I spent a few months in India a long time ago – up north – followed by a few weeks in Nepal. A lifetime ago, really, in the context of this rave.
More recently, but getting older by the day, I spent a lot of time in New Orleans and South Louisiana, chasing food with the same fervour I chased the music. But all that’s of only limited relevance to the food covered by Consider The Sauce.
Those two examples aside, a quirk of my life is that I’ve never set foot in any of the countries whose migrants to Australian have so enriched or collective lives.
So my impressions about the authenticity of the food we eat and buy is based solely on what I learn along the way, from talking to the food business folk themselves, to friends who have travelled to the countries concerned and a great deal of enthusiastic reading.
I’m under the strong impression that the most genuinely unchanged migrant food is the humble pho.
I’ve met a bunch of folk who have travelled to Vietnam and maintain the pho there is better than the pho here.
But that’s a different issue.
As far as I can see and learn, issues of comparative quality and regional variations aside, pho is pho whether you be in Vietnam or Footscray.
It’s tempting to conclude that the food served up so lovingly by our community of Ethiopian restaurants is identical to that served in Ethiopia itself.
After all, these are newish residents whose memory and cooking of their homeland is still a first-generation living, breathing thing.
But even here, appearances are deceiving.
For one of the foundations of Ethiopian food – injera – has long been baked here using a mixture of grains chosen to replicate as closely as possible the tiff with which it is made in Ethiopia.
Does that make it not authentic?
How about Indo-Chinese food – so much the mongrel it incorporates its fluid nature in its name?
In fact, I’d wager that within the Indo-Chinese food style pretty much anything goes and there’s not a soul who could question its authenticity.
From central and eastern Europe, Greece and Turkey through the Middle East and on to East Asia, the food styles appear to overlap and borrow from each other with such chaotic abandon that it is sometimes hard to gauge where one ends and another starts.
Japanese food is, like all the other cuisines covered here, these days very much an international food, and like all the others is bound to change as it travels.
Whether that means the various mutations can or should be called “Japanese” is arguable.
Just as it is arguable that vegetables deep-fried using panko crumbs should not be called tempura. (They should rightly be called, I believe, fuurai.)
But if panko crumbs can not tempura make, what to make of the widespread use in Japanese food of mayo? Or noodles and curry, for that matter. I’m sure there are other examples of Japanese food harnessing outside concepts and products.
These are just a few examples of the sort of issues that are raised in all sorts of foodie media – which methods or ingredients go, or do not, into making a perfect, “authentic” laksa or biryani or curry or goulash.
Being peeved as a punter if a restaurant does not live up to its own self-description is one thing and is up to each individual, although I believe the very notion of authenticity is very much a moving target anyway.
Being irate at deliberate misrepresentation is not the same thing as criticising a restaurant’s food on the basis of what it is not, which can seem a little on the perverse side.