Authentic Schmauthentic

An interesting piece on the fine line between foodies looking for “authentic” culinary experiences in relatively poor countries and the problems that can arise:

“’That said, the line is very fine, and the very idea of food adventuring can be problematic in its own right because it does not necessarily signal any sort of true engagement or real interest in the cultures that are being “experienced” through food,’ Cappeliez said. ‘Eating a particular cuisine, even if it’s the most authentic possible, does not lead on its own to a better or deeper understanding of the culture that produced that food, and in that way, should be treated as a very partial, albeit fun, part of knowing a culture or ethnic group.’

Returning to the idea of food as a trend, Paul Qui, winner of Top Chef Texas and the 2012 recipient of the James Beard Best Chef Southwest award, agrees that sometimes the hype built around a culture’s cuisine can be used as an opportunity to educate people. Born in the Philippines, the cuisine Qui prepares often references the food he ate as a child.

‘To me Filipino food is not a trend, it’s my heritage and culture, but in order to get exposure, it needs to get noticed,’ Qui said. ‘Once a cuisine gets to this stage I think that the culture should be flattered that it’s become so popular. This gives the cuisine, the platform it needs to truly spell out what that culture’s heritage and cuisine are.’”

Having lived in Asia for seven years now (!) and travelled a fair bit, I can only agree and throw in my two pieces of (fairly obvious) advice — 1) If a restaurant is crowded, it’s probably really good and 2) KFC in South Korea or Vietnam is just as “authentic” as a mom-and-pop joint churning out those mythical bowls of genuine kimchi jjigae or pho.

Also, the upside to living in a college area in a relatively sleepy suburb of a relatively sleepy Korean city is that the restaurants around me are uniformly cheap, fast, and very delicious.  When I walk home at night it’s basically a series of amazing, mostly meat-based smells.

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