Let’s start by looking at the pictures on this page, they feel “authentic” don’t they? So what makes a dish “authentic”? Is it the use of specific ingredients in the recipe? Is it the ethnicity of the person who prepares the dish? Or perhaps the original provenience of the ingredients……or the tools used to make that dish….or the location where the dish is consumed? All of the above…and more!
In my humble opinion the “authenticity” of food is open to interpretation in the same way art is. I could be eating a tagine dish in a Moroccan restaurant in west L.A. and think to be eating authentic Northern African food. The ambiance seems genuine with tables low to the ground, seating on cushy pillows, the hot tea served with theatrical artistry; a spiced fragrance permeates the dining room and when the lid of my tagine is raised a pungent but pleasant aroma invades my senses. All very reminiscent of an earlier trip I took to Agadir and Marrakesh. I say authentic enough but let’s take a look: more than half of the ingredients are local or at least grown or produced in the States; the busboy, while in Moroccan attire and very affable, hasn’t lost his thick Oaxacan accent; the Chef is Algerian and the staff a mix of Gringos and Latinos; most of the tools used to cook my dish were made in the US and China and the owner, while born in Rabat and married to a beautiful Jamaican lady from Negril, has been in the Southland more than half of his life, and is paying the rent for his establishment to a Finnish real estate group. Now, was my experience authentic?
Few things are considered more Italian than tomato sauce, yet even that, depending on how you look at it, is not so accurate. Tomatoes were originally from Central and South America and only in the last 500 years were they introduced to Europe. Does the test of time establish authenticity?
I remember during my teen years, while going to culinary school, I went to cook for a large event, a Rotary dinner if I recall correctly and the menu ( I still have that menu somewhere, probably lost in my neatness) was picked from some old book from the middle ages. The name of the dishes sounded so old that at first I had no idea what we would actually be cooking. When I asked the burly Chef Beppe Rossi what “Cibreo del Panciatichi” was he said to me “Whatever we throw away from the chicken, braised in oil!”. Not satisfied I further inquired “and who was this Panciatichi?” only knowing to be some middle age persona. His reply: “Some old Florentine imbecill!” I knew then it was time to stop asking questions and start working with my head down. That’s when I found out that the cibreo was an old Florentine dish made with chicken heart, liver, gizzard, comb and wattles.
When I moved to the States some customer would dare inform me that pappardelle with wild boar was not authentic Italian but a fruit of my creativity further asserting, to my dismay, that spaghetti and meatballs were the true thing! It is unquestionable evidence that spaghetti with meatballs has been introduced and cooked by Italians in the States for well over 100 years, which I must say now, to me establishes the dish as authentic.
As humans we display our honest authenticity through feelings and yet we’re very unique. Same with food, as long as we keep the core recipe, we can put our own spin and keep it authentic. Our quest for authenticity in the food world will take us on goose chase; the harder we try the more we’ll find this adjective to be a far less accurate truth than what the word itself represents. Food and cooking will always evolve and so its authenticity.
BTW, did you know burrito is not authentic Mexican food? Or is it?