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FoodMan

Too Authentic for you?

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From the digest about Robb Walsh's article Wild or Mild

“Each bite lubricates my lips with hot goat grease.”

“Authenticity is a powerful thing. Not enough and you get boring food, too much and you frighten the children.”

The latest from Robb Walsh, a review of La Raza and 100% Taquito, is a must read, one of his best. So much more than just a food joint’s review. If the two quotes above are not enough to stimulate your interest then the first two paragraphs alone are worth taking some time from your day to read.

I thought the above digest entry deserves it's own thread. I makes for as good discussion piece. What do you think about it? Is there such a thing as too authentic? Do you prefer the "Americanized" version of certain foods rather than the "authentic" one?

As far as 100% Taquito goes, I was under the impression that this WAS real Mexico city street food, mainly becuase a friend of mine who is from Mexico city claims so. I guess I'll be able to tell when I do visit the city myself.

Elie

edit to add link


Edited by FoodMan (log)

E. Nassar
Houston, TX

My Blog
contact: enassar(AT)gmail(DOT)com

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I can't think of a single instance where, upon eating the authentic food in the mother country (croissants, weisswurst, spaghetti, won ton soup), I thought, I like the American version better.

No wait - our frankfurters are better. It's a familiarity thing: Snapable casings are odd to me.


I'm a canning clean freak because there's no sorry large enough to cover the, "Oops! I gave you botulism" regrets.

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Uuuummm... goaty goat is probably not where I would want to go. I have had the goat in Monterrey at that famous restaurant and it was good, to me, because it was not "gamey". The same thing occurred at Arroyo restaurant in Mexico City with the lamb in maguey leaves. Lamb is ok for me, if it is not too "lamby". I was a guest and was horrified that I might have to choke it down. Luckily, it was very delicious. I draw the line at anything gamey. So, I guess that is an instance where the milder Americanized version is my preferred version.

However, the Mexican version of corn-on-the-cob is vastly superior to what we get. As I have ranted on various forums here, that Mexican, chewy, starchy, corny corn is vastily superior to the insipid sweet corn we have here. And they will put mayonaise on it, and chile powder. Wowser.


Linda LaRose aka "fifi"

"Having spent most of my life searching for truth in the excitement of science, I am now in search of the perfectly seared foie gras without any sweet glop." Linda LaRose

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A while back, I went to Kuby's--a German deli near SMU in Dallas--and bought one of each of their housemade German sausages (omitting their andouille and Southwestern style links). I took them to a friend's house where we grilled them all, along with some storebought Johnsonville brats. I then conducted a blind taste testing of the sausages and noted the rankings. The Johnsonville brats, surprisingly, came out on top. Frequent complaints about the more authentic German sausages included (a) thick, offputting casings, (b) unpleasantly soft and smooth textured meat, and above all © blandness. One of the participants was a child of German immigrants, raised in a largely German community in Wisconsin. I asked her if these were just poor representatives of the food, to which she replied, "No, they're excellent German sausages. My parents would love them. But I don't like German sausages." The next time I got together with that group of friends, I brought more links from Kuby's--this time having asked the butcher to direct me to sausages with firmer texture and more aggressive seasoning. As you might expect, this round of contenders fared much better against the Americanized supermarket brats.

In my experience, that's quite common. Palates differ from country to country and from region to region within those countries. So it's not unusual for people to adapt foreign dishes to better suit their tastes. Nor is it unusual for American restauranteurs to tailor their menus and recipes to foreign tastes when they open outposts abroad. When the first Pizza Hut opened in Lisbon, I remember being stunned at the number of people ordering a bready-crusted sardine and corn pizza. I remember a Portuguese friend who, not knowing what to do with a box of corn flakes I had bought, poured the cereal into a small bowl of passionfruit-flavored Tang. I explained to him that breakfast cereals are intended to be eaten with milk and that it's more customary to fill the bowl with the cereal, *then* add the liquid. He gave it a few tries the authentic American way (i.e., cereal first, then milk), but ultimately said he preferred it the way he'd been eating it (i.e., Tang first, then corn flakes).

The Americanization of foreign foods is often demonized by foodies (usually ignoring the fact that we're far from unique in making such adaptations). I suppose the root of that complaint is that there's something wrong with not eating a food on its own terms, as the natives eat it (those noble savages!), unadulterated and pure. If someone responds that they don't like or prefer an authentic taco (participating in the Platonic Form of the Taco), they're dismissed as narrow-minded, culturally chauvinistic, or just too lazy to acquire the taste. The flip side, of course, is that even if one comes to enjoy the "authentic" thing, it remains heresy to enjoy its Americanized corruption. (No man can serve two tacos.) And, ironically, the self-appointed arbiters of authenticity tend to be woefully underqualified for the task. The truly knowledgable (e.g., our own Theabroma) have more difficulty in drawing hard lines of authenticity, since they come to see (i) the complexity of a national or regional cuisine, which cannot be reduced to a couple of canonical textbooks in translation, the offerings of a handful of restaurants in the US, or experiences of the occasional vacation abroad and (ii) the constant flux of culinary culture, its expansions, distortions, fusions, movements, etc.

And why should we like authentic foreign foods? It should go without saying, but taste is not objective or universal. There are varying psychological, behavioral, chemical, perhaps even genetic components that go into food selection. Why should we pay the dues to acquire a particular taste? Isn't cooking all about making foods more appealling than they are in their natural state? A carrot in its natural state may have some appeal. But maybe I'd like it better with a little salt. Or steamed and with a pat of butter. Or sauteed and caramelized with brown sugar. It's not a question of experiencing the carrot on its own terms, though that might be a worthwhile experience. It's a matter of manipulating the carrot so as to get the biggest buzz of personal pleasure that can be milked from it. How is adding shredded Jack or chili con carne to a Mexican dish any different from that?

Most foodies aren't culinary anthropologists, though they may fancy themselves such. Even if they were, anthropology isn't about judging and ranking cultures--verboten actions in today's "enlightened" age. No, most foodies are simply people who live to eat. Hedonists. Epicureans. Pleasure-seekers. And excessive concern about food's authenticity (like preoccupation with religious orthodoxy) is a leading bugbear of the pleasure-seeker.

Eat what tastes good. Thus endeth the sermon.

Scott

PS This little rant isn't directed at anyone in particular. Just random thoughts on authenticity.

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Uuuummm... goaty goat is probably not where I would want to go. I draw the line at anything gamey. So, I guess that is an instance where the milder Americanized version is my preferred version.

yes, the gamey quotient definitely comes into play for me in authentic dishes, if only because dark meat can get rilly, rilly off-putting both in texture and taste. Now if it's tamales, anything's fair game (wink, wink, nudge, nudge).

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Scott-

Thanks for such a well structured and elaborate "rant". While reading it it got me thinking of some other non-authentic food items outside their country of birth, your example of pizza with corn and sardine is one. In Lebanon corn is a top choice when it comes to pizza toppings. Does it taste good? yes. Do I like it better than a thin crusted Neapolitan pizza with tomatoe sauce, cheese and basil? Hell no. So, the key term here just like what you said is "eat what you like".

This is why I never ever tell a person they are wrong in the choices they make when it comes to authentic Vs. non-authentic. A case in point: When I was in Lebanon a couple of months ago, a distant relative of mine was telling me about a trip he made to Italy recently. He loved the trip, excpet for one thing. THE FOOD!!! When I asked him to explain why the food was bad he simply said that Italians do not know how to make pizza, they do not put enough "stuff" on it. He wanted a ton of ham and meat and cheese on his pizza, just like they make it in Lebanon. The worst part came when he asked for "pepperoni" and the pizza guy kept adding crushed chillies to the pizza :smile:. I simply replied "Well, I guess they make it different over there". Oh, and he did not like the fact that Italians do not add sliced hotdogs to pasta sauce :huh:. It's his taste and I cannot/do not want to change it.

That's why I thought this article was so interesting, there comes a point when most of us need to make compromises for those we love/respect. In Walsh's case it was his daughter who seemed to be eating the goat taco to please her dad, and in turn he will buy her the "mild" tacos to make her happy even though he believes it is mediocre. So in the not too far future I have a feeling that my one year old will want to put hotdog slices in his pasta puttanesca and I have to do just that for him. Of course I will expect him to eat my duck confit with lentils in return as well.

Elie


E. Nassar
Houston, TX

My Blog
contact: enassar(AT)gmail(DOT)com

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Probably not a surprise to Scott, but I disagree to an extent.

The danger in "eat whatever tastes good", especially as we become wealthier nations, is that we never develop a more interesting palate. Just make everything high in sugar, high in salt, and high in fat. Extra butter, extra salt. Mmmm, butter, salt.

That's not to say that I think there should be a food police, but we should engage the question of authenticity actively. We should try to discover how the foods we eat sit in the history of their cuisine. We should encourage diversity in our restaurants.

I don't want Taco Bell's approach to Mexican food to infect every other cuisine out there, where salsa gets replaced by ranch and thousand island. Fusion is fine, Americanization is fine, but when it becomes the dominant approach to a cuisine, I get worried. (And worse is when it gets passed off as traditional or "real" and we go around ignorant.)

Cuisines largely arose by necessity, geography, and the concentration and mixing of distinct cultures. These aren't really issues any more. The world is becoming smaller. I can get fish sauce, tomatillos, or cous cous at my local Safeway. I can afford meat in every meal. I can afford as much cheese on anything I want. Sugar is cheap. Salt is cheaper.

If we're not careful, I think we'll become food hedonists (I think largely we are here in the US already) "eating whatever tastes good" without an attempt to get a deeper and broader palate for the bounty of the earth. We should consider it a flaw if we can't learn to enjoy and understand the subtleties of other cuisines. The thing is, we're mostly born with the same tongue, so we should be able to train ourselves to appreciate foreign foods.

You can live your life fucking anything that moves. Likewise, you can live your life adding ranch to anything you put in your mouth. I just don't think either life will result in meaningful relationships with the world's cultures and peoples, nor provide much enduring satisfaction. At least not for me.

(Scott, I call your rant and raise it one meandering response.)

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Well Hell, call me ignorant, but I've never had a problem with any indigenous foods. If I was at Rocky Point (Puerto Penasco to purists) I ate shark, shrimp, jacks, dolphins(not mammalian dolphins) or carne seca, with their salsas, their tortas, their jugos. And it was GOOD.

Now, down farther, it was totally different. Tamales 3 feet long worked on all day by every woman there. Guajalote. Different jugos. Man, it's all relative. But I think people need to change their headset about this being "Mexican" It is indigenous, Native American, North, Mid, or South. Those things which are 'popular culture' are Spanish, not indigenous. Give credit where credit is due.

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I come down more on the side of Mabelline and Scott.

We can obsess about "authenticity" ad infinitum -- certainly ad nauseum. What a way to ruin a perfectly good meal.

And besides, just how far back would the "authenticity police" need to go in order to discover the truly original, the truly authentic? Practically everybody originally arrived practically everywhere from somewhere else, most certainly bringing with them at least some dietary preferences and habits. In order to be completely "authentic" you'd have to go back to Adam & Eve, right? Which means the only truly "authentic" food is the apple.

I think that lecturing people that are citizens of a particular country (like oh say Mexico) about what they are cooking and eating and enjoying and passing down to their descendants, and deriding it as being "not authentic Mexican," is incredibly arrogant.

Of course most of the Mexicans I know just laugh at such nonsense.

I guess I should, too.

That said, my native-Texan former husband recently was complaining about all the Yankees that have moved down here to escape the northern winters. "And they've ruined the food in the Mexican restaurants," he said. "Thanks to them, it's not hot anymore." :laugh:

Edited to add:

Although to me it's obvious, I probably should point out that my comments are not directed toward serious food anthropologists. Those folks are scholarly historical researchers, often digging through ancient garbage piles trying to determine what sustained our ancestors, using this knowledge in an effort to help us understand the lives of those that trod the earth before us.

And not merely to look down their noses at those of us that like to plop a dollop of sour cream upon our Enchiladas Suizas.

Or prepare a salsa using canned tomatoes.


Edited by Jaymes (log)

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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it's not hot anymore." :laugh:

Edited to add:

Although to me it's obvious, I probably should point out that my comments are not directed toward serious food anthropologists. Those folks are scholarly historical researchers, often digging through ancient garbage piles trying to determine what sustained our ancestors, using this knowledge in an effort to help us understand the lives of those that trod the earth before us.

And not merely to look down their noses at those of us that like to plop a dollop of sour cream upon our Enchiladas Suizas.

Or prepare a salsa using canned tomatoes.

amen and flatulence to all a' that.

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I think that lecturing people that are citizens of a particular country (like oh say Mexico) about what they are cooking and eating and enjoying and passing down to their descendants, and deriding it as being "not authentic Mexican," is incredibly arrogant.

And... Some serious foodies are shocked :shock: that a lot of "authentic" Mexican cooking includes such "abominations" as Maggi, canned milk, Knorr chicken base and so on. And... the gods forbid... they are using blenders and tossing the metate in the yard as soon as electricity arrives. :laugh:


Linda LaRose aka "fifi"

"Having spent most of my life searching for truth in the excitement of science, I am now in search of the perfectly seared foie gras without any sweet glop." Linda LaRose

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Edited to add: 

Although to me it's obvious, I probably should point out that my comments are not directed toward serious food anthropologists.  Those folks are scholarly historical researchers, often digging through ancient garbage piles trying to determine what sustained our ancestors, using this knowledge in an effort to help us understand the lives of those that trod the earth before us. 

And not merely to look down their noses at those of us that like to plop a dollop of sour cream upon our Enchiladas Suizas.

Or prepare a salsa using canned tomatoes.

amen and flatulence to all a' that.

Good point, jess. Serious food anthropologists can tell us what foods were used by the people of a particular site. Their aim is not to provide us with recipes. As an anthropologist of prehistory it is true that we are mostly digging through the garbage and sometimes the funerary furniture (artifacts) which do often include food remains to discover what those people consumed. The goal is to understand their lives in a more daily context. How they harvested the natural foods of the area -- both "vegetable" and "animal" products, the progression of horticulture, pastoral societies, and eventual development of agriculture.

Not many recipes around for consumption of acorns or river snails. Though heaven knows we certainly have counted an amazing abundance of the latter. :raz::laugh:


Judith Love

North of the 30th parallel

One woman very courteously approached me in a grocery store, saying, "Excuse me, but I must ask why you've brought your dog into the store." I told her that Grace is a service dog.... "Excuse me, but you told me that your dog is allowed in the store because she's a service dog. Is she Army or Navy?" Terry Thistlewaite

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Ummm... What is a river snail?


Linda LaRose aka "fifi"

"Having spent most of my life searching for truth in the excitement of science, I am now in search of the perfectly seared foie gras without any sweet glop." Linda LaRose

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Grant Achatz--an e-Gulleteer and recently departed chef of Trio (where he earned 5 Mobil stars)--has used acorns in his cooking. See the following response to a question by Cabrales in a Chicago forum Q&A:

Before the season starts the group talks to the chefs and discusses products that they would like to use. So such oddities as skirret, and many other "wild crafted" items such as cattails, wild watercress, morels, acorns, and so on become available. Trio also works closely with a local spice purveyor that works hard to find the chef's unusual requests such as kola nuts, long peppercorns, sassafras root, mallow root, licorice root, fresh eucalypus leaves and so on.

For some acorn (and other related) recipes, check out this Acorn Link.

Scott

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Ummm... What is a river snail?

Not many recipes around for consumption of acorns or river snails. Though heaven knows we certainly have counted an amazing abundance of the latter.  :raz:  :laugh:

A river snail lives in or around a river, as in riverine environments. They are small -- nothing like our garden variety which would be pretty meaty in comparison. Much controversy was spouted about how they could be nutritionally beneficial. But when on a dig in a riverine environment anthropologists (archaeologists) were expected to count and classify snail shells found in a garbage area to evaluate the importance of the snails in the diet. Less of a general practice recently, but I have weighed in bagsful myself. :rolleyes:

Just a point -- how would you expect to get a recipe from finding the remains of raw ingredients -- no recipes there. :raz: Did they just suck them out of the shell, or use them in some other way?

Thanks, jess, just making your point :cool: -- a very different area of research.

And thanks also, Scott, for the acorns link. Yes there are recipes around for using acorns today. :biggrin: Just not ones I can identify as being "authentic" from . . . let's say . . . about 1500 AD back several thousand years. :wink: Makes you look at your old oak tree in a new light. :laugh:


Judith Love

North of the 30th parallel

One woman very courteously approached me in a grocery store, saying, "Excuse me, but I must ask why you've brought your dog into the store." I told her that Grace is a service dog.... "Excuse me, but you told me that your dog is allowed in the store because she's a service dog. Is she Army or Navy?" Terry Thistlewaite

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my comments are not directed toward serious food anthropologists. Those folks are scholarly historical researchers, often digging through ancient garbage piles trying to determine what sustained our ancestors, using this knowledge in an effort to help us understand the lives of those that trod the earth before us.

Or in some cases, determining what killed off certain groups and you don't have to go back all that far to discover some interesting mysteries solved.

For a long time no one actually knew why some of the mid-19th century arctic temporary settlements died off totally. There was some evidence of disease as the population, mostly men, sickened and died over a period of many months with it becoming more rapid as time passed.

The anthropologists that studied them finally found the critical factor. Lead poisoning.

From canned foods that they took with them to round out their diet. Early on they subsisted almost totally on foods they hunted or caught and used the tinned foods sparingly. As they began to sicken and were less able to hunt they relied more and more on the tinned foods which of course killed them more rapidly.

Had they relied on the foods of the native peoples, some of which were very odd to them, they would probably have survived instead of having faith in their "civilized" foods.


"There are, it has been said, two types of people in the world. There are those who say: this glass is half full. And then there are those who say: this glass is half empty. The world belongs, however, to those who can look at the glass and say: What's up with this glass? Excuse me? Excuse me? This is my glass? I don't think so. My glass was full! And it was a bigger glass!" Terry Pratchett

My blog:Books,Cooks,Gadgets&Gardening

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Ummm... What is a river snail?

A river snail lives in or around a river, as in riverine environments. I have weighed in bagsful myself. :rolleyes:

Thanks, jess, just making your point :cool: -- a very different area of research.

No, thank yew for elaborating on your snail point; I thought perhaps you were alluding to my er, flatulence, at which point I might suggest a person sit more than one row behind my family at church BECAUSE WE JUST HAPPEN TO LIKE AUTHENTIC MEXICAN OF A SATURDAY NIGHT, OK?!

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There seems to be a lot of confusion over terms. There can be an authentic cuisine, an original cuisine, and a traditional cuisine. None of these are necessarily the same, however.

God didn't say "Let there be Mexican food" (although if he had, he certainly would have saw it was good), and I think it would an elusive pursuit to try to find the "original" Mexican cuisine, even for an anthropologist. The best you can do is ask what people in Mexico were eating at a specific time and place.

However, certainly there is an authentic cuisine and a traditional cuisine. How do you know if something is authentic Mexican? Well, do Mexicans eat it? Have they ever eaten it? When they eat it, do they consider it the food of their country? A salsa made of soy sauce spiced by wasabi is probably not authentic Mexican. Could it be some day? Sure, if Mexicans start making it and serving it in their non-Japanese restaurants.

Would it be traditional? No. At least not for a few generations at least. Just like a metate or molcajete is traditional and a blender is becoming so, but isn't really yet worthy of being called traditional since it's only been around for a few decades.

And these questions are totally separate from the question of quality. When it's not tomato season, canned tomatoes are certainly something any cook should look at. And chips and salsa were a great invention that I wouldn't be at all disappointed to see adopted in all of Mexico.

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A river snail lives in or around a river, as in riverine environments. They are small -- nothing like our garden variety which would be pretty meaty in comparison. Much controversy was spouted about how they could be nutritionally beneficial. But when on a dig in a riverine environment anthropologists (archaeologists) were expected to count and classify snail shells found in a garbage area to evaluate the importance of the snails in the diet. Less of a general practice recently, but I have weighed in bagsful myself.  :rolleyes:

After the predictable comments about snails that live in a river... I am now wondering if they actually were a food source. Stay with me here. I notice that after a rain, all kinds of snails emerge and crawl around. If I were a snail and I had a trash heap nearby to go and forage, that is where I would go. What I am wondering is that the presence of the snail shells may not indicate that they were a food source. Maybe they just showed up later?


Linda LaRose aka "fifi"

"Having spent most of my life searching for truth in the excitement of science, I am now in search of the perfectly seared foie gras without any sweet glop." Linda LaRose

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I dug up (sorry, I can't resist) a serious Oklahoma Cherokee recipe for parched yellowjacket larva, including how to smoke out a ground nest, and remove said larvae.So who knows?

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What I am wondering is that the presence of the snail shells may not indicate that they were a food source. Maybe they just showed up later?

You mean they were like guests who show up for dinner, but you just can't get them to go home?

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