Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Authenticity is Overratted




I'm always on the look out for good Chinese food. When I tell people about a good restaurant, and say it's really good, they always say something like "it's authentic?" This has always bothered me.

Let's talk about authentic Chinese food for a minute. First of all, China is a big place. A very big place. So any individual thing you eat in an American or Canadian Chinese restaurant can usuallybe found somewhere in China.

That said, there are some differences. One is that in Chinese chicken dishes, they like to cut the bones up with the chicken. They claim the bones provide important flavor. So when you're eating it, you are constantly spitting out chicken bones. There are also lots of gooey foods that just don't appeal to the western palate. In fact, I find I tend to like the Chinese food in the west more than the Chinese food I ate in China (I lived there for a year and a half) probably because the food here is more catered to western tastes.

What bothers me, I guess, is that to think that the best-tasting ethnic foods are the authentic ones is, well, a little culturally insensitive. The attitude denies that there are real cultural differences between cultures.

If authentic Chinese food tasted best to both westerners and Chinese, then that would imply that their tastes are the same as ours.

What's great about diversity is that people really are different. It's not just that different cultures have different combinations of the same ingredients. They actually think different things taste good.

Pictured is a Chinese dish of pickled Chinese cabbage and carrots. I'm not saying you would not like this.

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