While these steamed pork belly baos from San Francisco have little resemblance to the authentic ones from Taiwan, does it really matter?
Follow Me Foodie: Let’s get real
Published: August 15, 2013 1:00 PM
Updated: August 15, 2013 1:13 PM
People often argue about authenticity in food, especially if they have travelled or tried home-cooked versions of ethnic dishes. We’re lucky to live in a multi-cultural city with many diverse dining options, but there is still an ongoing quest to find authentic food. But what really is “authentic” and can it be defined? And if it is not authentic but it tastes good, does it really matter?
Authenticity in general, let alone in food, is objective and the only way it can be measured is relative to the context in which it was made and what is available.
Everyone has their own interpretation. Definitions are created through experience and we only know what we have tried. People often hold what they grew up with as a golden standard for what is considered authentic, but even this is biased. Ingredients, techniques, recipes and traditions evolve with time and so do palates. Quite often, recipes are regional, or even unique to cities. Read the full article.
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Authenticity is a gastronomic form of nostalgia. We have a vague notion of what it’s (the cuisine in question) supposed to be like, and everything is judged against this standard.
But it’s based on an assumption, that the cuisine in question is static and unchanging. The way it was done twenty, forty or hundred years ago, is the way it is and the way it should be for all time. I think this is the exception rather than the norm.
Cuisine evolves, particularly in the world today where people and cultures can easily travel the world, experience other cuisines and ingredients. They take their own culinary traditions with them when they migrate, combine them with the local ingredients to evolve the cuisine in ways that don’t exist in the “homeland”.
And it goes the direction too. The “homeland” cuisine evolves as well, when ingredients cooking methods from the around the world, reach “home” and they adopt them to suit their own tastes.
The chinese cuisine that Vancouverites know so well, is a good example of this. We have dishes made with ingredients and using techniques that don’t exist in China. But the chinese chefs here migrate back and forth across as well, and they take what they learn here and influence the cuisine back in China. In such a free flowing space, it’s hard to establish what’s authentic and what isn’t.
@Ming – thank you for your comments and insight. I agree with you. Good point on back and forth migration. Chinese food in China and Hong Kong has changed and even croissants has changed from what they used to be. Thanks for expanding on my article and thoughts. You raised solid points and said it better than me 🙂
I run into this quest for authencity a lot at work…when a customer comes to look for a certain cheese that I don’t have, I suggest an alternative and they stubbornly refuse…as if a substitute would compromise the dish. I then mention that when Chinese came to Canada we didn’t have certain ingredients and adapted(ie: broccoli, snow peas, iceberg lettuce, tomatoes, salmon, blackcod, tilapia etc., etc. which now is used in Chinese cooking). Now there are certain ingredients which authenic ethnic dishes must have because they add a certain taste. You can’t replace Nam Boc(fish sauce), anchovies, certain cheeses,Pho beef stock, fermented black beans, etc. I feel what many people are missing is that many of the immigrants that came to the New World came from humble beginnings; the Italians call a style of their food Cucina de Povera(cuisine of the poor) which uses whatever is at hand. The authenicity of food comes from a strong tradition and family background where we make the recipes our forefathers did because it tastes good. Some places stubbornly cling to the past and repeat the cusine of their ancestors. I cook fusion food ‘cos I like the adaptation of different styles of food to make a new one. The best fusion food in the world comes from Australia which can combine British, Italian and Greek cuisine with Thai, Chinese(one of the best Chinese cookbooks comes from Bruce Dobson), Vietnamese, and Pacific islands cooking. Co to this link: http://www.taste.com.au/recipes/collections
It is funny you mention Taiwanese baos in your post, Taiwan would have the authenticity police working overtime (for better or worse). Have you ever tried Shawarma in Taiwan? Its good but its not authentic Shawarma, but does it really matter?
@4SlicesofCheese – no I sadly have NOT been to Taiwan yet!! FOODIE CRIME – I know. Do you prefer the Taiwanese Shawwarma or authentic one? 🙂