August 31, 2018

The evolution of Chinese hybrid cuisines and the definition of "authentic"

Chinese food culture magazine The Cleaver Quarterly moderated a panel at Happy Family Night Market in Bushwick that discussed the evolution of Chinese hybrid cuisines and the definition of “authentic.”

What is “authenticity” in food?

  • The concept of authenticity in food is often limited to referring to a chef whose background matches that of the food they’re cooking.
  • Others value tradition and judge based off of personal recipes that have been passed down.
  • It’s measured by the reverence a specific group of people at a given place and period give it.
  • It respects a culinary heritage of a given dish or cuisine that was established or upheld by some formal body.
  • It comes from a base of training and appreciation for how dishes were cooked historically before trying to move forward with new concepts.

The “authors” of a cuisine
While hybrid foods help to bridge gaps that divide cultures, they also make it easier to “divorce a culinary tradition from the culture of its origin.” Food culture continually evolves. Older chefs might choose not to share traditions out of fear of losing their livelihoods to the “new guard”. The public is also responsible for understanding food history and learning the stories behind food culture to balance out blind enthusiasm for trendy concepts and ingredients.

The short, sweet, and possibly sour
Education will hopefully change mindsets about a given region’s cuisine (such as Asian flavors meaning the use of soy sauce) and bring awareness to established but comparatively unknown hybrid cuisines like Chinese-Dominican food. A younger generation of chefs are fighting against lowering the prices of their dishes compared to the historical culinary darlings of French or Italian cuisine. It will take time for Asian food to expand the same recognition of pricing tiers (hole-in-the-wall versus fine dining) like ubiquitous favorites such as pizza.

In this case, it’s no longer about if something is authentic, but whether authenticity is being fairly compensated enough to survive. If a cuisine has a chef with the same years of training, the same quality ingredients from the same supplier, and the same number of labor hours to produce a close relative of another cuisine, a greatly skewed consumer expectation on price stems not from any judgment of the food itself, but of the people that made it.

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