Authentic Regional Food
Over the course of the past few weeks we’ve had the pleasure of writing about a popular documentary concerning Sushi, one that has been the talk of editors here at The Republika. Its no secret that we love food, talking about it, and sharing experiences; it turns out to be that most of us love oriental food, be it Thai, Sushi, Chinese, Korean or some other varieties from the orient. While some of these are accesible in every corner of America some are a little bit more difficult to find. I was thinking about this when something struck my mind: is it oriental food we love or americanized oriental food? I took the task of finding out about this and had a rough time locating authentic places that are just like the original in its country of origin. Take the much mentioned Sushi; its everywhere, its popular, everybody loves it but most can’t tell the difference between real and americanized Sushi. The same happens with most kinds of food, authenticity is a matter of knowing.
Many think Taco Bell is authentic Mexican food while most mexicans would never confuse it for their beloved tacos. The same can be said of chinese, thai and japanese food. If you really want to taste the flavors of real authentic chinese food, do yourself a favor and visit your local China Town and you’ll see what I mean. I’ve been to China once, and will be going next week for the second time; the only place in which I found chinese food that resembled the real thing was in San Francisco’s China Town, other than Beijing of course. Most other places serve it depending on the region where they are situated. In the northern state of Mexico, there is a large community of chinese folk that have established themselves in this hot weathered desert. Mexicali claims to have the best chinese food in the world. Yes, its tasty, nice, full of flavor, but reality is that it isn’t the real McCoy. It’s probably the best Mexican Chinese Food in the world but not the premier iteration of China’s culinary arts.
As you can see, this isn’t something that only occurs in the U.S., I also found some very interesting things in my different visits to other countries. Take Mexican Food, a very popular style these days all over the world (as I found out last year). In Beijing there was this place called La Bamba , a very cheap joint that served it. I ordered a Chimichanga and a Taco and was surprised by the taste. Being a Mexican myself, it wasn’t difficult to tell the similarities with my own country’s food. Spiciness was there, the taste of meat was as close as it gets and red rice was spot on, I was really impressed! The difference of course was in the Tortilla, it had te consistency of a Dumpling. What I learned from this is that they managed to get most of it right but had to put in a little bit of their own to regionalize it. The same happened in Egypt where I found Mexican Food to be at its highest popularity but lacked all the ingredients that make up for the hotness. Tortilla was nearly identical in Egypt, but everything else tasted more on the likes of Curry.
Sushi takes a very interesting turn in other countries. While in Japan simpleness is complexity, here in America we destroy this premise by overmaking it with complex recipes that are fancier as they become more convoluted. In Japan, Sushi is some sort of artform. Sushi makers take their time to present their plate with high simplicity and sophistication. It doesn’t take an expert to admire their craft. They don’t need to overdo their work in order to impress. On the other hand, every time I step in to a Sushi house in San Diego I get greeted with more difficult to understand platters that don’t make sense to me. What I’ve learned though is that I need to stop thinking of real Sushi and start admiring the American style for what it is. Comparing it to the original will only frustrate me. I can’t expect fish to taste exactly the same on this side of the shore; climate is different, conditions are divergent and this makes up for flavor and presentation. We can’t expect it to be the same. A Jalapeño grown on Mexican Soil will taste different if produced in China. Land, conditions and weather make it taste different. Its obvious that locals will implement their own products to localize different types of food from over the world and we should be glad of it.
After acknowledging this I’ve started enjoying local iterations of famous world cousines in a more free way. I used to criticize the way they departed from original styles only to find out I was missing something very human: creativity. We’ve only so many tools we can work, taking advantage of what others discovered on the other side of the continent, combining it and creating something new is worthy of everybody’s palate.