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Authentic Food

post #1 of 27
Thread Starter 

Pardon the rant: 

 

I'm starting to equate the word "authentic" when applied to a particular recipe by someone trying to convince me that it's good with "run away."  Half the time they're wrong, and nearly all of the time they're lousy cooks who don't understand the amount of regionalism, individuality, adaptation to seasonal ingredients, and the sheer amount of improvisation that goes into making things taste good.

 

Furthermore, really good cooks seldom try to make something exactly like someone else's great aunt who cooked the most "authentic" version of that something seventy-three years ago.  We impose our own stamp on things with our particular skill sets and palates because that's how we roll.  That doesn't mean that sometimes we aren't true to traditional dishes -- it means we don't understand cuisine as being divided into the authentic and the inauthentic.  Besides, who's to say which is which?

 

Rick Bayless is an outstanding example.  He doesn't cook dishes as you'd find them in someone's home in some village in Mexico.  Instead, he takes typical dishes and interprets them through his own prism.  Authentic?  Depends what you mean.  I've frequently heard people who don't actually know much about Mexican cuisine call Bayless's food authentic; but never a Mexican.   Yet, it's certainly not "inauthentic." 

 

Your thoughts? 

 

BDL


Edited by boar_d_laze - 1/29/12 at 10:08am
post #2 of 27

What do you mean by "run away?" Who and what, exactly, do you mean?

 

I have a very clear notion of what "authentic" NC barbecue is, for example. I don't appreciate recipes for it that involve ribs, beef, liquid smoke, pulled pork made in an oven, or sweet and thick sauce. This is especially dear to me because it get exposed to this all the time as a Tarheel living in NY.

 

Living where I do, I am also exposed to quite a few "authentic" Italian dishes and pizzas. Frankly, little of it does much for me and the over-saturation of grannie's recipes from the old country is more than a little over-done.

 

Are we talking about the same thing here?

 

 

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post #3 of 27

    Oh brother!

 

   I, for one (and I mean one), like to dig and find what a particular recipe may have started as.  Yes, I do understand regional cooking, home variations, seasonal variations, etc, etc. 

 

Why do I like to dig for what may be an authentic type of recipe?  There are many reasons...because it's fun, because I like to see variations that people cooked back in our history, or in other lands.  Sometimes, I'll start off looking for the "correct methods" of cooking a dish, then make whatever changes I see fit.  To me, it's a great starting place.  Other times it can be a great ending place (a pecan pie recipe that's representative of early Louisiana settlers, in many John Folse cookbooks)

 

In the pecan pie recipe, do I realize that not all people of that time made their pecan pie like this?  Why sure...I did.  What about the figs, were they always in season?   Uh, no...I don't believe Figs are in season all the time...and I would imagine a person may have made a pecan pie outside of the Fig/pecan season (if they had the extra pecans still laying around).  (do you guys and girls who are so dead set against anything "authentic" actually think those of us who ask it are so rigid?  really?)

 

 BDL, is this something to really rant about?  I loved reading the history and recipe regarding Fettuccine Alfredo that you posted.  It's a completely different preparation that I had been accustomed to...I loved the recipe!  But my wife prefers the type with cream, she wins!  Your post, with history was both fun to read...and eat.

 

What about this recipe for Ragu alla Bolognese.  It's printed by Accademia Italiana della Cucina and it is really delicious.  It's my favorite meat sauce recipe (;) ).  But do I cook only this variation?  No.  Do I think that everyone in the land made their sauce the same way?  

 

 

   I really think there are a few of you here (maybe elsewhere too) that are just looking to pick away at some of our words and intent.  

 

 

 

 

Oh bother!

Dan

post #4 of 27

Why not simply state "in the style of ???" and be done with it?

 

IMHO, the only "authentic dish" is one I create, otherwise, it is my interpretation of someone else's creation.

 

To this day, because I was raised on crispy fried corn tortilla tacos. I do not consider a flour tortilla as an "authentic taco shell", in fact, I had never seen a flour tortilla until
I was well past my 40s.

 

Does that make me right? No!

 

Does that make me wrong? No!

 

For me, an authentic taco is "in the style of Maria as made when I was a child living in El Paso, TX" and all others are imitationslaser.gifso there, sue melol.gif

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post #5 of 27
Quote:
Originally Posted by PeteMcCracken View Post

Why not simply state "in the style of ???" and be done with it?

 

 


   I get what your saying...and agree with you

 

thanks!

Dan

 

post #6 of 27

I go out of my way to make something my own and despise the word "authentic."  I know lots of greeks that use the same recipes for decades and are not willing to waver from those recipes for a million dollars.  Needless to say I am bored half to death eating at their tables.  I am not interested in using ingredients that were only available to you in some small village somewhere in the middle of Greece 50yrs ago.  This is a global world and if you can't adapt then your cooking will probably be boring and stale.  I am not a restaurant chef so I have the flexibility to make something differently each time I make it. 

 

Also, people evolve, taste buds evolve.  There are a few recipes that I think I still make authentically (meaning that my intention is to make it just like my mother made it) but then my mother tastes it and it turns out it's completely different anyway. 

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post #7 of 27

I agree with you Koukou, but that's because you and I have similar expereinces with people who won't eat anything that their mother didn;t make and exactly in the same way.  But I remember when i was still in the states, before coming here, that my idea of "authentic" italian dishes were often wildly off.  And if we don't know what is authentic, how can we know what we don't like??wink.gif

 

Anyway, some dishes are inventions of a certain person, like fettuccine alfredo, or any other signature dish, and since everyone is copying his recipe, at least they shouldn't use his name if it's not his recipe. I think alfredo would turn in his grave to see chicken or bechamel in his dish being attributed to him.  Then just call it creamy noodles!

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post #8 of 27

I see a case for "authentic" to some degree. I usually won't eat Mexican food outside of southwestern United States and California. Because in the rest of the country, a five-star gourmet restaurant probably isn't going to cook Mexican food as "authentic" as the guy with a food cart in Los Angeles or Phoenix. I exempt San Francisco from  an expectation of good Mexican food, because there I would more likely be happy with authentic Chinese or Italian food. I would probably be disappointed in its Mexican food, and surely would be out of state.

 

The best Mexican food  I had recently was at a small suburban restaurant two miles north of the Mexico border. The one time I went south of the border (a short venture into Tijuana) I also enjoyed the food there.

 

Here in southern California, however, I don't mind if someone deviates from their Mexican grandmother's recipe. They might improve it.

 

And if I cook it, it will not be Mexican. It will be Californian.

 

 

post #9 of 27
Quote:
Originally Posted by Ellen Porter View Post
... The one time I went south of the border (a short venture into Tijuana) I also enjoyed the food there...

For me, Tijuana is not a typical source of Mexican food, at least, it is certainly different from the food in Topolabampo, Los Mochis, or Mexico City, IMHO.
 

 

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post #10 of 27

Siduri, we deal with the same sort of people don't we?  I am especially sensitive to the idea of authentic italian cuisine.  I think anyone who grew up eating at the Olive garden and then takes a trip to Italy would feel the same way.  It's like Oh WOW this is real italian food.  I then vowed to myself I'd never oversauce a pasta dish again. 
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Ellen Porter View Post

I see a case for "authentic" to some degree. I usually won't eat Mexican food outside of southwestern United States and California. Because in the rest of the country, a five-star gourmet restaurant probably isn't going to cook Mexican food as "authentic" as the guy with a food cart in Los Angeles or Phoenix. I exempt San Francisco from  an expectation of good Mexican food, because there I would more likely be happy with authentic Chinese or Italian food. I would probably be disappointed in its Mexican food, and surely would be out of state.

 

...

 



What do you suggest those of us on the west coast do?  Never eat mexican food?  Would you give up mexican food entirely if you were to move away from where you are?

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post #11 of 27

I guess I don't really understand this thread.

What, really, is the beef?

 

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post #12 of 27

Well, I mean come on, how can you eat unauthentic food, now really?wink.gif
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by foodnfoto View Post

I guess I don't really understand this thread.

What, really, is the beef?

 

For me, the "beef" is mislabeling or misinterpreting a dish in a commercial situation to a point that a guest's expectations are disconnected from what is actually served.
 

 

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post #13 of 27
Quote:
Originally Posted by PeteMcCracken View Post

Well, I mean come on, how can you eat unauthentic food, now really?wink.gif
 

For me, the "beef" is mislabeling or misinterpreting a dish in a commercial situation to a point that a guest's expectations are disconnected from what is actually served.
 

 



Well put Pete. 

"Siduri said, 'Gilgamesh, where are you roaming? You will never find the eternal life that you seek...Savour your food, make each of your days a delight, ... let music and dancing fill your house, love the child who holds you by the hand and give your wife pleasure in your embrace.'"
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"Siduri said, 'Gilgamesh, where are you roaming? You will never find the eternal life that you seek...Savour your food, make each of your days a delight, ... let music and dancing fill your house, love the child who holds you by the hand and give your wife pleasure in your embrace.'"
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post #14 of 27

Well then, isn't it reasonable for a consumer to have basic expectations of a particular dish based on traditional preparations?

 

For example-

I went to a restaurant and saw that they offered Key Lime Pie. Wow, I thought, I love that dessert. What was served to me was a pie with chocolate crust, 3 inches tall, filled with green cream cheese based custard with lime peel in it  (bleaaccchhhh!) and white chocolate whipped cream topping. Having been a pastry chef in Key West for three years, I knew this was NOT Key Lime Pie and sent it back after one bite. Is it unreasonable to expect certain standards when we serve a dish like this? 

 

Is the trouble with using the word "authentic" in a dish description with the fact that some dishes are so varied that authenticity is impossible or that it's origins cannot be accurately reproduced? or that there is no expectation of authenticity? or that expectations are so subjective that no one could possibly meet them?

 

The rant against authenticity seems a little odd coming originally from BDL because he seems very cued into food origins.

Maybe I'm still confused.

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post #15 of 27

Koukokovagia, do you mean those who aren't on the West Coast? If you live outside of the specific areas I mentioned, southwest United States and California, and still find a Mexican restaurant that appeals to you, by all means eat there. Or make your own. But unless you are from Mexico, it's not authentic, nor is my Latino, but U.S-born neighbors'. However it might be even better.

 

If I were to move away from southern/central California and not to the the southwest, I don't think I would eat as much Mexican food as I do now. If I had the privilege of moving to San Diego, I'd probably eat even more.

post #16 of 27

In one of my "other lives", a similar question has arisen, primarily with regards to WCS (West Coast Swing) and its drift from its roots, the new variation is called Abstract Improvisation.

 

Perhaps we can adapt that terminology to the culinary arts?

 

Authentic follows the classical techniques, forms, and recipes.

 

Abstract Improvisation abandons any rules, techniques, forms, or recipes?

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post #17 of 27


  Hi Koukouvagia,

 

   

Quote:
Originally Posted by Koukouvagia View Post

I go out of my way to make something my own and despise the word "authentic."  I know lots of Greeks that use the same recipes for decades and are not willing to waver from those recipes for a million dollars.  Needless to say I am bored half to death eating at their tables.  I am not interested in using ingredients that were only available to you in some small village somewhere in the middle of Greece 50yrs ago.  This is a global world and if you can't adapt then your cooking will probably be boring and stale.  I am not a restaurant chef so I have the flexibility to make something differently each time I make it. 

 

Also, people evolve, taste buds evolve.  There are a few recipes that I think I still make authentically (meaning that my intention is to make it just like my mother made it) but then my mother tastes it and it turns out it's completely different anyway. 



  In your words, you say that many Greeks cook the same recipes, for decades, and many do not waiver from those recipes. Many of us are not as lucky as you, to have these recipes at our disposal.  I believe what I seek (when I am searching for an authentic recipe) is the same thing as you.  Many times I am not looking to fit some rigid mold.  Instead I'm looking to try the recipes from those in Greece, and then start trying variations.  Perhaps after that I'll develop something that is truly "my" variation.  But if I'm starting with an Olive Garden equivalent, I am not doing myself any favors.  



Quote:
Originally Posted by Koukouvagia View Post

Siduri, we deal with the same sort of people don't we?  I am especially sensitive to the idea of authentic italian cuisine.  I think anyone who grew up eating at the Olive garden and then takes a trip to Italy would feel the same way.  It's like Oh WOW this is real italian food.  I then vowed to myself I'd never oversauce a pasta dish again. 
 



What do you suggest those of us on the west coast do?  Never eat mexican food?  Would you give up mexican food entirely if you were to move away from where you are?


 

  I fail to see your words describe your stance of despising when people ask for authentic recipes, it seems right off the bat you can help those seeking authentic Greek recipes and Italian recipes.  Even in your question about Mexican food...what should you do?  You should seek out a recipe that is a good representation of the land (or region) , then make it similar or add your own flair.  But please don't emulate Taco Bell and think it's Mexican food.   

 

  Dan

 

 

post #18 of 27
Quote:
Originally Posted by PeteMcCracken View Post

In one of my "other lives", a similar question has arisen, primarily with regards to WCS (West Coast Swing) and its drift from its roots, the new variation is called Abstract Improvisation.

 

Perhaps we can adapt that terminology to the culinary arts?

 

Authentic follows the classical techniques, forms, and recipes.

 

Abstract Improvisation abandons any rules, techniques, forms, or recipes?


Again, I agree Pete.

 

   I believe your words describe what most people are looking for when asking for an authentic recipe.  

 

thanks,

 Dan

 

post #19 of 27
As far as these forums are concerned, I truly enjoy the history lesson when discussions turn towards " authenticity". The origins of preparations is a topic that interests me.

In the real world, it bothers me when the menu names are misleading. People need to change the name if they are going to make a variation of a classic dish. Like the examples, above for the Key Lime Pie and NY BBQ, I once ordered a veal scallopine. What I ate was cubed veal stewed in marinara sauce. Was it good,I guess so, but I was too disappointed to really care.

As with Kouko and Siduri, I have to prepare authentic for the San Marino Social Club. It's about as frustrating as it gets. When the expectations are to match what they ate at home, you really are set up to fail. You just can't compete with someone's mother or Nona.

In order to get the "authentic" Sanmarinese flavor for my meat ravioli, I use Philadelphia Cream Cheese. Is this authentic in San Marino? I don't know, never been there. I don't believe that cream cheese is used much in Italian cuisine though. Yet for this group of immigrants and their offspring, this is what they expect, and must be considered authentic.
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post #20 of 27

well, when i read the word 'authentic' i interprete that to mean that it was made 'in the tradtion of'.....genuine.....  it has positive connotations to me, again meaning that the ingredients are true to the original recipe...and are not substituted (within reason). for example, if a menu reads authentic mole ploblano i am usually assured that to mean the 'real deal', not something that came out of a jar or made from a package.....not someone's riff which is something else all together...not bad...just something else....just curious FNF on your key lime pie....did the menu state that it had a chocolate crust or cream cheese filling or white chocolate topping? i usually find dessert menus to be fairly descriptive as it's the restaurant's last push to shake a few more dollars out of the diner...did it say it was authentic? everyone who has ever had a piece of true key lime pie knows that what you had wasn't even close...i'm just curious if the word authentic was associated with it.......

there are things other than food that are labeled 'authentic'.....like leather....remember  ricardo montalbans swarmy voice in the car commercials?....."real corinthian leather"...not sure how i got there, but oh well, i'm here now...... ole'

joey


Edited by durangojo - 2/3/12 at 2:58pm

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post #21 of 27

BDL - I think you summed  up "authentic" nicely. 

post #22 of 27

Ditto BdeL, especially re "regionalism, individuality, adaptation to seasonal ingredients, and the sheer amount of improvisation that goes into making things taste good."  Live in a place with a well-developed regional cuisine long enough to eat in different people's houses, and you'll find that no two households make a dish the same way.  

 

Moreover for any recipe that depends on the taste of fresh ingredients, "true" is just a phantom.  Their chicken is not your chicken.  Good cooking adapts to what's available, by region, season, variety etc.

 

So I call fallacy of the excluded middle on Pete's distinction:


Authentic follows the classical techniques, forms, and recipes.

 

Abstract Improvisation abandons any rules, techniques, forms, or recipes?

 

 

Just about any cooking is going to start with a set of rules, techniques, forms, and recipes.  Like music.  A culinary tradition gives you a way to think about flavors, about how different dishes interact over the meal etc. etc.  A starting point and some organizing principles, just like a musical form.  You then try and do something with that, given what you have at hand and what the folks you're feeding will enjoy.  (Additionally, what does "classical" mean here?  It's just as vacuous as "authentic.")

 

Sparkie's comment is really interesting.  What a lot of people seem to mean when they say "authentic" is that they want a dish made like they're used to, like they remember it -- comfort me, take me back home to Grandma's cooking.  Nothing wrong with that, but it's about particular people's particular tastes and fond memories, not anything universally true.

 

post #23 of 27

OK Colin, how about:

  1. Authentic follows the classical techniques, forms, and recipes

  2. Adaptation modifies Authentic recipes to reflect regional adaptations while adhering to classical techniques and forms

  3. Innovation modifies Adaptation by using classical techniques and forms as a basis for new techniques and forms

  4. Improvisation modifies Innovation by ignoring classical techniques and forms and utilizing new techniques and forms

  5. Abstract Improvisation abandons any rules, techniques, forms, or recipes?

 

 

 

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post #24 of 27
Thread Starter 

You're making some very interesting distinctions Pete.  I'm not sure if the language follows you or not though.  For instance both durangojo and petalsandcoco are each very creative and improvisationally fearless while staying technically sound.  Come to think of it, probably a pretty good description of you, too.. 

 

Since linguistics and semantics are what they are, the terms will find their meanings through usage.  But breaking the culinary things down the way you did was great.

 

BDL

post #25 of 27

blushing.gif
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by boar_d_laze View Post

You're making some very interesting distinctions Pete.  I'm not sure if the language follows you or not though.  For instance both durangojo and petalsandcoco are each very creative and improvisationally fearless while staying technically sound.  Come to think of it, probably a pretty good description of you, too.. 

 

Since linguistics and semantics are what they are, the terms will find their meanings through usage.  But breaking the culinary things down the way you did was great.

 

BDL




 

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post #26 of 27

Pete, when you write "classical" what do you mean?

 

post #27 of 27
Quote:
Originally Posted by Colin View Post

Pete, when you write "classical" what do you mean?

 

For me, classical refers to the foundation methods, techniques, ingredients, and recipes of whatever cuisine is under discussion.

 

An example might be, say, Caesar's Salad:

  • Authentic = the way it was created in Tijuana, garlic rubbed bowl, Romaine, olive oil, lemon juice, Worcester sauce, coddled egg, croutons
  • Adaptation = substitute anchovies for Worcester sauce
  • Innovation = use an emulsified dressing instead of olive oil and lemon juice
  • Improvisation = serve it on a crostini instead of using croutons
  • Abstract Improvisation = serve a dressed Romaine leaf with a spear of Parmesan wrapped in an anchovy fillet dusted with Panko
     

 

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