Authenticity is for tourists.
May 20, 2019 7:21 AM   Subscribe

"“My grandmother made tacos with peas and with potatoes,” Lopez said, and added it was because she couldn’t always afford ground beef. For some Mexican Americans, this gets at the essence of the way we eat. Pretending otherwise means suppressing our lived realities and histories. I can’t think of a better example of the fraud of authenticity, which is more interested in the aesthetics of poverty than in poverty itself, more invested in the feeling of realness than in any kind of truth." John Paul Brammer for the Washington Post: I’m Mexican American. Stop expecting me to eat ‘authentic’ food.
posted by everybody had matching towels (87 comments total) 70 users marked this as a favorite
 
Great article! I'm always struck by the number of people, on any food article, who will instantly talk about how "authentic" any given dish is, no matter who is presenting said dish. Priya on Bon Apetit's YouTube channel covers a lot of dishes her family made regularly, and there's always a lot of comments that say, "That's not 'real' X, Y, Z that she's making..." even though she's said it's her family's own variation, which would, in essence, make it an authentic dish in my eyes.
posted by xingcat at 7:44 AM on May 20 [21 favorites]


And most actual authentic food in my experience was boiled and overcooked into an unpalatable mush. And not a problem, people back in the day were hungry and would wolf down just about anything set before them.
posted by sammyo at 7:50 AM on May 20 [6 favorites]


Good read! I would love one of those fried parmesan tacos now...
posted by Secretariat at 7:57 AM on May 20 [2 favorites]


According to a beautiful, sad story in Eater, the demand for “authentic” Mexican food is threatening to wipe out a unique kind of taco in Kansas City

Link to my recent mefi post on this. I think actually that the celebration of regional cuisines and pushback against authenticity is what motivated the Eater articles in the first place.
posted by vacapinta at 8:02 AM on May 20 [6 favorites]


Paradoxically, many of these traits are also ones that America actively punishes, which is why immigrants are often desperate to sieve them out of their families.

If one more alleged-liberal gives me crap for not being fluent in Spanish when two seconds later someone will inevitably trash Latinxs for not assimilating hard enough, I'm going to...well, nothing, but it will piss me off.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 8:04 AM on May 20 [49 favorites]


Or, in other words, I liked this article a lot
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 8:05 AM on May 20 [6 favorites]


I love tacos with the potatoes and peas in them. Adds more nutrients, and boosts the health factor up a few notches too.
As always; those that criticize any food the most; are usually those that struggle to even boil water. :/
posted by Afghan Stan at 8:05 AM on May 20 [1 favorite]


Most of my grandmother's "German" recipes were actually Russian or Polish, which caused me a little consternation the first time I went to a Bavarian restaurant.

Outside the immediate family everyone I grew up with was Mexican-American, and dirt poor (like us). Generally experimentation was something more to be celebrated - authenticity was sort of a thing, but you made do with what you could get.

When Suzie used trotters instead of tripas for the menudo I swear I musta heard about it from like three different people, two admiringly and one critically.
posted by aspersioncast at 8:08 AM on May 20 [5 favorites]


I feel like so much of our current state of capitalism is "branding". Curating a brand and selling it to buyers. Packaging up a gift basket of fancy bath accouterments with a bow and selling it, but disregarding that the basket itself has no other good use and the individual bath gels and lotions and salts and shampoos are small and not very good either. We aren't selling the loofah - we are selling the idea of this package. Don't look too close at it!

I love the comment about microwaving eggs and bacon and wrapping it in bread. It gives weight to my own microwaved leftover dinners I am self-conscious about.
posted by jillithd at 8:10 AM on May 20 [22 favorites]


Thank you for posting this, I loved it - "authenticity" has become such a lazy catch-all descriptor in this new era of "every consumer is now a professional fucking food critic" and the yelp reviews of NY Chinese and Mexican restaurants really hit home as I'm always frustrated to see that expressed as though it's some kind of valid form of criticism.

The funniest are white people that COMPLAIN that there were so many other white people in a restaurant so clearly it is automatically not authentic and it's for the birds. Rather than seeing this as "the restaurant is successful and crowded!" these people are grumpy that they don't get to have their authentic experience and live out their Anthony Bourdain fantasy.

I am a huge defender of Ugly Delicious on Netflix because it explored and challenged a lot of these ideas about authenticity and what it really means. My favorite part was when he looked at the parallels between "authentic" crawfish boils in New Orleans and then the newer steamed Viet-Cajun crawfish that's served around Houston by the immigrant community - which one gets to be "authentic"? Is viet-cajun not authentic Cajun food? What kind of pizza gets to be "authentic"? Also interesting how a lot of Chinese and Mexican restaurants are expected to be cheap - if it dares to aspire to any kind of upscale or fine-dining range it's automatically not "authentic" and all the sudden a "pricey rip off". Very curious that any white food culture like Italian or southern food doesn't experience this type of "authenticity" gate-keeping.
posted by windbox at 8:13 AM on May 20 [26 favorites]


The number of white authenticity gurus in the SF Bay Area's Yelp presence is staggering.

The San Francisco Chronicle's new food reviewer, Soleil Ho, made waves recently when she assumed the position, writing one article saying she would never use the word "authentic" in her reviews (and why).

I've written comments on MetaFilter that defended the use of "authentic" in the past, because I think "authenticity" works more like suggested in this article, in heavy context, in community, always morphing, changing, personal, and unique. And in today's food industry, unfortunately, because of the white authenticity gurus, traditional restaurants doing food in particular heritages do have to play the game or they get shut out by the white authenticity gurus, which sucks, unless they have enough backing and support to survive an avalanche of shitty Yelp or Google reviews.

But I applaud forthright articles like this, because it opens up the discussion and widens the definitions and gives us more liberty to cook and eat unharassed.
posted by kalessin at 8:15 AM on May 20 [13 favorites]


If one more alleged-liberal gives me crap for not being fluent in Spanish when two seconds later someone will inevitably trash Latinxs for not assimilating hard enough, I'm going to...well, nothing, but it will piss me off.

This is a thing I've been thinking about a lot lately, is how the people who enforce double standards can stay in denial because they're only ever enforcing half.

One person thinks "It's totally consistent for me to expect that everyone X. I'm not the one being unreasonable. It's not my fault that there are all these not-Xers around." And the other thinks "It's totally consistent for me to expect that everyone not-X, and it's not my fault that there are all these Xers around."
posted by nebulawindphone at 8:17 AM on May 20 [2 favorites]


This is a great article.

I find that those who call for "authenticity" frequently wish for a group of people to remain disadvantaged and sequestered for the purposes of their (inexpensive) tourism. I felt a similar sentiment in the brouhaha that arose a few years ago in certain quarters when Marcus Samuelsson dared to open a restaurant on 126th and Malcolm X Boulevard serving $28 chicken.
posted by slkinsey at 8:18 AM on May 20 [17 favorites]


Also interesting how a lot of Chinese and Mexican restaurants are expected to be cheap - if it dares to aspire to any kind of upscale or fine-dining range it's automatically not "authentic" and all the sudden a "pricey rip off". Very curious that any white food culture like Italian or southern food doesn't experience this type of "authenticity" gate-keeping.

This is such a good point - the "$20 Diner" column at the Washington Post recently dropped that name for just this reason.
posted by everybody had matching towels at 8:24 AM on May 20 [3 favorites]


It's especially interesting that this article references "authenticity" in how it applies to Mexican food in New York City. Twenty-five years ago the Mexican, Texas Mexican and Tex-Mex food in NYC was absolute balls. But then we had an influx of immigration from Mexico and suddenly a lot of little places sprouted up that served versions of the foods these recent immigrants were used to eating and selling at home (the Tex-Mex here is still pretty lame). In some sense one could say that these foods are more "authentic" than what was available in the 1990s, but at the same time they are not all that much like what you'd get in Mexico. They have their own kind of "authenticity." And lately there have been any number of higher-end restaurants serving iterations of foods inspired and informed by Mexican culinary traditions at a higher price point and using more expensive ingredients. They have their own kind of "authenticity" as well.
posted by slkinsey at 8:29 AM on May 20 [2 favorites]


I’d like to just lay down a marker here and note that, having grown up in Georgia in a working class (i.e., one generation removed from subsistence farmers) family that was Southern since at least pre-1740s, and having been weaned on black-eye peas, grits, greens and potlicker, hominy, fried chicken, fried okra, cat-head biscuits and gravy, watermelon and ice tea, I had never encountered — in any home cooked meal, meal with friends, potlucks, reunions, or local cafeteria or other restaurant menus — that “authentic Southern dish” of chicken and waffles until about ten years ago, in Phoenix.

Now it seems to be fricking everywhere, including whole restaurants based on the theme. I just don’t know what to think about it.
posted by darkstar at 8:33 AM on May 20 [27 favorites]


Kind of like how people of color generally have to try extra hard to get the same opportunities white people have in normal employment markets, combining Asian, Latinx, and other non-white cuisines with fine dining is not usually successful in the US, and even chefs in the super diverse SF Bay Area have to be over-the-top skilled, expert, and award winning if they're of a marginalized identity and background, cooking in marginalized food heritages, and trying to do that in fine dining, farm-to-table concepts. It obviously can be done, but the disparity is shocking. (And not trying to throw white fine dining chefs in the trash here - some of them overcome huge adversity as well, but, well, their restaurants get funding easier, and face less harsh criticism in general for similar efforts.)

That's one reason an incubator like La Cocina exists in San Francisco.

Anyhow, tl;dr it's almost Sisyphean to try to charge fine dining prices for non-white-heritage foods in the food industry, even in the SF Bay Area, and chefs who try face a lot of extra challenges. Even though a nouveau California place like Zuni Cafe can get away with charging $63 for a whole roasted chicken.
posted by kalessin at 8:34 AM on May 20 [4 favorites]


Also, tacos made with peas sounds fantastic.
posted by darkstar at 8:34 AM on May 20


I had never encountered that “authentic Southern dish” of chicken and waffles until about ten years ago, in Phoenix.

Non-Southerners often think of "the South" as a monolith, so a dish that's common in one small area will suddenly catch on with restaurateurs and be presented as simply "Southern" when it's really East Tennessean or something. See also shrimp and grits.
posted by showbiz_liz at 8:39 AM on May 20 [20 favorites]


tacos made with peas sounds fantastic
But not guacamole.
posted by neroli at 8:39 AM on May 20 [2 favorites]


> Non-Southerners often think of "the South" as a monolith, so a dish that's common in one small area will suddenly catch on with restaurateurs and be presented as simply "Southern" when it's really East Tennessean or something. See also shrimp and grits.

...or anything called barbeque.
posted by ardgedee at 8:40 AM on May 20 [10 favorites]


Very curious that any white food culture like Italian or southern food doesn't experience this type of "authenticity" gate-keeping.

Even this happens to European foods outside those that lean heavily on French-inspired tradition. For example, in the history of NYT reviews only one Italian restaurant has achieved its highest rating.


I had never encountered .. . that “authentic Southern dish” of chicken and waffles until about ten years ago

One of the things that hilarious about certain "iconic" and "authentic" American foods is how the perceived ubiquity and history of these foods is often complete bullcrap. Just to make a few examples: Pimento cheese? Comes from New York, and no your southern grandmother probably didn't have a from-scratch recipe handed down from your ancestors. Juleps? Those are probably from New York as well. That southern favorite fried green tomatoes? Comes from the northeast and midwest, and practically no one was making them until the movie came out. Shrimp and grits? Again, was confined to a pretty small locale in the South Carolina low country until Bill Neal brought wide attention to the dish in his restaurant Crook’s Corner (located in not the South Carolina low country Chapel Hill, North Carolina). And so on.
posted by slkinsey at 8:42 AM on May 20 [9 favorites]


Related, there's this comic on the Colonial Roots of Pimento Cheese, about the search for post-colonial authenticity in Philippine food.
posted by dinty_moore at 8:42 AM on May 20 [8 favorites]


A side note: I feel like the current intensification of the search for "authenticity" has a lot to do with the whole narrative of "unlike the Boomers, we don't care about things [bad, selfish, materialistic]; we care about experiences[real, meaningful, make you a better person]"....which are treated as though they're things to be collected and displayed.

Like, the "experience" of having an enjoyable meal isn't enough; it has to be the "correct" enjoyable meal which can be documented and pedigreed so that you can talk about it correctly and post it on Instagram. An enjoyable meal which isn't documentable isn't really an enjoyable meal, because the enjoyment is only fractionally in the eating.
posted by Frowner at 8:48 AM on May 20 [28 favorites]


My high school hosted a diversity/interfaith event when I was 16 and our choir sang; it was some cheeseball thing with a few speakers, our choir, yadda yadda. But far and away one of my favorite ever speakers at that event was a lawyer who happened to be of Chinese descent; she said that she often had people ask her for recipes. She raised an eyebrow and said, deadpan, "...I have a great recipe for linguine, but I'm pretty sure that's not what they mean."

I think this might be one of the stepping stages that happens as the world familiarizes itself with a region's cuisine, though. First there's the "....that's actually a thing? Lemme try it" stage, where the outside world first learns about a given region's food and everyone's learning what everything is, and you have some people sampling it for the first time (and there's probably some "adapting for outsiders' palates tinkering going on). Then there's the "lemme try the authentic version" stage where people may be familiar with a dish or two but are looking to explore more and/or go past the bowlderized-for-outsiders version. In time you get to the "No, I'm sure THIS is the most authentic recipe for [blah]" stage, where everyone's at least heard of a dish or two and are squabbling over what recipe is most "authentic" and what recipe is the bowlderized version.

I may not be explaining what I mean all that well, so here's an example: bouillabaisse. It's a Provencal fish stew, using a whole lot of different fish simmered in a broth and served with bread and a sauce made with garlic and saffron and cayenne. Today you find scores of different recipes for bouillabaisse and scores of different opinions about it, each different chef swearing up and down that a real recipe has to include [insert name of fish here] or else it's not real bouillabaisse. But the original Provencal fishermen who came up with the recipe treated it as a catch-all, meant to use whatever fish they caught that day and whatever was left over after the bulk of their catch was brought to market. It was meant to be a clean-out-the-fridge-and-stretch-the-leftovers thing, and the important part wasn't the type of fish used, it was the creativity of the cook in figuring out what to do with whatever they got ("Okay, let's see - today we have some grouper, some rockfish, and....half an octopus?....Okay, weird, we'll work with it, maybe just try upping the leeks").

And then as others first sampled bouillabaisse they of course all had different chef's recipes, which of course led to different opinions about what made for "authentic" bouillabaisse - because one "newbie" may have had a batch that was heavy on the rockfish, and another may have had a batch that was all scrod or whatever; and over time, certain ingredients got enshrined as being more "authentic" than others, as people got away from the original "we're using up whatever fish we caught that day" point of the dish.

So what I'm saying is that I wonder if in a couple generations we're going to move on from "where can I find authentic Mexican food" and get to "an authentic taco is made from a corn tortilla, NOT a flour one, and the only acceptable fillings are {blah}."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:52 AM on May 20 [12 favorites]


Also interesting how a lot of Chinese and Mexican restaurants are expected to be cheap - if it dares to aspire to any kind of upscale or fine-dining range it's automatically not "authentic" and all the sudden a "pricey rip off". Very curious that any white food culture like Italian or southern food doesn't experience this type of "authenticity" gate-keeping.
Even this happens to European foods outside those that lean heavily on French-inspired tradition. For example, in the history of NYT reviews only one Italian restaurant has achieved its highest rating.
I mean, yes, it can be devalued in other ways. And I gather there was an era, maybe in the 80s or earlier, when Italian food that cost real money and went beyond pizza-joint or red-sauce-checkered-tablecloth stuff was weird to people. But at this point everyone accepts that Italian food (or British pub food, or tapas, or Scandinavian food, or etc) is allowed to cost some money, aspire to fanciness, and involve creativity on the part of the cook and curiosity on the part of the eater. Where Chinese and Mexican food aren't even really "permitted" that by most white restaurantgoers, who just expect them to be cheap, "authentic," and predictable.

If you go to a high-end Italian restaurant where something you've never seen before is on the menu, you go "Wonderful! What a brilliant and inventive chef!" When you go to a Chinese restaurant where something you've never seen before is on the menu, the standard reaction is either "Wow, a whole Authentic Regional Tradition I didn't know about," or (if you learn the chef invented it themself) "Ugh, what a jerk, how Dreadfully Inauthentic." And either way you don't value their work enough to pay a bunch for it — unlike high-end Italian or French food, where dropping a bunch of money for stuff done artistically seems fine.
posted by nebulawindphone at 8:53 AM on May 20 [6 favorites]


To be honest I would like to try the actual recipes people eat in other places that haven't been edited for what someone thinks Americans like and I don't think there's anything wrong with that. Just because people throw the word authentic around until it doesn't mean anything or until it hurts someone doesn't mean the concept itself is bad. Especially because then all I ever hear is that "oh well you actually have no idea what people REALLY eat" if you say that you like Thai or Mexican food or whatever. Well ok what do they eat then? I just want to know???
posted by bleep at 8:56 AM on May 20 [25 favorites]


I just like food. I also like not getting sick from milk. So I don't give a flying fig about authenticity- I just want to be able to eat out in restaurants and not have a terrible time later, and most "western" cuisines are laden with cream. Went with my ex to a great local Italian place... I ordered smartly- still got super sick. So while I don't care about 'authenticity' on paper- unfortunately in practice the cool neat creative 'non-authentic' dishes are sometimes cheese/cream/yogurt laden death (to me) bombs. So I do tend to stick to 'authentic' or 'authentic-ish' Japanese, Chinese, and Thai etc places, largely out of respect of my intestines. If we could just have more variety in non-dairy cuisine from all cultures and places, I would be a very happy neanderthal.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 9:02 AM on May 20 [3 favorites]


To be honest I would like to try the actual recipes people eat in other places that haven't been edited for what someone thinks Americans like and I don't think there's anything wrong with that. Just because people throw the word authentic around until it doesn't mean anything or until it hurts someone doesn't mean the concept itself is bad. Especially because then all I ever hear is that "oh well you actually have no idea what people REALLY eat" if you say that you like Thai or Mexican food or whatever. Well ok what do they eat then? I just want to know???
Yeah, and a desire for authenticity that stems from genuine curiosity about how people live is great.

But if someone's approach to Mexican food is "I'm curious what everyday street food in Mexico City is like, and I want the cooks to be a conduit that brings that tradition to me unaltered" and their approach to Italian food is "Do something interesting! Be creative! Show off your own personal ingenuity and skill!" then that double standard would make me think that that person had some messed-up ideas about who gets to be an artist or have agency.

(It sounds like you're not that person. Which is great. But that person is out there.)
posted by nebulawindphone at 9:05 AM on May 20 [11 favorites]


> A side note: I feel like the current intensification of the search for "authenticity" has a lot to do with the whole narrative of "unlike the Boomers, we don't care about things [bad, selfish, materialistic]; we care about experiences[real, meaningful, make you a better person]"....which are treated as though they're things to be collected and displayed.

The postwar and baby boom generations had their own quests for authenticity, particularly in music. Without endless quests for and dissections of authenticity in folk and blues, Bob Dylan would have been writing TV jingles and the Rolling Stones would have been a short-lived skiffle band.
posted by ardgedee at 9:06 AM on May 20 [5 favorites]


Most of my grandmother's Polish recipes were actually German or Russian or Czech or Hungarian and my dad looks Mongolian cause Poland has had troubles.

I talk to lots of tourists. Asheville, a city of 86k, can get 30k tourists on a bad day. They see all the people downtown and ask me what is going on cause they think they are some special snowflake for coming here. They don't get that what they see is something they have created. Do they try for "authentic" in Disneyland? Would they like a fried gizzard and some hominy? Wash it down with moonshine? Drive a bear away from the grill with a sharp stick? Prolly not.

I did get an idea from this thread tho. Next time we have locusts and wild honey I'm making tortillas.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 9:08 AM on May 20 [5 favorites]


Especially because then all I ever hear is that "oh well you actually have no idea what people REALLY eat" if you say that you like Thai or Mexican food or whatever.

This is something that the article, which I loved, doesn't get into, but certainly is in my thoughts. Now I certainly don't mean to imply that it's equal to the experiences being described, but I think it is a driver.

There is this sense that I'm going to be shamed for going somewhere "inauthentic", which matters a whole lot more to me than the authenticity.
I'm just never going to mention that I went to the Indian place up the road, because I didn't do it for an "authentic experience", I did it because I was lazy and tired, it smells amazing and is beside the bus stop. But if I said "I had some really good Indian food", there's a solid chance that I'll be subjected to an explainer about how their palak paneer is a filthy imposter because it had potato, and I may as well have eaten muck off the floor.

Which again, I don't mention so much as an "oh woe is me", but because I think it's part of the problem. It's also more likely to be another white person telling me off than it is anyone who's opinion might be relevant.
posted by AnhydrousLove at 9:11 AM on May 20 [8 favorites]


I have insanely mixed feelings about this.

This author is 100% correct in that we shouldn't hold anyone to some kind of weird colonialist standard. Everybody gets to define the cuisine of their family.

BUT.

I'm a whitey mcwhiterson. Like if I took one of those 23 and me things, I'm pretty sure it would come back as "Your great grandfather lied about the little bit of Native American". But I also grew up working in a Chinese restaurant owned by my best friend's grandfather. And noting the differences between what got served and what was eaten in the back room and at holidays at their house. There was a difference.

Fast forward to now, there's a place here where I live across the country from where I grew up that serves food like I remember my Chinese kinda grandfather making. Also there's a super high end Chinese place that's owned and operated by a white guy who went to French cooking school. The high-end place has some bomb dishes, to be sure. But I find it kind of upsetting that he can charge like three times what the other place does based on some arbitrary metric.

I would never advocate that the place owned by the French educated guy should be shut down, or picketed or whatever. But I feel weird eating there. Maybe it's because the idea of 'authentic' is steeped in a colonial background that it's so damaging, but I also don't think everyone's culture should be completely fair game, either.

Maybe this is something that's best left up to other people, I don't know.
posted by lumpenprole at 9:15 AM on May 20 [16 favorites]


Instead of authentic we should just say whether the food was shitty or well executed.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 9:17 AM on May 20 [11 favorites]


Whenever I hear someone demanding "authentic" or "traditional" dishes, to my ears they're demanding to eat in a very small, poorly-curated, museum.
posted by Thorzdad at 9:28 AM on May 20 [11 favorites]


My white friends are usually disappointed when they visit my "home country" of the Philippines (I was born in New Jersey) because they compare the trip to their authentic experiences in Thailand or Vietnam. Their criticisms include the absence of a true Filipino culture. They weren't expecting beach resorts, fast food, and all the working class Filipinos knowing English. Whenever I try to explain the history of American Colonialism in the country, it's usually brushed away.

Filipino food has basically been invisible in the foodie scenes of the coasts despite our large populations in NYC and SF, but it gave me the luxury of never having to deal with authenticity criticisms from white people directed at our food. I fear that the rise of Filipino food may make it more marketable to white foodies and force me to face these criticisms like everyone else.
posted by Become A Silhouette at 9:31 AM on May 20 [20 favorites]


Whenever I hear someone demanding "authentic" or "traditional" dishes,

This restaurant has authentic cuisine, which means it's grain and pulses 6 days a week, with the occasional tripe/trotter/gizzards/calf's head, because we sold the meat for cash, as well as only pickled or root cellar-ed vegetables in the winter.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 9:32 AM on May 20 [14 favorites]


We struggle with this in Grand Rapids. My cohort of global-citizen millennials don't want to eat at Chili's or 5 guys. We want food that's made local by locals with local flavor, but we also don't want food that pretends to be something it's not.

There is the "old guard" of mexican restaurants, some owned by immigrants, some owned by white people. The flavors are bland, the sensibilities are bland. They have relied on the past 30 years of american consumers to define what they are today. The hot sauce often has mayo in it. We eat there to support local business, but the flavors are always quite disappointing, about on par with a Panera.

There are also the "authentic" mexican-owned places. People in my cohort love to go to a few that are very welcoming - with english-speaking staff, in convenient locations, and good decor. The flavor seems to be what you'd expect from an "authentic" mexican restaurant. If they served peas and potatos in their tacos, I doubt people would turn their noses up. Just went to a place called "la casa del pollo loco" which served only chicken they had roasted over firewood out back.

Then there are the high-class places. One place called "Donkey Taqueria" sells tacos for $4 each, 10-oz beers for $5 each, and is owned by a local restaurant conglomerate. My coworkers from mexico assure me that the menu is very close to what they eat in Mexico City at fine dining restaurants. However, the ownership makes me complain. It is a Puerto Rican family that also owns a gastro pub, a ramen bar, a mexican fine dining place downtown, and others.

The same owners just opened a place called Hancock, specializing in really spicy fried chicken. DAMN it is GOOD. But it's also right next door to 40 Acres, the first fine-dining restaurant owned by and catering to african americans. Also good

In this timeline, liking a certain chicken sandwich means you hate gay people. We're trying to do the best we can with the information we've got. Authenticity is part of that.
posted by rebent at 9:35 AM on May 20 [6 favorites]


I, uh, yeah. Authenticity is a vastly complex thing in food and I feel like all I can do is read as many takes as possible. Possibly it's just too broad of a term - as well as all the problematic senses used by the Authenticity Knobs, to me as a Brit born in the eighties it initially just meant "I want to eat a version of this cuisine which isn't one that's been diluted to cater to the tastes of a population who'd probably be happier eating thin gravy served over wet newspaper." But yeah, at least the fight over the word is a way into getting smarter and better about how I think about food.

As I sidebar I did also enjoy Dave Chang on this, after initially thinking he was a bit of a thoughtless blowhard in the first episode of Ugly Delicious, I've followed his podcast and the man is intensely introspective and way more thoughtful than I initially assumed.
posted by ominous_paws at 9:51 AM on May 20 [5 favorites]


I live in Texas. We are surrounded by Mexican restaurants, some Are North American chains, some are owned by Mexican families, some are owned by trendy white folks, and they all have their place. There’s a little place almost walking distance that has been here and not updated since the 50s. They have $1 tacos, and the parking lot is filled with work trucks. There’s a place that specializes in Interior Mexican, a place that specializes in coastal Mexican, a place that specializes in Tex mex, a Guatemalan place that some people think is Mexican, and a place where you can ask for the menu in Spanish, and it’s an entirely different menu than the English menu.

They are all great in their own sphere, and I can’t speak to authenticity, but now I want some guajillo enchiladas.
posted by SecretAgentSockpuppet at 9:58 AM on May 20 [8 favorites]


Heh. I live in a Mexican city of a million people that is 60% Mayan. There are a collection of Mayan cuisines and all of the 'Mexican' food in the city is influenced one way or another by them. Remind me what "authentic" is again?

And of course one thing "authentic" is for certain is living in the past. The city I live in contains many many Mexicans. Pizza is well represented. The convenience stores are full of potato chips and Doritos and Hostess products and Magnum ice cream bars. I'd say probably the most common cheap food is grilled pork and cheese sandwiches served on a bun.

I seldom see these items on the menu in Authentic Mexican Restaurants. But then they have trouble getting the traditional meals right, how can we expect them to be up to date?
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 10:02 AM on May 20 [11 favorites]


Great post!
Maybe I already told this before: when I was very young, I was on a stipend at the national Academy in Rome. It was a good life. Apart from how great it is to live in Rome on a stipend, it was also great to dine at the academy and the associated arts club with other artists and academics from all fields, and to learn from them. We did great field trips, and generally had good times.
But we always fought about food authenticity. The majority (including some people who became great friends) felt that a dirty bar filled with angry old men was the most authentic Italian experience. I loved Italian films, and wanted to dine where the Cinecitta-stars dined. I wanted to sit on a terrasse wearing a silk scarf and sun glasses and eat delicious four-course meals. I wanted to meet people my own age, not angry old men. Happily, my boyfriend was on my side.
If I had to save money (which you rarely did on a stipend back then), I'd rather buy a panino in a grocery store than sit in those dumps and drink sour wine.
Luckily, the secretary of the Academy was married with an Italian and lived the Italian way, and she sometimes took us all on weekend trips that were genuine in the sense that they where trips her Italian husband's family would take, or her Italian friends. With her, we went to the mountains to restaurants based on wildlife and foraging, or to seafood places in Ostia. Or wineries in Frascati and Orvieto. I still love Italy, and I've taken my kids there nearly every year. They've eaten in well-known restaurants and at pizza places that are holes in the wall, but all high quality.
All of this I guess is also a comment on the whiteness stuff. I'm so old that when I went to Italy back then, it was a poor country and not at all "white". My best friend who is Italian was always, but always stopped by the police and searched everywhere north of the Alps. That has changed, and I hope in my lifetime it will change for those people who are othered today.

But since then, I've had almost exactly the same experience traveling with colleagues and other associates in Asia and in the Middle East. It's so frustrating.
posted by mumimor at 10:11 AM on May 20 [5 favorites]


The most interesting experience I've had with regard to the authenticity and the validity of cuisines comes from the early days of a new Indian restaurant in my city. When it first opened, the menu was just this dense, willy-nilly list of dish names, sorted in the typical way with appetizers/chaat, soups, and bread separate, and the entrees listed by type of meat/vegetarian. They had a wide geographical range of Indian food traditions represented on the menu (dosas/uthappams got their own section) with plenty of things I didn't recognize at all, but also several things I recognized as coming from a completely different culinary tradition: nestled in among the kormas and vindaloos and curries there would be oddities like "Spring Rolls" and "Kung Pao Chicken". What were these takeout-Chinese mainstays doing on the menu of an Indian restaurant? Apparently they were recreations of Chinese takeout food as typically made in India; this was food in a Chinese-Indian tradition no less valid (or more valid, depending on how you feel about Chinese-American food in the first place) than the Chinese-American tradition one can find at thousands of eateries across America. And this was surely authentic, in the sense of being something that Indian people (albeit Indian people craving Chinese food) would choose to eat.

(They still have Chinese food on their menu, but they're now sorting it by regional subcuisine, and all of those dishes are under "Indo-Chinese", provoking less of a doouble-take than when they were in among what Americans think of as more traditionally Indian food.)
posted by jackbishop at 10:44 AM on May 20 [21 favorites]


For example, in the history of NYT reviews only one Italian restaurant has achieved its highest rating.

Yes, and at any given time only five or six restaurants even have four stars, and I think the star system only started in the 1960s, when NYC Italian meant red-sauce joints, often comforting and homey but not exactly known for their culinary ambition, and most high-ending dining in NYC was indeed French. (The current list, as far as I can recollect, includes two French (Jean-Georges, Le Bernadin), one New American (EMP), and one Japanese (Nazakawa). Del Posto just got demoted in a re-review in the past couple weeks.)

There have been an entirely respectable number of NYT three-star Italians, with long-standing critical favorites like Babbo (well, oops) and Marea. They are not oppressed. It's kind of weird to class them with the Chinese or the Mexicans, who do still have their struggles to be taken seriously.
posted by praemunire at 10:46 AM on May 20 [1 favorite]




In terms of Japanese food, authentic food is what comes to your table. Inauthentic food is on the plates displayed in the window.

To me it’s all about being an expert in other people’s culture. A self proclaimed expert.
posted by njohnson23 at 10:50 AM on May 20 [1 favorite]


I had never encountered .. . that “authentic Southern dish” of chicken and waffles until about ten years ago

I always figured it was invented at Roscoe's here in Los Angeles.
posted by sideshow at 10:57 AM on May 20 [5 favorites]


I think I agree with most people on this thread in thinking that when people say "authentic" they mean something different from "not false or imitation; made or done the same way as an original." But it's hard to say exactly what it is that is being implied. I think back to a trip a few years back to visit my in-laws in Manhattan, KS. We took a number of fairly lengthy road trips to various locations around KS, and tried to grab meals in whatever noteworthy places might be on our route. Many of these were highly-regarded "farmhouse" restaurants featuring "home-cooked food." We were expecting fresh and preserved local produce and meats, everything made from scratch, etc. I should hasten to point out that we were also expecting a non-fancy setting and fairly simple midwestern cooking, but figured this would allow the ingredients to shine. What we got instead was vegetables that had clearly come from a gigantic can, "ham steaks" made from slices of reconstituted ham, etc. -- the typical Sysco stuff. On the one hand, this food was as "authentic" as can be, because it represented what the people in those communities were actually eating today. But it felt "inauthentic" to us, because it didn't represent what the people in those communities were actually eating 50+ years ago.
posted by slkinsey at 11:03 AM on May 20 [2 favorites]


when NYC Italian meant red-sauce joints
The very existence of the phase "red-sauce joint" reflects an anxiety about authenticity, a way to both dismiss and recoup a cusine that isn't "real" Italian food.
posted by neroli at 11:03 AM on May 20 [3 favorites]


The very existence of the phase "red-sauce joint" reflects an anxiety about authenticity, a way to both dismiss and recoup a cusine that isn't "real" Italian food.

This is reminding me of a conversation I had with the proprietor of Irish Books and Graphics, a bookstore that used to be in downtown Manhattan. i was still in college, and hip-deep in my Hiberniophile stage, and was chatting away with the owner; and at some point we were talking about the upcoming St. Patrick's Day holiday, and I got all snooty about how "corned beef isn't even a thing in Ireland, but most Americans don't know that, poop on them" basically.

The proprietor raised an eyebrow and pointed out that "it may not be Irish, but it is definitely Irish-American, and that's very much equally valid." The "adapting our own recipes to what we can find in the new land" version of a recipe may no longer resemble the original recipe, but that doesn't mean it's lesser-than. It's a new regional variant, she argued, reflecting the migration history of that country's people, and was just as worthy of respect.

And that kind of thing happens all over. Like the Indian-takes-on-Chinese-dishes jackbishop refers to above, or the various impacts Portugal has had on both Chinese and Japanese cuisine (tempura wouldn't be a thing if not for Portuguese traders centuries ago). Or Cajun cuisine, which descended from the food of the Acadian settlers in Maritime Canada - which itself descended from the cuisine from the Acadian settlers' own native France.

Considered one way: jambalaya is considered "authentically" Cajun by most, I'd wager, just as paella is considered "authentically" Spanish and pilav "authentically" Middle Eastern. But then when you consider that Spain had a heavy amount of Islamic influence in the Middle Ages, and that Spanish settlers also mixed and mingled with people in New Orleans, it isn't much of a leap to speculate that Muslims in Medieval Spain were trying to make pilav and started fooling around with the new ingredients available to them in Spain, and that's how we got paella; and then Spanish colonists who moved to New Orleans tried playing around with paella when they got here and that's how we got jambalaya. So - does that mean that only pilav is "authentic" and the other two are just copies?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:49 AM on May 20 [10 favorites]


Speaking as someone who relearned Chinese cooking methods primarily from white, English and Chinese speaking sinophiles, I think authenticity is highly contextual, complex, and subtle, and defies single use case definitions.
posted by kalessin at 11:54 AM on May 20 [7 favorites]


I've struggled with this for most of my life, because the "authentic" Armenian food I grew up eating at my grandparents' house was revealed over many years to actually be Turkish food, with Turkish names, not at all recognizable to most other diaspora Armenians I met. Or, if they recognized it, they'd recoil in horror, real or feigned - "where'd you hear that was Armenian?? That's Turkish food!" Which makes sense, of course, because my great-grandparents lived in what was to them Armenia but what is now modern-day Turkey, and fled the genocide to the US. Clearly they lived in a diverse, border-town-like region, and drew influences from both cultures, and passed down favorite recipes with the names they knew them by.

To have clear-cut boundaries around an "ethnic cuisine" therefore seems like a childish illusion to me, or an expression of one's historical privilege. My ancestors didn't get to control where the Turkish-Armenian border ended up, and neither did I. And when they tried to cook that food in the US starting in the 1920s, they had to adapt it to the ingredients they could get locally. Of course it doesn't taste "authentic" - I can't even define what that might mean in my familial context.
posted by potrzebie at 12:05 PM on May 20 [10 favorites]


The very existence of the phase "red-sauce joint" reflects an anxiety about authenticity

Are we going to pretend that we don't know what kind of food and restaurant I'm talking about? I couldn't care less whether the food served in such places was or is considered Italian or Italian-American or whatever; it was intended as affordable and pitched at a relatively broad audience and was not in culinary competition with, e.g., Lutece.
posted by praemunire at 12:15 PM on May 20 [2 favorites]


Kalessin, you've just reminded me about the two Chinese cookbooks I have, both of which probably offer their own unique takes on the "authentic" question.

* One that I'm diving into is "All Under Heaven". It's a deep dive into the various distinct regional cuisines from all over China, and that's part of why I got it (I was really curious about Uighur food in the specific; an ex told me it's the best 4-am drunk food on earth). There's some things in there familiar to more Western palates, but there are also things like various Macau specialties that show a European influence, a soup from the north of China that's more Russian, foods from the west that are more Central Asian...it's really comprehensive. Which sounds like it'd ping the "authentic" button. But it's by a Caucasian woman who moved to China and worked as an interpreter in a museum for years and years, and was a serious foodie with an equally-foodie husband, and started a blog about her own learning-to-cook-Chinese adventures.

* Then there's the "Cultural Revolution Cookbook", a book by a woman who was a political dissident during Mao's regime and ultimately fled to the US. The food is much more simple and "home-cooking-y" than what you'd usually find in other "Chinese cookbooks" for Western markets, but that's because the author is focusing on "here's stuff we were actually eating during the Cultural Revolution". There's not as many of the sauces and ingredients that the West has come to associate with "Chinese food", but that's largely because at this time many of the people who lived in China didn't have these ingredients to work with either.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:22 PM on May 20 [7 favorites]


I thought chicken & waffles was more a Southern Diaspora thing found among folks who left the South?

When I hear a restaurant described as "authentic", it makes me think of a certain class of white diner who think that the presence of *other* white diners in a restaurant dilutes the authenticity of their dining experience.
posted by rmd1023 at 12:24 PM on May 20 [3 favorites]


I always thought chicken and waffles was invented in the movie Mildred Pierce! Somebody do a post about chicken and waffles and why it is suddenly so popular.
posted by interplanetjanet at 12:25 PM on May 20 [1 favorite]


Embedded in the article was a link to Five myths about pizza--fascinating and not to be missed.
posted by polecat at 1:01 PM on May 20 [1 favorite]


Good food is good food, bad food is bad. Authentic is meaningless. If someone eats it then it's authentic food. American Chinese food is delicious when made properly as are the various regional Chinese foods. I'm just happy that if you look in most places you can find the latter now instead of just the former.

My ex is Russian. Her family never heard of stroganoff and a lot of other foods we'd recognize as "Russian", possibly because her family is Jewish. When they came to the US they substituted hot dogs for the sausages they'd get back home, other ingredients were swapped out, etc. Now that you can find those ingredients in the US they still haven't swapped back. Nothing about those changes makes the food any less "authentic", just different.

I was reading an article recently about a Vietnamese guy raised in America since he was a child who went back to Vietnam and found quite a bit of the food unrecognizable since what we consider authentic here is cuisine frozen in amber since the 1970s when Vietnam itself has pulled in more outside influences and progressed.

Food is like language, always evolving, and we should consider ourselves lucky that we don't have the culinary equivalent of Sanskrit or Latin.
posted by mikesch at 1:10 PM on May 20 [9 favorites]


I thought chicken & waffles was more a Southern Diaspora thing found among folks who left the South?

I thought it was a Chicago thing, which matches with this theory because of the huge African-American diaspora to Chicago (among other places).
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 1:15 PM on May 20 [1 favorite]


When chicken and waffles started getting nationally popular, the story I remember reading about it was basically this one, involving a restaurant in Harlem and later one in LA. I wonder if part of the issue is that people conflate American Black food with Southern food, and have decided on that basis that its roots must have been Southern.
posted by nebulawindphone at 1:20 PM on May 20 [5 favorites]


Yellow corn grits and a little cheese and hot sauce in a corn tortilla make a fine, and super cheap, breakfast. I ate 'em for ages.
posted by Bee'sWing at 1:21 PM on May 20


I was reading an article recently about a Vietnamese guy raised in America since he was a child who went back to Vietnam and found quite a bit of the food unrecognizable since what we consider authentic here is cuisine frozen in amber since the 1970s when Vietnam itself has pulled in more outside influences and progressed.

There's a very popular cookery show on Danish TV with two brothers, and one season they went to the US to visit a community of Danish immigrants to see what they were eating. It was hilarious. A mix of how the town's version of Denmark was from before WWII, and of how that vision had been distorted through the ages.
But the show was really sweet. The brothers cooked "authentic" Danish food the best they could, and had a great time exploring America and making friends with the townspeople.

And like a couple people mentioned above: authentic food for the immigrant ancestors of these people would probably have been different variations on grain and/or potatoes cooked into a mulch. With a slice of cured pork at Christmas. This is why they didn't bring along old recipes from the great houses of Scandinavia. If you were rich, you didn't migrate.
posted by mumimor at 1:31 PM on May 20 [9 favorites]


That said, course rye bread with boiled potato on butter and with salt and chives is delicious.
posted by mumimor at 1:33 PM on May 20 [3 favorites]


The last time I was in New York, for reasons due primarily to proximity to my hotel, I ate Spicy Cumin Lamb Hand-Ripped Noodles from Xian Famous Foods. This is pretty much the antithesis of authenticity - the restaurant is a rapidly expanding chain and the owner, in this video, pretty much acknowledges the dish is not something you will find anywhere in Asia, it is simply something he and his dad came up with that tastes really good (I ate it twice within 24 hours and would happily travel to New York again solely for the opportunity to eat it again).

I really liked the article, I’ve always rolled my eyes at Authenticity Snobs. That said, I did cringe a little at this description because it accurately to the point of “is he talking about me?” describes my favorite taco joint in Southern CA that I do find myself evangelizing with some frequency: If the joint has no air conditioning, if it’s off the beaten path, if the voyeur into struggle has to “work” to find it, then the experience is supposedly richer for it. It makes the voyeur better, more worldly for having brushed up against it. In my defense, I bear no illusion that enjoying this particular “off the beaten path” taco stand gives me any idea of how people actual dine in the heart of Mexico City or anything, it’s simply that as someone who lives in a planned community in the suburbs, sometimes it is nice to find myself at a Mexican place where the meat varieties offered for tacos go beyond “chicken” or “beef”.
posted by The Gooch at 1:41 PM on May 20 [2 favorites]


I've said it before and I'll say it again: There is no such thing as "authentic" food. Everything came from somewhere. Populations move, ideas move, and if you trace "authenticity" back far enough all you're left with is grilled meat and grain porridge.

And if we're honest, that's not even what people mean by "authentic" anyway. Authenticity is used primarily as a class signal. Poor people don't care in the slightest how authentic their food is, nor how the dish they are eating is being served in another country. You know who does care? The person on a poverty safari or paying eighty bucks a plate.
posted by FakeFreyja at 1:42 PM on May 20 [4 favorites]


I make a great, authentic, South London chili, the recipe for which has been in my family for, oh, almost 20 years since I made it up. Dead authentic, and great with a slice or two of (equally authentic) Danish rye bread.
posted by 43rdAnd9th at 1:45 PM on May 20 [2 favorites]


the only authenticity in food i care about is the tomb cheese and the ancient bread yeast. give me the true grilled cheese of the pharoahs.
posted by poffin boffin at 2:02 PM on May 20 [14 favorites]


I like authentic in the sense of 'not appropriated' (e.g., I think Andrew Zimmern opening a chain of chinese food places is fucking disgusting) but mostly otherwise just care about "is the food good?" followed by "is the price sane?"
posted by axiom at 2:59 PM on May 20 [1 favorite]


rebent, you are on to something with your descriptions of midwest Mexican restaurants! The concept of "midwest spicy"--food with even a slight amount of chili heat is not something I have to take into account when ordering now that I'm in southern California

While my parents are both pasty white midwesterners, they spent some years living in Texas in the 70's and had their minds absolutely blown by Tex Mex and BBQ flavors. I grew up eating food that was spicier than anything I would eat in the restaurants around me at the time. I think midwest restaurants of all types are geared towards a more bland palate because that is what people want. So in the context of restaurants like that, it seems natural that an "authentic" push back emerges.

Like I'm trying to figure out what to call the Thai food I had from Pa Ord Express (hot tray/premade Thai food in East Hollywood) that was nothing like what I've had at a standard American Thai restaurant. It was served at one heat level and was delicious, but challenging for my belly. My initially impulse was to describe it as authentic Thai food. Should I call it Thai food that is similar to what is served in Thailand? But perhaps the bland curry paste out of can stuff that I expect at standard American Thai places is also served in Thailand? Ahhh what do words means anymore?
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 3:00 PM on May 20 [1 favorite]


My initially impulse was to describe it as authentic Thai food. Should I call it Thai food that is similar to what is served in Thailand?

Good point. Is it authentic even if it did originate in Thailand?
posted by phlyingpenguin at 3:38 PM on May 20


The thing about white people wanting to be the only white people in a restaurant cracks me up. It’s sort of the same zeitgeist as thinking you’re doing something politically productive by complaining about white people, while white. It means “I’m one of the cool ones.” (It pops up in various kinds of conversations. Mention Portland in a conversation about towns and a white person is guaranteed to say “it’s ok, but it’s SO WHITE.” It’s also the aesthetic behind “SWPL.”) Now I am a white person complaining about white people complaining about white people.
posted by Smearcase at 4:32 PM on May 20 [11 favorites]


I like my (Chilean) dad's Feijoada much more than any I've ever had in Brazil.
It tastes more authentic.
posted by signal at 5:10 PM on May 20


Authenticity really is just a social construct. When people talk about some sort of holy grail of authenticity “backstage” that thrives just beyond the edge of the so-called touristy “front stage” - you know, that off the beaten path hole in the wall restaurant that only the locals know about and patronize, at least according to every single Lonely Planet and Frommers guide - they’d be surprised to learn how often those places have been designed to give the feeling of off the beaten path “authenticity” so as to appeal to a different kind of tourist. The authenticity-seeking tourist.

Authenticity is talked about in the same way that white people have long talked about the non-West. It’s just a different, cleaner-sounding word used to justify and promulgate orientalism and otherness.
posted by nightrecordings at 5:30 PM on May 20 [1 favorite]


They still have Chinese food on their menu, but they're now sorting it by regional subcuisine, and all of those dishes are under "Indo-Chinese"....

Indian Chinese is the best Chinese. Forget vindaloo (itself a dish with Portuguese origins), you have not lived until you have had Chicken 65 or Gobi Manchurian or Hakka noodles (which are basically just ramen in magic sauce -- but what a magic sauce). I don't know about authentic, but I know about delicious, and Indian Chinese is it.

The case of Indian restaurants and authenticity is pretty interesting, actually, because Indian cuisines vary tremendously but about all you can find in the States are North Indian/Punjabi tandoor places, or possibly South Indian dosa houses. My family's cuisine (Maharashtrian/Konkan) uses a lot of seafood which is mostly not a thing for Indian restaurants in the US. So I would read a restaurant that lists a bunch of regional cuisines as feeding a mostly Indian homesick crowd who actually care about the differences between chapati (made with atta flour) and kulcha (made with maida flour).

My mom (not white) is definitely of the belief that a minority culture restaurant should have plenty of people from that minority in it. I don't think she cares about authenticity in the performative sense, but she's coming from the very logical frugal position that an immigrant/first-generation American is not going to spend cold hard cash on a restaurant meal unless it's very good and measures up favorably against their grandma's cooking. I mean, she's not wrong about that, but it does get really tiring to watch her squint at Yelp reviewer photos trying to decide if "Emily N." looks sufficiently Vietnamese to be trustworthy.
posted by basalganglia at 5:37 PM on May 20 [12 favorites]


you have not lived until you have had Chicken 65 or Gobi Manchurian or Hakka noodles

I have made it my life's goal to try 25 with chicken. With all the flavor of 25.
posted by signal at 5:49 PM on May 20


I'm currently visiting Korea, the land of my ancestors. My second day here, my parents took me to a place and ordered Korean marinated grilled chicken, served with melted cheddar-mozzarella blend for dipping. It's a restaurant run by Koreans, in Korea, filled entirely with Korean customers - I don't think it gets any more authentic than that.
posted by bring a tuba to a knife fight at 6:11 PM on May 20 [3 favorites]


Potatoes in tacos is "authentic" as far as I'm concerned. Meat is expensive. Melody's in Reseda has potato tacos if you're looking.

Many, many years ago I was in L.A. and a friend who was born and raised in Mexico told me "you have to go to Paquito Mas, that's the real shit" which I thought was kind of funny because it's a chain. Thumbs up.
posted by bongo_x at 7:32 PM on May 20 [1 favorite]


Many, many years ago I was in L.A. and a friend who was born and raised in Mexico told me "you have to go to Paquito Mas, that's the real shit" which I thought was kind of funny because it's a chain. Thumbs up.

That suggests to me a possibly workable definition: "Authentic" country X food is the menu that expats get homesick for.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 9:43 PM on May 20 [5 favorites]


The case of Indian restaurants and authenticity is pretty interesting, actually, because Indian cuisines vary tremendously but about all you can find in the States are North Indian/Punjabi tandoor places..

This is true of most all cuisines. In the case of Mexican there is also an urge to flatten a cuisine which has enormous regional variation.

Near where my parents live, a friend of theirs, from the same region in Mexico, runs a popular Mexican restaurant. He serves the usual things that Americans want (wet burritos, nachos, etc) and so does pretty well. But he also devotes an entire section of his menu to soups. This particular area of central Michoacan has an enormous variety of soups - Tarascan soup, pozoles, morizqueta, albondiga, etc - and he takes care to collect recipes and feature them on his menu. Some people appreciate this - you get the occasional review that says 'Man! Try the soups!' - but most people are not going out to a Mexican restaurant to have soup.
posted by vacapinta at 12:14 AM on May 21 [6 favorites]


I grew up in middle TN. Plenty of men put hot sauce on everything, but "hot chicken" was absolutely not a white Southerner thing until it became a food magazine sensation a decade ago. There are broad points of intersection, but there are also definitely some dishes that are more prevalent in black communities than white ones. I didn't know any white Southerners who considered chicken and waffles a thing until it became popular in trendy blue state brunch spots and then filtered back into the South. Pancakes and country ham, on the other hand...

Anyway, the only authentic Southern food experience is going to a meat-and-three when they've already sold out of all the good sides.
posted by grandiloquiet at 6:41 AM on May 21 [6 favorites]


Potatoes in tacos is "authentic" as far as I'm concerned. Meat is expensive. Melody's in Reseda has potato tacos if you're looking.

Definitely. and in gorditas and burritos too. Hot dog weiners are "authentic" in mexican dishes too, if authentic means "something someones mexican mom served them growing up". In a small town with no less than 9 mexican restuarants, one of the most "homey" ones has several dishes with hot dogs,eggs or potatoes as filling for burritos and tacos. Plus a bomb hamburger (available with actual ham on it if you want) and fried catfish on fridays especially during lent.
posted by domino at 7:06 AM on May 21 [1 favorite]


I think I agree with most people on this thread in thinking that when people say "authentic" they mean something different from "not false or imitation; made or done the same way as an original."

People’s quest for authenticity often puts me in mind of “sincere”, in the manner of Linus claiming The Great Pumpkin will visit the most sincere pumpkin patch.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 10:30 AM on May 21 [6 favorites]


"hot chicken" was absolutely not a white Southerner thing until it became a food magazine sensation a decade ago.

Hot Chicken has a pretty traceable provenance, and was invented by some specific black Nashvillian in the '30s (the specific inventor and circumstances of the invention are the stuff of myth, but it was someone close to James Thornton Prince, who opened Prince's Hot Chicken Shack). That it doesn't connect too well up to middle-Tennessee white foodways isn't that surprising, but, yeahh, it basically didn't make it out of a fairly limited community until recently, and now it's everywhere.
posted by jackbishop at 2:48 PM on May 21 [2 favorites]


Where I live there are many cheap Japanese restaurants run by Chinese and Korean cooks. The problem is the quality of the cooking--it's inauthentic because they use the wrong rice and they steam it wrong. I ate at one this afternoon.

I would call PF Chang's inauthentic Chinese food. Saying PF Chang's is just as authentic as any other Chinese cuisine is incredibly insulting to my heritage.

I would also call that recent NYC restaurant with the white owner doing "clean" Chinese food inauthentic. Inauthenticity means unethical and fake. So this really about forms of cultural appropriation over cultural sharing and intermixing.
posted by polymodus at 5:54 PM on May 21 [3 favorites]


Every so often I remember just how recent nearly every national cuisine is and am once again astonished. Unless you're eating roast game or cui and masa, your meal was probably invented a lot recently than the waltz.

Asking, "what to people who live in a different place normally eat," is an interesting question and worth asking. Often the answer is kind of disappointing. I've eaten hundreds of authentic meals in small town rural Mexico, and you can pry the Calfornia burritos from my cold, dead hands.
posted by eotvos at 10:34 AM on May 22 [2 favorites]


When I hear a restaurant described as "authentic", it makes me think of a certain class of white diner who think that the presence of *other* white diners in a restaurant dilutes the authenticity of their dining experience.

Stuff White People Like #71: Being the only white person around
Many white people will look into the window of an ethnic restaurant to see if there are other white people in there. It is determined to be an acceptable restaurant if the white people in there are accompanied by ethnic friends. But if there is a table occupied entirely by white people, it is deemed unacceptable.

The arrival of the “other white people” to either restaurants or vacation spots instantly means that lines will grow, authenticity will be lost, and the euphoria of being a cultural pioneer will be over.
posted by non canadian guy at 12:03 PM on May 22 [2 favorites]


eotvos: "I've eaten hundreds of authentic meals in small town rural Mexico, and you can pry the Calfornia burritos from my cold, dead hands."

I'mma let you finish, but actual Mexican food in Mexico vs. Mexican food in the U.S.? No frikking contest, güey.
posted by signal at 8:11 PM on May 22 [1 favorite]


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