AradhanaD at the Leftist Looney Lunchbox has an interesting and thought-provoking post on the relationship between cuisine authenticity and cultural and economic power. It was inspired by a discussion on Pandagon that generally went against a focus on authenticity in food as problematic for various reasons. Aradhana says:
So, in this post I'm going to go out on a limb to make a case "for" valuing the 'authenticity' of 'ethnic cuisine' and hopefully get you to 'racialize the everyday'. In my search for a meaningful debate about the 'authenticity' of food - I have yet to come across an entry that isn't about 'cultural abstractism', so I am getting my structural-materialist thoughts together to move away from that 'abstract' realm.
The main question I have to ask is: "Who are these people that are afraid of 'experimenting'? Are they men, women, white, majority? In which case, is their fear of 'experimenting' of any consequence? And if not, at what expense?" And this is how it starts and this is where even I think my 'leftist looneyism' is taking a leap and running with it. So these are just my ideas - I do encourage debate, so please feel free to share your ideas about this if you want.
And once she introduces the debate like this, she goes onto list a number of points and analyze a number of anecdotes about how food experimentation and the ability to avoid culturally authentic processes and ingredients may itself by connected to privilege and oppression.
Included is a very amusing YouTube video which you should all go and watch. I won't post it here so that you have to actually click through to see it. I promise you, it's hilarious. Well, it's hilarious to this desi dude. Well, maybe it's kind of culturally specific. But it's funny. Honest.
Anyway, she makes some very good points among which is the idea that the ability to avoid authenticity in foreign food is partly related to the ability to avoid minority culture in general. "Eat the curry - don't live the the curry-maker," is what she says is the ethos.
I have to make a couple of points in defence of non-authenticity (that might have been made on the Pandagon thread that is too old and stale and long for me to read in detail now). A lot of the non-authenticity, I do believe, does make it down to the Oppressed Classes. Yes, it makes it down in the form of pre-processed industrial food---which, I might add, is not wholly without merits---but there are people in this world who wouldn't imagine that there are other tastes without the opportunity to "bastardize" cuisine.
Lastly, I have to vehemently disagree with her about Ottawa vs. Toronto restaurants. I am an Ottawa boy, but I visit Toronto frequently, and when I am in Toronto, I eat at restaurants much more frequently than I would in Ottawa---because I am there to refresh contacts with a large number of friends and family members. And I have to say that while there is huge selection in Toronto, there is a much much lower signal-to-noise ratio than in Ottawa, so to speak. That is, you might have a whole block of Chinese restaurants on in Toronto, but only one of them will be good---the rest mediocre. I don't know where Aradhana had Thai food in Ottawa, but she must have "lucked out" on a bad place; I recommend she go to Siam Bistro on the "other" Wellington. It is, I believe, owned by an actual Thai woman, and I have never found a better Thai restaurant anywhere, and I've eaten Thai food in many cities. I think Aradhana is vegetarian? I don't know how the vegetarian situation looks in Ottawa, because I'm not.