Keeping It Real

Sejal Sukhadwala writes on the “bogus” quest for authenticity in cooking, and makes a sound point:
One of the ideas underpinning Claudia Roden‘s cookery books is that food is an integral part of identity. At the launch of her most recent book, The Food of Spain, she spoke about members of an Egyptian chefs’ organisation who didn’t want to cook their mothers’ food as they associated it with poverty. They have jettisoned authenticity in favour of aspiration; evolution at work.
As Sukhadwala points out, authenticity is often not quantifiable, but more of an “I know it when I see it” sort of thing. The sociologist in me also tends to think that “authenticity” is frequently a proxy for differentiation, allowing those with the leisure time or money to afford expensive or time-consuming preparations to show off a bit, Veblen-style. Also, an insistence on “authenticity” assumes that there was some Edenic time in the past when cooking was perfect, and that ever since then everything has been ruin and corruption. But that’s not gastronomy so much as sharia.
What do you think?
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2 Responses to Keeping It Real

  1. ClockworkZombie says:

    I think your palate and upbringing will play a major role in “authenticity”. How many thai food lovers would have a green curry as hot as a thai native would have it or perhaps a snack of fried cockroaches. Authentic cuisine should be described as close but not too close.

    Look at French cooking constantly reinventing itself, changing with the times, even if the language does not.

    I remember eating at an Indian restaurant once and ordering a goat vindaloo. The waiter said “You do not want to order the Vindaloo try Rogan Josh instead.” I insisted and knew I was in trouble when I noticed a bunch of staff peering around the corner to watch my reaction. The food was excellent and I had the most amazing endorphin rush part way through the meal.

  2. Steve at the Pub says:

    I’m one who has beleived there is not really such a thing as “authentic” food.
    For most of history humans have lived in poverty. Cooking (or a local “cuisine”) was for fuel, rather than pleasure, and was cooked with whatever ingredients were available (or allowed) and affordable.

    Most local or niche “cuisines”, in their “genuine” state are neither palatable enough, nor interesting enough, to make the grade as first class restaurant fare (i.e. eating for pleasure).

    What grandma cooked may be fond in the memory, but in reality was bland as heck compared to the “same” dish served in a fine dining restaurant.

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