Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Authentic Caribbean food. What is it? Should it matter?

If a pimento tree falls in the woods and a chef doesn't use it, would his jerk not be authentic?

Time and time again, Tony and I have had the same discussion about food: does "authentic" matter? Who decides whether or not a dish is authentic? And how does one even define it? Especially Caribbean food, which was born out of so many cultures and varies not only from island to island, but cook to cook. Mind you this is coming from a Caribbean native who cooks and sells Caribbean food.

And who really cares?

Obviously some of you care, as we had a couple folks recently, on separate occasions enlighten us with their wisdom. Yes, they informed us that our food was not, in fact, authentic. We were not "Puerto Rican" enough for one woman, and not "Trinidadian" enough for one guy.

Maybe to alleviate any confusion we should change our name to: "Caribe Caribbean-Inspired Recipes by a Cook Who Doesn't Care if His Creations are Entirely Authentic as Long as they Taste Good Bistro."

Our restaurant does not claim to be authentic Caribbean on our website. And although we do sell some traditional dishes you might find on the dinner table in a typical Puerto Rican home or a traditional sandwich you might find at a Cuban food stand, every recipe has Tony's unique twist to it. He does what he thinks our customers will enjoy, whether or not it's "authentic." Taste is his first priority.

Even though we don't have pimento trees chopped down and imported so the green wood can be used to grill our Jerk Chicken over in an earth pit out back, Tony's version of Jamaican Jerk has gotten some Jamaicans excited. And even though he serves tostones topped with mashed avocado, he continues to get compliments from Puerto Ricans telling him his food tastes like home. Does that make it authentic? Depends on who's mom's cooking we're comparing it to.

Is "authentic" the way a dish was made 200 years ago when it was invented? Or the way it's served today in the country of origin? Ah, but what country did it really originate from? Caribbean cuisine grew out of the influence of several cultures including French, West African, British, American (we brought beans, corn, chili peppers), East Indian (curry), Chinese (rice), Spanish (plantains, fruit trees), Danish, and Portuguese (cod).

I suppose not long ago the islander food snobs of yesteryear complained that the very dishes we speak of today were not authentic at the time. After all, those early "authentic" Caribbean dishes were merely creative concoctions using techniques and ingredients borrowed from other countries, new to them at the time.

History aside, Tony sums it up well, "The only thing that should matter when you go out to eat is if the food tastes good to you. It shouldn't matter if it's authentic. What matters is if you like it."

But what do we know. We're not authentic.

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When has "authentic" mattered to you? Do you have examples of your own?

1 comment:

Deb said...

Will you consider adding a vegetarian lunch option? I dined during the short-lived period when you had a delicious black bean burger on the menu. You may need to veer beyond authenticity in order to create a veg option, but you will have many happy customers.