Ethnic authenticity: No hyphens allowed

Stu Spivack. Flickr. January 3, 2012.

Stu Spivack. Flickr. January 3, 2012.

Concern with authenticity isn’t necessary to serve or eat ethnic foods in America.  The savvy restaurateur caters to local tastes.  Without his or her innovations, there would be no Tex-Mex chili, chicken chow mein, vegetarian sushi, or Chicago style deep dish pizza.  Assimilation would demand American breakfasts of cold cereal, lunches of hot dogs and apple pie, and dinners of steaks and baked potatoes.  Accommodation welcomes new citizens with friendly interest in their cultures if not their languages.  Just as friendship necessitates finding commonalities and sharing experiences, Americans have adapted ethnic recipes to suit their own tastes, ingredients, and customs.

Our best intentions have brought us nachos comprised of tortilla chips, Velveeta cheese sauce, hamburger, and pickled peppers for lunch.  Pasta, of course, is readily assembled from packaged noodles, canned tomato sauce, and hamburger.  Chocolate chips and chocolate cream cheese transform bagels.  This disguise renders breakfast as richly sweet as dessert.  Plenty of salt and fat as well as sugar suits American tastes.  An abundance of meat and cheese is important to Americans, too.  Fresh herbs and spices and unprocessed oils aren’t missed; they would be overwhelmed by all the fatty meat and melted cheese.  Even more, rather than reserve all this rich abundance for holiday celebrations, Americans enjoy it daily.

We’re quick to give credit as well.  While Italians may wish compliments neither for Snooki nor for “Italian” beef sandwiches, they are legendary in the United States.  Swedish pancakes served at American family restaurants are probably about as well known to Swedes as Dolph Lundgren.  Chinese fried rice and Bruce Lee offer similar dubious compliments to the long history of Chinese civilization.  American pride in these adulterations of ethnic foods and culture does acknowledge their hyphenated or hybrid nature.  After all, credit is due to Americans for their development, if not their taste buds.

If only the same devotion afforded to recipes for apple pie and potato salad accompanied forays into tacos and Thai noodle dishes.  Treasured recipes for flaky crusts include prescriptions for specialty ingredients and their temperatures.  Selected varieties of apples are recommended for fillings of the best texture and flavor.  Traditional family recipes for potato salad call for particular types of mustard and varieties of potatoes and onions.  The ingredients of their dressings, accompanying vegetables, and temperature at serving are diverse and detailed.  Respect for other cultures would be improved by respect for their cuisines.  In our global society, there’s ready access to unfamiliar ingredients and authentic recipes via the web if not your local grocery store.  Unlike learning another language, eating authentic ethnic foods offers fun with much less exertion.

© Laura Rizzardini, Inc., 2013

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