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"Authentic": what does that mean, anyway?


Chris Amirault
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Carbonara, or perhaps more properly something masquerading as such, became a regular fixture at my childhood supper table in the late '60's when a family friend, a young priest who'd spent several years studying in Rome, described to my mother his best attempts to recreate that dish he missed greatly.  This was rural, northern NY.  There was bacon and ...gasp...cheese from a shaker can - supplemented with some extra sharp aged white cheddar!  The farm-fresh eggs and tons of freshly ground pepper were as close as we got to authenticity.  It became the classic "change of plans" meal that could be on the table in the time it took to boil water and cook the pasta and it was much loved.  Though I can seek out good guanciale and pecorino these days, my 1st generation Irish-American mom nailed that silky, eggy, porky, peppery sauce with the best of them. 

Maybe that's why I'm accepting of the variations?   My intro was as cheap and cheerful student food, nothing iconic. 

Edited by blue_dolphin (log)
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5 hours ago, teonzo said:

 

I'm just reporting all the infos that were published in the food media in the past years. There was a big fuss about this, because well, for many people saying that carbonara was created with American war food supplies is like killing your grandma. But all researches point in that direction.

 

 

 

 

That is the story for gricia, mainly.

It could be a good explanation for carbonara too, but there are no real proofs for this. Nothing was ever recorded or mentioned anywhere. No people recalling eating that before WWII. If it was a traditional recipe originating before WWII then it would be easy to find a mention here or there, but nothing, absolutely nothing.

 

 

 

Teo

 

 

My pictures are long gone but I recall Marshall Plan food containers being proudly displayed as window planters.  The memory makes me cry with joy.

 

 

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There's a deep dive on Eggs in Cookery. Here's the part where they focus on Carbonara, one of a member of a family of closely related preparations.

 

It's also from the Oxford Symposium...Eggs in Cookery: Proceedings of the Oxford Symposium of Food and Cookery 2006

Edited by weinoo (log)
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Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

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1 hour ago, weinoo said:

There's a deep dive on Eggs in Cookery. Here's the part where they focus on Carbonara, one of a member of a family of closely related preparations.

 

It's also from the Oxford Symposium...Eggs in Cookery: Proceedings of the Oxford Symposium of Food and Cookery 2006

Seems authoritative and thorough. Nice!

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4 hours ago, weinoo said:

There's a deep dive on Eggs in Cookery. Here's the part where they focus on Carbonara, one of a member of a family of closely related preparations.

 

It's also from the Oxford Symposium...Eggs in Cookery: Proceedings of the Oxford Symposium of Food and Cookery 2006

It's interesting that the simplest dishes often receive the most examination.   Perhaps because it is precisely their simplicity that encourages variation and hence push-back on straying from the classic.

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7 minutes ago, Margaret Pilgrim said:

Perhaps because it is precisely their simplicity that encourages variation and hence push-back on straying from the classic.

I find sometimes that the simple simplicity makes them the hardest to get right. With consistency.

My struggles with bread, pizza to name just two. Let's not start on the cacio e pepe.

 

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On 2/25/2021 at 10:14 AM, Anna N said:

But I am pretty certain during the massive immigrant influx into New York City at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century, Italians adapted. Just as they adapted and adopted tomatoes in the 15th or 16th century. Try to imagine Italian cuisine without tomatoes.

I agree with this, but I would put in one caveat - the early immigrants into NYC at the end of the 19th century were predominantly from southern Italy where tomatoes are abundant so this has skewed our traditional notion of Italian food.  But much of northern/central Italian food has very little tomato product in it so nowadays, as travel and expanded immigration have opened the rest of the world to us, many in NYC no longer consider tomato products as essential in Italian cooking.

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20 hours ago, KennethT said:

I agree with this, but I would put in one caveat - the early immigrants into NYC at the end of the 19th century were predominantly from southern Italy where tomatoes are abundant so this has skewed our traditional notion of Italian food.  But much of northern/central Italian food has very little tomato product in it so nowadays, as travel and expanded immigration have opened the rest of the world to us, many in NYC no longer consider tomato products as essential in Italian cooking.

Thank you. I am certain you are right. Nevertheless in the minds of most North Americans I would still suggest that Italian cuisine and tomatoes are inextricably linked.

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Anna Nielsen aka "Anna N"

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48 minutes ago, Anna N said:

Thank you. I am certain you are right. Nevertheless in the minds of most North Americans I would still suggest that Italian cuisine and tomatoes are inextricably linked.

As are spaghetti and meatballs.  I took my cousin to a little Italian restaurant in my neighborhood, owned and operated by Italian immigrants. The food and service are excellent. Jim asked for spaghetti and meatballs, not on the menu.  They kindly offered to make some pasta with meat sauce. He accepted but informed me that any decent Italian restaurant would make spaghetti and meatballs and I had clearly taken him to a sub-par operation. 

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17 minutes ago, liuzhou said:

 

The limitless joys of Google Mistranslate!

 

you know it. the only things, ironically enough, i remember from my free mandarin class at the library are

 

我不知道 and 我不明白
 

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3 hours ago, blue_dolphin said:

I have to tell you that two dishes spaghetti and meatballs and lasagne put me totally off “Italian” food. My late husband loved spaghetti and meatballs but he hated pasta.  Spaghetti, he would carefully explain, was not pasta. Far too much dry potluck lasagne cured me of that dish!  Eventually I did discover some pasta dishes that I enjoyed but it will never be a cuisine that calls out to me. Having said that, I was a huge fan of @Adam Balic’s generously shared knowledge of Italian cooking and tradition. 

Edited by Anna N
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...I just let people know about something I made for supper that they might enjoy, too. That's all it is. (Nigel Slater)

"Cooking is about doing the best with what you have . . . and succeeding." John Thorne

Our 2012 (Kerry Beal and me) Blog

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2 hours ago, blue_dolphin said:

As are spaghetti and meatballs.  I took my cousin to a little Italian restaurant in my neighborhood, owned and operated by Italian immigrants. The food and service are excellent. Jim asked for spaghetti and meatballs, not on the menu.  They kindly offered to make some pasta with meat sauce. He accepted but informed me that any decent Italian restaurant would make spaghetti and meatballs and I had clearly taken him to a sub-par operation. 

Olive Garden for this stunad

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There was a girl in Med School who told me that they couldn't make curry properly in India because they couldn't get the fruits required, such as apples and raisins. That was the precise second I stopped fancying her.

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4 minutes ago, Kerala said:

There was a girl in Med School who told me that they couldn't make curry properly in India because they couldn't get the fruits required, such as apples and raisins. That was the precise second I stopped fancying her.

Aahhh - Perhaps her experience was Danish Ristaffel?

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11 minutes ago, Kerala said:

There was a girl in Med School who told me that they couldn't make curry properly in India because they couldn't get the fruits required, such as apples and raisins. That was the precise second I stopped fancying her.

Shades of the moment in Neil Gaiman's Anansi Boys where the main characters' mother goes to China, because she likes Chinese food. A couple of months later she calls to tell them she's moving on, because in China they don't have the right sort of Chinese food. :)

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I don't have expectations of authenticity for Indian food when I eat at a restaurant abroad. Usually I go for the tandoori mixed grill, because I like meat and there's a bit of spice with it. Throw in a naan and some lime pickle, a pint of lager and I'm happy. Supposedly "regional cuisine" restaurants change over time to make the food more Anglo-friendly. I think this is inevitable. Even Italian and French restaurants in the UK have to alter their dishes to make them more tempting to local tastes, so what chance is there for Indian food? It's a tough business environment, margins are slim, they have to offer what sells. Most customers are not from the Kerala (or Emilia-Romagna, or Perigord.) If there is a concentration of expatriates from a particular location, or if there is a large enough population in a metropolis like London, you can probably get close. However, my expectations are low, and I'm rarely disappointed.

 

Having said that, there are certainly degrees of authenticity. There are places where the food is almost right, and I am very happy when I find myself in one of these. Sometimes the food even tastes better than more "authentic" food. My aunt is pukka authentic, but I don't like her cooking one bit.

 

I agree with the opinions expressed earlier in this thread that authenticity is more about intent and technique than ingredients. Whatever my mum makes, even roast chicken, is Malayali without doubt. She can't help it.

 

Neither can we help making food that reflects where we come from, where we grew up, what we ate as children. I can follow all the rules to make a paella or a pasta carbonara, and I think I make damn good versions of both of these, but they will never be "authentic." I think my roast lamb is authentic, but I've spent 30 years cooking it and eating other people's roast lamb, finessing it and tweaking it. I'm confident enough with it that I let it cook to medium or well done rather than medium rare, and it turns out fine. That confidence to do what you want with the food, born out of deep understanding and experience, is what makes for authenticity. It's your own.

 

Well that's a bunch of contradictory sentiments just in this post. To sum up, don't expect authentic food when you go out, and any authenticity you get depends on the cook.

 

 

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1 hour ago, Kerala said:

Well that's a bunch of contradictory sentiments just in this post. To sum up, don't expect authentic food when you go out, and any authenticity you get depends on the cook.

 

 

I'll contradict myself again.There's a restaurant called Tamatanga in Nottingham which consistently puts out great Indian food from different regions. The cooks are not from all the various regions represented, or even Indian. The Chettinad chicken curry is spot-on; it could really have been done by a home cook from Kerala, and it is consistent the many times I have tried it.

 

So maybe you can get a good marinara sauce in New York.

 

But as Elizabeth Davd says: "It is useless attempting to make a bouillabaisse away from the shores of the Mediterranean."

 

 

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15 hours ago, Kerala said:

I can follow all the rules to make a paella or a pasta carbonara, and I think I make damn good versions of both of these, but they will never be "authentic."

 

Why will they never be?

On 2/26/2021 at 9:06 PM, liuzhou said:

I'm thinking of making carbonara for lunch. Do you think I should use green or red Sichuan peppercorns?

 

I don't see why you can't use either, if you call it Szechuan style carbonara. And don't try to pass it off as authentic Roman carbonara.

Edited by weinoo (log)

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As may be seen above, what happens in a topic like this is that posters start making jokes, rather than being able to actually prove the point they were originally trying to make; e.g. that using tomatoes or American smoked bacon in an authentic Roman pasta dish called Spaghetti Carbonara is just fine.

 

(it ain't).

Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

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1 hour ago, weinoo said:

As may be seen above, what happens in a topic like this is that posters start making jokes, rather than being able to actually prove the point they were originally trying to make; e.g. that using tomatoes or American smoked bacon in an authentic Roman pasta dish called Spaghetti Carbonara is just fine.

 

(it ain't).

 

oh for pete’s sake. the discussion had largely concluded and now you’re offended at people being light-hearted about it?

 

culinary gatekeeping is so frustrating. bacon is fine in carbonara, and loads of people - even some chefs - clearly agree. if you don’t, fine, whatever, but don’t come in here and be all “oh you couldn’t prove it’s fine it isn’t.”

 

to get back to the fiasco that started all this, the very name of the recipe implies that it’s a variant which your own preceding post suggests you’re fine with. the recipe isn’t titled “authentic italian carbonara.” it’s called “smoky tomato carbonara.” smoky and tomato are modifiers in this construction and thus the variance is implied by how it’s written. 

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