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Least corrupted ethnic cuisine


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What most americans regard as Chinese food is stuff that most Chinese people wouldn't eat. Some of the dishes may have originated in China, but they've been adapted to American tastes so much that they're no longer the same dish.

I'm wondering what ethnic cuisine is being served in America today that has been able to retain its authenticity where ethnic eaters will also eat it. On the top of my head, I think it might be Japanese food, ie sushi. It may be an incredibly narrow view of Japanese cuisine, but for the most part, it seems that American eaters have adapted more to eating raw fish rather than the cuisine having to adapt to American tastes. Other than too much wasabi and california roles, it seems that its survived remarkably intact.

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Some of the latest generation of Chinese immigrants from Fujian province (in NYC's Chinatown) - their hand-pulled noodle places along with a profusion of fish balls, seem quite authentic and they're always packed.

Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

Tasty Travails - My Blog

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When I first moved overseas, I would routinely bitchwhinemoan about how it’s the Chinese that are always ‘selling out’ – that we’re so willing to throw away our ‘culture’ for cash. Until I realized that it’s no longer just Chinese food that we’re bartering any more. The next time you dine at the neighborhood sushi joint or Korean BBQ place, go peek in the kitchen. Odds are you’ll find the cook’s line overwhelmingly dominated by – you guessed it – Chinese. My guess? Because to the ‘unfussy’ palate, Japanese and Korean food utilize pretty much the same ingredients that Chinese food does, only, you can sell it for more. The Chinese entrepreneur has it all figured out: Teriyaki grilled salmon atop a bowl of short-grain rice is not easily distinguishable from soy sauce-sugar-rice wine-marinated salmon atop long-grain rice to the average punter.

itadakimas...eat a duck i must!

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I think I understand what you mean, but the word "corrupted" has suxh negative connotations. "Most authentic" might be a better way to put it?

After all, selling food is a business. In order to attract enough customers to make money at it you usually have "adapt" any ethnic menu somewhat. There's also the consideration of being able to procure authentic ingredients and kitchen help experienced with traditional prep and cooking methods.

You could open a 100% uncorrupted Namibian bush cuisine restaurant, but I don't think roasted warthog anus is going to sell very well?

SB (and you DON'T want Tony Bourdain as your spokesperson :laugh: )

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I agree that "corrupted" includes a value judgment that kind of squashes the discussion, but I'm not sure I'd use the word "authentic" either -- the concept is generally bogus. I think I'd probably go with "least adapted."

Having properly formulated the question, I'd then point out that most imported cuisines are available in a range of styles -- including under the roof of a single restaurant. In the United States we have Chinese-American restaurants, and we have Chinese restaurants that cater to recent Chinese immigrants, some very specific to a region or narrow style. We have Chinatowns and we have Chinese buffets on suburban highway strips. You can walk into some Chinese restaurants and find tables of Americans eating moo goo gai pan beside Chinese people eating from a whole different menu. With Mexican, we have everything from Taco Bell to Southern California trucks catering to migrant workers to Frontera Grill. Italian from Olive Garden and Pizza Hut to Babbo and Felidia . . . you get the idea. So, to generalize is kind of difficult.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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And it depends on what part of the US you happen to be in. Here in Washington (DC), we have a wealth of Ethiopian restaurants, all generally teeming with Ethiopian customers, presumably eating fairly authentic (or "little-adapted") Ethiopian food. So I'd say that for Washington the answer would have to be Ethiopian. But in most of the US, there aren't any Ethiopian restaurants at all.

Then if you leave the city and cross the river into Virginia, there are scores, maybe even hundreds, of Vietnamese eateries, many of them pho houses but many not, catering to the huge Vietnamese population of Northern Virginia, and to cultural/gastronomic tourists like me. I have to assume that these places serve largely authentic (or unadapted) Vietnamese cuisine or they wouldn't have their Vietnamese clientele very long. I don't know of any Ethiopian restaurants in Virginia. So for Northern Virginia (but not the rest of Virginia), the answer would have to be Vietnamese. But in most of the US, there aren't any Vietnamese restaurants either, although they're more common than Ethiopian.

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Not to mention that even in the US, "authentic American" cuisine changes from state to state and region to region, according to local tastes.

In the US southwest, for example, many burgers from large national chains come with jalapenos or other regional adaptations.

As someone upthread said, there is always a need to cater to your target market if you want to keep your doors open.

I don't understand why rappers have to hunch over while they stomp around the stage hollering.  It hurts my back to watch them. On the other hand, I've been thinking that perhaps I should start a rap group here at the Old Folks' Home.  Most of us already walk like that.

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I agree that "corrupted" includes a value judgment that kind of squashes the discussion, but I'm not sure I'd use the word "authentic" either -- the concept is generally bogus. I think I'd probably go with "least adapted."

.

The "least adapted" cuisine isn't likely be have survived for very long.

I assume you mean to indicate a cuisine successfully introduced with the fewest alterations from its native heritage?

In that case, I might say that although its not usually considered "ethnic", classic French cooking in this Country most closely resembles its progenitor.

SB :hmmm:

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Other than too much wasabi and california roles, it seems that its survived remarkably intact.

Considering restaurant reviewers in my area (Seattle) still start reviews of Japanese restaurants with "the standards like California rolls, spicy tuna rolls, and spider rolls tasted..." and half of the average US sushi menu involves inside-out makimono or odd sculptures of caterpillars, I don't feel the same way about that. (I suppose most nigiri aren't too strange except perhaps proportionally).

Sushi is also a relatively small aspect of Japanese cuisine and not terribly frequently consumed by most people in Japan, and aside from that, what's popular here bears little resemblence to what would be appreciated in Japan. The scale also changes here. There are a few exceptions, of course... but they are exceptional.

I haven't traveled well enough in Europe to know better (only an exchange program in Germany and short trips to Austria, Luxembourg, Holland, England, and Ireland), but there seem to be fair examples of Italian and French food in the urban US if you look in the right places, even though the Olive Garden experience is more typical and proportions are generally too big even at more artisanal places.

I've also found a few Korean restaurants that were not terribly off-cue from what I've experienced in Seoul, though the range of culinary vocabulary is much smaller... Japanese and Chinese food in the US tend to be very different from my experiences in Japan, China, Hong Kong and Taiwan.

The words "authentic" and "corrupted" are not terribly useful for me. If you look at French cuisine in the US, the techniques and the values of French cooking often remain intact even with different ingredients available. I'm not impressed that a restaurant uses "authentic" imported canned mushrooms from Italy as I am when a restaurant realizes that a local producer offers a fresh cheese that serves as an excellent alternative to something that doesn't travel so well from back home.

Most of the Japanese restaurants I've seen here, even the better ones, at least sometimes abandon the Japanese sense of balance in pursuit of dramatic, strong flavors that are perceived to appeal to American customers, and too often their cooks aren't terribly good at execution of things that require more subtlety. I find that shocking, or at least disappointing, because simplicity is really a core feature of most Japanese dishes, and it just seems strange to me when something incredibly simple is done badly. Though a Murakami Haruki novel said that finding people who can truly excel at cooking simple food is one of the hardest things to do when opening a restaurant...

Almost anytime a restaurant featuring the food of another country opens in the US it's a kind of Disneyland experience... I rarely see "Japanese" restaurants in Japan, I see places that serve soba, places that serve okonomiyaki, places that serve ramen, places that serve sushi, places that serve tempura, places that serve drinking food... choose any one. Restaurants doing more than one of those things are usually "family restaurants" and aren't remarkable; and yet, people rave over unspecialized Japanese restaurants in the US that serve all of those.

The same thing happens for many other cuisines... In Korea you generally go to a binddaeddeok restaurant, a naengmyun restaurant, a ssam bap restaurant, a bulgogi restaurant, an imperial cuisine restaurant, a dwaenjang jjigae restaurant, etc, although there are certainly those places that serve various categories of home-style food in a restaurant setting.

What I hope for when eat at restaurants in the US is places that have a coherent set of values and vision around their food and emphasize good ingredients. Most of the time, if they come from a particular culinary tradition, they do that best when they transfer the vocabulary of techniques and balance of flavor from that cuisine.

When I see a restaurant in Japan sneak a bit of camembert or butter into a dish, I don't find that "unauthentic" as long as it fits into the culinary vision of the chef. However, in the US, I most often see such fusions done haphazardly, more for shock value than for quality. There's no coherence...

Jason Truesdell

Blog: Pursuing My Passions

Take me to your ryokan, please

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