Authentic Schmauthentic!

Eat what you want, and enjoy it.

My sentiments, exactly.

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A good quote from the article. But not as good, IMO, as the sentence that precedes it:

“There is no such thing as authentic food”.

Discussions about “authentic” used to regularly plague Chowhound and they would invariably piss me off because, within a couple of posts, there’d be some arsewipe pontificating about it.


Agree, @Harters
Seems considering oneself an expert about the authentic or proper X is some sort of ego boost for some people who post. And then they can’t stop posting. On the old Chowhound Toronto Board, we had a couple experts who had groupies, which didn’t help much.

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“Our head cook is half-Vietnamese, and we often tell customers about how he grew up in Saigon as the first line of defense when people say we aren’t Vietnamese enough. As the only full Vietnamese, I’ll be sent to Vietnamese customers to drop a few xin chàos and cảm ơn anhs, even though we shouldn’t have anything to prove. French, Italian and other European restaurants are rarely held to the same standards of authenticity, so why do minority cultures, and particularly Asians, cling to traditional food so tightly?“

I’m not sure I agree with this statement. One can find authenticity weenies for just about any cuisine.
The idea certainly swirls around bbq joints and Mexican taquerias to this day.
As a suburban Midwesterner, our dominant culture was always the lack of one.
I used to be “ashamed “, wishing I was some kind of cool. Nowadays, being alive is reason enough to celebrate.


Annoying to see the type of generalisation he is making on other types of cuisine.

Vietnamese customers, especially out-of-towners from areas with large populations of Vietnamese, such as San Jose or Houston, delight in asking if our owners are Chinese (we are trained to say no), ordering in Vietnamese to Cantonese servers, and remarking loudly, “Only two basil leaves?”

It is true that in Vietnam the herbs are generous, they come in a dish with pile like mountain. A Vietnamese Bahn mi owner in Paris complained herbs were so expensive. I can accept fewer herbs, but not as few as 2 leaves though.

There is no such thing as authentic food.

Eat and enjoy what you want, fine! You can like fusion food too. But one can’t just ignore totally “authencity”, there is a background of culture and knowledge.


I could accept even two leaves. And I can even accept cha gio made with Thai-style spring roll wrappers instead of rice paper (which has happened surprisingly often here in NYC)… What utterly shocked me, though, was once being served cha gio at “Vietnamese” restaurant without even lettuce !

Totally confused, I flagged down the waiter to point out that someone had forgotten to bring it out, whereupon he apologetically explained that they didn’t serve it “that way here”. I was taken aback, but said, “oh, OK” (since it obvuously wasn’t his fault), but was obviously disappointed and over my protestation that it was OK, he very nicely ran to the kitchen to get me some lettuce, at least (which was much better than nothing) for which I thanked him effusively. But needless to say I never went back. The spring rolls themselves were not bad at all, and the pho was edible, and it was much closer to my apartment than Chinatown, but since I could only begin to imagine what they were doing to the rest of the menu, it just didn’t seem worth the risk…

I have zero objections to “changing things up”, but I do object to restaurants calling themselves “Vietnamese”, "French:, “Italian” (or whatever), using unmodified “traditional name” for dishes on their menues, but then serving food very different from the “traditional” version. Cook, serve, and eat whatever you like , just don’t call it something it’s not. I mean, I may make “English muffin pizzas” at home as a snack, but if ordered pizza in an “Italian” restaurant, they damned well better not bring me one, and I order “boeuf bourginonne” at a “French” restaurant, I’d be more than slightly annoyed to get a hamburger topped with onions and mushrooms and “red wine sauce”…:wink:


Is it worth pointing out that hot peppers, considered an essential ingredient in a lot of “authentic” Chinese, Thai, and Korean cuisine, did not even exist in those areas until about 500 years ago? Ditto for tomatoes in Italy, or for any number of Western Hemisphere foods now considered authentic in the Eastern Hemisphere.

What about this “problem” I tend to have: they omit certain ingredients because “tourists probably don’t like eating xyz”. I have to ask them to give it to me!

Or alter the usual dishes a bit to adapt to others’ taste. (This is sometimes the case in the West.)

I want to eat what the sellers and most people in that country eat. “Authentic” enough to me.

Btw, this happens sometimes in my travels. (I don’t eat out at home)


Generally I agree that any individual should focus on what they like, not so much on what is authentic or not, but I have many of the same problems already pointed out here, and in posts past, of how a restaurant presents it. If you bill yourself as authentic, then you have to hew to a certain (admittedly gray) standard of what is at the heart of the dish or cuisine. Nothing wrong with calling a food or a dish as “modern”, "[enter ethnicity/location/region here]-style, or [xxx]-inspired, or plain old fusion. As long as you are not PF Chang’s, I can still deal with you. :stuck_out_tongue_closed_eyes:

With that being said…calling fish sauce “Vietnamese chili”?? That is just weird. If you call it chilli, I expect it to be spicy and fish sauce isn’t spicy. What the heck?

And I have said before (and will undoubtedly say again), olive oil is NOT “Italian butter”!

That said, I think calling tlayuda “Mexican pizza” is probably okay, though I would prefer to see the Mexican name on the menu first with “Mexican pizza” in parentheses after it.


Oh, and this can be so tricky. An “Indian” restaurant near me bills itself as serving “authentic Indian Balti cuisine”. There’s a couple of problems there. Firstly, as with most “Indian” restaurants in the UK, the owners are from a small area of Bangladesh, not India. Now I’m sure what they are tring to imply is that they are serving “authentic” Indian food, not understanding that “Balti cuisine” is, in itself, an Anglicised one, developed in the Midlands city of Birmingham in the 1970s.


This is an interesting question, does the person needs to be ethically the same as the cuisine he/she is doing to be called “authentic”? How about an English cooking French for example? Or French cooking Italian, which is extremely common in Paris.

My answer to that is depending on each individual case. If the chef has a thoroughly understanding and even cooked locally in that country to understand the culture is very different from an immigrate cooking whatever in the trend to earn a living. A good example of the first case is the Australian cook David Thompson, he has looked at the old Thai recipes and even tried to revive using certain herbs that is no longer in use in Thai cooking today. I have to say his knowledge of Thai cooking is maybe more extensive than an average Thai home cook.

As for the second case, the Bangladesh and Indian problem for example, I used to know a few Bangladesh persons living here, one was working as chef and he was very upset with the Bangladesh cooking in Paris, he said it didn’t taste like his native food, it was Indian food. I bet an Indian would probably made the same remark.


I find it interesting that Indian restaurant owners where I grew up in Canada would always point out and continue to point out that they were /are Indian, not Pakistani or Bangladeshi.

Most Indian restaurants in Ontario, especially the restaurants located outside Toronto, have been owned by Pakistani and Bangladeshi immigrants. Most of the Indian restaurants, regardless of who owns them, offer a similar pan Indian menu, rather than specializing in a region. In bigger cities, you’ll find regional restaurants that might focus on Keralan food or south Indian food, but most Indian restaurants offer madras, vindaloo, rogan josh, korma, butter chicken, etc on their menus.

Right now in Toronto, most kitchen help in diners, Greek and Italian family restaurants tends to be Sri Lankan immigrants. I can think of several diners and a few Greek restaurants that are now owned and run by Sri Lankan immigrants who started as dishwashers or short order cooks, who have purchased these restaurants after the Greek immigrant owners have retired.

In many small and midsized towns in Canada, many continental, Italian and steakhouse restaurants were run by Greek immigrants from the 1970s-2010s. Italian immigrants were usually working in mining and construction, whereas Greeks were going into the restaurant business, taxi business and seamstress/tailor business if they could. Toronto and Montreal had bigger Italian populations, and Italian neighborhoods, so they traditionally have had and continue to have Italian restaurants with Italian kitchen staff and more authentic or traditional menus.

In parts of Canada with a smaller Italian population, most Italian restaurants and pizza shops were run by either Greeks or other European immigrants, and sometimes by 3rd or 4th gen Cdns of British Isle extraction.

In Toronto, we now have some pizza shops focused on other ethnic groups, run by those groups. I tried a halal Persian pizza in Nov 2018, and it was completely distinct from any Italian, Italian American, Italian Cdn pizzas or Greek Cdn pizzas I’ve ordered before.

On the topic of pizza, Saskatchewan style pizza was invented by Greek immigrants. The meat and veg toppings are very generous, and topped with a generous amount of cheese. A purist from Naples wouldn’t consider it pizza

Right now, small town restaurants in serving bacon and egg breakfasts, as well as pad Thai and other Asian specialties are often run by Filipino, Cambodian or Laotian immigrants. This trend is also interesting because 100 years ago, many of the cafés across Canada , esp in the Prairies, were run by Chinese immigrants. The Western café in Saskatchewan I visit the most is owned by French Canadians and the chef is Filipino. He has pizza, hot wings, Ginger beef (a Chinese Cdn dish invented in Calgary), fettuccine alfredo with chicken breast (a bastardization common in small town Western Canada), BLTs, club sandwiches and half a dozen different pies by the slice. Maybe the occasional Filipino dish as a daily special.

While it’s nice to have the authentic stuff, a lot of the people cooking food that isn’t part of their culinary tradition are doing a good job.

In Toronto’s Corso d’Italia, one of the Italian restaurants is run by a Korean chef who loves Italian food.
Then in Scarborough, one of the last 2 German restaurants in Toronto, Little Bavaria, is run by an Indian chef who lived in Germany before immigrating to Canada.

I try not to judge.


It’s funny because there has been a wave of northern and western Chinese style foods in the northeastern US (think Xi’an foods) and the ‘sandwiched’ meats on a Chinese style bun (rouganmo) are sometimes called “hamburgers” on some menus. Hamburgers…?!? Call it a sandwich, call it a weird soft fluffy taco even, but I don’t get hamburger at all.

One of these places in Boston is Gene’s Flatbread cafe and I don’t think anything on their menu is even remotely close to what I call flatbreads. :confused: When I was there last week, I heard only the cashier’s end of a call where she had to say to the person on the phone “No sorry, we don’t have that. No, no sandwiches, no pizzas…we have nothing like that at all.” I just had to laugh to myself, because I would assume from their name alone that they were either a flatbread sandwich or flatbread pizza shop.

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Gua Bao is sometimes listed as Taiwanese Hamburger in Toronto.

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Same in the UK, prima. The vast majority of Indian restaurants have pretty identical menus - the same old “any sauce with any protein” curry houses, where you can get, say, an Anglicised rogan josh sauce, with prawn, chicken, lamb or vegetables whereas, in India, rogan josh will always be a lamb dish. The various sauce names have become simply an indication of chilli strength. Living near to a major city, I rarely go to these type of places any more, as we have a good selection of places doing regional food. For example, for our first meal out of the year, we’re off to this favourite place which speciialises in Mumbai street food -

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I’ve only see lamb rogan josh here, for what that’s worth :rofl: . We do have a lot of South Asians in the Greater Toronto Area, maybe some of the purists (South Asian or not! My friend who would be considered the Indian food expert on the Toronto CH board is an expat Englishman who is white) have been acting as Rogan Josh police.

That said, we also have Butter Chicken Poutine on some pub menus around town. Different kinds of bastardization/hybridization taking place across the pond!

But, they have probably been told by a thousand tourists that their food is too spicy, funky, different. In order to survive as a business, they have to cater to the most pedestrian tastes.

My uncle tends to eat at Nepalese restaurants in Manchester because he says it’s closer to the Indian food he grew up with. Mind you, he was born in Kenya…