Monday, July 25, 2016

The Meaning of Authentic (Ethnic Food) As In "Authentic Mexican"

Whether Mexican, Italian, Chinese, Turkish, Greek, Thai or even French, etc., one must have the authentic dish. I live in a part of the world where there are many ethnic restaurants. Some of these restaurants even use the word: authentic on their sidewalk signage. Yet, what is an authentic dish?

This essay will delve into this and attempt a rendering that allows some sensible understanding. It all started when I was in Nice, France. As I strolled the Cours Saleya in Old Nice, I chanced across a coffee roaster. Ahh...the aroma is the most pleasant of memories.

Cours Selaya Marché aux Fleurs
The old man sat in his shop, the machines were from the 1940s. There was nothing else for sale only large sacks of coffee beans, roasted and unroasted. The aroma was pungent. I had hoped for something more than coffee, actually kitchen utensils. To my amazement, the only other product was oregano. And, as I had no coffee maker with me, and had no desire to traips around Europe carrying a useless pound of ground coffee, I purchased the oregano. Only a few francs. I left.

I did not open the bag of oregano for several weeks until after I returned home. The smell was, like all oregano, intoxicating. And the smell was not all that different from what most Americans would associate the aroma of oregano as being. But what a surprise when I used some in a French or Italian dish! Their was the most subtle taste of mint. What a taste epiphany! Now I understood what that dish I made was to taste like and why that recipe had stood the test of time. Quite by accident I had come across what gave Salade Niçoise, it's niçoise character.

That got me to thinking about other dishes and why, when made away from their place of nativity the "ooompphh" wasn't there. We all know that there are bottles of wine that don't "travel". How wine in a bottle could be so sensitive is beyond me, but the wine geeks know this is true. The wine must be consumed near it's birthplace. Humanly we all do reflect our terroir. High cheekboned gals from San Francisco. Moonfaced (shaped like a moon) gals from Tucson, Arizona. I look like a Mid-Westerner.

I like Mexican cookery enough to consider it one of the world's six great cuisines; namely: Chinese, Thai, Indian, Italian, French and Mexican. I would cook Mexican for homey foods. Not comfort foods, as comfort is food of my childhood and only Mom can make that.

Mexican food is home cooking, that is, the well known recipes, e.g., tacos, burritos, etc. My Mexican restaurateur friend insisted I could not make Mexican food; I could make only Mexican style food. And that is the truth. Conversely, even if you are a Son-of-the-Soil of Mexico and living other than in Mexico, you can only make Mexican style food. You cannot have true Mexican pork or chicken outside of the tierra of Mexico. You may import such products, but you are no longer authentic as you are not within your terroir. That is my way of defining authentic as it relates to foodways. There is more reason for this. For example, Champagne comes from a limited area of France. Munich beer from Munich and while you can find tiny cucumbers and make pickles, unless you make them in the geographically denominated place in Germany, they are not Spreewälder Gewürzgurken und Dillgurken from the area around Brandenburg.

The French in their homes are where authentic plates come from. The restaurant food is for show. Comparing the number of French cooking terms to the same in the English language shows that the French far outnumber the English. The French housewife is gifted with foodstuffs from every little part of la belle France, just around the corner from her home. Cooking is her domain.

The French protect their unique foodstuffs even to a point of legalities. If you make a sparkling (gaseous) wine and call it Champagne, the I.N.A.O. will sue in court to get the wording on your label changed. You can say Champagne method (and it is typically seen as: méthode champenoise), but not Champagne