters have offered a myriad of solutions only to find that he/she wants a box recipe. I'm on the fence about whether it's better to help narrow it down or to have a wide variety of answers that might help others down the line.

          I'm editing to add I guess my question is, are we answering a question to satisfy one person or are we essentially putting together a database that others can use. I think it does help, as melpy mentioned, to distinguish whether it's more authentic or not, eg. as has come up on the boards, if someone wants matzoh ball soup and you recommend a place because it has great curry fish head matzoh ball soup, it would be helpful to mention that.

          1. When someone asks for a recommendation, I prefer to give more than one option, if possible.