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Thursday, September 22, 2011

Screw Authenticity: Asian Food in America

Posted By on Thu, Sep 22, 2011 at 8:48 AM

Should Americans even be calling pad thai "Thai" at this point? - LUMMMY/FLICKR
  • Lummmy/Flickr
  • Should Americans even be calling pad thai "Thai" at this point?

This week, Gilt Taste is running a fantastic series about Asian food in America -- or rather, Asian American food. The series led with an article by former SFoodie editor (and current East Bay Express critic) John Birdsall, who described how Bay Area chefs like Richie Nakano, Dennis Lee, and Danny Bowien have bulldozed over the artificiality of 1990s-style Asian fusion by cooking food that's creatively, intuitively both Asian and American. (Props to Lee for telling Birdsall, "You look at a restaurant like Nopa, or even Chez Panisse. Everybody calls them

California-Mediterranean, but nobody ever calls them 'Mediterranean


Tuesday, Salon columnist and Berkeleyite Andrew Leonard wrote reconciling his passion for Sichuan food -- and his voracious appetite for Sichuan cookbooks -- with American ingredients. And yesterday, Thailand-born New Yorker Pitchaya Sudbanthad wrote about coming to terms with the sugared-up, altered flavors of Thai food in America.

Running through these articles is the problem (or illusion) of authenticity. Can you really make "authentic" Sichuan or Thai or Japanese food in a different

country, where everything -- vegetables, condiments, stoves, spices --

is different? Why not celebrate about how a dish has evolved in a different country, or the creativity of the cooks who are putting their stamp

on it? And why shouldn't cooks who grew up eating food from two, or three, or a dozen different cuisines feel free to combine them any which way?

In the end, who cares about whether it's authentic? We just want it to taste good.

Follow us on Twitter: @sfoodie, and like us on Facebook.
Follow me at @JonKauffman.

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Jonathan Kauffman


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